Good morning. I have something to tell you. Better sit down for this.
Okay, (clears throat, takes a deep breath), I have another blog. That’s right, when I’m not here, I post elsewhere for a whole different family of readers at a blog called Childless by Marriage. How long has this been going on? Since 2007. Since our days at Blogger.com with its funky templates. Yes, I have been cheating on you. I even have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Gasp.
Why am I telling you now?
Besides being completely devoid of ideas for Unleashed in Oregon today, I have been working night and day on a “best of” collection from the other blog, and I’m almost finished. The posts are gathered and edited, and I’m working on niggling details like links and type faces. I know, I know, I did a “best of” collection for Unleashed in Oregon a couple years ago. (Click here to buy a copy. Please.) It was a lot of work, and I swore I would never produce another book full of photographs.
The Childless by Marriage blog book does not have pictures, but whittling more than 700 posts and their anonymous comments down to approximately 300 pages . . . Mucho work.
The new book is tentatively titled Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. The focus is on couples where one partner is unable or unwilling to have children. Sometimes they already have kids from another marriage. Sometimes they never wanted them. Sometimes they have fertility problems. That leaves the other partner having to decide whether to leave in the hope of finding a babymaking partner or accept that they will never have children. It’s a lot more common than you might think. One in five women reach menopause these days without having children. I’m one of them.
The posts talk about why one’s partner might not want kids, whether to stay with them or leave in the hope of finding someone who does want children, dealing with the grief of never having children, coping with the clueless questions people ask about our lack of children and the equally clueless suggestions people offer, looking ahead to old age without children, and more. Think Ann Landers or Dear Sugar, except I ask the questions and readers provide the answers.
I don’t have a cover to show you yet. At first, I was going to use the puppy picture that has topped the blog for years, but readers say no, not right for the book, and I agree. Ideas are welcome, and if you are/know a great cover designer, let me know.
The blog accompanies an already-published book from 2012 titled Childless by Marriage. I’m thinking a new edition of that book might be in order. We’ll see.
So, I have been cheating on you with another blog and the book that has become my major COVID shutdown project. (I also cleaned out the garage.) I invite you to visit the Childless by Marriage blog and give it a read. I post there on Wednesdays. You might even want to order a copy of the Childless by Marriage book. Why not?
When it comes to books and blogs, I’m afraid I can’t be monogamous. So many ideas, so little time. Stay tuned to see what comes out of this computer next.
Thanks for reading. Question: Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to more babies or fewer? Why?
Shall I tell you about my mammogram on Friday, which I followed by overeating—salmon wrap and fries–at Georgie’s and then going home and staining my upper deck till my back cried “uncle.” And then, despite the radio and the newspaper predicting sunshine, it rained and turned all the “Mountain Ash” stain to mud-colored soup?
Shall I tell you about the play I went to Friday night at the PAC, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book? So good. Four brilliant actors playing many parts. I’d recommend you go, but the show closed Sunday. Read the book; you’ll like it.
Shall I tell you about how Saturday, after a little writer work, I went to the KYAQ Electric Blues Jam with my folk guitar, checked out the collection of mostly men playing electric guitars, each with their own amps, and decided I had better just listen while I ate pizza? Or how I watched the piano player, wishing I could play like that?
Shall I tell you about doing the music for yet another Saturday Mass at Sacred Heart all by myself—and fluffing some of the words and notes—because my choir was banished for holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer (the weekend after my father’s funeral) or how I have given notice because this priest who preaches forgiveness cannot seem to forgive them and let them sing?
Shall I tell you about how I cried during Mass on Sunday—where I had just two lovely singers left—because I don’t really want to leave, but I can’t stay either? Should I brag that I didn’t miss a note as I mopped at my tears?
Shall I tell you how my neighbor pressure-washed my house and deck for free so I could do the staining? In the process, a porch light, outdoor thermometer, and the covering on my back door, all old and weathered, fell apart, so I bought a new porch light which he installed yesterday, and a new indoor-outdoor thermometer, which works great. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the door.
