Connection: Anne Lamott and Naomi Shihab Nye

Last night, alone in the king-sized bed I was lucky enough to crawl into after traveling with my parents to St. Louis for an early morning doctor’s appointment, I opened Anne Lamott’s newest book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering MercyIn order to understand just how freaking delighted I was, you have to know that I love Anne Lamott. I have loved her for years. When I am down, I go to my Anne Lamott shelf and read from one of her many books. I love her so much that this shelf is in constant need of replenishment because I am constantly giving Anne’s books away (this might be a theme with me).

Often, if I need a hit of Anne, I go to the Salon archives of the columns Anne has written for Salon.com over the years, or I check out her FB page on which she shares what it means to be human. I need that so much–that sharing of what it means to be human–that when a new Anne Lamott book is released, I await its arrival with a greedy giddiness that I typically save for a glass of red wine after a long day.

I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night when I opened that beautiful new book. Goddess, there is something beautiful about a small book, isn’t there. The way it feels in the hands–compact and dense. The way the heavy paper feels against the fingertips. The slight give of the spine when you begin to read. Yes, I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night, but grateful too. Grateful to have a few moments with a new book before slipping into sleep in preparation for an early morning.

I was unprepared for the epigraph–Famous–a poem by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye, another writer I would follow into the dark. (an interesting tidbit–Nye was born in St. Louis, MO) A good poem can make me cry. I cried last night because I felt connected–that is what poetry does–it connects us. And that’s why I’m sharing a few lines of the poem here even though I said I would try to share poems only from the public domain.   I encourage you to follow the link so you can read the entire poem.

a few lines from Famous

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

And if you love this one–you will–read more poems.

And check out Hallelujah Anyway too–you won’t regret it!

 

Beauty Begets Hope: Missing Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have not survived against all odds.

I have not lived to tell.

I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.

And thus begins the cool-as-hell encyclopedic memoir of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a book that changed the way I think about writing and living. The book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and it was published to acclaim in 2005. The copy I hold at this moment is not the first copy I’ve held in my hot little hands, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Since the day I opened the pages to this book, I’ve been shoving my own copy into others’ hands–“You have to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal,” I say. “She is one of my favorite authors.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died March 13, 2017.

That Monday morning, I woke with a feeling of space between my heart and my gut–an uncomfortable space, a feeling of emptiness and dread. I’m anxious by nature, so I’m not new to this feeling of floating doom, but often I can point my finger at some insistent and persistent doubt or worry bubbling just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

And no, I’m not claiming to have powers of clairvoyance although I believe there is something of a mystic in all of us, but when I heard the news, I knew that emptiness was a direct and physical reaction to Amy Krouse Rosenthal leaving this world.

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I am a fan. If I lived in the Chicago area, it is likely that I would have been a stalker sort of fan, haunting Amy’s favorite book stores, hanging out at The Bean hoping for a glimpse of the coolest writer ever. As it is, living in the southern portion of the state, I only made it to see Amy once, and it was one of the best days of my life because even though Amy was sick, she was full of life.

On her website, Amy describes herself as someone who likes to make things. In her life, she made 30 books, numerous short films, a couple of TEDx talks, three people she loved a lot, and beauty.

We weren’t friends although I did have the great pleasure of meeting her on August 8 in Chicago. Amy, who was sick with ovarian cancer at the time, held a book-coming-out party for her delightful new memoir-of-sorts, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I’ve said it a million times, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life changed my life. I didn’t like it at first, but then to my surprise and delight, I loved it, I was enchanted, delighted, curious, I wanted to know how she created this outstanding record. It’s beautifully constructed, and the structure is inspired. I have read it over and over because it reminds me  that cynicism is overrated. It reminds me to be genuine and earnest and honest. I thought I might never love a book this way again.

And then Amy got me again with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy with a group of giddy early readers of the book. I read it on the beach with sand on my hands. I didn’t expect to like the texting component as I don’t love texting to begin with, but it grew on me immediately. My phone was sandy and sticky because I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to hear the wine glass sing, to put a message in that bottle, to hear Ted Koch read his poem.

Amy’s memoirs aren’t like other memoirs. They are like walks through her brain on any one day. We get to know her through her thoughts. These memoirs are brain maps.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this blog post since the moment I learned of Amy’s death. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be worthy. I want it to be enough, but if I learned anything from reading Amy’s books and listening to her TEDtalks, from watching The Beckoning of Lovely over and over it is this–“Make the most of your time here” NOW, “Make do with what you have” NOW, “Beckon Lovely” NOW because NOW is more than enough. NOW is the right time to live, love, post on your blog, kiss your kids, eat another piece of blueberry cobbler, take a walk, sing with the Dixie Chicks,  watch that big bellied robin in the back yard.

