Archive for February, 2013

Makers all

DSC03634My smart, wonderful writer of a daughter is in a PhD program in the English department at Purdue University, and she reported the irritation literature scholars and others felt when Purdue tagged itself as “makers all,” in honor of its strong hands-on programs in engineering and the like. I did have the phrase ringing in my ears this week, though.

I am completely not crafty except, perhaps at times, in the Machiavellian sense.  But one of my sisters and I decided to make stepping stones.  Here’s my result!

When my sisters and I were little, Ethiopian Airlines made one stop a week on the savannah below Maji, our misty mountain home.  The savannah was hot with crackling grass…pretty much as my brother and I captured through words in Water Hole Waiting.  That’s the thing.  I capture sensations in words.

WW cover smallI’ve been amazed in auctions for VCFA or Ethiopia Reads at the writers who can also do delicate and astounding things with their hands.

But on the hot savannah, embedded in the sandy soil amidst the crackling grasses, were stones–like jewels, like dazzling glass bits, like treasures from an old tale.  While my sisters and I were waiting for my dad to finish up his business with EAL personnel, we braved the blazing sun to find them.

wwuhaDon’t we look hot as we get ready to get out of the plane?  About the only shade was under its wing.

So when my sister saw stepping stones with bits of embedded glass, I just had to try making one.  It called to me with a siren song.  Since I am, however, NOT a craft person, I discovered–thanks to my sweetie’s pointing it out–that the shell I embedded was either going to get crushed or poke someone’s foot.

My web hunt about stepping stones led me to other people’s crafty ways.  I know of Etsy but had never tried ordering things.  While I experiment with stepping stones, though, I decided I had to order one that could actually be walked upon.  This weekend, in rainy Portland, I set it in a spot I’m trying to reclaim from the grassy wilds.

DSC03639My making has to do with polishing and twisting and shaping and tapping on words to see what effects I can create.  Apparently, though, my garden is now compelling enough to make me, too, one of the makers all.

Lanie would be proud!

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The rare warm day

1 RiverFriendlyRiverWildOur family moved to North Dakota in January, not the month when you really want to move to North Dakota.  By the time the front and back doors had stood open for an entire day–so the movers could lug our furniture and books and other things inside–the poor furnace couldn’t possibly keep up and the house was completely chilly.  Not long after that, we met a couple who had moved from Nashville.  “It’s not how cold it gets here that bothers me,” our new friend said.  “What bothers me is how long winter lasts.”  That was never more true than the year of the big flood.  By April when the river overflowed the dikes, we were seeing no green.

Many years, May found snow on the tulips.

Here in Portland, though, we just had a gorgeous sunny warm day in February.  I loved poking around the garden to see what had survived the wet and chill of winter.  Would such a day feel so good if we hadn’t looked out on the puddles for so long?

???????????????????????????????This moss was so nice and bright when I put it in the garden.  Now it looks pretty scraggly and awful.  I can’t wait to see what more sun will do for it.  Meanwhile, I’m prying up pieces of true moss (this is sun moss) and putting them into this spot.  Some people spend a lot of time trying to get rid of moss, while I’m trying to get it to grow.

In Ethiopia, we had rainy season and dry season.  February here is a gorgeous time there–perhaps getting a bit crispy in spots, but in the southwest, where I grew up, we had green most of the year.  I remember running out into mist, thick and mysterious, trying to figure out what was happening to the plants and rocks and trees I felt so connected to.

GondarmistYears later, my breath caught as I looked down over the misty city of Gondar, the ancient capital, looking just as mysterious and fascinating as my childhood world.

Japan 027

Here in Portland, the newscasters have been talking this week about the fleeting thrill of cherry blossoms.  When I did an author visit in Japan, the people who showed us the blossoms always made the point that they stand for beauty especially poignant and heartbreaking because it’s so brief, such a flicker here and gone.

Norway 039This time several years ago, I was speaking in Norway.  The stark rocky landscape doesn’t strike anyone as a here-and-gone kind of place.  But of course rocks shift.  The earth splits and heaves here, too.

Oh for the words that rumble and stir our blood, that shake us and soothe us, that remind us of what’s here and what’s to come.

Strange love

Many of my friends love to be home…but I have a strange, fluttery passion for not being home.  I like the energy fields of airports and the rituals of getting on a plane–most of the rituals, anyway.  One of the first pieces of literature I claimed to read (before I actually could decode words) was the emergency card from an airplane pocket.  I like waking up in new places and looking around for what interests me.  Most years, February would be a story of my odd love for on the road again.

Some people loathe revision…something else I have a deep and strange passion for.  Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t wallow in despair and frustration when I’m revising a novel for young readers, as I now am.  One of my friends shared an Ann Patchett quote that describes what this particular February of revision is like for me: 

The process of writing books is somewhat akin to a very long police  interrogation in which the detective leans over the table littered with  the butt ends of cigarettes and cold coffee in Styrofoam cups and says  for the 87th time, “Now let’s go over this again.” It is a study in  repetition, the ability to read the same page, paragraph, sentence until it could be recited backward and in French in hopes of figuring out  which detail is missing, which idea is false.

Yes.  Ack!  Which detail is missing?  Which idea is false…or not yet deeply true enough.  When bits of the answer bubble up from my undermind, I leap with thrilldom.  So this February, I’m not on the road but I’m loving a different challenge.

In the 1970s, my dad was in charge of closing things down for the Presbyterians in Ethiopia, making sure schools and clinics and other projects were turned over properly to government agencies, ushering all of the other Americans out the door, turning off the light as it were on the dreams they had come to Ethiopia with.  My parents and others left, mourning.  Would they ever get back?  If so, would any mark be left?

Yes…and yes.

I’ve now been exploring with bringing some book love to Ethiopia, myself, and after 15 years of volunteering, I often wonder if what we’ve done will stick.  If we had to pull out tomorrow, would any mark be left?  I know how easy it is to build furniture and ship books compared to what it takes to make sure those books are surrounded by fierce advocates, people who understand and are determined to share their power. 

But…like travel…like revision…I find that a stubborn piece of me loves being in the game.  Loves the hard questions.  Loves the discovery. 

I hope I’ll always find ways to indulge my passion for the odd and intriguing cracks where bits of light seeps in.