Shall I tell you I bought more stain yesterday so I could start over, and, after the neighbor finished with the porch light, I redid the whole thing, praying there was still enough daylight for it to dry when I finished at 5:30? There was not. Some of the stain was wet last night at bedtime, and all of it was iced over this morning. It looks like it might be all right, but next year, I’m starting early enough to find a pro to take care of the deck.
Shall I tell you about how the neighbor’s new motion-detector light (for bears and burglars) shines directly into my bedroom or how it was so cold in the house that neither Annie nor I could sleep? Should I tell you how after cleaning out a ton of burnt pellets that remind me of burnt popcorn and listening to the pellet stove wheeze like a dying human while offering no fire, I declared it dead (again) and dragged in the plug-in heater that makes it only slightly warmer while my new thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees outside and 57 inside?
Shall I tell you that I’m seeing flashing lights that might be a migraine, or perhaps I’m going blind? But it’s Monday, the eye doctor is in Eugene, and I have to write anyway. At least the sun is out, and Annie loves me. Dad is in heaven and not hurting anymore, and if my mammogram results are okay, I’m alive and healthy, so what am I whining about?
No? That’s what I thought.
I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s where crazy people try to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to about 1,600 words a day. I plan to take a vacation from the blog so I can focus on my NaNo book. After reading this, you might agree that I need a vacation.
Bundle up, and don’t forget to reset your clocks on Sunday or you’ll be an hour early to church.
Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday or maybe it’s because I find myself surrounded by piles of unread books yet find nothing I actually want to read. Sunday I decided it was time to purge. If I live to be 110, I won’t have time to read all of those literary journals, anthologies, heavy history books, how-to-write-better books, and the various gift books people have bestowed on me that have been sitting there for years. There’s nothing wrong with any of these books, but I just want a good story to get lost in, preferably attractively bound and printed in type that doesn’t hurt my eyes. I read on Kindle, too, but I prefer paper.
I want to read dessert first for a change. I do not want all these books guilting me for not reading them yet. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start reading Harlequin romances, but it does mean that if a book makes me tired, I’m going to toss it. Yesterday, I found several that had bookmarks a little ways in, meaning I started to read them and pooped out. I’m giving them away, along with other books I realized I’m never going to want to read—even though they seem to be wonderful books.
I love books. I’m the kid who read Dickens for fun in junior high. I will take the time for a long novel with a strong story, beautiful language and old-fashioned careful editing. But something tossed out and full of typos, no. Books that change characters with every chapter so I need a spreadsheet to keep track of them, no. Nonfiction full of surface psycho-babble, no. Poetry collections I can’t make sense of, be gone.
The literary magazines wear me out. They’re full of great writing. I’m delighted when I can be published in them, but I can’t read them all. I just can’t.
I know I’m not the average reader. I read a lot, at least a book a week. I read many books as research for my writing. In addition to the piles of actual books and more books collected on my Kindle, I have an overflowing folder with lists of books I want to read. I read as a writer, considering more than just the story, looking at how the writer writes and criticizing the faults I see. I love it when I can forget all that and just enjoy the book.
I grew up in a house where my mother, brother and I read all the time. We got our books at the library and took them back in two weeks. We did not pile them up at home—with the exception of my Nancy Drew books and my brother’s Hardy Boys mysteries, which we donated to younger cousins years ago. There still aren’t many books at my dad’s house. That doesn’t mean we didn’t read. We just didn’t collect unread books. We checked them out, read them, checked them in. That didn’t earn the authors a lot of royalties, but it kept our books from weighing us down.
On New Year’s Eve, I promised myself that this year I would read all the piled-up books, but I have changed my mind. I will read the ones that still appeal to me and send the rest to new homes. Life is short. Read the good stuff first.
How about you? Do you have a lot of unread books? Do you keep books after you read them? Does anybody want a lot of literary magazines? I’m happy to share.
I thank everyone for the birthday wishes. Another birthday survived. Whew.
It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.
In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.
Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.
We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.
Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.
John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.
Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.
Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.
But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.
My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!
Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.
That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.
It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)
And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.
Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.
It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.
Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.
I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?
Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.
