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Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Muddled View of Current Events

Wednesday started out early as "one of those days" -- beautiful morning with heavy dew (I went out barefoot to hang clothes on the line); horror statements emanating (again) from the White House; smiling friends’ faces on the streets of Northport; sad news that a Northport woman had died at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City; no long lines at Tom’s, where I went to buy a paper, but I’d forgotten it was 5% senior discount day and hadn’t gotten together a full shopping list; a man slipping into the bookstore before I was ready to open – I told him I’d be right back and ran next door to Deep’s, but found coffee pots empty; then a string of happy bookstore customers, including one woman who returned to tell me how much she loved Mr. Rochester – had about 80 pages left and needed to hurry back home to finish it! Up, down, the momentous and the trivial all mixed up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After the usual morning errands, instead of sitting in the car by the harbor to read my newspaper ... or taking Sarah out somewhere north of town to escape village streets a while longer ... I decided to walk around with my camera (and dog) to look for happy sights. needed some happy sights. One of the first I found was the smiling face of George Twine of Abundance Catering. George and I discussed the sad topics of death and politics -- how could we not? -- but were also mindful of our good fortune in being where we are, among familiar Northport friends.

Colorful blooms and blossoms everywhere in town, both nurtured and volunteering on their own, were worth stopping to admire. 

I would have photographed David Chrobak and his new dog, but his dog took exception to Sarah's presence, so we continued quickly on our way -- stopping, however, for an unexpected beauty down by the creek. Hushed, we stood quietly and watched.

You can tell dog parade is past and the start of another school year coming on by glancing around at all the parking spaces on village streets. Even Tom’s parking lot on 5% senior discount day was not crowded.

Author Sarah Shoemaker stopped in, and I wasted no time in handing her a signing pen. But why didn't I think to grab my camera and photograph her signing her book? Next time! (Sarah, be forewarned!) People are still coming in to tell me how much they love Sarah's novel. Sometimes someone takes a break to come in and talk about it, reluctant to reach the end. I know the feeling!

The other evening I finally settled down to reading something very different, a book by George Orwell I’d never read before and one I probably would not have appreciated in my younger days. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell describes in detail (he must have kept a daily journal) his time in the Spanish Civil War, both how he felt at the time and how he looked back on the time afterward. There are also chapters in which he discusses the politics of the conflict, both the official versions put out by journalists far from the action and the very different reality he and friends confronted on the ground. The author advises readers not interested in politics to skip those chapters, but why would anyone not interested in politics be reading the book in the first place? Well, that’s my at-home reading, anyway, in the morning dark and before going to sleep. 

...I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. ... It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. ... There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also I believed that things were as they appeared....

What Orwell initially believed he had found among the Catalans was a true classless society, a society of “complete social equality between all ranks,” even in military fighting units.

At the bookstore one day, during a quiet moment, I also got back to a book on Camus that had been buried in a tall stack. Albert Camus: The Artist in the Arena, by Emmet Parker, is one I need to start over again at the beginning, but opening to where I left my bookmark (Chapter 4, “Men of Justice; ‘To Err is Human...’”), I find the author focused on Camus and the French Resistance during the World War II, and the parallels to the case in Spain a decade earlier fascinate me.

Many in the Resistance, Camus included, looked on the end of the German Occupation as an opportunity for meaningful social revolution; as was the case in Spain in the 1930s, however, there was no cohesive organization uniting all the different groups known collectively as the Resistance. Another parallel was the war/revolution conundrum: Must revolution wait until the war was won, or could war and revolution go forward together? There was no general agreement on this question. Thirdly, in both 1930s Spain and in France following World War II, there was a strong sense that the Communist and Socialist parties “betrayed the revolution.”

In France, following the Liberation, the Socialists proposed bringing prewar leaders, including collaborators, into a new provisional government.
Camus categorically rejected this proposal. Acceptance of it, he was sure, would mean the return to an order characterized by cowardice, abdication of responsibility, conniving parliamentarians, and personal ambitions, an order that was merely [sic] disorder.

Not long ago I read a book called The Ambiguity of the American Revolution. Looking back on the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, and the Nazi Occupation and Allied Lliberation of France, I can’t help but wonder where we are now, in our country, on the long arc of the universe. One of my favorite movie lines goes something like this: “God loves you just the way you are ... but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.” It’s easy to point the finger at people we judge to be worse than ourselves. But how can we be better? That is the question life poses to each one of us.

