Summer ’19: Dog Days Become Book Days

Right after my son’s grade school let out for the summer, we decided the timing was right to add a puppy to our family. The following Saturday (6/15/19) we brought home a 10-week old bernedoodle. Her name: June Carter.

10-week old June

I knew it would be a summer filled with little else but puppy training and monitoring; I signed on for the job. But the reality was even more work, more chaos, and more sleep deprivation than I had anticipated. My husband has said he would not do it again. I am less sure.

5-month old June

She is, after all, pretty cute. This is true even if she spends most of the day “playing” with Bilbo (the cat) and Bilbo spends most of his days executing complex mind games against June. This is true even if June’s bladder is not yet an extended-wear model.

With June the dog and my nine-year old underfoot this summer, I rarely achieved the deeper dive I need for writing; in consequence, I read more than I wrote this summer. I guess you could say June helped me remember the joy of summer reading.

I rediscovered the benefit of checking out books from the library: a firm deadline.

Six of the memoirs I read (all pictured above) involved death or debilitating (potentially mortal) injuries and/or disease. I am drawn to such memoirs and an entire shelf of my home library is devoted to the topic of death and dying. For fun, I read a historical account of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s various historical dwellings in Minnesota. He lived in a surprising number of places. The Fitzgerald book has inspired a new (or, more accurately, revived) essay-in-progress.

Favorite summer reading location; a hammock in my backyard.

Two of my writer friends, Joy Riggs and Katy Yocom (Bilbo can’t stop talking about Katy’s book), published books this summer. I highly recommend both books! My final summer read was a collection of essays by Randon Billings Noble. This book flows seamlessly, from one essay to the next. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of essays so quickly. I will link to reviews of these books (links on the authors’ names), once I have them up on Goodreads.

Perhaps you didn’t know you can support an author by reviewing their books online. It’s all about good “litizenship” (being a good literary citizen). I stole this term from Hippocampus Magazine, where I serve on their editorial staff as a reader. I am not certain if Hippocampus was the originator of the term, but I like it! I love to see my friends publishing books and, it reminds me that one day, yes one day, it could be me with my name on the cover of a book.

To that end, I am back at it–writing, revising, editing–now that my son is back in school. I have three shorter works publishing this month: an essay in an online publication, a review, and a piece in St. Paul Almanac (an annual anthology).

I’ve Been Holding Back

I’m always holding back. I hold back my writing, because maybe I’ll use it somewhere else someday. Maybe there will be a better time or place to put my words out into the world.

I hold back feelings of hope in a futile attempt to tamp down the potential for disappointment.

I hold back feeling joy, in an effort to stave off feeling sadness.

I hold back love. I’m not sure why I hold back love. I sense it has something to do with trying to keep chaos at bay. For me, love and chaos were once intimately linked. At the very least, I know I hold back love when my world is at its most chaotic. For example, whenever my youngest son’s health issues creep into the forefront of our lives, as they have this fall, I fold deeper into myself. My capacity to show love to those in my life declines. My life becomes singularly focused on trying to control the uncontrollable: my son’s health.

I attended Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words writing retreat in northern Wisconsin two weeks ago. It was my fourth time attending this retreat; I always come away with new insight and new words. I’m still shaping some of the essays I started at that retreat and I’m mulling over the direction I received from Kate, other attendees, and my inner guidance: overhaul your entire manuscript. Begin again. Rewrite it a fourth time. This time, actually retype the whole thing. I’m kind of resisting the direction right now. I know this because I started applying for editorial jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to be an editor again, rather than a writer, I ask myself. I ignore the writing contract that I made with myself last May, when I graduated with my MFA, when I agreed to let my “writing self” have a year before my “get-shit-done self” stepped in and told writing self to get a real job.

Even in my resistance, I’m still thinking about the rewrite and how it will be done, how the manuscript will be shaped so differently this time around. I’m reading about five memoirs right now. Reading to observe structure, more than to absorb content. That said, I’m sucking the marrow out of Claire Dederer’s Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses. I’ve come late to the Poser party, but am so glad I came.

Another bit of wisdom I brought back with me from Wisconsin is an idea that another writer shared. This writer shares a first name with me, so it’s only natural that her wisdom would resonate deep within. She told us she was trying to move from “ego writing” to “soul writing.” She described the difference. Ego writing resists going deep and, instead, slips safely along the surface. Soul writing, in contrast, dares to reveal the shadow side, dares to become all it can be. In other words, soul writing doesn’t hold back.

It feels scary to me, but I am going to watch for the places where I am holding back. In those places, once observed, I will ask myself if I can give a little more. I will take small steps until it no longer seems so scary to give myself to my writing, my loves, my life.

Like birds do, I want to enter each day with a feeling of abundance and generosity. I’m tired of living small; I’m tired of holding back.