You know how you look forward to a new novel like that piece of chocolate cake you’ve been saving for yourself? Well, that’s how I felt about the book I’m currently reading. I ordered it from the library, waited for it to arrive, sat down to enjoy it on Saturday, and . . . what the heck?
The book is Motherhoodby Sheila Heti. It’s advertised as a novel, but I wouldn’t call it a novel. It’s a meandering meditation in which the narrator—who might or might not be a fictional character—is trying to decide whether or not to have a baby. So far, 150 pages in, nothing has happened. There’s this weird dialogue with the i ching or her inner muse or herself where she asks questions and the other entity responds yes or no. There are some dreams, some psychic readings, and some dialogues with friends who may or may not be real people. There are some interesting ideas, but there is no story. I wanted a story. I wanted to lose myself in someone else’s life. I wanted the chocolate cake. But it’s not chocolate, and somebody put coconut in it. Rats! I hate coconut. Maybe you like coconut, but be forewarned.
The nonfiction book I was looking forward to, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, is also different from what I expected. I wanted a memoir. I got a study. It’s well done, excellent in fact, but I feel like I’m doing homework. It’s broccoli instead of fried chicken.
I count on books to keep me sane. I’ve got them stacked all over my house. The ones waiting to be read include lots of literary magazines, which those of us trying to be published in them are supposed to read. They’re good, but they’re granola. Sometimes I just want the equivalent of a Big Mac.
Of course lots of people love coconut and granola. Some even eat them together.
Let me share a couple books that were much more pleasing to my taste buds.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows kept me reading so long my eyes hurt. This is a beautiful novel told in letters and telegrams. World War II has just ended. Juliet, a London writer, has just published a book of lighthearted war columns to great acclaim and is looking for a new project. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a fan who lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France. The letter leads her into a world of quirky new friends and a great story of how the island survived the German occupation. In addition to a delightful story with a pleasing ending, we get a clear picture of what the war was like in that part of the world—bloody awful. I’m appalled at how little I learned in school and glad Shaffer and Barrows used their story-telling skill to educate us. Highly recommended. A little carrot cakeish, but with lots of cream cheese frosting.
The day I finished reading Guernsey Literary, I handed it to my best friend, thinking she’d enjoy it. She paged through. “It’s all letters. I hate that.” She handed it back. But then again, she doesn’t like chocolate.
I also enjoyed The Tenth Island by Diana Marcum. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from California, Marcum visited the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal to explore the California-Azores connection. Although not Azorean herself, she felt a special connection on her first visit and took a year-long leave of absence from her job at the Los Angeles Times to spend more time in the Azores, mostly on the island of Terceira. She lived in houses rented or loaned to her and spent her days exploring. She made friends, took off with near-strangers on hikes and car trips, and became part of the community, all without speaking more than a few words of Portuguese. It’s Eat Pray LoveorA Year in Provence Portuguese style. My ancestors are Azorean, and I have been to the islands, so I loved this book. When she describes the street bullfights or the lava pools, I’m right back there. Would you like it if you don’t like beans and linguica? I don’t know.
Finally, if I’m going to talk so much about cake . . .
Sloane Crosley, author ofI was Told There’d Be Cake,has often been compared to David Sedaris. This collection of essays is definitely up to his standards. The stories are outrageous and funny, but each with a nugget of real-life drama. The last essay, for example, centers on a serious disease with which she was temporarily diagnosed. In “The Ursula Cookie,” we read about a horrendous boss. In “Christmas in July,” we consider what it’s like being Jewish in a home where there’s a Christmas tree every year. The longest piece, “You on a Stick,” is a funny yet bittersweet tale of being asked to be maid of honor for a grade school friend whom she hasn’t seen in years. Suddenly the bride is treating her like her best friend and claiming not to be a demanding “bridezilla,” which is exactly what she is. It all builds up to a hilarious disaster of a wedding. And then there’s the story about volunteering in a butterfly exhibit, where things get kind of crazy. So much fun. Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.
I wanted to rant about Motherhood and got carried away. I hope these recommendations are helpful. I got so involved I burned my veggie burger while I was writing this. You’re welcome.
By the way, my novel, Up Beaver Creek is all chocolate cake, no coconut. I promise.
