Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Corn Dog at the Minnesota State Fair

The end of summer in Minnesota is marked by the state fair, which goes until Labor Day. The next day is the first day of school. I worked at the fair--first as a bus girl in a smorgasbord, then as a cashier, then as a manager of a waffle shop. I learned how to cram the most food on a tray--cover the whole plate with mashed potatoes, a good foundation for the sloppy food.

I still go to the fair every year—early in the morning and by myself. I am waiting at the door of the Fine Art pavillion when it opens. Anyone who lives in Minnesota can enter a piece in one of 8 categories, which include painting, ceramics, glass, etc. and also fiber arts. My rug featuring animals from Lake Pepin made it in this year. While it's not that small (over four feet long), it's definitely crooked.

I figured out early on that I don't like straight lines. One of the wonderful things about hooking is that it's not weaving and it's made for curves. Even my geometric rug, which took second place in its category in the Creative Activities, is not straight. The Navajos are said to have purposefully put mistakes in their rugs as only god can make something perfect, but I go a few steps further. I want my humanness to show through, to be what the rug is about. I love how the hand naturally draws things with a sway.

For me crookedness isn't a mistake, it's a gift. It is a way into a piece, an admission of the rolling of the world. Why take the gentleness of a curve out of your work--be it rugs, or drawings, or stories? Emily Dickinson wrote her rhymes "slant." She left the door wide open.

As I was leaving the fair, I ate my yearly corn dog. Just an excuse to enjoy mustard and ketchup.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Full Moon over Lake Superior

Pete and I have taken our annual vacation with our two darling pups. We've gone up to the north shore of Lake Superior, almost to Canada. We're staying in a small rental cabin with a tiny stove, a funky bathtub, and a deck that faces west. We've managed to strew our stuff—books, maps, computers, more books, mushrooms, rocks that look like hearts, papers, and even more books—around the small cabin so that it more closely resembles our home.

This cabin definitely qualifies as being "small and crooked." Just what we love.

This time away from our lives, or as much of our lives as we couldn't fit in the car, also signifies the end of summer. When we get back, I'll have many manuscripts to read and a class to put the final touches on, and two of my own books to send out into the world.

Both Pete and I brought work with us. Being a writer, I often go on vacation so I have the time to write. One technique I've been using on this trip (and I often do it at home too) is to stay in bed after I've woken up and think about the book I'm writing. Muse might be the better word. What if this happened? How does a teenager feel after their first really good kiss? How do they describe it? When should this scene take place in the book?

I feel the whole book within me, simmering in the soup of almost sleep, and I stir it. When I get up, I write some of what I've seen. It's a gentle, easy way to work. I recommend it.

Last night we decided to drive a bit closer to Canada, so we got in the car and went north about twenty miles. On our way up we saw a moose. It was a first for both Peter and I. I pulled off the road and Pete got out the binoculars that he keeps in the glove compartment (I don't think he was a boy scout) and we watched it watching us. A young bull moose with a big hump and new felty antlers. After about five minutes it said enough and ambled back into the forest.

On the way home the moon came up over the lake a Maxwell Parrish moment. That rose-purple is unmistakeable.

Hope the end of summer is sweet for you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Amazing Reading at Dog Days

This last weekend, the middle of August, "dog days" indeed, we had a celebration in Stockholm, WI, of dogs and books.

On Friday night, charming emcee Pete Hautman kicked off the community read: poems or stories, often featuring a dog. We had eight-year-old Cole Johnson reading about his love of books; and our unofficial poet laureate, Bill Charlesworth, reading about driving to Sturgis to hang with the bikers (Bill is about ten times Cole's age and a more gentle, intelligent and dignified man would be hard to find). The readers, too numerous to list here, were terrific and the work was as varied the breeds of dogs.

The next day a slew of dog-related activities went on in the park, including a doggie parade complete with several competitions. Including in this blog, is a photo snapped by Maryanne Coronna moments after Jacques, a seven-pound toy poodle, received his trophy for third place for best costume, held by his proud owner—me. His flowers had grown limp so I had already discarded them, but he had pranced across the stage as "Flower Boy."

The very outrageously grand finale was Saturday night when David Rhodes read from Driftless and I worried that we didn't have the ambulance still on hand as several members of the audience were laughing so hard I feared for their lives. (John and Bill, you know who I'm talking about.)

Then three members of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Poetry Slam teams—Cynthia French, Kyle "Guante" Myhre, and Khary J.—enthralled the audience with their performances. When it was over, no one wanted to leave. It was very clear why these poets were members of the winning teams--the St. Paul team took first in the national poetry slam held a week ago. There is talk of putting together a slam team from Stockholm, talk to John Graber if you're interested.

Personally, I think this reading might have been the best one I've ever been to in my life.

Once Mary Anne Svoboda, Harley Cochran, Ericka Svoboda, Mary Michael, et al. recover (which may take months) we might consider doing it again. Bravo to all!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hiding Out

I hate to admit it, but I'm in an air-conditioned cafe in Red Wing, Minnesota, absorbing some cool, hiding out. I'm almost sick of summer, or at least the form of grass-rotting, shirt-sweated-through, all-surfaces-damp summer that we've had this week. The good news is I'm getting some work done.

Each morning, before the deep heat sets in, I've been camped out at the table, reworking a book, adding some scenes. I sink into this fictional world, the way I embrace air-conditioning when it's just too blamed hot. I finish before noon and feel holy for the day.

Last night my sister Dodie and I went to see the Rush River, which had leapt its banks. Impressive and scary, farmers had cows swept out of their fields, bridges crumbled, a beautiful small pristine trout stream turned into a roiling, brown, dangerous torrent. Two days earlier we had gone swimming in this river.

We are so not in control in this world. Enjoy the danger and hide out once in a while.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Evolving Stories

All the plants are peaking. They are stretching up with their leaves, their stems, their flowers, reaching as far into the air, toward the sun, as they can. We only have a week or two of them at their ultimate growth. And it all has happened earlier than usual this year, because of our warm spring.

I feel this stretch too. I want to write better and more than I've written. I want to push myself to capture the world, the characters that move in it, and the questions that I am forever probing, even more than I have.

I just finished reading Charles and Emma, a YA non-fiction book about Charles Darwin and his wife. Their relationship was extraordinarily close. They were rarely apart. He struggled with anxiety most of his life and yet he worked through it. He was extremely worried about how his theory of evolution would be taken and even stalled in publishing it for a few years, hoping that it would not make too big a stir. It was beyond inspiring to read about him, how hard he studied, how long he honed a piece. And there was always Emma, reading everything and editing it all.

I am working on two books now that I want to give just a bit more oomph to before I send them out into the world. I can be brusque in my novels, getting to the point, forgetting that the getting is the point. Each book needs another scene or two that are dallying scenes in which our sense of the characters and their desires deepen. These scenes will make the books richer and denser in a good way. I hope. I push myself. I study my stories for their intrinsic turns. Their evolutions.