The Books

How are you?

A weird thing about me is that I feel less lonely. I’ve been mad at the unfairness of the world since I was ten years old, and now it seems the whole world is with me. I told you!

I haven’t put in nearly as much time here, partly because I’ve been working on publishing some books. I’ve spent a great deal of time agent-seeking, and workshop attending, and though I did have interest from agents several times, nothing ever panned out.

This made me feel like a failure.

It has been my primary goal in life to have a book published.

The last time I really worked hard at this, I went to a conference in New York City. Most of my group were enjoying Manhattan and the conference. I was trying to stay awake, and not have so many panic attacks.

I made one great friend at the conference, and I had more people say, “This is good. You can get this out there.”

But then, I didn’t.

It was cold comfort that friends with good books often didn’t get agents, and people I knew to have books I never would read had published their books.

I had attempted to figure out an online publishing platform in the past, but got frustrated.

Whether it’s middle age, mid-life crisis, or anxiety, I’ve had much less energy the last few years. I’ve felt like I need to budget myself even more carefully.

I was so afraid that I would go through all this work– writing the pieces took years, years, and the publishing stuff took days– and then only my mom would buy a copy.

My mom would always buy a copy. If she had the dough, she’d buy 1,000 of them in secret.

Like all artists, I’ve had some surprise successes and many, many, many painful rejections. The main thing I love about this blog is that it’s totally my creation. Although I will not put anything up if I think it isn’t useful or beautiful, it’s a wonderful way to get my writing out in a lower-stakes situation.

I’m pretty much over the fact that I was not DISCOVERED by SOMEONE POWERFUL who PLUCKED ME FROM OBSCURITY, a la “Julie and Julia.”

Pretty much.

It has given me a chance to share work with a larger audience, especially with people who might have some things in common with me that don’t come up in casual conversation.

When I did announce I was publishing the books, I was so heartened. Many friends let me know they were excited to buy one. Many people congratulated me. Because my only goals were to stop hating myself for not publishing a book, and to have someone other than my mom buy a copy, I can now say it’s been a success.

I had been so embarrassed of self-publishing, thinking that it would prove the world did not want to listen to me. But this was not a helpful story. I know that plenty of “successful” writers feel like no one wants to listen to them. I know it’s not really about that.

If it were not for pandemic, I probably would not have had the time or energy to do all the book prep. Trying to make that lemonade. During pandemic, there are so many reasons to be depressed, pessimistic. Finally there was a day I thought, I’m going to try this again, just for like a minute, and then I got sucked into the long process.

It’s one less thing to feel bad about.

It’s also been a little money in my pocket, WHICH I DO NOT MIND AT ALL. I hate Big Internet Company, but they do make my work available, and I make like $7 a book.

I think the last time I got paid for writing was when I wrote a piece of art criticism, around 2008.

Well, I have been paid to write some curriculum materials.

Anyway, this is all to say thank you for reading, and to let you know the books are available. The creative exercises have not been published anywhere in their entirety, and neither has the novel, but fair warning, the teaching memoir is built from posts I originally posted here.

I have a new cat, a gift from a student. And I have enough work to get by. I wish you calmness and steadiness and patience in living through so much grief.

Recalibrating

Scarab, ca. 1981–1295 B.C. Egyptian, Middle Kingdom–Early New Kingdom Steatite, blue glaze; l. 1.7 cm (11/16 in) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1922 (22.1.367) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/545243

I’m going to do a series of activities to keep myself from blowing away (or up) with the insanity and chaos that are 2020.

I’m going to call it recalibrating. The world has yanked me all over the place, mopped the floor with me, and I need to figure out how to return to where I belong.

When you I do activities like this, I settle into my deeper self, my real values, and notice my size, that is, I settle between narcissism and self hatred. Where sane people live.

I looked through a bunch of those lists of self-care things to compile my own assignments that run through November 17. If we make it to November 17 (unimaginable, right?), maybe I’ll set some more goals.

Perhaps you’d like to follow along, and also do the peace-making task, and comment on how it went.

This is what Week 1 assignments are:

Monday: yoga class

Tuesday: work out with a new toy

Wednesday: I will sing. Sing a song. Make it simple, to last my whole life long.

Thursday: I will make a list of things that are DONE, rather than list things that aren’t done.

Friday: I’ll listen to some kind of motivational or comforting talk.

Saturday: list things I like about myself (already dreading this one)

Sunday: do the gratitude list thing

What I’ve done so far (since I’m starting in the middle of the week):

Monday’s yoga class focused on a story of an eagle god who saved his mother with nectar of immortality. It wasn’t quite as strenuous as usual, which was good, because I was feeling not that strong. I was waiting on covid test results.