What? No, not the police department. PD is what the protagonist in my new novel Up Beaver Creek is calling herself these days. It’s her initials, and she’s not saying what they stand for. Back in Missoula, people called her Cissy, her nickname, but she does not want to be Cissy anymore. Widowed at 42, she is determined to start over with a new name, a new look, and a new home on the Oregon coast, where she will pursue her career as a musician–if things ever stop going wrong.
Eight wonderful, brilliant, generous beta readers have given the book a careful going-over, finding numerous typos and a few discrepancies I need to clean up. Next steps: Finalizing the cover and formatting the inside pages. I’m starting to get nervous. I want everyone to buy the book. I want to do readings here, there, and everywhere. I want everyone to say they love my book. I want to show the IRS and my father that I do actually write and sell books.
Why am I telling you all this? Because these days, whether you’re published by one of the big New York publishers, a small indie press, or doing it yourself, authors are required to build “buzz.” We need to become salespeople drumming up interest and doing everything possible to make sure everybody knows about their books and can’t wait to read them.
This sales business is tough for writers who prefer to sit quietly at their computers and get lost in the worlds they’re creating. We prefer art over commerce, readers over buyers. Once upon a time, publishers did all the marketing while urging writers to hurry up and write the next book. Not anymore. Promote, tour, build that audience high and wide.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
Our Willamette Writers Coast Chapter meeting yesterday was all about building buzz. Jennie Komp of Myth Machine talked about building one’s “fandom.” Cultivate one loyal fan who loves everything you write, and that fan will attract others who attract more. Pretty soon you’ll have thousands. At least that’s the plan.
It can work. I got an email on Saturday from a writer who has a new book coming out. I ordered it immediately. I haven’t read a word of it, haven’t seen the cover, and I don’t usually pay that much for a book, but with this author, I’m buying it. I buy everything he writes. I’m part of his fandom.
Komp used J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books as an example of maximum merchandising. Fans don’t just buy the books and see the movies; they buy the tee shirts, the little cauldrons, the round glasses, and all the other swag. The books have turned into an industry.
We can look at our own books for things we can promote: songs that appear in the book and might be used in the movie, merchandise that could be sold in conjunction with the book, real-life locations to which we can direct our readers, articles we can write that will direct people to our books, outtakes we could sell, and quotes we can combine with images to create “memes” that we post on social media several times a day. We can create YouTube videos about something in the book, invite our fans to post testimonials, and set up “meet-ups” for our fans to get together. In other words, sell everything you can from the world you have created for your book.
I thought I was doing well to write blogs and list my books in my email signature. I feel old and slightly nauseated. Would Mark Twain have done this? When does a body have time to write? Of course, we can hire Myth Machine or another publicity company to do it all for us.
Up Beaver Creek, coming in June. Meet PD and her friends. Did I mention the tsunami?
You know all those socially-challenged people who would rather read a book—or write a book—than anything? Well, about 8,000 of them gathered in Portland, Oregon Saturday for the mega-event known as Wordstock. Unlike at the famous rock concert with the similar name, folks at Wordstock were stoned on books instead of drugs. The stage performances were all about words instead of music, and the only naked people were the sculptures at the art museum. Still, it was pretty mind-boggling. Alice Hoffman over here, Sherman Alexie over there, Richard Russo across the street, workshops all day, books to buy everywhere, oh my God.
Portland is a long drive from here. Three hours each way if I’m lucky. Much of it was in the dark, and it was raining the whole time. Blinded by the deluge, I prayed my way home and still can’t believe I survived. I also can’t believe the guys in pickups who passed me going 75 mph on Highway 20. God watch over the people in their path.
So, as a newbie, I had a lot to learn about Wordstock. For example:
* Once you pay your $15 (do it in advance online) and get your red wristband, you can attend any of the talks in any of the many buildings. Just walk in. This blows my mind. I thought you needed to pay more for an extra ticket. Nope.
* Get the program online at Literary Arts or in the Willamette Week newspaper and plan ahead. There is way too much to see and do. Picture a massive buffet at which everything looks delicious, but you can only choose one plate-full. Which do you want more, the lobster or the raviolis?
