Cabin Culture

Do you have a place to go when you need to reconnect with yourself or your past self?

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Do you have a place to go when you need emotional grounding or your soul needs tethering?

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Photo credit: Scott Fettig

Do you have a place to spend your days unplugged and tuned into your family, in the present moment?

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A place to hear waves lapping against the shore and sunlight reflecting off a rippling lake?

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I had such a place, once, and this is my story about that place, which published on Topology Magazine this week.

Agate Internship

I am posting this video, a “flash seminar,” for my Immersion in Publishing class; it’s one of the final assignments of my MFA in creative nonfiction program. I graduate in just a few weeks! I am experiencing a mix of emotions as I round the final bend in the road.

My Essay Featured on Agate Magazine

One of the many rewards that flowed from my yearlong training to become a master steward of the St. Croix Watershed is the connection I made with Sharon Day, an Ojibwe water protector and leader of Nibi “Water” Walks. I joined Day on her Kettle River walk; you can read about it here on Agate magazine.

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Source of the Kettle River in northern Minnesota. Photo credit: Heidi Fettig Parton.

More Writer Angst: Writing the Foxtail Farm Winter CSA Profile

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Prior to my interview with Paul and Chris Burkhouse, owners of Foxtail Farm Winter CSA, I volunteered on their farm for a day, packing boxes. To pack these boxes, we formed a conveyer line of people, adding vegetables in a precise order. I was at the head of the line; my job was to insert one squash and one pumpkin–the heaviest offerings of the day. It was like lifting weights, only with 35o repetitions instead of three. I found myself wondering if it was an initiation of sorts–give the new girl the heaviest load.

Finally, when I could no longer reach the squash on the highest shelves, due to my five foot two stature, I swapped a Foxtail intern for potato duty, a decidedly more appealing job. The potatoes still wore dirt of the fields just outside the barn door. They smelled of earth, they whispered of rootedness. At the end of the day, my back was aching and beneath my fingernails, soil was wedged so tightly, it would take three or fourth baths to dislodge it. I was actually more than okay with this; I could smell the St. Croix River Valley on my fingers for a week. It reminded me of how I’d felt renewed by my day at the farm. I realized, I’d been living too long disconnected from the soil.

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Now I know: water is life and soil is alive. Connection both will keep a soul grounded.

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A week and one day later, I sat down with Paul and Chris for our interview, in preparation for the profile I’d be writing on them as a part of my St. Croix Master Watershed Steward program. The three of us engaged in a lively discussion. I relished spending time with the philosophical and intelligent Paul and Chris (and their two dogs). I loved walking the fields of kale, covered in snow and eating spinach picked fresh from the ground of a hoop house. At the end of the interview, all seemed as idyllic as the farm upon which we stood. But then, Paul asked to review the piece before it published. I reluctantly agreed.

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Ten days later, when I had the piece written and polished, I sent it off to Paul and Chris–more than a little nervous about having them review it. A day went by, then two, then three and then a week. At the eight day point, I left both a voicemail and email, asking them to confirm receipt of the piece. I didn’t hear from them that day. By that evening, I was beside myself with fear, depression, and self-loathing. This was worse then any emotion I’d experienced after having one of my essays or poems rejected by a publication. I’d written about two people’s lives and, I assumed, they hated it. They disliked it so much that they weren’t even going to respond to me. I emailed my fantastically patient editor, Greg Seitz, over at St. Croix 360. I told him I was going to have to regroup, write a different story. I also told him I was going to learn to write fiction so that I no longer had to deal with real people.

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I woke up that night at 1 am. I was a hot mess of thoughts, thoughts that moved as swiftly as thunderheads on the loose. I am terrible writer, not even my profile subjects like my writing. In fact, they hated it. I can’t write about real people. Even my daughter cried when she read the first few paragraphs of the piece I’d written about her for Angels Flight Literary West. And Greg. He must think I am completely unhinged. I shouldn’t have disclosed all my angst to him. I am a fraud, a failure. I need to find a job that has nothing to do with writing. They hate me. Everyone hates me. Why did I think I could do this watershed thing, anyway? And on and on it went.