Are you dead certain or hopelessly confused? I am both. Pretty clear about the world I want to see but confused as to what I can do to move it in that direction. Give in to rage -- and escalate division and violence? Take the nonviolent high road -- and allow hate to flourish? Would the methods of Gandhi have been effective against Hitler? Did our Civil War resolve sectional animosity? Some of my friends come down 100% on one side or the other, either total warfare or absolute peace and love. Do I wish to see the matter that clearly, or would clarity only be oversimplification?
I live in a beautiful place, but I am part of the “real world” of hard work and anxiety and conflict, too, and there is no “path forward” laid out for any of us in advance. We can only do our best to carve one out. And then, sooner or later, whatever we do, the grass covers our bones, and the next generation takes its turn. That’s true, I know, but ... it doesn’t tell me what to do while I’m on this side of the grass....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

August Races Along, As Do Busy Days and Nights

Have I ever had a busier, more event-packed “day off”? Friday morning (after housework and dog walk) began with a drive to Traverse City to restock one of my best-selling (metaphorically hay-making) summer books, then a quick turn-around to get to Northport for the weekly farm market and to do errands before heading up to Arcadia Woods for the annual summer luncheon of a group of fiction writer friends. Four leisurely hours of shop talk and catching up over wine and salads and fresh fruit tart. It was refreshing to sit with friends on a rainy day while Grand Traverse Bay lay cool and blue beyond the windows.

I’ll confess that on the way to Traverse City I stopped to photograph fields of sunflowers (see more sunflower photos here), and between Arcadia Woods and Northport I detoured through the little Woolsey Airport parking lot to photograph the old dairy building against stormy skies.

After the extended lunch, I went back to the bookstore to give Bruce a much-needed break. He had been deluged with book customers all day, nonstop, and after his break the two of us carried on until closing time. (One of the children's book sections had been so depleted by shoppers that I had to move things around on Saturday morning to fill the shelves again.)

At five o'clock on Friday I hurried home to put a quick supper on the table before leaving with a friend to drive down to Holy Rosary in Isadore for a world-class chamber music concert. 

Isadore is literally nothing more than a country crossroads. What would its original Polish farmer settlers think to hear Mozart played with such panache so close to their fields? On the way home, we only had to dodge one deer in the road, and it was dark, so I wasn’t going very fast.

I closed my eyes for a minute or two, and suddenly it was Saturday, the day of the annual Northport dog parade. The twenty-first annual dog parade in Northport, mind you, and also the first time an agility competition has followed the parade. A red-letter day! David and Sarah and I were only spectators, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. David thought it must have been the biggest dog parade ever, and Sarah wagged her tail throughout the whole event. I’m told the agility competition was also a great success.

Not sharp focus but great costume look...

and many attempted photos turn out worse.
We love little Rudy!!!
Parade participant greets spectator Sarah

And now another dog parade is over for a whole ’nother year. Hard to believe. 

Time is racing. Coneflowers and tall native grasses sway in my meadow, Eagle Highway is bordered in chicory blue, and modest roadside ditches are beautiful now with fresh cattails, Joe-Pyeweed blossoms, and – although it is a terribly invasive alien we do not want to encourage – the bright spires of purple loosestrife. August vacationers are cramming in their last weeks of fun before school starts again. 

The daughter of an old friend came by the bookstore, and my heart warmed to see in her face the features of her mother. It made me feel old but happy, too. When my friend died, it broke my heart to think I would never see her again, so I love seeing her in her daughter’s face. The other daughter has a new novel out, and I want to read it but don’t want to be rushed when I do. I want time to slow down, but no, it doesn’t. Time is racing.

I hear an autumn sound and look up to see a V of Canada geese overhead. No, not yet! Where did the sandhill cranes go with their young ones? Gone already? Thistle seeds are ripening, to the joy of the goldfinches looping along the driveway, and the branches of my little apple trees are heavy with fruit. There will be more dried apples this winter, I think with a happy sigh. But no, let’s not think too much of winter yet....

It’s still summer, still “the season,” and yet time is racing. I try to keep up with dishes and laundry, along with working seven days a week, and between us, David and I keep the grass mowed. “How do we do it?” he asks and then answers his own question: “A little at a time.” 

Not only have I fallen behind with my reading as time races by, but I’ve even fallen behind with writing about the books I’ve read. For instance, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving. I commented on Facebook that this is probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and yet I’ll probably have to re-read it if I want to compose any kind of meaningful and persuasive essay. I’d love to have a discussion with other people about it – say, if the library book group read it in 2018 or if “Trinity Reads” chose it as their focal book of the coming year.

The coming year? There are still months left in 2017, I remind myself, and I can’t let September 13 pass without some special observance of the date. It will be the 10th anniversary of my first blog post, the 10th birthday of Books in Northport. Whoever thought I would keep at this for ten years? But whoever thought, back in 1993, that I might celebrate a quarter-century of bookselling in 2018?