* Don’t open that door to the stage balcony between shows. I decided I wanted to sneak a peek at one of the theaters and got locked in. Locked double doors on each end of a concrete-floored hallway. Luckily there were stairs. Eventually I wound up in an alley. As the doors shut behind me—locked—I gazed at the wrought iron gates that separated me from the street. What if they’re locked, too? I pictured myself gripping the bars like a prisoner and hollering for help. But they opened.
* Expect to get wet. It’s November in Oregon. You will get wet walking between buildings. You will get wet acquiring food from the food carts. You will get wet trying to find a place to eat that food. Wear your raincoat; think about bringing an umbrella. And don’t even think about complaining about the rain.
* It will be crowded. Did I mention there were 8,000 people there? That’s almost the whole population of Newport. Most of these people are too busy gazing at books, authors, their programs or their phones to watch where they’re going. If you try to take an alternate route, a red-shirted volunteer will herd you back into the stampede. Note that many of the attendees are kids, who get in free.
* If you live far away, stay overnight so you can start Wordstocking the minute it opens and stay to the end. None of this sneaking out to beat the traffic and the darkness, neither of which is actually possible.
* You’re in an art museum. Take time to enjoy the art, too. Featured this year was the work of pop artist Andy Warhol, famous for his Campbell’s Soup Cans and prints of famous people. Wild and colorful stuff.
It’s all pretty amazing and a little daunting for this small-town author who skipped her church bazaar to attend Wordstock (which my phone keeps autocorrecting to Woodstock). Of course I spent more money than I made selling books. I thought I was going to die on the road. But will I go next year? As long as Literary Arts keeps putting it on, I plan to be there. Unless it’s snowing. Maybe even then.
Tidy up your house and you tidy up your life. That’s the thesis of the book I’m reading now, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. At a writing workshop recently, the teacher made fun of the book, but I felt it calling to me at the bookstore, so I bought it.
Kondo is Japanese and young. The book has been translated into English. There are cultural differences and concepts I just cannot buy. I don’t think she understands how big a modern American house can be and how much stuff is in it. And how rarely Americans use the word “tidy.” But never mind. I like the idea of simplifying my space by keeping only what “sparks joy” and storing it so I’m not looking at my junk everywhere I turn.
She talks to her things, thanking them for their service, urging them to rest when she puts them in the drawer. She asks her house where things should go. My house doesn’t seem to have an opinion.
Kondo’s way of tidying up is radical. It amounts to discarding at least half of your possessions. You must do it all once, not a little at a time, or you will never get done. (I’ve noticed). You must pull everything out, handle each item, and ask if it sparks joy. If it does not, get rid of it. Not just if it’s useful or still good, but do you love it?
Only when you have discarded everything you don’t need should you think about how to store what’s left. Kondo says, “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.” Oh, how I know that. I have moved many times. As soon I pull everything out, I begin to realize just how much I have. Oh for the days when I could fit everything in a pickup truck.
Reading this book, I couldn’t wait to start tidying up. I began with my socks, a big mismatched mess. I threw away socks without partners, socks in bad shape, socks that I just hated and never wore. On Kondo’s direction, I rolled the rest like sushi rolls and set them in my drawer. I love it. Now I can find my blue socks, brown socks, and black socks easily. There are no loser socks anymore.
Moving on, I sorted and rolled up my underwear and my stockings, making a satisfying display. It got harder with nightgowns. If you never wear them, Kondo says they have to go. But wait, that one’s so pretty; if I ever have a gentleman companion again, I’d want to wear it. And that one’s so cute. . . .
If Kondo were here in my house, we’d end up screaming at each other. I was raised to use things up, to keep them if they were good, even if I didn’t love them. Never to waste anything. So now to say if it doesn’t spark joy, I need to throw it away? It cost money. It’s still good. I might use it.
It gets worse. Kondo prescribes getting rid of all paper. I repeat: ALL paper. Credit card statements, owners’ manuals, books you’ve already read—out with all of them. You don’t need them. But . . . .