Before the class began, I was back in that place of, “I don’t want to live in this world anymore,” which is not to say suicidal, not wanting to do anything about living or the world, just feeling the weight of the president having a deadly disease and lying about it. Ya know. I was thisclose to skipping yoga, in favor of doomscrolling, but I have friends in the class, and I’d already said I would be there so… I showed up.

And I enjoyed connecting with my awesome teacher and my classmates, and my little lamb eye pillow during shavasana. I’m a real fan of the flax seeds resting peacefully on my eye, saying to the eyes, I’ve got this. Relax. (Note: these things are so easy to make. Buy flax seeds, they’re between $5 and $10. Sew a little pouch. Sew it up. Polyester or soft cotton are my preferred fabrics.)

Tuesday… why did I buy such a heavy medicine ball? Jesus. It’s eight pounds, and doing this around the world thing, I thought I would collapse. It’s cool to carry it in the house, but the lady on the TV was making me lift it over my head, between my legs, and back!

I kept reminding myself that I usually underestimate what I can do physically, rather than overestimate. I’ve heard most women underestimate the amount of weight they can lift/carry/haul/pull to safety from a burning building.

The youtube video I chose had an instructor with one of those crazy stomachs, that when your stomach sees it, your stomach goes, ahhhh! and pulls in because it’s terrified. “DON’T DO THAT TO ME!” I won’t, I reassure my tummy.

I got back my covid results that evening: negative. Whew.

Weather

At the gas station, a woman pulls up on the other side of the pump. “Are you a Chiefs fan, or a Jayhawk fan?”

She has a mask covering only her mouth. I’m masked though, and we are outside.

“Uh, Jayhawk fan,” I said, since I have no interest in racist mascots or games that result in so much brain injury.

“So I have these,” she said, holding up two plaques, one regular Jayhawk, one Jayhawk playing basketball. “Which one would you like?”

“Sorry, not today,” I said. “But good hustle.”

I meant good hustle. In New York, good hustle is one of the primary routes to respectability. Midwesterners don’t generally like to be seen as hustling. It suggests you might need money, which you shouldn’t.

How would an older woman take my comment? I cringed. Well, I tried to say something nice.

Survived the weekend staying in my apartment while my cousin got married 40 miles away. It’s the only major family function I’ve ever missed, in 43 years.

I drove to a drugstore in the next town over. There were signs that said to drive to the drive-through window for the covid test.

Behind his window, a young white guy walked me through each step. It felt so good to be walked through something, and to know I was doing it right. I thought of the millions of times that, as a teacher, I’ve broken down directions into tiny steps, the billions of times I’ve repeated myself, or slightly rephrased what I said, or gestured, to get my point across.

Because he had told me clearly how to complete this depressing duty, I was a little in love with him by the time the swab had tickled both my nostrils to a sneeze. Fifteen seconds each.

Now I know for sure how to get myself to sneeze, should I ever need to. I don’t know why I would need to, but then, I didn’t know I would need to stay out of my parents’ houses for months.

On my way home, I stop to pick up groceries. Fifteen people are holding signs on a sidewalk. How could there be a protest I don’t know about?!

It’s a pro-life protest, right in front of the huge parking lot where the university held all its covid testing, a month or so ago.

They’re spaced out for pandemic safety, but still I find it so strange. What are they doing? Either it is amazingly admirable, or completely ridiculous, in our current crisis.

One of the protesters is a nun in an old-fashioned habit. None of my nun friends wear habits. So whatever.

The road by the grocery store has been completely ripped up now, only one lane of traffic. So I do the new around and about route. It keeps changing. The spot where you picked up your groceries kept changing, and now the roads keep changing.

I text, and tell them my name, and then a young man brings out my bags. As he picks up one of them, the cinnamon rolls and cereal and mac and cheese boxes fall out.

I did not get out of the car to help him pick the stuff up.

“I’m sorry, I just-“

“No, I’m sorry, I’m only not getting out of the car because pandemic.”

So someone, in this situation, must yell and throw a fit. I’m better than that person. But not so good that I stop myself from explaining why I have been impolite, so that he knows I am good.

He put three brown bags of groceries in my back seat.

“At least it’s really nice weather,” I say. I desperately miss talking about the weather with all the random people I ran into. It wasn’t the weather, it was, “hey, I’m a person, you’re a person, I see you there, person, existing in the same place I am existing.”