So here I sit with my grief and my gratitude for Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I write.

A couple of months before Amy died, she went on a train to think, and she asked folks for things to think about. I was feeling pissed and depressed and anxious about the election results, and I wrote to her:

I have been thinking a lot about the place of beauty in the world. I’m wondering if it’s still important to put flowers in vases or set the table nicely or make art. And I’m a writer, so this is a big question. But sometimes I wonder—do we have time for all this stuff when things could get so bad?

I was a teeny bit self-pitying at that point, but Amy went on that train, and she wrote back.

Martin Luther King advised “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” Even in this time of doubtless disappointment, when I witness something beautiful—a tree, a string quartet, the face of a loved one—what I feel is hope.

She wrote a lot more than what I share above, but I want to focus on that hope. Beauty begets hope.

It’s not too much for me to remember. Beauty begets hope.

A couple of nights ago, a friend and I made the most of our time here now and we got tattoos. Beauty begets hope.

A yellow umbrella for Amy and a reminder that I’m enough, what I offer the world is more than enough.

It’s a lesson I may have to learn now that it’s tattooed on my arm.IMG_2479

 

As usual, I want to give you a pair of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books, so if you leave a comment, or send me a message, I will enter you into a drawing.

 

 

Thankful: An Alphabet

I didn’t write last week. That’s not true. I did write and write and write last week, but even though I wrote toward many things, I never arrived. The whole point is the journey, though, right. Arriving is overrated unless you promised yourself that you would post a new essay on your blog once a week. 

Tomorrow we leave on vacation, and it’s very likely that I will not post a blog while we are gone; however, I’m not ruling it out because my cool cousin Gordon wrote a song based on one of my essays (the one where I bust my face). When the recording is finished, I am going to post it here. If that is next week then we are all in for a treat!

I’m rereading Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s book, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life because she has a new book for adults coming out called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I can’t wait. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is one of my favorite all-time books. I’ve had numerous copies. It is a book I reread, give to friends, teach from, and then buy again. Last night, I was reading the entries from “T” and came across “Thankful.” That gave me an idea–why not write a blog post inspired by Amy’s “Thankful” entry? 

Why not indeed!

I’m thankful for…

asparagus (in spite of the pee thing) and art and artists and aardvarks–isn’t aardvark a great word, fun to say and write. There are very few words that make use of the double a. Off the top of my head I can come up with bazaar and naan and aargh. I’m lying. I did not come up with these words off the top of my head. I googled “words with a double a” and was directed to a cool Scrabble website.

breakfast and beans (because Eric is a vegetarian and the rest of us aren’t, but he’s always happy with a pot of beans) and brothers–I have two of them and they are both handsome and kind and funny, and if I’m at a party and my brothers are there, I will always end up hanging out with them.

bruises because they remind me to slow down and not bang myself into the edges of tables trying to get something done. 

books, musty or crisp-paged, palm-sized or two inches thick, a thin volume of poetry or a three volume history of something or another. I like pages and typeset and hard covers and black ink. I love the way a book left in the rain or dropped accidentally into a bathtub will swell and bow out.

birds and birdsong–waking up to birds in the morning because it’s spring and the windows are still opened.

cats–especially my cat Jozee who is a mouser extraordinaire and if she were big she would just eat us.

Call the Midwife which I have just discovered and is available on Netflix

cousins–inappropriate and witty people in your family tree who like to dance to Sister Sledge’s We Are Family and bring casseroles when you are sick and support you when you write a blog and write songs about those who have left us.

diet Coke and DirectTV because it keeps the family busy when I want to read, and dresses in the summer because it’s hot as hell (I think).

dandelions–both persistent and insistent and despite all of our attempts at eradication they persevere.

dad–dads who hold you up, pick you up, make kick-ass burgers, always bring wine, laugh at your jokes, and love you not in spite of but because of your lifelong aspiration to contrariness.

eggs (scrambled, dippy–this is what I grew up calling sunny side up eggs, hard and soft boiled, poached–my poached eggs look like egg drop soup, deviled, and in a salad), empty rooms, elevators (I still like to push the buttons), and elephants.

