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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grey to Color, Quiet to Busy to Quiet

Summer. Michigan. Early morning sky before sunrise, no longer dark with night, shows a few sparse, low clouds in the east as the first song sparrow wakes to sing, and a small breeze stirs bedsheets hung the night before on the line. (In the coming hours they will dry in the sun.) Inside the house I can see to walk around without lamps but need more light to make the coffee and put away clean plates from last night’s dinner as the small breeze insinuates itself through window screens, mixing outdoors with indoors: moving air and birdsong, but lamplight and wood floors, this is the early summer morning, open windows inviting the outdoors in. We have slept with sounds of night in the freshening air, as if we were tent camping in the woods, and now we wake slowly to the slowly waking world of meadow and forest edge. The house is as still as an old sepia-toned photograph, holding itself motionless, all its objects holding their breath, so that the only indoor sounds of life are breathing and brewing coffee, the more compelling notes calling through the windows from the world outside, “Come out! Come out! Come out!” Later, in sunlight, all the world will be awake and hurrying through the day. Now is the sweet, small hour, still within and beginning so gently to stir without, the hour that can be one’s own to walk in silently and gratefully. “Come out! Come out! Come out!”

Later I arrive in Northport to find the sky clouded over but town bustling with activity. Besides all the boats in the harbor, Friday is farm market day.

Of all the many things George Anderson has done for his community, this is by far my favorite. “May I take your picture?” He was happy to oblige.

I shared a few small bites of croissant with Sarah, but she was still happy to rummage around in the bottom of the bag for crumbs.

The sky cleared, the sun came out, and everyone was happy. It was a busy day in the bookstore with customers and friends--overlapping categories, I’m happy to say—and a lovely evening at home at the end of the day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Taking Another Look at Various Things

The Summer 2010 issue of the Dunes Review is so good I have to honk its horn. Many of the writers’ names are familiar to me, but others I’m learning for the first time. Good writing is definitely alive and well in northern Michigan. For a couple of days I kept thinking that this is the best issue ever and that the little literary magazine has improved greatly over the years—and then I picked up an old Dunes from Spring 1998 (only its second year of existence) and was reminded how excellent this publication has been right from the beginning. I have a few copies of recent issues still in stock, so come and pick up the latest and any you may have missed, if they’re still here. Don’t wait too long!

Here’s another something that deserves another look. Penguin Books is having its 75th anniversary this year, and yesterday, coincidentally, old Penguins kept jumping into my hands. Three of them came out of one box, and I brought in a fourth from home for this picture. Penguins have always stood for quality, both in content and in their physical packaging. They stand up to the years well. The three small Penguins here all survive from the Sixties. A more recent Penguin (not pictured) is the very popular Three Cups of Tea. Maybe one of your grandparents remembers buying a brand-new paperback Penguin from Woolworth’s?

Yes, yes, I’m always photographing wildflowers close up, but I don’t always notice everything in the picture until later. This little ant escaped my eye on the morning dog-walk, but here it is on the bright yellow mullein bloom, clearly visible, adding interest to the image (IMO).

Should I show my toes or not? Oh, sure, I bet toe pictures will be almost as popular as Barbies (or do I flatter myself?), so here they are, before and after Karen Dietrich at Shear Pleasure worked her magic on them.

What else deserves a second look? If you haven’t been to Northport lately, you haven’t been to Northport, and Friday morning is the farm market down by the Depot, down by the harbor, so bring your appetite, cash and a cooler. Vendors will be set up by 9 a.m. What will our local growers and bakers have for us tomorrow? I can hardly wait to find out.

Frustration Leading to Plan B

I really wanted to upload a short video of Sarah this morning, but all I got for my trouble was an error message. So if you want to see what my world looked like last night, click on this link. Image above is a preview.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Life I Have: Stimulating Conversation and Reading

"An ounce of practice, worth a pound of theory, takes a ton of patience." - Stephanie Mills, On Gandhi's Path: Bob Swann's Work for Peace and Community Economics

Stephanie Mills, Sunday's guest author at Dog Ears Books, had to provide me with this lovely picture of herself, taken at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ (which was at the time hosting and exhibit of Dale Chihuly's glass art--see background). I had to ask her for a photo because in the midst of all the intriguing conversation on Sunday afternoon I forgot to pick up my camera at all. I'd already been kicking myself a few days before for never having anyone take a picture of me with my visiting authors, and beyond that, I had wanted to ask Stephanie if I could do some portrait shots of her, more than the usual, casual, candid snapshots I usually take (when I remember to do so) at book signings, but somehow--oh, well, no use crying over spilt milk. The important thing is that she was there at the bookstore, holding us all spellbound.