“Yeah. I wish they would finish working on the road. The traffic flow is weird. And I’m trying to figure out how to be prepared for when it’s snowy out here.”

“Oh, me, too,” I said. “Me, too.”

Image: “Young Husband: First Marketing,” Lilly Martin Spencer, 1854, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Grasshoppers and Ants

She was walking her whole neighborhood of cul-de-sacs, eight of them. The grasshopper was fat, and virile, and in the middle of the sidewalk, and would be eaten. She had no shoes. The grasshopper had no leg.

“Look at this guy,” I said.

“Pick it up!” the kid said.

“You pick it up,” I said. I brushed my cell phone case against the grasshopper’s side, trying to turn him so he could walk.

No, that other leg was not hiding somewhere. It was gone.

“I guess we can’t help him,” I said. The kid and I walked on. “I guess we need to call and get him on a leg donation list so he can get a new leg.”

Kid was busy approaching the next house. Ring doorbell. Step back. “Hi, I’m having a car wash and I wondered if you’d like to come.”

I’m struck at how she reveals only a sliver of nerves at each door. As an adult, when I’ve done political canvassing, I’m nervous every time I go to a door. As a child, I would never have gone to all the doors in my neighborhood. I was on the cusp of door-to-door becoming Too Dangerous.

Once things become Too Dangerous for kids, they rarely return to the right side of things.

I got wrapping paper, cookies, candy to sell, to fund our school, to pay for a trip with the orchestra. I handed the sheet to my parents and they took it to work. This was never super successful, as my dad’s office had no more than four employees.

Kid was wanting to go to every house. I was finding this a bit dull, but appreciating getting my steps in, so I could go home that afternoon and not move again.

Most doorbells, blessedly, create no action.

“Don’t you need to put shoes on?” I said as we left the house.

“No, I don’t wear them to play outside,” kid said.

Being in the “auntie” position, I could either insist on shoes as a safety measure, or shrug. This time I decided to shrug. I couldn’t believe her feet could handle hot pavement. And the basic spectacle of a barefoot person wandering the neighborhood appealed to the Huck Finn in me.

“You’re either Huck Finn or a Beverly Hillbilly,” I said.

No response from kid.

“I’m on a call right now, but I could have a car wash in a little bit.”

Kid thrilled.

“Okay, I’ll see you!” Kid runs back to the house to assemble hose, bucket, soap, sponges.

I go inside and return to some grown-up nonsense that is calling to me.

We just left the grasshopper in the middle of the sidewalk. He was doomed, wasn’t he? A bird would get him? I could have moved him into the grass, but what would that matter?

I set my coffee on top of the car. I drove away. My lovely ceramic mug holding the perfect blend of coffee and chicory and oat milk was flung by gravity onto the asphalt of 11th Street.

At about that same spot, about 100 years ago, a man accidentally ran over a child with his automobile. It was one of the first cars in town. I never could figure out if the child made it or not.

I put the car in park, and got out. It did occur to me that I could be hit while picking up the pieces, but it’s a small town. I grabbed the big fragments and hurried back into the car.

Yesterday my mom told me that a family friend was ill. I considered having a panic attack, but instead took a dose of the medicine that keeps me from hiding under the bed all day.

The day before, I read online that a local school district was switching to all in-person school. A few weeks figuring out the complications of two days in person, two days online, and arranging for child care help (I was a helper). Fury shot up my spine and my head was screaming.

When my coffee cup flew up and away, I wasn’t stressed. “Well, that sucks,” I thought, even though it isn’t easy to find a ceramic travel mug. Ceramic is a comfort material for me. I’d find another one. I liked that one. But I wasn’t in love with it. And I had plenty of time to find a new one. Maybe an exact replacement, even.

I keep thinking about that grasshopper.

How I want to walk back over there (it would only take three minutes) and carefully pick him up and put him in a shoebox full of kleenex. I would say, “I’m sorry I let you down.” I would be the Samaritan, not the priest.

“You like touching bugs!” another kid said.

“I don’t want to!” kid said.

I would carry the shoebox back to the house. I would call for a grasshopper ambulance.

When the ambulance arrived, I would ask them to speak softly, and share the grasshopper’s vitals with them.

As he was carried away on a stretcher made of fireplace matchsticks and gauze, he would put his big agony grasshopper eyes on me and I would know he felt safe. And taken care of.

As we walked back to the house, crickets popped up in the grass, and butterflies appeared and disappeared, and ants, too tiny to be noticed, went about their work.

Image: “Six Stages of Marring a Face” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art.