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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Improvements, Mysteries, Plans, Excitement

If you haven’t been to Northport in a while, you might not know about all the renovations and additions to the marina park. After driving by and gawking for weeks on my way to errands and work, I finally walked down with Sarah one day to see the improvements up close. Northport's sheltered harbor and easy walking distance to bank, library, post office, shops, galleries, restaurants, and grocery store make it a popular stayover for boaters, who also enjoy Music in the Park concerts throughout the summer on Friday evenings.

Beautiful, big new bathhouse at marina
One other boating note: See new link in my blog list for Northporter Kevin's solo Atlantic sail. Follow him! The word "intrepid" definitely applies.

A local team working with a hired consultant has been exploring how our community, Northport and Leelanau Township, can come together on “Designing and Achieving Our Potential” in the near future. Property owners in the township will receive notice in the mail along with their summer property tax bill, and I’ll have more information, too, as the first public meeting, July 29, comes closer. The entire process is intended to be community driven, fluid, and transparent.

Mystery Poem #3 Arrives
On a more personal note, a third Mystery Poem appeared in my post office box last week. (In principle, it should not have been put in the box, since it bore only a street address and no p.o. box number, but our local post office went the extra mile, and I thank them.) This one does not say on the back “This is a poem,” and it lacks the sender’s initial--H., you’ll recall--but otherwise Mystery Poem #3 follows the pattern set by the first two. It was typed on a manual typewriter on lined paper, paper folded with poem inside and address typed outside, adorned with a variety of interesting postage stamps, and postmarked “Metro” (i.e., Detroit). The poem this time is short and sweet, and I’m no closer to identifying the poet than when I received the first one, but it’s a charming mystery, isn’t it? And I love the poem:

My summer calendar has pretty much come together, in a very exciting way, with the following bookstore events planned:


July-August 2012

Thursday, July 12, 11 a.m.
Bill O. Smith – recitation & signing
Chickadees at Night

Wednesday, July 18, 4 p.m.
Laurie Kay Sommers - signing
Fishtown, Leland

Sunday, August 19, time TBA
Bonnie Jo Campbell – reading & signing
Once Upon a River

Lynne Rae Perkins (illustrator)
Seed to Seed: The Legend & Legacy
of John “Appleseed” Chapman

Am I thrilled that Lynne Rae Perkins wants to have her book launch party in Northport? You bet! After all, as a Newbery winner for her YA novel Criss Cross, Lynne has a place in the children’s literature Pantheon. The new book she has illustrated, Seed by Seed, by Esme Raji Codell, about Johnny Appleseed, will be released on August 21, and I’m already thinking of how to involve local apple growers, cider makers, and history folks, so keep a watch here on “Books in Northport” for details concerning that late summer book party. Maybe a Caldicott is next for Perkins?

Before then, however, only a couple of weeks from now, we will have the author of another beautiful and fun illustrated children’s book, Bill O. Smith, coming to do a recitation from his lovely Chickadees at Night. Birders and grandparents, mark your calendar for Bill’s appearance on Thursday, July 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and if your grandchildren are visiting, bring them along, so they can sign Bill’s petition to have the chickadee replace the robin as Michigan’s state bird. Bill will convince everyone, I'm sure! He is a passionate chickadee advocate.

In an upcoming post (as soon as my copies arrive) I’ll tell you more about the Fishtown, Leland book and Bonnie Jo Campbell’s return visit to Dog Ears Books (Once Upon a River, now in paperback, available here now). You’ll also want to check out the summer author series sponsored by Leelanau Township Friends of the Library, because they've got a great lineup this year.

For today I want to showcase a new 500-piece jigsaw puzzle from Avery Color Studios in the U.P.  because all Avery products are “proudly printed” in the U.S.A., and nothing says “Vacation!” and “Summer cottage!” like a good Michigan jigsaw puzzle.

New from Avery Color Studios
Coming from a very different angle, Avery’s new book this season is I Talk/You Walk: 40 Years of Winning Defense Strategies, by U.P. lawyer Thomas P. Casselman, and if you’re wondering why you would want to read such a book if you’re not a lawyer, I’ll tell you that it will fascinate you for the same reasons it fascinates me: Casselman is a terrific story-teller, and his stories provide an insider’s view on Michigan’s criminal justice system. Okay, okay, I am also fascinated because all the cases come from my beloved U.P.

Can you believe it’s almost the 4th of July? Around Memorial Day it seems that the 4th will "never" get here, then in late June we're amazed that it's "almost here," and suddenly it's past, and we're shocked that Independence Day is "already over!" for another year. Would you like to invent another holiday to add to the summer calendar? What would it be and when, and how would you celebrate it?

Evening light through walnut tree branches

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Very, Very Good for What Ails Us

Old tree at Kehl Lake
I had written a whole long post, replete with quotations, on a book I read last week, but rather than publish that today I’ve decided to go with another book, one I finished Monday out by Kehl Lake while Bruce was at the bookstore helm. The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop, by William Ury, held me spellbound from the beginning. It is exciting reading. For one thing, he leads off with some surprising statements, such as--
“Stopping” [fighting] does not mean ending conflict altogether. Conflict is a natural part of life. It brings about change In the form of business competition, it helps create prosperity. It lies at the heart of the democratic process. The best decisions result not from a superficial consensus, but from surfacing different points of view and searching for creative solutions. Few injustices, moreover, are addressed without serious conflict. We need more conflict, not less.
More conflict and an end to fighting? How’s that going to work? And isn’t aggression simply part of human nature?

Since no one would take the rest seriously if the question of human nature were left unaddressed, the author tackles that one head-first. I am going to spend a disproportionately small space here on his argument, but basically he cites recent archaeological evidence that has overturned the earlier “killer ape” theories. The emerging view is that our ancestors lived for 2,500,000 years without warfare and that only as hunting and gathering gave way to agriculture (in the past 10,000 years) did human beings seek to dominate territory in an attempt to defend fixed resources. (Here I also recommend David R. Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, which argues that agriculture’s ability to provide for larger populations led to overpopulation, tillage of marginal land, erosion, flood, and war.) We have a longer history of cooperation, says Ury, than we do of war. For me, the author’s careful and detailed refutation of Hobbes was beautiful.
It is easier, in fact, to imagine cooperation than coercion. If one person tries to coerce another in a simple, nomadic society, the victim can simply pick up his or her few possessions and go join kin elsewhere. Or the victim can recruit allies. A bully may be more powerful than any one person [echo of Hobbes], but not more than a group. The use of force would, moreover, undermine the valuable cooperative ties that sustain the bully along with everyone else [my emphasis added].
Okay, maybe we will agree with Ury that “human nature” is not simply programmed for war, but how does that agreement support his larger claim that peaceful cooperation is possible at this stage of history? It isn’t as if the human race is going to stop growing food and go back to hunting and gathering, is it? And with the global population what it is now, wouldn’t even that lead to a world “red in tooth and claw”?

