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waves & clouds

We went to surfer’s beach the other day. It rained twice on the hour drive out, and then the sunshine won. The beach was crowded for Kodiak—maybe ten families and a couple of four wheelers, but we outlasted most of them. Our dog, Schooner, abandoned us for a little redheaded girl who threw a stick for him about 200 times. The boys dug tunnels and waded and played the exact same game we loved to play here as kids—the one where you follow the receding waves toward the ocean and then scream and race away as the tide sweeps in. I was a tiny bit fearful that some wave might carry them out and kept circling the boys like I was playing a zone defense. There was a time the only consequence I considered in this game was jeans wet to the knee.

I kept thinking about place and time overlapping. Witnessing my boys delighting in the same act, at the same beach—maybe it was my Once More to the Lake moment. Except without “the chill of death.” I recognized their joy from memory, and I felt as if my own joy in this moment was deeper for knowing it twice. All I felt was happy.

And I didn’t want to live anywhere else.

Sometimes I get nervous about the book coming out. I didn’t set out to write personal essays. I’d been hoping to stick with the hidden  narrator of journalism. On perfectly beautiful days like this one, I can’t imagine writing a word against life on Kodiak.

A friend just recommended the novel A Paris Wife. I opened the book today and the Hemingway quote as epigraph reassured me somehow.

“There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.”


The Muses Among Us

Some words from Kim Stafford’s lovely book

“In my experience, all pleasure in writing begins with a sense of abundance–rich knowledge and boundless curiosity.”

“…for the writer what I call “tricks of beginning,” those initially natural but incrementally more complex and sustaining experiments with language that simultaneously honor the voices around you and the voice within you.”


“… My life of writing is rooted in the fragment…”
“There is a story in my family that my grandmother’s physician, during her pregnancy, prescribed an hour of beauty a day. There is no report of dietary restrictions, exercises. No, she was simply to take her music, or her sunset, or the unworked colors of the quilt spread by the lamp before her. While others did chores, she sat on the porch and watched the slow inevitability of the twilight, heard the crickets chanting the beginning of the world night by night. She was to take the roll of pasture by evening’s mist, the looming shape of barn and of elm, the warm September moon hung low over the corn rows. She was to take these things to nourish her child, my mother, within her. I feast on this story. It teaches me the fundamental practicality of close witness of the world, which is the beginning of art.”


On keeping a notebook:

“…instead of staring at a blank page to gather my thoughts, I leaf through the little notebooks to be reminded of many rich beginnings. The question then is not ‘What shall I write?’ but rather ‘Which, of the many beauties in my notebook, do I wish to carry forward?’

My own writing routine surges in a stream of notebooks, letters, and drafts of stories, songs, and essays, all in simultaneous development. A certain amount of chaos flavors the whole rush.

Gifts of rich lore surround us all. While others seem to observe these offerings on occasion and by chance, noticing and then letting them go, I make the hearing and recording of them my mission as a writer, and a key invitation to writing students. Dreams get away if we don’t tell them, or write them down. Thoughts do the same. The writer’s greatest chance may be devotion to the passing fragment. It is small, but it is pure, and it may hold a compact infinity. You heard it for a reason.”


On writing daily:

“Writers know this when they are writing daily. With the first stroke, the hand may swim, the pen glide. The cold glass of the window brightens; the rug has a biography. Sweet tension of silent meeting throbs in the room. Unsaid words grow powerful, wish to speak out. Ideas gather their bones and rise up. A face becomes a life, a place a story. Everything speaks, or is powered by silence. Everything dreams aloud. The pen grows numb with haste, yet calm with plenty.”


sometimes you find a book at exactly the right time

A few more lines from Writing From The Center by Scott Russell Sanders. I love this book. Whenever I pick it up, I find myself, upon setting it back down again later, saying thank you thank you thank you.


“To be centered, as I understand it, means to have a home territory, to be attached in a web of relationships with other people, to value common experience, and to recognize that one’s life rises constantly from inward depths.”


“We need to know where we are, so that we may dwell in our place with a full heart.”


“The effort to know and care for and speak from your home ground is a choice about living as well as writing. In that effort you are collaborating with everyone else who keeps track, everyone who works for the good of the community and the land.

Trees tap into the soil, drawing nourishment and returning fertility. Capturing sunlight, breaking down stone, dropping a mulch of leaves, replenishing the air, trees improve the conditions for other species and for the saplings that will replace them. So might writers, through works of imagination, give back to the places that feed them a more abundant life.”

skiff rides

And here’s the bay on another calm day. It  looks like I’m waving the camera around, but we’re just bouncing over the waves on the way to the setnetter picnic. I couldn’t really move my arms because Luke fell asleep on my lap. It was kind of uncomfortable. But it was a beautiful day.


I love this piece by Brian Doyle:


(and I love these boys)

It is a craft and an art and a prayer. It is exhausting and enervating and epiphany. Once begun it does not end, forever and ever amen. It is to be privy to miracles all day and night. It is laundry and cooking and cleaning and barking and insurance and doctors and bandaids and toothbrushes and cereal and yelling and praying and weeping and snorting with laughter and teaching them to walk and talk and read and do complicated algebraic somersaults and trying to seed their souls with grace and courage and mercy and independence, and then watching heart in mouth as they sail away into the ocean of pain and joy and heartbreak and brilliance that is their own life to make, and all you can do ever after is be ready to listen and hold them when they need you which they do.

This is Being a Parent, and it’s essentially impossible to explain or train for, and it makes you gaunt and gray, and the only tools that really help are patience and love and sleep, but o the joy, the exquisite holiness, the power and passion and poem of love it is!

And so much else that we cannot articulate no matter how much we try.

There may be no greater confusing complicated joy available to human creatures than that of being granted the mysterious gift of children.

The best things I’ve read lately

“Foster” a short story by Claire Keegan

Train Dreams, a novella by Denis Johnson

“First Up: Barnstorming for Poetry” Samuel Green’s reflections on being Poet Laureate in the state of Washington

In the Skin of a Lion, but I like pretty much everything by Michael Ondaatje

“People Like That Are The Only People Here” by Lorrie Moore. As I was reading Moore’s story, I thought of that Emily Dickinson line about how she recognized poetry when a piece made her feel, “…physically as if the top of my head were taken off.”