Keepsakes? Keep the memories, get rid of the mug, the tote bag, the photograph, the ash tray your child made in first grade. Greeting cards? Out. It’s the only way you can process your past, she says. Hold on, Marie Kondo.
I like a tidy, uncluttered space. I have been trying to winnow down my possessions, knowing that someday I will probably move to a smaller home and will have to “downsize.” I know that after I die, somebody will get stuck with my stuff. But right now, I like my stuff. It’s easy to get rid of loser socks, but the last Christmas card with my mother’s signature? My wedding gown? Fred’s aquarium jacket with all his badges still attached? My financial records and notes for my books? Not yet.
It’s crazy that we’ve reached a point where we have acquired so much stuff we need a best-selling book to tell us how to sort it out so we can breathe in our own homes. And yet we keep buying more.
This book has more than 10,000 reviews, most of them five stars, on Amazon.com. On Goodreads, a site for booklovers, the reviews aren’t as good. As one writer says, “This book does not spark joy.” Okay, it’s goofy with its talking to things, and it assumes we can all afford to throw stuff away because we don’t love it, that we can always buy another one. But there’s a lot of wisdom in there, too.
My mother would agree with most of what Kondo says. She did not hold on to things. She was always after me to clean up my room, especially my closet. She threatened to throw it all out if I didn’t. But hey, I’m a grownup now, and this is my shit. Hands off. Don’t mess with my joy.
How about you? Are you ready to purge? Where do you get stuck?
I’m spoiled. The place where I live is quiet. Sitting in my back yard, I hear mostly birds and the wind. Occasionally a plane or helicopter flies over from the small airport a half mile south, and sometimes I hear a truck gearing up on Highway 101. Sometimes the ocean whispers and sometimes it roars, but overall it feels quiet. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t hear as well as I used to. As noted in earlier posts, I have a measurable hearing loss typical of people my age. But in my yard, I can almost hear the quiet.
Gordon Hempton, author of a wonderful book called One Square Inch of Silence, would disagree. He would say it’s pretty good, but it’s not truly quiet here in South Beach. If he measured the sound levels here, he’d probably come up with about 35 decibels coming from cars, waves, and miscellaneous mechanical sounds that I don’t notice. When a helicopter passes over, it would go up to about 90. Wherever we live, we become accustomed to a certain level of noise: cars, lawnmowers, TVs, appliances, dogs barking, people talking, and so much more. Some of us even become uncomfortable if it’s too quiet. We reach for our iPods or turn on the TV. I confess that sometimes I sleep with the radio on.
Gordon Hempton specializes in sounds. He makes his living mostly from making and selling recordings of birds, beaches, and train whistles. But his favorite sound is no sound at all. He prefers quiet, quiet enough to hear your own footsteps or the chorus of birds that greets the new day. But quiet is hard to find. Even places billed as quiet are filled with the noise of cars, planes, trains, and people. He’s on a mission to set aside one square inch of silence in Washington’s Olympic National Park, making it a place where people don’t speak and planes don’t fly over. As part of that mission, he drove across the country to Washington, D.C. in a VW bus, measuring sounds in cities, parks and wilderness areas. His book is the story of that journey. I found the book fascinating and enjoyed the way the science is folded into an engaging story. I also learned a great deal about sound.
Did you ever think about the fact that our hearing is designed to keep us safe, that most animals depend on their ability to hear predators coming so they can react to protect themselves. Animals won’t nest where it’s too noisy because they can’t hear, Hempton says. For us people, that might mean hearing a car coming so we don’t get run over, hearing a rattlesnake before we step on it, or hearing someone knocking on the door. We need to be able to hear a baby cry or a loved one shout for help. We need to hear each other in order to communicate. Hempton says we don’t have “ear lids” because we need to be able to hear all the time.
But it’s getting to be so noisy we can’t be sure we’ll hear anything. On his travels, Hempton visited a symphony hall, the Indianapolis speedway, and a basketball game. All were so loud it was nearly impossible to converse and the sound levels were high enough to cause damage to people’s hearing. Even in many of the restaurants he visited, it was too loud to talk. The roar of conversation, kitchen noises and Muzak added up to an audio attack. Even in places where people assured him it would be quiet, places like national parks and areas deep in the wilderness, Hempton found planes flying overhead every few minutes and power plants roaring 24/7.