Next step of the argument: Resources in the primitive hunting/gathering world were, he argues, an “expandable pie.” With the coming of agriculture, the formerly expandable pie of resources became fixed; compulsion rather than cooperation became the means of ordering social groups; human relationships went from complicated horizontal networks to vertical (hierarchical) levels of power, concentrating the most at the top, the least at the bottom. But now that knowledge has become the coin of the global realm, we find ourselves once again with an “expandable pie.” Knowledge grows by being shared. Knowledge is advanced by cooperation. Moreover, as weapons of war have become more dangerous--and knowledge of the dangers spread throughout the world—motivation grows to cooperate rather than to coerce and kill. And so we are once again dependent on getting along with one another, as were our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

World peace is hardly inevitable, the author acknowledges. It would be difficult to say right now, in 2012 (or when the book was first published in 1999), that it is even probable. But William Ury makes a strong case that it is possible—and that we can all help to bring it about.

One of the most wonderful things about The Third Side is that it is not merely theoretical but practical, and the roles we can take on to further peace are available to us in our everyday lives. In fact, it is in the ordinary challenges of family and community life that we can try on the roles of the provider, the teacher, the bridge-builder, the mediator, the arbiter, the equalizer, the healer, the witness, the referee, and the peacekeeper. We can, that is, retrain ourselves and help to retrain others to deal with conflict cooperatively.

Ury’s last chapter, “Next Steps,” answers the question, “How can I start?” with twelve concrete suggestions. Do you have a troubled relationship somewhere in your life, with a family member, friend, or community member? (Who among us does not?) This book shows in practical terms, with specific strategies, how to move from hostility and resentment to healing, and for that alone I would recommend it highly, but the author’s insights apply all the way from the interpersonal level to the international level.

Working for peace is not easy, but don’t human beings love a challenge?
In the sheer magnitude and complexity of the challenge, the struggle for peace, ironically enough, most closely resembles nothing so much as war itself. Think of how much work goes into preparing for and engaging in wars. Consider how many men and women serve in the armed forces. Weigh how much treasure, talent, and blood is poured into this gigantic venture. Reflect on the around-the-clock vigilance required for huge numbers of individuals. No less effort will be required for the sake of peace. Think too about the virtues required for the successful conduct of wars. Courage? Peace demands just as much; facing up to force nonviolently calls for perhaps even more bravery and self-control than fighting. Cooperation and discipline? Solidarity and altruism? All these ingredients are needed to transform treacherous conflicts. Ironically, in the end, war may have served as a great training ground for peace. For peace is harder than war.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. What do you say? I would love to see this book chosen as a "Leelanau Reads" selection (as far as I know, there is no such program--yet) and have everyone in Leelanau County take its lessons to heart.

Bookstore at 106 Waukazoo Street

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Burger Shack Story #7

[Previous stories in this 10-story cycle may be found in the following posts: #1: Mallory#2: Kelly#3: the dog#4: Becky#5: Tiny Bob#6: Eva. As always, thank you for reading.]

The Life He Didn’t Intend©

      Wes didn’t fool himself about his career. He would never be a high roller, but he wasn’t stupid, either, and he moved enough product to stay in the game. He wasn’t at the bottom of the heap, either, as anyone could see by the car he drove and the suits he wore. If someone were to follow him home, he liked to think, his house and wife would only enhance the picture. No, he had done all right for himself and his family. His territory crossed the state line, and younger guys asked him for advice, recognizing that he’d been around long enough to know the ropes but hadn’t slowed down yet. The few grey hairs on his head gave him a mature, been-around-the-block look. Success always looked precarious on a really young guy, he thought, like the result of a lucky break that could turn south at any moment. A mature, successful man, on the other hand, was someone to respect.

      Packaging was a sexier field, too, than it had been when he’d started, and he liked to take some of the credit for that. Engineers came up with packaging itself, but it was out in the field, selling, that you had to make the products sing to the customer, and it was Wes’s generation still making that music. Send out a catalog, as lazier marketing people did, and your audience might toss it in the garbage without a second glance, or if they flipped through the pages they might miss the best stuff. Even a website, the more recent buzz favored by new graduates in the field, didn’t let customers get their hands on a package to see what it could do. Wes had learned on the job, not in a classroom, and everything he knew came from experience. Putting samples in the mail, for instance. That could backfire. People might not see all the applications, or they might think some competitor’s cheaper package that looked similar was just as good. No, a salesman had to make contact person-to-person, demonstrate the product, put it in the customer’s hand, let that customer see its value, and then get the signature to close the deal. That was how selling worked, and Wes knew because he’d worked it for almost two decades.

      He wore a suit and tie on sales calls, never forgetting that he would have “no second chance to make a first impression,” but soon after shaking hands he asked if he might take off his coat, and after tossing the coat over a chair back he loosened his tie, as well, because you didn’t want to look too fancy in the plants he visited. You wanted people to pay attention to you, to respect you, but you didn’t want to come off as snooty. No, you wanted to be seen as a knowledgeable guy who knew what he was talking about but still a regular guy, for all the experience and expertise. That was the bull’s-eye of the target as far as Wes was concerned, and his career had worked out well. 

       Marriage, the other major portion of a man’s life, had fallen short of expectations, but he couldn’t really complain much there, either. Vicky still looked good. She had always been a good mother, right from the start. And she had done a great job with the house, he had to admit. It looked like something out of a magazine. Now that their daughter was a senior in high school, she and her mother seemed almost like sisters.

