Today I had the privilege of speaking to the Woman’s Reading Club in Stillwater, Minnesota. I learned that this group started in 1886. It was an honor to be a small piece of the history of this group of women, who carry on the tradition of monthly gatherings to celebrate community and literature.
I talked to the group about my long road to publishing a book (one that is still ongoing). Initially, I was reluctant to keep this speaking engagement. When I first agreed to speak to the group, I thought I might have a completed book by now. I pondered handing off this invite to a friend of mine who recently published a book.
In the end, I decided to stay on the roster today. At this point, I am close enough to know my book will publish, one way or another, and it is time for me to begin talking about it out in the world.
I am glad to know current members of this group continue to carry on the tradition of gathering together to discuss books and culture in Stillwater, Minnesota (a truly magical and historic destination), almost 133 years after the group began.
I read recently that the definition of a professional is someone who works daily at the things she loves, even on those days she doesn’t love them so much.
As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve found myself questioning whether I really am a writer. I can sum up the external net results of this year pretty quickly. I published two pieces early in the year, a review and a personal essay. I had one other flash essay accepted in late summer, but it has not published and I cannot get the venue to respond to my request for an expected pub date (although I’ve already been paid for the piece). Nothing makes me feel less like a validated writer than a lack of response from a publishing venue.
It’s not as if I haven’t been plugging away at my writing; I have. I’ve even written one of my favorite essays to date. Since November, I’ve submitted the essay to four dream publications. I am committed to seeing this essay through to publication where, in the past, I’ve often quit after the first few rejections. I will keep on submitting this one down the line of most desired publications.
I’ve submitted 38 times this year–many of those are still outstanding. I think my “goal” last year was to submit 100 times. I guess I fell short of that goal, but the intention behind the goal had me submitting at least twice as much as I did in 2017. Part of the issue now is that I’ve become more selective with where I want to publish. Perhaps I need to view this as a sign of the developing writing professional in me.
In August I attended Hippocampus Magazine’s annual writing conference for creative nonfiction writers–HippoCamp–for the first time. After this marvelous conference, I signed on as a reader for Hippocampus, fulfilling an intention of mine that took shape in grad school. Reading essays each week for Hippocampus is an act of literary citizenship and an education, all in one.
During the first half of this year, I worked intently on my memoir-in-progress. I thought it was complete but developments in my life over the summer made me rethink that “doneness.” I put it aside and, this fall, signed up for Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words class for the first time (although I’ve attended many of Kate’s retreats). Even after receiving my MFA in CNF, Kate’s class had much to teach me. That’s where I began (and completed) my *favorite* essay–a long form essay. I also began another promising essay that I’ve let rest during the month of December.
December was devoted to my own health. Menopause has been doing a number on me this past year. I finally admitted that–30 years later–it was time to return to treatment for an ugly eating disorder that has reared its head along with my changing hormones (not unlike adolescence). I had to hit pause on my writing practice.
Health first. Health always first. I cannot write effectively when 75% of my brain and soul is devoted to thoughts about food and self-imposed body politics.
To be perfectly honest, 2018 has been kind of a sucky year for me. I am ready to brush the dust off my feet and move on. I hope that renewed mental health and a new maturity (and decreased hot flashes) are on the horizon for next year.
Earlier today, I also read the latest from Assay Journal (a piece by Vivian Wagner) on writing book reviews as a form of literary citizenship. I am bookmarking Wagner’s essay, which provides a clear way forward for writing more (and better) book reviews.
So here are my intentions for 2019:
Keep on writing, even when I am not loving it;
Tell myself I am a writer, daily;
Return to my memoir when it calls to me (I know it will);
Continue to finish some of those many essays trapped in my computer and send them out into the world on a regular basis;
Write a handful of book reviews;
Get emotionally right side up;
Learn to use my “real” camera;
Walk more, sit less;
Keep on swimming to the other side of menopause; and,
After posting a copy of my writer’s contract yesterday, the moment of reckoning has arrived. And why not? During my decade in the corporate world, I drafted objectives (with strategies for achieving those goals) for the year ahead. I’d also sit down with my manager for an annual performance review. My raise was tied to my success in achieving objectives set the prior year. I dreaded those reviews as much as I embraced them. While it was painful to see where I hadn’t quite hit the mark, I liked receiving feedback. Having once been a grade-driven student, my performance review was my annual report card.