fries–with ketchup, with salt and vinegar, waffled, spiced, curled, made of sweet potatoes or russets or even polenta; fairy tales; and flax seed (not really, I just had a good rhythm going!).

friends who meet you for lunch or wine or ice cream, friends you’ve known your entire life or just a week, friends who call when they are hurting because they need to hear your voice or stop by for a beer because you are on the front porch, friends who laugh so hard that they snort soda through their noses.

grandmas (having them and being one); grandpas; gorillas; grapes–super cold and firm, or frozen–I swear they taste like candy.

grace–never expected; glimpsing–that moment when you think you see something but you aren’t sure; gin and tonic on the back porch in the hot sun; and grandkids–I only have two so far, but they are by far the best small people I have ever met.

hippies (born too late, but always aspired to be one); help (receiving and giving); heat; home; hostas–so big and green; hampers and hills and hollyhocks and humility.

and of course, Hillary. I love her and I’m thankful for her hoarse and shouty voice because she has been speaking into and over power for a long fucking time.

ice cream (I’m partial to chocolate).

idiot a word that can be said a variety of ways, my favorite being idyot.

jello (watch it wiggle, see it jiggle); jelly beans; jingle bells; and juice (especially grapefruit which goes great with gin).

kleenex for crying and colds and the occasional snotty nose of a small child who is visiting  and ketchup for hamburgers and French fries even though my husband puts it on eggs and cottage cheese–yes, I said cottage cheese. Who does that? I might have to take ketchup off the list.

kids–Lefty, Isky, Peanut, and Sheldon, if my list could contain only one entry, this is the one I would keep.

lips (I am a fan of the full on-the-lip kiss, none of that sissy cheek kissing for me) and love–bigger than we know, all around us all the time even when we don’t know it or expect it or believe in it or even want it, bold enough to save us if we only let it.

my mac book–it’s shameful how much I love it.

mothers, being one, knowing many, having one who continues to teach me everything I need to know about joy and love and grief, who cooks a beef roast like nobody’s business, whose smile blings up any room she enters.

nieces and nephews and Nellie Olson who was so good at being bad that I both loved and hated her and what a great lesson that was–being able to hold two opposing feelings at the same time.

old folks–smart and resilient and crusty and sweet old folks who tell it like it is and bake cookies for their neighbors and hold the stories we need in their hearts.

ocean–the waves and the sound of the waves, the mystery and the danger, how salty it is and wild, how it is always there when I go back each year, in spite of our best efforts to destroy it.

principal–especially the one who is my sister and my best friend, who brings me cucumber salad mix from Chicago and a book with writerly quotes, who shared a bed with me until I left home and put up with any number of bad habits on my part, cover hogging, reading until morning, nervous coughing, and the cat-like way I would pad my feet against her legs until she screamed.

pistachios, salty, delicious, shelled pistachios, especially those requiring extra effort to release from their barely cracked shells. Eating them is more gratifying.

picking pimples (I know, gross); pizza without onions; pasta with cream sauce and vegetables; and pugs–snorting, reverse-sneezing, shedding, flat-faced pugs.

quiet. no radio, no TV, no CD playing, the kind of quiet that encompasses birds singing and wind blowing through the trees while water drips and drops upon and from green leaves.

some q words I like: querulous, queasy, quip, and quandary

resting in a hammock (I wish I had one)

raptors–hawks, eagles, buzzards–I love them all.

silly jokes and Silly Sally who “went to town, walking backwards upside down” and summer with its heat and humidity and swimming and sweating.

soap in the bar shape I became accustomed to as a child, soap with little scrubby nubs and expensive soap that smells like lemon and mint and rosemary and plain old Ivory Soap that leaves my skin feeling tight and somehow cleaner.

turtles, the box turtles you come across along the side of the road that you take home and try to keep in a box or in a sandbox in the back yard, but they always get away; the snapping turtle in the lake whose big head pops up ominously and makes lake swimming seem more dangerous than it is.

tans (I know this is bad, but I can’t help it, I love the way a tan looks although I do wear sunscreen which I do not love but am probably thankful for) and t-shirts with graphics that say things like feminism is the radical notion that women are people, or Hillary Clinton for President: I’m With Her!

umbrella–mostly the way I say it with the emphasis on the UM instead of on the BREL because this makes me feel unique and ukuleles because I like the music and the word. I mean is there a better, happier, more upbeat word than ukulele?

violins and violas and violets and vivid colors. words like vivisection and virulent.

vaccinations which are safer and more available than they were years ago when Edward Jenner smeared cowpox pus into lesions on a small boy’s arm.