Truth to tell, Wes felt almost like an interloper in the house when he was home. Oh, Courtney fussed and fawned over him and played him like a violin to get what she wanted, and Vicky was always eager to show him her new clothes or little decorating changes she’d made in the house (some not so little, either, like replacing all the living room furniture without consulting with him first), but he had the impression more and more lately that Vicky, Courtney, and the house were the real nuclear family. The three of them. Maybe that was normal after so many years. He didn’t know. His wife and daughter loved to shop, and he paid the bills, and wasn’t that how families worked? There were other, very different arrangements in modern America, as he was well aware, but he had always wanted a traditional family life. Otherwise, why bother? Coworkers and partners he could find on the job, if that’s what he was looking for.

      But no, on the job too he was a solo act, and so his whole life package had worked out pretty well, no duplication between home and work. He had the satisfaction of an interesting job, with plenty of travel, and while he might find evenings long at home, he was never bored on the road.

He knew every mile of his territory and took a personal interest in the changes he observed from one month or year to the next—new housing developments and shopping centers, new industrial parks, older parts of towns growing shabbier, some demolished. Sometimes these days, he noticed, ambitious schemes were abandoned halfway through, left uncompleted, as if a small civilization had vanished overnight. That always gave him an unsettled feeling, the sense that he was lost in time though situated in space, but whichever way a town was going, he noticed. Every newly vacant or newly built lot, every widened road or new potholes, all the new billboards and signs and restaurants and other businesses along his route, as well as the old ones, fading and slipping from the height of their glory, all of it he took in with a keen eye. Houses and stores, restaurants and factories appeared to him as large, complicated packages for pieces of human life, and he thought almost every day about how some worked better than others. There were classics that never went out of style, while others became quickly obsolete when something better came along. Driving from one sales call to another, pounding his beat, as it were, he was always processing the world and learning from it.

      He had seen changes in the workplace, too. Most management positions in the kind of places he visited were still mostly held by men like himself (“white males,” as the trade newsletters now called them), but it wasn’t all white bread everywhere, and not all men, either. There had always been women in the factories, on the floor. Seeing them in offices, that was new, but it didn’t upset Wes at all, and he made a smoother transition to the new reality than some of the older salesmen. Shaking hands, he held a woman’s hand longer. He smiled more at a woman and in a different way, and he held his shoulders straighter and sucked in his gut. But these differences were only a variation on his basic, tried-and-true spiel. Women in management were management, after all. He never called an executive woman “Honey” or “Sweetie.” They were in that office to do the job. Fine. Sell ‘em!

      Then there was Eleanor Wilson. She was no raving beauty. Comparing the two women, he decided instantly that Vicky was far better looking, even without makeup. Still, there was something about Eleanor, right from the start. Mrs. Wilson, in her mid-40’s when Wes first met her, had inherited her husband’s company when the husband died unexpectedly of coronary thrombosis. He’d been older than his wife but still young. Damn shame. Rex Wilson had been a powerhouse. Stepping into his shoes, Eleanor Wilson was at first nervous and uncertain in the front office, learning the ropes from the old manager she planned to keep on as an operational partner, and she could easily have left everything in his hands, right from the start. Most women would have, Wes thought. Vicky would have, he was pretty sure, if she’d been in Eleanor’s position. What made Eleanor different? Even now, he couldn’t figure out if it was stubbornness or insecurity or some kind of steel in her character that drove her to learn the business from the ground up and oversee every aspect of it herself. It was a small company but not uncomplicated. Well, whatever her reasons, everyone recognized her competence and her quickness in acquiring it.

      Coming into her own, the new Eleanor retained the nervous energy she’d had at their first meeting. Wes thought for a while that it would subside once she got her life back on an even keel, but gradually he accepted it as the way she was, whether part of her personality—metabolism, maybe--or a response to losing her husband and having to assume his responsibilities for both home and business. She had two young children to raise, a boy and a girl. Could a woman raise children alone and be relaxed? Maybe not.

      He remembered that first time he met with her in her husband’s old office, now suddenly hers. She hadn’t changed anything yet in the room, so it still looked like Rex Wilson’s office. On the desk were still the family portrait, school pictures of the kids, and a glamour shot of Eleanor in a low-necked sheath with some kind of gauzy scarf thrown over her bare shoulders. Her eyes in the photograph said “Come hither!” The eyes of the woman behind the table glanced at her caller, and then shifted away uncomfortably, nothing come-hither about her, and she was wearing one of those awful pantsuits and playing nervously with a ballpoint pen. She looked down at the pen, up at Wes, over and out the window and back down at the top of the desk. Finally she tossed the pen down with a decisive gesture. It skidded across the desk and teetered on the edge, where Wes caught it and handed it back to her with a smile he meant to be reassuring.

      “Maybe we should review your company’s orders from last year,” he suggested gently, trying not to take initiative out of her hands just yet.

      She straightened up and looked him in the eye. “I’ve reviewed them. I’ve reviewed every department in this company, records and physical, on-the-floor operations. We have a problem.” Gaze steady now, open hands held up with fingers outstretched, she took a deep breath. “Your cartons aren’t up to the job. Not the ones we’ve been getting from you. I’ve made some production changes, and the fans we’re making now are heavier. They’re better quality.” She blushed slightly. (Doesn’t want to come right out and say her husband’s product was crap, Wes thought. That’s loyalty!) “We’re getting too many complaints about deliveries in damaged cartons. Torn, dented. A couple cartons came completely apart in handling, and the fans fell out. Sorry, that will not work.”

      So! The ball was in his court now. Okay, Wes could handle this. He could handle any situation as long as he knew what it was.

      “You bet it won’t work! Boy, I see the problem! I’m glad you told me what was happening instead of just switching suppliers before I could do anything about it. Tell you what we’ll do.” He said “the problem,” not “your problem” and “we” instead of “I” without even having to think, pro that he was. “Give me until the end of the month, Mrs. Wilson. Can you do that? If you have to buy from someone else for a couple of weeks, I understand. But let me go back to the engineering boys and tell them what’s happening. Maybe—could I take one of your new fans for them to work with? I’d bring it back the next time I visit. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting around this glitch. How about it?”

      Naturally, she agreed. A few minutes later they were touring the plant so he could see first-hand how the new fans were manufactured. He and Mrs. Wilson talked about cost versus price and how challenging it was to get the two far enough apart to make a profit without either sacrificing quality or losing sales volume. Wes was amazed at how much she already knew and how eagerly she approached every aspect of the business. Later the conversation became more personal.