All of this makes me glad to live where it is relatively quiet. Of course, there’s a price to pay. Mid-morning on my street, I’m the only human around. It gets lonely. At my desk, I hear a hum from the refrigerator, I hear my computer keys clacking, I just heard a fly bounce off the window. If I pay attention, I can hear myself breathing. But as soon as I get in my car, I turn on the radio as I ease into a world of noise, a world where quiet is becoming harder every day to find.
Find out more about Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence campaign and watch a video at his website, onesquareinch.org.
I found a free app for my phone that measures sound. It rates the sound here in my office right now as a whisper. Is it quiet where you are? What kind of noises surround you? Do you notice them most of the time? Let’s talk about it in the comments. Quietly.
Stories Grandma Never Told was conceived one day more than 25 years ago when I was hiding out in my parents’ vacation trailer making random notes in the wake of publishing my first book, The Iberian Americans. That book was an overview of the experiences of immigrants from Portugal, Spain and the Basque Country. My roots lead back to all of those places.
What about the Portuguese women, I asked myself. What has been passed down from my great grandmother to my grandmother to my mother to me that makes me who I am? The eyes, the nose, the body, yes, but what else? Who were these women? The few books about Portuguese immigrants that I had found focused on the men, as if the women didn’t come at all. There were stories to be shared.
The result was my next published book, Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. The title is slightly misleading because the book does not include my grandmother’s stories. I never heard them. Instead, I looked up “Portuguese” in the phone book (pre-Google) and started interviewing women: family, friends, people who were active in the Portuguese community and the people they insisted I speak to. I had never been exposed to much of the Portuguese culture. A few words, a few foods, but not much more. My parents’ generation insisted on being as American as possible. Forget the old country. But I got involved, I learned, and I wrote.
It took almost a decade to get this book published. We had already moved to Oregon when I finally got the letter (pre-email!) from Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books offering to publish Stories Grandma Never Told. It was released at The Dia de Portugal celebration in San Jose in June 1998. That was one of the best days of my life. My family was there, and the books sold like crazy.
Eighteen years later, the book is still selling, but not in the same way. After nine years doing a fantastic job with my book through three printings, the people at Heyday decided it wasn’t selling enough to be worth doing another printing. But it wasstill selling, and I wasn’t ready to let it go, so I started my own publishing company, Blue Hydrangea Productions, hooked up with a local printshop, Lazerquick in Newport, and produced my own edition with a gorgeous new cover photo of my grandmother, Anne Avina, on her wedding day.
That first Blue Hydrangea edition kept selling. I went through three printings, and I’m still getting orders. I’m out of envelopes and almost out of books, but Stories Grandma Never Told lives on. I am releasing a new edition this month through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program. You can order it online right now. Again, we have a new cover. This one features my great grandmother, Anna Souza. Why go through Amazon this time? Cost and efficiency. It costs me nothing, saving me a big printing bill and allowing me to charge less for the book. I can also offer it as a Kindle ebook for the first time ever. Plus, since most of my orders come from Amazon, they won’t have to get the books from me, meaning readers can get copies more quickly. I will still get paid and should make more money than before.
Why self-publish? These days, it’s a big question in publishing. It’s so hard to get accepted by traditional publishers, although I have done it several times and expect to do it again. Some self-published books are poorly written and badly edited, but many respected authors are taking control of their own careers by publishing their own books. We have the technology now sitting on our desks. Why depend on someone else?
“Grandma” was originally edited and formatted by the best at Heyday Books. I’m just keeping their work going. Why? Because the readers still want the book, and they don’t care how it came to be. I marvel at this, that I wrote something people want to buy and share with their mothers, daughters and friends. How could I let it die?
Grandma Souza, who died in 1954, would be shocked to find her face on the front of a book. She never learned to read in either Portuguese or English. But here she is, digitized in 2016 and being written about in a “blog.” As she might have said, “Ay, Jesus.”