As a freelance writer, external rewards and recognition are hard to come by. I guess this is why, when I publish an essay or article, I long for some of my peeps to read my words and say, “Good work, Heidi.” Because that doesn’t happen often, it’s important for me to recognize myself, to celebrate my own success–even when it amounts to having sat in my chair writing for 15 minutes on a day I commited to writing. And when I’ve spent a day submitting essays? Then, even more of a celebration of this achievement; because as hard as it is to get myself to sit down and write, it’s 100 times harder for me to send my work out into the world (so many essays remain trapped on my computer’s hard drive).
I live in the Twin Cities area (what we natives call the Minneapolis/St. Paul corridor, built up along the Mississippi River). We are said to have more food co-ops per capita than any other place in the country. One can hardly walk, bike, or drive a mile (a few blocks in dense urban areas) without coming across a food co-op. I’m not sure, but it seems the same could be said for locally owned, independent bookstores. While the Twin Cities wouldn’t win a “per capita” contest with respect to indie bookstores, it would likely be in or near the top ten. There is no dearth of independent bookstores here. But it has also lost some important ones. I still miss my favorite indie bookstore of all time: Hungry Mind.
Dave Unowsky opened Hungry Mind bookstore in 1970, the year I was born. Hungry Mind was located on St. Paul’s historic Grand Avenue on the Macalester campus. Hungry Mind initially serviced the needs of Macalester but, with its well-stocked selection of local and national literary titles, it soon played host to a wide range of Minnesota readers and writers.
When I moved to the Twin Cities in 1998, Hungry Mind became a second home to me. My older two kids were small at the time and, although I hadn’t admitted it yet, my marriage was crumbling. My then husband and I (rather unconsciously—I think) began trading shifts out of the house during our nonworking hours. My “out” shifts were spent sitting on the wood-planked floor at Hungry Minds, in the middle of its vast poetry selection. Hungry Mind, in fact, figures prominently into my memoir-in-progress about my divorce.
During those years spent at Hungry Mind, I was only four-years out from law school, seven years from my undergraduate work. I remember enjoying the feeling of blending in with the students utilizing the bookstore. Perhaps I liked imagining I was still a student—that my life was yet one with limitless options.
Hungry Mind began to experience financial trouble at the same time many indie bookstores were going under due to pressure from “big box” booksellers. I hate to admit it, but a shiny new Barnes and Noble became another place of escape for me. I liked to read (without purchasing) its vast and varied inventory of periodicals in its big, comfy chairs.
Maybe it was the beginning of the end when, to help pay the bills, Hungry Mind sold its name to an online university in 2000, changing its name to Ruminator Books. Ruminator then tried expanding, opening a satellite store at Open Book in Minneapolis, a location that houses The Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Press, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Unfortunately, Unowsky’s decision to expand only increased Ruminator’s financial woes. Unable to make rent, Ruminator Books closed its doors in 2004.
Twelve years later, I still miss Hungry Minds/Ruminator Books. I jealously covet the free paper bookmarks I’ve held onto from both Hungry Minds and Ruminator. After Ruminator closed, the outdoor clothing manufacture, Patagonia, opened in Ruminator’s Grand Avenue location. Last time I checked, it had the same worn wooden floors, but sitting on the floor in the women’s jacket section isn’t the same as sitting in the poetry section at Hungry Mind. In one, I’d look like a crazy lady, in the other; I was just one of many in a community of writers and readers.
I don’t know if Unowsky is still around, but Indie bookstores are back on the rise. In fact, the small publishing house, Milkweed Editions, just opened its own bookstore last month in the same space in Open Book that once housed Ruminator. I visited Milkweed’s bookstore last week and all I can say (for now) is that one never knows who she’ll run into in an indie bookstore. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post.