      “If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you been running the company now? Rex only died--?”

      “He died early last winter, just before Christmas. I gave myself the luxury of falling apart for a week, but I couldn’t afford a permanent nervous breakdown. Not even with my sister as backup babysitter. Businesses don’t run themselves, as you know. Well, neither do families.”

      By this time, they were having lunch at Rocket’s Burger Shack, across the highway from the plant, bacon cheeseburger and coffee for Wes, broiled chicken sandwich and ice tea for Eleanor. Funny the things that stick in your memory, he thought, recalling that first lunch. Her pantsuit was a kind of dull blue, almost grey, but the white blouse under the dull jacket had a little ruffle at the neck. She’s still a woman, and she hasn’t forgotten it, Wes thought suddenly. He admired both aspects of her, the business woman in the office and the woman across the table from him.

      “It can’t be easy,” he said quietly, searching her face for something but not having any idea what he was looking for. “You’re doing a helluva job, too. Anyone can see that.”

      She shrugged. “Thanks. Actually, it’s really interesting. Maybe you wouldn’t think it would be. I mean, your job is so different. You get to travel, and you meet different people all the time, and you sell to all kinds of companies making all kinds of different products. I’m just here, cranking out fans. But I understand now why Rex loved his work. I can’t explain it.” She shook her head, smiling. “I feel like I’m part of the world. Does that sound crazy?”

      He couldn’t explain it any better than she could, but he didn’t think it sounded crazy at all.

She invited him to her home for a glass of wine at the end of the day, and he accepted, expecting Chianti and chaos, clutter and pillow fights. But both children had gone to stay overnight at their aunt’s house, and the atmosphere was tranquil. The Riesling was nicely chilled, lights soft and low, and she had classical music playing softly. He recognized the music as “classical”; a year later he would recognize it as one of Bach’s partitas. There was no rush but no hesitation, either. The evening surprised him only when he thought about it afterward.

Until then, his only “indiscretions” had been, so to speak, very discreet, casual on both sides and rarely more than single nights. From that first night with Eleanor—hell, maybe even starting at lunch, or why would he remember what they’d ordered and what she’d been wearing?—it was a whole different ballgame. When he held her in his arms, he felt as if he’d come home from a voyage of many years, as if he’d always been looking forward to getting home to hold her, and he knew she felt the same way. Wow. What next? He was out of his familiar territory, in a whole new country, without a map or game plan. When he told her that he and Vicky had been drifting apart for years, it seemed like one of the truest things he’d ever said. He didn’t mean to deceive when he said he’d already been thinking of divorcing Vicky and that she, Eleanor, would not be “breaking up a marriage.” Had he really thought about divorce? He couldn’t remember, but how could the idea not have been there, somewhere, waiting? It wasn’t like he and Vicky had much between them any more.

Still, there was Vicky, and along with her there was Courtney, and there was the house and friends and neighbors and Courtney’s school. He and Vicky shared a history and an identity. What did you do with something that complex? He didn’t know, and so he drifted along, waiting for the future to become clear to him.

His work life stayed the same, and so did his private life at one end of the road, but across the state line, two hundred miles down the highway, a second private life took shape. With his wife and daughter, he was the same husband and father he’d always been. Meanwhile, he and Eleanor became a recognized couple in her town, as he naturally became a surrogate father to her children. He had never had a son of his own, and the girl reminded him of Courtney’s early years, a time that would never return. At first he told Eleanor he was “thinking about divorce,” then “talking about it” with his wife, then “waiting for the divorce to become final.” Everything he told her along the way made so much sense to him that he hardly doubted it himself, and she never doubted at all. Arranging for the wedding license was the trickiest part, and he couldn’t have managed without a lawyer friend who owed him a favor. At last they had their wedding, in her living room, with her sister, brother-in-law and a few of her friends present, and Wes moved in officially.

He couldn’t have managed the juggling act without his sales job. Eleanor understood that he didn’t want to come into the fan company, her “bailiwick,” but wanted to stay in the business where he’d made his reputation. His reputation. Funny word, funny idea. His reputation in both of his hometowns was as a good salesman and a solid family man. Well, wasn’t he?

Holidays were the hardest. Even traveling salesmen didn’t work holidays, and weather reports for the whole world were available anywhere, so a storm couldn’t be his cover story unless there really was a storm. He had to invent a lot of car trouble. Finally, taking matters into her own capable hands, Eleanor bought him a new car for Christmas, a Lincoln town car! She hid it in the garage on Christmas Eve, told him the garage door opener was broken and that he’d have to park in the driveway. Then Fate broke out in a huge, ear-to-ear grin at his expense, but before he could drive home to Vicky and call Eleanor with an excuse for missing the holiday with her, a freak blizzard arrived, stranding motorists, closing highways in five states, and he really was snowed in with Eleanor and her kids over Christmas.

It was their first Christmas Day together, long and lazy and warm and joyous. He had to call Vicky, of course, to apologize for not being home, but she was relieved that he was safe and made no fuss at all, saying that having Christmas a couple of days later would be fine. Thank God for cell phones! He didn’t have to worry that Vicky would call the number of the motel where he told her he was staying and find out he wasn’t there. It was the perfect Christmas. He couldn’t have planned it better.

From the very beginning with Eleanor, in fact, he hadn’t had a plan at all. He couldn’t see into the future even as far as spring, when Courtney would graduate from high school. That was a special event he couldn’t miss. Maybe—maybe after Courtney’s graduation he and Vicky really could divorce. Would Vicky really mind all that much? Could he afford divorce? Would divorce make his marriage to Eleanor legal? The questions made him uncomfortable, and his mind veered off in another direction. He would buy Courtney a new laptop computer for graduation, he decided. And tomorrow, if the wind died down, he would take Jason and Rachel out tobogganing. He’d given them shiny new toboggans for Christmas, and they were dying to try them out.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Creativity All Around Me

St. Johnswort on St. John's Eve
Today, June 23, is St. John’s Eve. In medieval times, bonfires would have burned tonight from every hill in Europe, many of them visible from hills miles away where other fires burned. Along the roadsides and edges of woods and orchards here in northern Michigan, the St. Johnswort blooms, and my heart is both here in Michigan and across the ocean in France.