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At 6 am, when I opened up my email, I had a note from Chris Burkhouse apologizing to me. She said they’d never received the preview draft a week earlier and they’d both been really sick with horrible colds, but could I please send it to them now and they’d review it as quickly as possible. What? Maybe they don’t hate me after all. Something akin to relief washed through me. Yet, this meant they still hadn’t reviewed it. They might still come to hate me.

I emailed Greg again to tell him of the latest development. I told him I’d felt like a girl thinking she’d been jilted by her prom date, only to discover he’d just had a flat tire. I hit send. Fantastic Heidi; again too much information to the editor. Now he knows you are coming unhinged.

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A day later, I received the draft back from Chris with some perfectly reasonable edits that helped clarify farming terms and practices that I wasn’t well voiced in. It took me all of five minutes to make the changes. I sent it off to Greg and it published even sooner than I’d expected. And I actually like the piece. I really like it. You can read the full piece here; I also took all of the photos for this piece and will publish some of the extras here–so you can see just how beautiful the Wisconsin countryside can be in the fading December light.

Perhaps I won’t give up nonfiction writing after all; at least not yet. And, perhaps, I might take up photography. Sometimes you just have to wait. Not every answer or every solution comes when you think it should. Oh, to be still and know that all will be well, in time.

Indie Bookstores, Part II: Stingy with Sexy at Milkweed Books

In Part One of my blog post on indie bookstores, I mentioned having recently visited Milkweed Books. Milkweed Books is housed on the first floor of Open Book, the same literary arts space where Milkweed Editions and The Loft Literary Center are located, on the floors above. On October 26, 2016, I entered Open Book with my twenty-one year old son, Ethan, to attend Benjamin Percy’s publication release reading his craft book, Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, published by Graywolf Press.

Before Percy’s reading, Ethan and I decided to check out Milkweed Books.  While we were browsing, Ben Percy entered the store and handed the store’s manager two signed copies of his new book. I assume he provided only two because upstairs, outside the auditorium where book readings are held, another local indie bookseller, Magers and Quinn, was selling copies that Percy would sign after the reading. I recognized that Ethan, a busy senior in college, wouldn’t have the time to stick around after the reading to talk to Percy. As soon as Percy left the bookstore, I located the two-signed copies, plucked them from the shelf, and tucked them under my arm with the Ann Patchett book I’d already decided to buy. Why two? I was purchasing one for a former professor of mine, who’d recently provided volunteer hours on my watershed stewardship capstone project, skillfully editing my first article for St. Croix 360; the second signed copy would be his thank you.

By that time, Ethan was deeply engrossed in an art book and so I went to the front of the store to page through Mary Oliver’s new book, Upstream. While reading, I heard a man talking to the manager with enthusiasm and confidence, providing tidy critiques of all the books he’d recently read; he even instructed the manager to add a few obscure titles to his line up (that he volunteered to purchase if the manager couldn’t move them). My back was faced toward the window, away from the man; I couldn’t see him. I did, however, find myself wondering what this man did for a living—that he should have the time to read so many books. Then I heard him saying he wanted to purchase a copy of Thrill Me. I felt shamefully like a hoarder. I let the manager puzzle over the shelf where he’d placed the books just ten minutes earlier until I heard him say, “I know they’re here somewhere.”

“No. They’re not,” I said as I turned to come clean. “I’m sorry, but I’m purchasing both copies.” The customer—the one who seemed to know so much about books—told me to never apologize for buying books; he told me that he would pick up a copy upstairs. I told myself I was being selfish for not handing over my extra copy—but it was, after all, for my beloved professor who undoubtedly read even more books than the man with the thick wavy hair—just starting to gray—and sexy glasses (nicely dressed too—metro, decidedly metro—I noticed). He nodded at me graciously and left the bookstore.

