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4 posts from September 2012

TeachingSeptember 25, 2012

I went to the Central Coast Writers' Conference over the weekend to teach. I was hired not only to speak, but for the first time in this thrilled writer's life, I was put up at a HOTEL. On the BEACH, yo. 

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Okay, it wasn't on the beach. But it was close to Morro Bay, so close that at night I could slide the door of the hotel room open and listen to the seals barking.

Originally, Lala had been slated to go with me, but she had to go to Idaho to see her mom after a routine surgery (and incidentally, had breakfast with Neko Case one morning, as they do in Boise, apparently) so I went alone. 

I drove down through the heat of Steinbeck country in the SmartCar (oh, beloved little car) into Morro Bay, dropped my bags in my room, and headed for San Luis Obispo to have dinner with Emily Post-Punk (her Rav handle). You know those people you meet who make you think: I need this person as a friend? What can I do to entrap her? That's EPP. I finally finagled my way into friendship with her. Go, me! 

But before I met up with her, I wandered for a little while through the crowded street. Every Thursday night, San Luis Obispo--an idyllic little coast-proximate community--shuts down the main drag and has an enormous farmer's market. Less market than it is social gathering, it's the closest thing to la passeggiata, the nightly Italian stroll, that I've ever seen in America. This last week was the first Farmer's Market since the kids came back to Cal Poly, and the excitement was at a fever pitch. 

Being home, in the area where I grew up, where I went to undergrad, was both lovely and melancholy. I mean, I remember a time before the creekside area of SLO was so fancified--my sister and I would play in that creek, looking for crawdads (which we never found, but we were sure they were in there somewhere), throwing rocks to make the biggest splash, getting so muddy Mom would make us wash our feet in the fountain in front of the Mission before we got back in the VW. 

When I was twenty or twenty-one, I went through a bout of serious depression. I remember leaving my counseling sessions, which coincidentally were on Thursday nights on Garden Street. I would force myself to walk one block--just one block--through the milling, laughing crowds of students and families. I can't remember why it was so hard for me to do this (something about thinking people were looking at me and laughing--I hadn't figured out yet that really, no one cares) but I remember how difficult it was. 

Now, literally twenty years later, I was walking down the same street, through the same crowd, living a life that the twenty-year-old me never could have imagined. A good life. A happy one, full of love. A writerly one. I was simultaneously elated and at the same time, sad for that twenty-year-old me who never thought she'd ever get anything right. 

I met the lovely Emily (who went to my high school in the same small town just down the coast and I'd never known her!) at a great used bookstore, and we ate dinner (tapas) on the patio of a restaurant that was literally right next to the crawdad-seeking area of thirty years ago. We laughed under the hanging lights, the night sky low above. 

It was so circular, and just right. 

The next night I had the teens in a "How to Be a Writer" class. Now, lemme tell you something. I was nervous. I don't know teens. I love young adult fiction, so I read a lot about them, but I hadn't hung out with one since I was one, perhaps. But when the coordinator had asked me to take the class, I'd said yes in a momentary I CAN DO ANYTHING bit of craziness. 

I prepped for "what you can do  to be a writer after high school." I was full of quips and wisdom and witticisms. We would talk about going to college, what that was like, and what came afterward.

And then I opened the door to a room full of kids, aged 11 through 19. My talk to older teens was suddenly not broad enough. 

So I asked them what they wanted to learn.

Answer: Everything.

We narrowed it down with some difficulty to what they wanted to know the most: how to keep your Butt in the Chair, Hands on Keyboard (BICHOK). See? Writers of all ages struggle with this, the hardest part of writing (or any kind of creativity): actually doing it.

I explained the magic formula of Freedom (takes you off internet) and Write or Die (erases your words if you don't write fast enough) and the excitement in the air was ELECTRIC. I swear, these kids inspired the hell out of me. (I only swore once, by the way, and I was talking about our inner editor, who IS a bitch.) The other two classes I taught to adults on Saturday were great. I actually knew what I was talking about for the most part. I felt like I helped a few people. And that felt amazing. 

But doing these kinds of things is not the best part of a writer's life, believe it or not. For me, the best part is just after I write every day: that feeling of satisfaction that no matter what, the day is good because I got the most important thing done. After that: writing The End is the best. 

But after that? The times when writers get together--that's the best part. All of us doing this crazy thing to make a dream come true. It doesn't get much better than that. 

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Oh. And I might have gone to NordicMart. 