Only Saturday morning, and I feel I have already had a very full weekend, beginning with Thursday evening at the Opera House in Traverse City, for the season finale of the National Writers Series. (New series starts next month.) My friend Marilyn, her friend Jill, and I went to Traverse City for an evening with novelists Elizabeth Kostova and Natalie Bakopoulos, moderated by NWS founder and national best-selling nonfiction author Doug Stanton. 

On Front Street, Traverse City

Traverse City was hoppin’! And the trio onstage did not disappoint. I have to say it was the most engaging, informative, lively NWS evening I’ve enjoyed this year. Great stuff! Marilyn and I were so inspired that we continued to talk about writing until after sunset.

Color NOT enhanced!
Friday morning I got an early start with errands, including flowers from the farm market (augmented by local volunteer spiderwort, electric blue not touched up in Photoshop) for my own guest author. Poet and essayist Fleda Brown drew an audience from Interlochen, Traverse City, Central Lake, Reed City, and nearby Omena. She delighted us all with her sparing, incisive language and topics as surprising as outhouses and Elvis sightings. People who are afraid of poetry should hear Fleda speak and read: their fears would quickly subside.

Fleda Brown at Dog Ears Books
Thursday was a rush home to leave for Traverse City, and Friday was a rush home to drive to Leland for the opening reception of Glenn Wolff’s art exhibit. Glenn is this year’s artist-in-residence at the Old Art School in Leland. I took a few photos but none really does justice either to the work or to the evening. I think I was too tired by then. But don't forget that I have beautiful Glenn Wolff notecards at my bookstore, along with equally lovely notecards from Glen Arbor artist Kristen Hurlin. 

A photographer much more gifted than I has provided something new (available at Dog Ears Books) for summer vacationers and anyone else who can find a leisure hour somewhere. I’ve been getting my most beautiful Leelanau postcards from Aubrieta V. Hope for several years now. Next came refrigerator magnets based on the same lovely photos. Her Lake Michigan playing cards (still available) were a great hit, and now we have the Northern Michigan playing cards—each card with a different photo on its face. You will love them! Your family, friends, and--for those of you who rent houses by the week--paying guests will love them!

Finally, I am happy to announce that David Grath will soon be showing paintings in a small gallery off the side from Dog Ears Books. I say “soon” because he is still putting the finishing touches on the space, so expect a gallery update in a few days.

You see what I mean about being surrounded by creativity? The other side of a “hectic” life is that it is stimulating. Novelists, poets, painters—bless their hearts! They excite and soothe the savage in us all. 

Sarah and I had a good walk this morning. Heavy dew. We came home tired, soaked, calm, and happy, ready for another day in Northport.

Between woods and orchard

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I was wrong! (Again? Yes, again.) Music in the park does NOT start this week. The Bill Sears Quartet will not be in Northport until NEXT Friday, June 29.

It is way too early in the season for me to be losing my mind. Isn't today only the official first day of summer?

Imagine your own picture for this post. Bookseller with red face.

On the other hand, Fleda Brown WILL be giving a reading at Dog Ears Books tomorrow. 2 p.m. Welcome, all!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pace Picks Up as Summer Begins

The loon again. Isn't it worth two days in a row?

This Friday poet Fleda Brown comes to Dog Ears Books (reading at 2 p.m.), so here are a few lines from one of the poems, “If I Were a Swan,” from her book of poetry, Loon Cry:
I would ride high 
above my own white 
weight. I would ride 
through the lightening 
of the earth 
and the darkening 
stillness and turbulence  
coming on in the core 
of me, and spreading 
to the hard rain,to the dazzle.
Come hear more poetry and some beautiful prose from Fleda on Friday afternoon. We promise you an island of sanity in summer's growing craziness.

As the end of June draws nearer, I realize that I am already almost halfway through my year of the stillness project. Paradoxically, I’m finding that it is more difficult to sit still outdoors in summer than in winter (because in summer there are so many outdoor tasks and temptations), but I also find the quiet, still time more and more important as the season—the Season!—gets more frantically busy. Some of my friends sit still to meditate on a regular basis, while others walk labyrinths. I don’t want to get out of the world. Just out of myself and into the world of nature.

We’ve had rain here in Leelanau—and then some! Below is the view from our front door during a recent downpour. When rain comes after supper, we can’t mow and don’t need to water, which makes a perfect time to read on the porch, listening to the drum of rain on the metal roof, but when it comes in the morning, we have to make a run for it to get to work!

Dog Ears Books was a dry, cozy refuge during Tuesday’s heavy rainstorm, with friends and customers and a favorite publisher from the U.P. arriving all at once. Later, a little girl came to choose books with her grandmother, and Sarah contributed her peaceful, comforting magic. Sarah loves company....

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: This Friday is NOT (as I earlier announced) the first night of Music in the Park. The Bill Sears Quartet will be in Northport next Friday, June 29. So tomorrow evening you can do what I'll be doing and head to Leland for artist Glenn Wolf's opening reception at the Old Art Building on the river. Time: 5-8 p.m.

Artists, farmers, booksellers, musicians, spiders, and many more--we're all at work these long summer days.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In the Midst of the Flow

Sunday was a beautiful day. Coreopsis are blooming now as we near the summer solstice, crowds of brilliant, Porsche yellow flowers along the roadsides. Driving to Kehl Lake in the morning, David and I stopped to watch a hawk “making lazy circles in the sky.” Out on the lake was a loon, alerting us to its presence with a distinctive cry.

The bookstore day was pleasant, and Sarah even had two doggie visitors, Laddie (Sheltie) and Bodrie (Golden). A young woman who saw Cry the Beloved Country on my “Some of My Favorites” shelf opened it to read me her favorite passage. After closing, David and I drove to Suttons Bay for pizza and came home by the back roads, where there is a new horse in residence in a corral that has been too long without a horse. That makes me very happy indeed!

Monday morning rain makes me happy, too. The gentle rain s welcome to all that grows.