It was rather a reunion of 1960s survivors (not all made it through the decade), with each of us coming from a different experience of the Sixties. Stephanie Mills, ever since her graduation from college, has led a life of commitment to ecology and the environment. Bob Swann, the subject of her latest book, also led a life of commitment. His passions were peace, Civil Rights, intentional communities and local economies; in every instance, what he strove to do in his life was to develop and hand on tools for peaceful, sustainable, small group independence.

Sometimes I imagine a life I might have lived instead of the one I did live. Sometimes the imagined life is on a working farm. At other times I am a world traveler. Often in my alternative, imagined life I took the path of music. There are others, too. For each imagined life, I can look back to see a small step or two taken in that direction--my son in an alternative school, our move to the country, my brief career as a blues singer--and then a turning from the path, a different path chosen. What, I wonder, happened to those who stayed on paths I traveled only for a short while? Some of the answers are in this book. There are a lot of memories here for me, too. There was time spent out on Stewart Lake in Barry County, where Circle Pines Camp brought Bob Swann in his own time. I too remember the political protests of the Sixties, the back-to-the-land movement of the Seventies, the Michigan Land Trust and School for Homesteading developed by an interdisciplinary group of professors at Western Michigan University. Where are they all now? It makes me happy to see local food production coming again to the fore of public attention, perhaps stronger than ever.
In highly urbanized, industrialized North America, access to arable land is not so clearly understood as being fundamental to household and community subsistence and social order as it is in peasant countries. This misconception may change, however, as economic decline and the end of cheap oil mandate the relocalization of food production and much else besides.

My beans are coming in. Our local farm market has come into its own this summer in Northport. There may yet be chickens in my future. For the time being, however, I am fortunate to be living a life that includes meeting and talking with fascinating writers and readers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

We Are Still Kids at Heart

Before the confession of childishness, which we prefer to interpret as joie de vivre, two public service announcements:

First, do not forget that Stephanie Mills will be at Dog Ears Books tomorrow, Sunday, from 2 to 4 p.m., signing her newest book, On Gandhi’s Path. This will be a good time to visit with Stephanie in general and have good conversation with her about her lifelong career as an ecology writer and bioregionalist.

Second, who left this cap behind at Thursday’s author event?

Now, some of the toys that grace our lives--.

Poet Al Bona was happy to have prints of a couple pictures I’d taken from his book launch party, but as we were looking them over together I spotted a stray item that shouldn’t have been included. “That shouldn’t be there,” I said hastily, pulling out the stray print. “What’s is it?” Al asked. “Oh, those are just David’s Barbie dolls.” A shocked look: “David has Barbie dolls?” “It’s a long story,” I told him, “for another time.” People were coming through the door for another bookstore event (Oomen and Busch), and there wasn’t time right then to tell how David had found the dolls at a garage sale and how much fun he was having posing them in dioramas on our front porch. Besides, what would I answer if Al asked, “Why?” There is no explaining all the ways the artistic impulse manifests itself. How to explain the rubber frogs and rats on the edge of our bathtub, their dialogue written on the tub in magic marker? Our eight-year-old grandson seemed awestruck by the old folks' bathroom.

For my plastic horses, however, I claim no highbrow justification, aesthetic or intellectual. I saw them (at a different yard sale, a few years back), wanted them and, miracle of miracles, could afford to buy them. As a young girl, I could almost never afford to buy these coveted items—maybe only twice—as the money for each took long weeks of scrimping, allowance and birthday money usually burning a hole in my pocket before I had enough for the purchase price. So why did I buy them as a middle-aged woman? To recapture my youth? Or to capture the youth I couldn’t afford to have when young? I just wanted them, that’s all. And anyway, they look good above the door of the Painted Horse Gallery, though when I climbed up to photograph them the other day I could see that after three years the whole shelf and all the horses could use some work with a dustcloth. I really mean it: “No kind of housekeeper at all.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Were You There? If Not, Here's What You Missed

Visiting writers Anne-Marie Oomen from Empire and Benjamin Busch from Reed City (currently, not originally) arrived in Northport on a slightly drizzly Thursday afternoon. It was, I told the audience at Dog Ears Books in my brief introduction, the first real conversation between these two writers, and the rest of us were privileged to be on hand to “eavesdrop” on it.

