And then the mail came. A nice big envelope about Wordstock
, the book festival in Portland which I can't wait to see. I love the poster. I'll be reading from my novel
at the festival, and I'll get to see the azaleas and rhododendrons and blossoming trees in town.
I'm staying, in Portland, with a friend who grew up in Riverside, a block from where I sit typing now. She's a great tour guide for Portland, the lovely old neighborhoods, the school renovated to the coolest collection of restaurant, bar and movie theatre I've ever seen. Portland is a great book town, with Powell's as the center of book culture, and I always meet the most interesting readers there. This time, I know my friend and I will get to talk about Beverly Cleary, and Ramona, and Klickitat Street.
I heard an interview with Beverly Cleary on NPR a few weeks ago, and the wonder in her voice as she talked about growing up there, and how she created the characters in her much beloved children's books, reminded me of why some of us are writers. Making up stories, capturing the exact scents and sounds and conversation of a place ? that immersion into someone else's life or, if we're writing nonfiction, into our own.
These past weeks have been crowded, and yesterday my middle daughter hit the hurdle during track practice and tore off most of the skin on and below her right knee. It wasn't pretty. My house was full with my kids, other kids, my ex-husband, my mother, and I was trying to stanch the blood.
This is a tough child. Her profile and hand and one curl of her hair are on the cover of my novel. She has broken her arm, and not cried, but kept a stoic, nearly feral look on her face. Last night, two hours after I stopped the blood, she played in a basketball game, on adrenaline, but today she can barely walk. She hobbled off to school.
I lay awake last night thinking about pain, and my house full of people, and couldn't sleep. At four in the morning, I wrote an essay due today for a new magazine launch in the fall. It's about how my daughters and I have always collected the seed heads in the garden ? columbine, larkspur, Flanders poppies, love in a mist ? and put them into jars to give the people who walk by and ask for seeds from my yard. The seed heads themselves look like elegant Chinese lanterns or papery bubbles topped with strange flourishes. In our neighborhood, there are three or four gardens almost exactly like mine, which started from these small jars.
Given the rest of the week so far, I'm grateful for that.
The other thing that sustained me, at dawn, was reading the journals of other writers. At my public library the other day, I picked out May Sarton, MFK Fisher, Madeleine L'Engle, and Doris Grumbach, all writers I've admired over the years. I had no idea that their lives mirrored mine, and other writers who are working mothers, so well. Madeleine L'Engle wrote a series of journals which were published in the Seventies. In the one I read last night, it is summer, and she is in her New England farmhouse with her own mother, her many children, and friends and neighbors and visitors who constantly clamor for her attention, and need food and clean clothes and time. She can't write, and I know that feeling of the brain being full to bursting like a seed pod. Madeleine L'Engle would walk down her land to a stream, wade into the icy water, and actually sit down in the rush and scream until she felt better. Her family knew better than to follow.
I'm grateful as well that she wrote, and that the book still exists, on the library shelf where I reached for Beverly Cleary as a child, and that I can take books down and hold them at dawn, in my bed, just as I did when I was small.