After purchasing my books, Ethan and I proceeded out to the bistro to grab sandwiches before the reading. I contemplated the beverage container—kind of in line, kind of not. Then, over and over, I slid a bottle of ginger brew closer, then further, from my squinting eyes, struggling to read the fine print. I wondered aloud whether the beverage was alcoholic. While talking this out with Ethan (who couldn’t have cared less about the alcohol content), a plump woman behind me asked if I was in line. That’s when I realized the man from the bookstore was standing beside us—at the front of the line. He was, I then observed, the kind of guy I’d have fallen for back when I was single. Perhaps he was a professor (and that’s why he read so much). I’d once had a thing for professors and dated more than a few in between my two marriages.

I found myself apologizing again, this time to the woman for getting out of the line (if I’d actually ever been in it) and asked if she would mind terribly if we jumped in ahead of her; I brought my ginger brew with me, still not sure whether it was alcoholic. At that moment, the man with the sexy glasses said something achingly clever about democracy and lines. Whatever it was he said (and neither Ethan nor I can remember what he said), sounded like it came directly out of a New Yorker piece. Hell, it sounded like it came straight from the pages of an f—ing novel. I felt speechless, but instead of keeping silent, I had to make a moronic comment in response — as I’m wont to do when bedazzled by verbal mastery (neither Ethan nor I remember what I said).

Eventually, we all sat down at different tables with our food. “Sexy Glasses” ended up at a table near the front with Ben Percy. Couldn’t he just get Percy to give him a copy if they’re this close? I’d wondered. To make myself feel better, I suppose, I leaned over to Ethan and whispered, “That’s one heck of a pretentious dude over there.”

It wouldn’t be the end of Sexy Glasses that evening. We walked by him later on our way into the auditorium where he was purchasing Thrill Me from the Magers and Quinn staff member sent to The Loft to sell books that evening. I admit, I felt a slight twinge of guilt at the sight. But then I heard him telling the woman from Magers and Quinn (as if she knew who he was), “Ben’s teaching from one of my books this fall.”

One of his books? So he’s a writer—of more than one book, I thought. What’s he published? Probably a few B-list spy thrillers. *Oh, the petty writer envy that fills the soul of an unpublished writer.*

I dismissed all (most) thoughts of Sexy (I had to drop the “glasses” part now—knowing he was a published writer; sexy said it all) and took a seat with Ethan behind the reserved seating area up front. Of course, three minutes later, Sexy walked into the auditorium and took a seat in front of us, in the reserved area. Ben Percy solicited Sexy’s perspective multiple times throughout his reading (I love Percy’s book, Thrill Me, by the way—I don’t want that fact to get lost in all of this writerly foreplay).

Two nights after Ben Percy’s reading, I awoke in the middle of the night with a sick feeling. From the depths of my declining memory bank, it hit me. I laughed my I’m-so-stupid laugh; my husband stirred to ask “What?” before immediately falling back to sleep.

Before smacking my forehead—hard—I had to make sure. I proceeded quietly downstairs to where my laptop was recharging in the living room. I lifted its lid and googled “Jonathan Franzen” at 4:22 am. About 600 photos came into view. I opened a few for a closer look.

Instead of screaming, I stuffed the fuzzy fleece blanket draped across my shoulders into my mouth and bit down really hard. I missed not one, but four opportunities to interact with Jonathan Franzen. Jonathan F—ing Franzen! (but as Ethan pointed out to me later, what would I have said when I couldn’t manage to respond intelligently to his “democracy of lines” comment?) A search of Ben Percy’s Facebook page later confirmed that Jonathan Franzen had indeed attended the reading.

It goes without say, I should probably fail the “Intro to Publishing” class that I’m in this semester, if for no other reason than my refusal to share the extra copy of Thrill Me with Franzen. Not many people in this life get to say they were stingy with Jonathan Franzen. Just writing about it here today, I’m pretty sure I need to find an alcoholic ginger brew and, at age 46, take up drinking.

Notes:

*Above video is a recreation, not the actual event. 

*Objects appear closer in the mirror.