And now my attention turns to my first summer author, Fleda Brown, who will be at Dog Ears Books this coming Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock to read from her beautiful book of memoir essays, but I’m going to be lazy and re-run an earlier post on that book. Following is what I wrote back in 2010 when her book, Driving with Dvorak: Essays on Memory and Identity, first came out:
Sorrow remains within me like a closed box, the contents of which I know so well there’s no need to keep checking. Still, sometimes one wants—one deliberately opens the past and lifts out, one by one, its small, radiant objects. One suddenly thinks of sorrow with fondness, the way it keeps on being itself, no matter how it’s been anatomized, analyzed. Sorrow is easy to love, actually, the way it asserts its own clear presence that one can’t dispute, can’t wish away, for the way it insists on being included, along with everything else.
Delaware’s poet laureate from 2001 to 2007, memoir essayist Brown is a poet first and foremost, and that art shows in this book, its pieces personal, even intimate, but never sentimental. Always there is the sharp, true edge, discovered, rediscovered and valued for itself, given to us in words chosen carefully to capture and present it.
My longing joined up with a more universal longing that year: we girls turned equine, galloping across the ruts of the playground whinnying and neighing in our sleek bodies that were filling with a new, animal energy we could only call horse.
Then there is the way she writes of Dvorak’s music, weaving it into memories of summer vacations with her parents and siblings. Sound simple? Think again. Try it yourself, and then read the title essay in Brown’s book. I found myself holding my breath and then letting it out in a sudden gust, upon which I would have to close the book and put it down for a few minutes before taking it up to go on reading again.

Later, in “Hiking with Amy,” on their second night in camp, with aching knees and feet, the writer dreams:
I catch an updraft; it is good to have back the old dream of flying. I am molecular, carried on drifts like a Chagall figure, nobody’s pain hurting me, not even my own. The sequence happens over and over, as if I am trying out how to do it, or if I really want to leave so much behind.
My summer's reading has convinced me all over again that no one writes essays as well as poets. These essays are poetic elaborations of the writer’s life, as her poems are distilled moments of perception. There is no preferring one literary form over the other. –-Well, I am saying that, knowing that inevitably some readers will prefer the poems, others love more the essays. Being given both, however, we are privileged to choose from abundance or, greedily, as I prefer to do, take it all.
You present your life to yourself. You give it a happier ending, make a shapeliness of it. Then art sends you back to memory, where it came from. You can’t have the original, which maybe never was the right thing, but you can have this. And soft, the little wisps, rising from the lake: the angels, the annunciation. You have to bow your head, to receive it, all of it, down on you, its sheer trumpets, clarinets, the joy of its French horns. 
All excerpts in this post are from Driving with Dvorak: Essays on Memory and Identity, by Fleda Brown (University of Nebraska Press, 2010, $24.95, available at Dog Ears Books and other fine bookstores and more than worth the cover price. 

Note: When Fleda comes to Northport on Friday, we will have other books of hers available, also. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Trusting the Wellspring

No definitions today, no argument or debate. A couple of very personal thoughts.

First thought has to do with self-publishing. Everyone, it seems, is doing it. A few hold themselves to the highest standards of research, writing, editing, design, etc. Over the years I’ve seen a handful of excellent self-published books. At the other end of the spectrum are poorly written, in-need-of-editing, cheaply packaged vanity offerings, the bane of any bookseller’s existence. And of course there is a wide range in between.

Well, I’m self-publishing my stories, and (as is the case with my blogs) without benefit of an editor, but my stories are not on paper, not between covers, and you don’t have to pay to read them. I’ve been putting them here on my blog (most recent on previous post), tossing them out into the world like messages in bottles cast out upon the waves. They may sink, or they may swim, but anyone can read them or not, like them or not, all without spending a cent or taking home another book to crowded shelves. If I had a publisher, I’d also have an editor and a publicist and a book designer and more, working on my behalf to make my book worth its cover price. Don’t have that. Am not asking for money. Am not competing with writers who have given their lives to the hard work of writing. (I have given my last 19 years to the hard work of bookselling, and I’ve learned a lot about writers’ lives in that time.) For now, my primary identity is as a bookseller.

Second thought occurred to me years ago in another context and was reinforced by my recent reading of William Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl. That is, the quickest way to kill one’s inner creative spirit is to be afraid that “It will never happen again!” I could hold onto these ten stories and nurse the dream that someday they might be published between covers under the aegis of a real publishing house, keeping them in a drawer until then, out of fear that these stories might be all I’ll ever write, but I need to have more faith in myself than that. I need to trust whatever mystery gave them to me in the first place. 

I don’t know where these stories came from. All I know is that the first morning I woke up in Florida two years ago, the character of the first story was already in my head. I got up and started writing, and in two months I had all ten stories. They were not planned. Even the final story, the one that brings the rest together, was not something I saw ahead of time. So what I have to trust is that when my life is once again, for however long a stretch of time, free of scheduled obligations, more characters and stories will emerge from the mysterious deep. 

Letting go of these, letting them out in the world without expecting a return from them, is my leap of faith.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rocket's Burger Shack, Story #6

[This is the sixth of ten stories set in an easily imaginable fast food restaurant I called Rocket's Burger Shack. For the five preceding stories, search "burger shack" on this blog, and they should turn up. Thanks for reading. For events coming up in and around Northport, scroll to the end of this post.]

A Man’s Potential©

      “For God’s sake, get the owners out of the house--for the whole day, if you can,” the man across the table reminded me over the files spread out between our paper cups of morning coffee. He was nervous, I could tell. “It’s deadly if they hang around!”

I wasn’t fazed by the implication that I needed him to tell me how to do my job because I’d already spotted him as a total loser. A man who used a “burger shack,” of all places, for his office? He needed a haircut, and I glanced out at the parking lot to see if I could spot which car was his. The ’99 Mercury Marquis, without a doubt, and he probably thought the hubcap he’d had to replace matched closely enough that no one would notice. Well, he was wrong. People notice things even when they don’t consciously register what they’re seeing. I’m successful because I know this, and he’s a loser because he doesn’t. Details are that important.

 I would have walked out right then except for Patricia, but she and I have been in business together for five years, and that’s longer than it sounds. For her, in fact, it’s a significant portion of her life. You have to understand, she’s only twenty-eight, very young to be a partner in a real estate firm. We met when we were both working for the firm that’s now our chief competition. Ours is the high-end market. When I started out in the business forty years ago, that was always where I wanted to be, and I make it a point to get what I want.