MishkeSeptember 16, 2012

Winners of The Little Book of Knitting Wisdoms drawing are: Kim, Caitlin, Erin, Janice and Chandra. I've emailed you. (And thanks for entering, all of you. Your happiest moments this year made me cry, several times. If you haven't taken a moment to read the comments, do yourself a favor and take a gander.) 

And now, I'm posting Mishke so I don't forget to do so. I love my new sweater. 

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I love everything about this sweater. I love its asymmetry (ribbed collar on one side only! shorter on left than right!) and its color and its softness and its warmth. 

Most of all, I loved the difficulty level of it. I haven't knitted anything this hard in years and years. I had to pay attention so much of the time (do NOT attempt while drinking wine -- ask me how I know), and often you're doing four things at once (you really have to be careful and read ahead or you'll miss that all-important AT THE SAME TIME and the one below it, too). It's a Cocoknits pattern, and I think Julie's clothes are just so damn wearable (I've made three of hers now and I love them all). 

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Really, it doesn't get better than a knitting party in the hallway, right? Yarn/details are over at Ravelry, for the curious. 

Now I'm going to take my book to the porch and enjoy the rest of this balmy East Bay evening. Happy Sunday, y'all. 

The Little Book of Knitting WisdomsSeptember 10, 2012

Grace is knowing when to bind off.

That Eliza Carpenter, she is wiser than I am. So when Random House Australia suggested she and I write a tiny book together, I jumped at the chance. 

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I collected her wisdoms and put them in this little package. It's only available in Australia and New Zealand, which leaves the US/UK/Canada/Brigadoon right out, so I'm going to give away five copies here. 

To enter, please leave me a comment telling me about your happiest moment in the last year. I'll draw the winner on Mine: knitting in Venice.  (Oh! Won't this be fun to read? I can't wait. And....go!) 

[Eliza is actually me. A lot of people ask me where I got her quotes for the Cypress Hollow Yarn series, and um...I made them up. Just like the rest of the books. However, I channel something better than myself when I'm writing as her. It's weird, and wonderful, and I can't quite explain it.] 

Strawberry 2012September 8, 2012

Apart from the transmission going squirrely, the radiator blowing up, and the brakes going out while going down New Priest Grade, we had a fabulous camping trip! (Those moments were hair-raising and we won't take the trailer out again until we get the car fixed, but we made it safely home, white-knuckling it all the way.) 

You know what I love about camping? How you can't do anything but relax. Our favorite camping trip every year is the Strawberry Music Festival, up in Yosemite. It's really glamping, not camping. We bring eggs, bacon, and booze. We make breakfast, but we purchase lunches, dinners, and snacks from the food vendors, making the difficult decisions between samosas, gyros, and artichokes stuffed with crab and shrimp.

The site where Strawberry is held, Camp Mather, has absolutely no cell reception, so even if I wanted to tweet, which I did, I couldn't. The phone stayed off for four days. Four full days. 

It's interesting, though, how even with big, empty days full of nothing to do but listen to music and lie by the lake, the days still fill up. Sitting in a camp chair, I can waste an hour wondering whether I'd rather read or spin (I brought my spinning wheel as I usually do. I don't know what it is about camping, but I love spinning in the open air under the pines). And then the day is over, and you've done next to nothing, and you're tired. You're exhausted from all the resting! It's pretty wonderful. 

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I also knitted a lot, mostly on a simple shawl. 

I loved reading while lying in the trailer with its little windows open (that thing makes us superheroes! Everyone wants to talk to us about the teardrop trailer! It's like sleeping in a chihuahua! We were actually woken from a nap by a guy who wanted to talk to us. Um. Give us a minute?). I read The Age of Miracles while there -- have any of you read that one? I liked the book but thought it might have missed the point. Without spoilers, I can't say much more, but I'd be curious to know what you thought if you read it. 

(While I'm thinking of books, I also just finished The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, which I absolutely loved. About a rather cranky rose-loving teacher who needs a kidney transplant, I couldn't put it down. And Laura Lippman's new book, And When She Was Good, about a suburban madam, was also good fun, and as always, well-written and tightly plotted.) 

Best part of the festival? k.d. lang, all the way. She was amazing. I stood in the front row under the stars and screamed with all the other ladies. Worst part? The stress of driving home (we were prepared to stop at any point and get a tow, but after the brakes cooled off, the car just kept on going. I literally kissed it when we got home).

Now we're back at home. I'm finishing a book revision and doing copy edits on another while working a lot of hours. I'm looking forward to fall, always my favorite season. I smelled it in the air while we were in Yosemite, and it can't come soon enough for me.

Ah, the season of new pencils and handknit scarves.