Ben spoke of his writing as a search that more resembles an ellipse than a straight line. “I’m distracted by bright, shiny objects,” admitted this actor-photographer-filmmaker-writer. Poet-playwright-essayist-teacher Anne-Marie, reading from her recent book of travel essays, emphasized the importance of maintaining an openness to new experience when traveling off the beaten path. “You’ll find plenty to write about, if you do that,” she advised. Despite the openness to life that she needs to maintain, Anne-Marie agreed with Ben that a writer’s life always includes a sense of partial spectatorship and that, while attention to the moment is crucial, further discovery always takes place later, in the writing itself.

A bookseller staging an event, like a hostess giving a party, knows the sense of spectatorship, too, that feeling of not being wholly present in the enjoyment of the moment. I’d set up chairs before the guests began to arrive, but as the crowd grew we had to add more, and still people continued to arrive. That’s always a good thing but requires constant vigilance—greeting and seating without undue interruption of the proceedings. Traffic noise from the street: I had to close the door during the reading, and then, good-by breeze! A fan helped move the close, humid air around but also interfered with hearing the writers read their excerpts and the casual, conversation between the two, so the fan couldn’t stay on fulltime, either. I sat behind the audience, rather than up with the speakers, to make sure the speakers were audible and the air not too stifling, only interrupting a couple of times to suggest returning from discussion to reading. It wasn’t like having Anne-Marie and Ben all to myself on my front porch at the farm (with all our spouses present, too, of course), but I take pleasure in sharing writers with others, giving their presence and living voices to my bookstore patrons. Though the writings are always the true, original gifts, as a bookseller I enjoy giving this secondary gift to my community.

All that is beside the point, and I don’t know why I’m even mentioning it, except that it’s part of my memory of the event, because--fan off, door closed, chairs crowded close together, bookseller distracted from time to time--none of that discouraged audience attention. Poets Al Bona and Todd Mercer and mystery writers Elizabeth Buzzelli and Robert Underhill were among those present, and naturally they, as writers, would be attentive, but so was everyone else, and I wish I could have heard every single conversation after the reading, but I was too busy selling books to circulate in the happy, buzzing crowd.

What new works will Oomen and Busch give the world in the next decade? All I know is that we who were together on Thursday will be glad to remember being with them in Northport on that rainy day in July 2010.

There was just time for the bookseller to have a drink at Stubb’s Sweetwater Grill with her writer guests before they sped away to other commitments. Hugs all around. So quickly over, after all our months of scheduling and planning! Did it really happen?

“Nothing is fully real until I share it with Charles,” a friend wrote to me many years ago. (That friend and I still write letters on paper to each other, folding the paper, addressing envelopes, affixing stamps and mailing the letters.) So home in the rain I drove, Sarah beside me, to share stories and photographs with David, who was resting up for a big Friday of his own events. He will be at the Artisan Design Network (ADN) gallery in Traverse City from mid-morning to mid-afternoon and then at the big annual Art Leelanau bash in Leland later in the day. This is summer for us: nonstop.

And now, next at Dog Ears Books, this Sunday we will have author Stephanie Mills from 2 to 4 p.m. See my last post for more on her latest book or just come to be surprised and delighted.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Three Talented Michigan Writers at Dog Ears Books This Week

“After the elegance of tall trees, these are short, matted. Tree clumps. Troll-like. She gives me no words, but I will eventually learn the one for this: krumholz. Crooked wood. I think at first that their tops have been harvested. Now they have sprouted these low branches that twist together in gnarled clumps and lean in one direction like tattered flags. But she tells me this is what the mountain winter does—blows away their tops. I think of Emily Dickinson’s words about a good poem taking off the top of one’s head.”

- Anne-Marie Oomen, “Wild Poem”

“Growth rings fascinated me. The tracing of time was never made so clear to me as in counting of the rings on a stump. The thoughts of youth deep inside and ever smaller as they constricted toward the core, the first thought that the rest have grown around. The years of ample water were thick, the years of drought thin. The wood was harder when conditions had been the worst. It seemed like that with some people, too. But our skin grew and fell off; the rings were lost and there was no way to easily track our age or how we had made it so far. Our mind quietly held the rings in its folds. The hard times were all there.”

- Benjamin Busch, “Growth Rings”

“All too often, leaders are people who write checks that other peoples’ bodies will have to cash. The more exalted the leader, the more bodies bear the consequences of the leaders’ directives, of their action or inaction. The more distant the authority is from the locale, the less sensitive and intelligent its directives are apt to be. It seems that worthy leadership is not so much the power to send others forward as to go forward oneself in creative work with others thereby to serve the common good. While he was an idea man and an encouraging speaker, Swann’s ratio of action to talk was high. He was willing to start things himself, beginning where he was.”