Knowing what you want is the first step. For instance, knowing I wanted Patricia as a partner didn’t take long at all. She’s young, she’s smart, she’s on the quiet side, very different from me in personality, and carrying just those few extra pounds that say “maternal,” whatever a woman’s age. She has soft edges where I glitter. We’re a great team. I knew we would be. We’re a little like good cop, bad cop, except it’s gentle cop, pushy cop or something. “You smoke ‘em out, and I’ll bear down on ‘em,” I say to her, and she laughs. I love to make her laugh. Her sounds, like her edges, are all soft and confidential in tone.

Frank Hayes. I remember I was wearing orange and red that day, an orange linen sheath and red silk jacket. I was dressed for the rest of my day, not coffee at the Burger Shack. Orange and red, mustard and red—if I do it, you can bet it works. Red is my signature color. Red dress or jacket or scarf—always something red. Even for funerals I add a subtle splash of crimson somewhere—earrings or a bracelet. It keeps people from relaxing around me. They’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. I like that.

      I was young like Patricia when I first got into real estate. I’d started out working sales in a downtown department store, part-time on the cosmetics counter in high school and then working up to manager of women’s wear two years after graduation. In case you don’t know the retail world, that was a meteoric rise. I got out, though, when chain discount stores came along. I could see that old-style department stores were doomed.

Here’s how I switched over. First I made a little personal inspection tour of the new discount place on the edge of town. What a nightmare! Acres of cheap merchandise, clerks and stock employees in ugly pastel smocks--even the managers wore dull black and white uniforms with stupid little black and white nametags. Not my world! I was driving back downtown that same day when I saw a billboard featuring the portrait of an attractive local female realtor. I signed up an hour later for night classes and made a complete transition in two years. I was twenty-two years old when I got my license.

That’s the way I like to live. Given any situation, I look at it from all the angles, assess it, and investigate all the alternatives. No hit and miss. I mean, who wants to miss, anyway? What’s the point of that?

One brief marriage. It didn’t take.

How do other women know they want to marry someone? What do they feel? After they’re married, do they feel the same as before or different? I felt so different, so alien, it was as if I’d put on someone else’s skin. I was the proverbial stranger in a strange land. But I thought the strangeness was only to be expected. Why wouldn’t it take time to get used to a strange new country? I kept thinking I would get used to the smell of his skin and the feel of his limbs and torso and that we would gradually blend together into something inevitable. My parents’ marriage had been pretty happy, from all I could ever tell, and they hadn’t known each other until they were in their late twenties.

I don’t know how it works for other people, though. I can’t even imagine it, and I’ve given up trying, because it didn’t work at all for me. Every day of my marriage, my life felt more alien to me than it had the day before. I felt lonelier with my husband, in our home, than I’d ever felt in my life alone in a room. And he was a perfectly nice man, too, not a monster. I can’t explain it.

Thank God I had work, and I was on every other weekend, working the office on Saturdays and office or open houses on Sundays. I got a lot of calls and a lot of referrals. So in that part of my life I was still myself and still on track.

There was one Saturday morning that stands out as my clearest married memory. I was leaving for work. I was going out the front door, and I stopped to take a deep breath and put on sunglasses. The sky was so clear and bright! Going out into the morning, I felt clear and bright myself. The alien skin dropped off at the doorway. Birds were singing, and the singing of those birds felt as if it was shivering forth from my own singing heart. I mean, I was flooded with happiness, and the sensation was overwhelming. I remember feeling that I was setting myself free, that I could almost fly! You don’t stop to doubt that kind of clarity. Obviously I had to get out of the marriage. I didn’t blame my husband or myself. He blamed me, but that was his problem. It was over.

Since then I’ve kept my relationships with men on either a professional or a recreational basis, one or the other. By “recreational,” I don’t mean so much the sex as the contest. So, professional or recreational, two separate realms, both are contests, as far as I’m concerned. What can I say? It works for me. I love it!

      Now this man this morning, this Frank Hayes—thank God, I thought, I only had to deal with him on a professional basis, and that was bad enough! For some unknown reason Patricia had set up the meeting, and I had enough trust in her to give him a few more minutes to redeem the terrible first impression he’d made. He wouldn’t have had a second chance otherwise, and it wasn’t really a second chance, in the true sense, since it was Patricia, not Frank Hayes, who had earned it.

“How many years have I been doing this?” I queried rhetorically when Frank Hayes the loser tried telling me how to run the open house that I hadn’t yet agreed to have. I tapped out a rhythm on the shiny chrome napkin holder with a perfectly manicured fingernail.

      He looked away, annoyed and embarrassed. He combed his fingers nervously through the hair over his ear. Feeling cornered, he attacked. “How the hell do I know? I don’t know what you know! We just met! Don’t take it personally!”

      A rank amateur move. Exactly what I expected from him.

      “Don’t you take me personally,” I replied, emphasizing the pronouns without raising my voice. “And don’t get huffy when I remind you that I don’t need to be told the elementary basics of how to run an open house. You know my reputation, and that’s why you came to my office with your buyer. That’s what you told my partner. You told her what your buyer was looking for. I showed you the house. So, now...?”

      It’s far easier to let a man like Frank Hayes trip over whatever vague, secret guilt he’s accumulated over a life of awkward interactions with women--and they all have something that fits that general bill--than to accuse him openly of having a sexist attitude.

Hayes would have told the story like this: I was the listing agent, and he, Frank Hayes (who badly needed a haircut), said he had a potential buyer. He said the buyer (he didn’t say “potential”) needed to be moved off the dime, and he thought an open house, if it only brought in one other mildly interested party, might make the slowpoke realize he didn’t have a lifetime to make his decision. That would be his story. Naturally, I had other concerns. Was his so-called buyer qualified? Would this so-called buyer be acceptable to the neighbors? That is to say, had Frank Hayes done his homework, or was I pouring my valuable time down a rathole? Why would Patricia waste a minute of her time on Frank Hayes in the first place? It was that last question that kept me from walking out.

Patricia had talked to Hayes first before passing him along to me. She and I often pass clients and agents back and forth, depending on what I think of as their wattage requirements, since some people are more comfortable with her low-key approach, while others demand my high intensity. We trust each other enough not to have to spell out the reasons. But I couldn’t see yet why Patricia hadn’t just blown Frank Hayes off and sent him elsewhere.