The other evening, musing on time’s fleet passage, the disappearance of old friends, the way successive generations are coming along now at what seems like breakneck speed, and the difficulty of making time for remaining friends to reunite, I got out Mardi Link’s Drummond Girls to re-read. Drummond Girls is one of those accessible memoirs that can seem almost fluffy at first but then surprises by deepening as the chapters go by, much as, in the book, the women’s friendships and confidence and other relationships deepen as they mature.

Even as time races by and I am challenged to find enough reading time, I find myself picking up books I’ve already read – because for me re-reading any book is like a visit with an old friend. (If I didn’t enjoy it the first time, there would never be a second.) Never to re-read? I can’t imagine that. It would be like saying, "I’ve had lunch with those friends once, so why get together again?" Or, "I saw the dog parade last year, and once was enough!" When love and laughter and poignant insight are on offer, who would ever say no?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Our Busy Days and Nights

He stands by his statement!

Wednesday evening, August 2, was the long-awaited reception for my husband, David Grath, at the Dennos Museum Center, where his one-man exhibition, “Three Decades of Landscape Painting,” will be up through September 9. And when the $5 million new addition is completed and opened in late fall, as planned (or surely, by the end of the year?), the permanent collections gallery will include one large David Grath painting. (Not the one pictured below, but turn left when you enter the gallery, and you'll see the one I mean. You see part of it above, over David's shoulder.)

We stand together, thrilled to be there
It was a thrilling, memorable evening for us -- one we will never forget as long as we live. Owing to the many delays, pushing the reception back beyond the film festival to August, many of our friends had conflicts and could not attend, but enough people managed to get there to make a lovely, large crowd. To say that we had a “wonderful time” would be understating the case wildly. It seemed almost like a dream.

Gathered to hear director's welcome and introductions
I must not neglect to mention Eugene Jenneman, director of the Dennos, and his wonderful staff; the magnificent caterers; and our own dear friend Dan Stewart, intrepid videographer of the evening. We are grateful to so many people for making this happen and joining us in a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of David's work!

Artist David Grath and museum director Gene Jenneman

Videographer Daniel Stewart

An unusually early bookstore morning
The very next morning I came to Northport shortly after the crack of dawn to clean and organize myself, the bookstore, and the gallery for an evening author event. The big storm came during my 3-6 p.m. break at home, so I was able to get to the bookstore again to meet my guest author without dodging lightning bolts.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” indeed! The Leelanau Conservancy cancelled its 4-6 p.m. event in Leland, and a Northport woman called the bookstore to see if Gregory Nobles was still on for the evening. Yes, indeed, I told her. Some people arrived late, but eventually we had a respectable turnout for a lively evening of tales about John James Audubon.

Author Gregory Nobles
I had been struggling to put into words my general response to the book, which was that reading it was immersion in the America of two hundred years ago. Much more than merely a biography. Then as Greg began to explain the way Audubon placed each species of bird on the page of his huge elephant folios, picturing the species in its natural surroundings, I had a brainstorm: Just as Audubon put a species in its place, its own regional habitat, so Nobles puts Audubon in his cultural time in American history.

And again, many thanks are in order: to guest author Gregory Nobles; his wife, Anne Harper; to our new township librarian, Nellie, for loaning us A/V equipment for Greg's slide show; to my talented and overworked husband, artist David Grath, for setting up chairs in his gallery for the evening event; and to the intrepid audience who braved the elements to come to the bookstore, gladdening the hearts of author and bookseller alike. Great to have you all here!

Sarah Shoemaker and Bronwyn Jones
Two major evenings successfully accomplished, I overslept a bit on Friday morning and had to hustle to get myself to Northport in time to shop at the weekly farm market, do my usual weekday morning errands, return borrowed A/V equipment to the township library, and open by 10 o’clock to accommodate a conversation between writers Sarah Shoemaker and Bronwyn Jones. It is a bookseller’s privilege to eavesdrop on visiting writers as well as being entertained by guest presenters. Sarah and Bronwyn will be presenting an event onstage at Kirkbride Hall in the Grand Traverse Commons at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 10, so check that out if you’re in Traverse City.

David had to be in his gallery early today, also, meeting people who wanted to buy paintings. For one woman, buying a David Grath painting at last was a dream come true. Making dreams come true, seeing dreams come true, having our own dreams come true – even in the dizzying blur that is our busy summer, we are grateful for the richness of our wonderful life. 

Summer -- a beautiful blur of days!