- Stephanie Mills, On Gandhi’s Path: Bob Swann’s Work for Peace and Community Economics

Okay, I’ve out-done myself with two big events and three outstanding writers in one short summer week. What should I say to lure you away from the beach and into the bookstore? Please read on.

You already know Anne-Marie Oomen. You know her work. Poet, playwright, essayist, teacher—she excels at all and nurtures others to find their own excellence. This is the first time she has come to Dog Ears Books, and I hope it won’t be the last. Don’t miss her!

The second name on Thursday’s double-header bill may be a new one to you, but this is a chance for you to meet Benjamin Busch early in his brilliant career. Busch, who lives with his wife and children on a farm outside Reed City, is probably more familiar to you for his acting roles in Homicide, The Wire, Generation Kill and other television shows than as a writer. That will change. But his talents do not stop there. A two-tour Iraq veteran (U.S. Marines), he has had two exhibits of photographs from that time, “The Art in War” and “Occupation,” his memoir, “Bearing Arms,” appeared in Harper’s magazine, and his essay on books, paper, trees and memory entitled “Growth Rings” was featured in the Fall 2009 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review. He has also directed and produced an independent film and recently toured with writers Phil Caputo and Doug Stanton to offer “Writing War: Three Perspectives.” So you see that no grass has been growing under this busy writer’s feet.

I’m excited about having Oomen and Bush together in Northport. Both of them are such multifaceted writers, Anne-Marie with her stage and Ben with his film experience, in addition to memoir and poetry for both of them, that I have no idea what may come out of their conversation, and it’s a great opportunity for readers to meet and ask questions and learn about a wide variety of creative work and how one kind feeds into another.

Poetry, memoir, stage, screen, photography, classroom—these two writers do it all. How can you even think of staying home when so much talent will be right here on Waukazoo Street, from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 22!

But even that’s not all, because the following Sunday (I’ll take a big, deep breath between the two events) Dog Ears will be hosting Stephanie Mills, Leelanau County’s own nationally known essayist, ecologist and bioregionalist. Her new book, On Gandhi’s Path: Bob Swann's Work for Peace and Community Economics, is something of a departure and quite fascinating. It is a biography of Bob Swann, an architect and activist whom Mills also identifies as a “decentralist.”

Who was Bob Swann? When I saw that no less than Wendell Berry (one of my all-time heroes) had written an introductory page to the book, I wondered how Swann had passed under my radar for so long. No matter. Stephanie Mills brings him to us now. This biography also focuses on perennial Mills themes: simplicity, awareness, responsibility and local community. Swann, like Mills, seems to have been epicurean in his outlook--not self-denying, not sacrificing, but rejoicing in his way of life.

Come enjoy a Sunday afternoon with Stephanie Mills at Dog Ears Books, July 25, 2-4 p.m.

No one can fit all the events of summer into one season’s calendar, but if you make either or both of these author dates, you won’t regret it, I promise.

Our Glamorous Evening in the Big City Lights

The bookseller and the painter love movies, too, and last night was the long-awaited evening, the Traverse City Red Carpet Premiere of “Christina,” award-winning independent film produced by Leelanau County friends Rebecca Reynolds and Jim Carpenter. We walked quickly through a light sprinkle, and there it was ahead, our destination.

We were not the first to arrive.

No need to stop to buy tickets. “Christina” was sold out long ago.

The line for ticket-holders, however, stretched to the west, and we had to walk its length to get to the end.

This was our view of the red carpet entrance.

Inside we had a much better view, third-row seats (I love sitting up close), center stage. The renovated State Theatre is beautiful.

Light streaming from the upstairs projection room set the mood.

Affable host Michael Moore loves to greet the crowds.

After the show, the writer-director Larry Brand and actors Stephen Lang, Nicki Aycox and Jordan Belfi took the stage--live! I loved hearing them talk about the making of the film, which thrilled me largely because it was a writer’s and actors’ movie. What I mean is that the film's momentum was not created afterward, artificially, in the editing room but built into the script by the writer (who was also the director) and actualized on the set by the actors and director with long takes, sequentially shot.

Grand Traverse Bay offered its own drama after the show, as did every moment of changing light in the sky.

Becky Reynolds generously posed for amateur photographers with her sister at the afterglow party at Martha’s Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay, but I couldn't bring myself to take more candid shots of the film people, after so boldly snapping away in the theatre.

The next morning, only memories remain of our glamorous evening, but those memories will remain for a very long time. What an evening! And now it's time for me to go back to work.