“I need to check some numbers,” I told him briskly, “so let’s put this on the back burner for another week, shall we?”

He looked instantly more rumpled and scattered, both in clothes and manner.  “Patty thought,” he began and stopped. “Patty told me--.”

Oh, boy! Well, now it made sense! I would have been a great poker player, I’m not kidding, because when he said “Patty” the whole situation became clear, but I kept my expression neutral while mentally replaying a brief exchange Patricia and I had had in the office one Monday morning a few weeks back. I’d asked her the formula “How was your weekend?” question.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” she replied with a blush, turning her head aside.

“I don’t think so! No, you look....”

I moved closer to her, closed my eyes and inhaled slowly, deeply. “Ah!” Despite her morning shower freshness, I detected the smell of a man on her.

“Eva!” she protested, embarrassed.

I just told her not to lose her focus and turned away, dismissing the topic, because what else can you say? It was none of my business. If I minded at all, it was only because, first, she was going to be distracted, her mind not one hundred percent on work, and second, I had no idea who the man was, but she’d already slept with him, so it was too late for me to veto the arrangement if he was unacceptable.

 Patricia started changing in subtle ways. She didn’t lose the twelve pounds she’d obsessed about for so long, but she stopped obsessing about her weight. She was simultaneously more on edge and more relaxed, which doesn’t even make sense, but I don’t know any other way to express it. Maybe “on edge” isn’t the right expression. She seemed happier in her body and more aware of it and constantly alert mentally, regardless of how little sleep she’d had the night before. Never that concerned with her appearance before, she was dressing better and paying more attention to her hair and makeup.

I couldn’t fault her for looking better or for being happy. I had no problem with that. No, all that bothered me was my sense that her mind was somewhere else too much of the time. We were used to reading each other’s minds, sharing all our impressions and concerns, and that wasn’t happening now. The bottom line was that she didn’t feel like my partner any more.

And now, here was the reason, sitting across the table from me. Unbelievable! He hadn’t had much experience in real estate, I’d bet any money, and whatever he’d been doing before hadn’t worked out. Patricia, however, was in deep enough with him that she wanted to help his career so they could build a future together. I read it all in an instant, in the way he looked when he referred to her as “Patty.”

What to do? He was going to be bad for business, and that meant he was bad for Patricia--or “Patty,” as he called her. I tried the name out that way in my mind. It sounded like her, soft and sweet and dear. It made you want to smile and reach out to touch her neck or brush back a wisp of her hair. Oh, this was bad! How bad, I couldn’t be sure, but bad enough and maybe worse.

Whether he had an incurably lazy streak or secretly hated women or was the kind to ingratiate himself and then take advantage—I didn’t know yet. He could be a con man or an embezzler or just what he seemed, a pathetic guy with flop sweat, bringing up the rear of the wannabe brigade, but whatever he turned out to be, I saw heartbreak down the road for Patricia, and heartbreak in the office would not be good for business. Let me clarify. Heartbreak and divorce may account for half the new listings we get, but that’s not heartbreak in the office. Big difference.

My big advantage was that Frank Hayes had to try to impress me. That’s what this meeting was all about. The question was, how far would he go? That is, could I lead him so far there would be no turning back? Better for Patricia’s heart to break now than a year from now, I reasoned. Let it break now, and a year from now it will be like Frank Hayes never happened.

“Frank!” I said suddenly, interrupting him before he could embarrass himself further. I knew my tone was right when I saw hope light his face. “I know, Frank,” I went on sympathetically. “You want to move your prospect to sign a sales agreement. We all want that, if he’s good for the price.” Forestalling an objection I went on, borrowing Patricia’s motherly, encouraging tone. “It’s just a matter of when to push and when to step back. If he thinks you’re too eager, he gets suspicious, worried, and we don’t want that.”

I gave him my best imitation-Patricia smile, and Frank Hayes smiled back, confident that he’d gotten his foot in the door. Now he thought we were on the same side. First battle won.

      It was like being married, I thought, but without the promises and the life sentence. Once I slipped into the skin of the role, I didn’t even have to think about what to do next. Instinctively I looked down at the table, as if I were suddenly shy. Then I looked up, caught my bottom lip between my teeth, and smiled again, more tentatively.

      “Frank? Do you have time for another cup of coffee? If we’re going to work together, don’t you think it would help to get to know each other?”

      He stood up and reached for my coffee cup, and I touched the back of his hand lightly but firmly and left my fingertips there for the count of three, looking up at him the whole time, then pulled back with feigned reluctance, trailing my fingers the length of his. Yes, I saw the sudden alarm in his eyes. I was old enough to be his mother, after all, besides being the partner of the woman whose bed he was sharing. But we both knew he wouldn’t say no. Desire had nothing to do with it. The man was fighting for his survival, and he was too desperate to weigh one danger against another.

      What can I say? It’s a hard world. I have a good thing going, and who knows how much better it can get, if no one messes it up? I can give Patricia more than Frank Hayes could ever hope to give her. Someday she’ll thank me.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

 Leelanau Notes and Reminders

Here are a few events coming up in northern Leelanau County:

“Branching Out – Exploring Off-Broadway”
Concert by the Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble, Friday, June 15, 7:30 p.m. Tickets available in Northport at Dog Ears Books, 106 Waukazoo St.

“Around the Lake” (North Lake Leelanau) Garden Tour. Wednesday, June 27, 11-5. I have four tickets available at Dog Ears Books. Price goes up from $10 to $12 on the day of the tour.

Northport Women’s Club Home Tour. Wednesday, July 11, 9:30-4:30. Tickets available in Northport at Dolls and More, 102 Nagonaba St.

Annual Fly-In, Woolsey Airport, will be earlier this year, so note the date: Saturday, July 28. Northport Promise Barn Sale will be the same day, across the road.

Northport Dog Parade will be on Saturday, August 11. Dog Ears Books will be doing registration again this year, but don’t ask me for forms yet, and I don’t yet know this year’s theme, either. When I know, you’ll see it on the calendar (right-hand column) of this blog.

Obviously, this list hardly exhausts summer offerings, but besides my bookstore events, these are some of the big dates on my calendar.