wind and weeping willow trees; washing machines as opposed to washboards; whistling–I don’t do it very well, but I certainly appreciate a good whistler.

walking and writing–most days, a crone I know and I walk together even though we live states apart. When we are finished walking, we write to each other about our walks. This practice has saved my life many times over.

warrior women–my tribe

x-rays (so far I haven’t needed many, but I’m glad they exist)

yellow–I prefer creamy yellow to bright yellow in clothing. I have lots of t-shirts this color because they look soft even if they aren’t. Lots of things I love are  yellow–dandelions and black-eyed susans, butter and moonbeam coreopsis and goldfinches and the walls in my kitchen and those big suns that kids draw with crayons.

zzzzzz–I like zebras okay, but I normally wouldn’t put them on a “thankful for” list and I think the word zaftig is fabulous, but most z-words don’t do much for me, although maybe I’m just leaving the zone…

Darnit! Lee Martin Is A Man!

It’s not as if I didn’t know this.

I’ve met him several times. Lee Martin hails from a small town only 15 minutes from the small town where I live in southern Illinois. We have friends in common. I’ve heard him read several times because while he doesn’t live in this area, he comes home.

His book of essays, Such a Life, is one of my favorites.  You see, in his fiction and nonfiction, Lee Martin writes about folks who live in small towns in rural areas where the landscape is field–yes, field is a landscape type. He often writes about events (many tragic) that happened in neighboring villages.

The true story Martin’s The Bright Forever, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was based on unfurled just a county over. I didn’t live here then, but my husband did. He was a teenager and remembers how when the young girl went missing people from all over went searching. I don’t know Lee Martin well, but from what I can tell, he is generous, kind, and male.

The male part poses a problem for me.

Yesterday afternoon, when UPS showed up and I unwrapped the heavier than I expected package–heavier than I expected because I thought it contained an elasticized belt for carrying phones or insulin pumps during exercise–and found the belt, yes, but also Lee Martin’s new book, Late One Night, I was both surprised and delighted. Who doesn’t like receiving a new book, especially one by a great writer/human being? (I know, I know–there are those who say the great human being part doesn’t matter, that the words on the pages between the covers should stand on their own, but they don’t, at least not for me.)

Now it’s not that books don’t regularly show up on my doorstep, dropped off by Gary of the big brown box truck, because they do. I have a book ordering problem, and one-click ordering doesn’t help. I’m a book hoarder. It is not a surprise when a book (or seven) in a box shows up on my front porch although I try to act surprised if Eric’s home. I might say, “Wow, one of my delightful and literary friends has sent me a box of new books. I’m so lucky.” Eric just rolls his eyes; he is not often fooled by such a ruse.

I knew that Lee Martin’s new book was out or was soon to be out, and I knew I would read it, but I wasn’t expecting it, and because I wasn’t expecting it, I lost my head. I turned the book in my greedy little hands, admired the dark cover and the compact heft of it. Without thinking, I carried my new treasure out the back door into the bright spring sun, and I went straight for my chair.

I blasted through the first three chapters. I love Lee Martin’s books because I know the people in them. They live down the road or around the corner. I see them in the grocery store and when I go for dog food at Rural King. I dive in and find myself strangely at home. And even though his books are often dark, plumbing the depths of evil, hope, and human resilience, there is what Richard Rohr might call a “bright sadness” to Martin’s characters.

I closed the book after the third chapter and sat with my eyes shut against the afternoon shine for a moment, and then it occurred to me–“Shit! Lee Martin’s a man!”  I promised myself that I would read books by women–only women–this year. I can’t read this book today or tomorrow or even next week or next month.

I can’t read this book until January 1st.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been reading mostly women writers for a long time, so when I made the women writers vow, I didn’t expect to rue the decision even once. Expectations are a bitch, though, and now I’m pissed. I started Late One Night, and I want to finish it. I could cheat, and I consider it. But in the end, I know I won’t.

So here’s the deal. Yes, there’s a deal.  Since I can’t read this lovely book yet, one of you can.  No, you can’t have my book. I am hanging onto it. I’m a book hoarder, after all. This one is on my night stand where it will remain unopened until January 1. But if you comment below, I will put your name in a hat or a cup or a small box or probably a little basket. On Monday, I will draw a name, and to that lucky winner, I will send a copy of Late One Night.

If you are the winner, the only thing I ask you to do is share the book with your friends, and you will want to. I know it’s a good one!