shotgun matisse

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This post is supposed to be all about how we read some great Matisse picture book biographies, went to the Matisse exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, were deeply moved by the art, made Matisse-inspired art back at our kitchen table and blah, blah, blah.

But that didn’t happen.

We went to the Matisse exhibit and then somewhere in the first gallery, the inner tube in the wheel of the stroller that I was pushing EXPLODED. Have you ever heard an inner tube explode in an echoe-y gallery with 20ish-foot tall ceilings? It sounds a lot like a shotgun would sound, though I haven’t tested this. And to all the security guards working that day, it sounded like that as well.

So, once the inner tube exploded we were mobbed by security and in the blur of my tears (crying in public – yippee!) and transferring of copious gear and my giant baby into a small, wonky loaner stroller and weaving through the crowd with a stroller that mostly just splayed and didn’t do much strolling while making a quick trip to the museum shop where we discovered that ALL the Matisse postcards were sold out we left the museum as quickly as possible.

We didn’t see much Matisse. ahem.

Which is why it’s so great that, you know, BOOKS!

Because, odds are you didn’t make it to the Matisse exhibit either.

But hey, read “Colorful Dreamer” by Marjorie Blain Parker and “Henri’s Scissors” by Jeanette Winter and read about Matisse in “Discovering Great Artists” by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga (and do the art activity), ask your husband to overinflate your stroller tires until they explode and you can call it good.

lovely links: october 2014

riding a Willa Cather wave over here. Reading The Professor’s House, O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark and have some reserves waiting for me at the library. I am in love with this woman’s writing. And I am so upset that most people are introduced to her via My Antonia, which is a fine book but not my favorite. I cannot get enough Cather. Last month I purchased a collection of her short stories as a Christmas stocking stuffer for myself and it is taking all my willpower to not read it now.

also reading: The Essential C.S. Lewis which is really great if you’ve been meaning to read more C.S. Lewis – beyond The Chronicles of Narnia, that is. Finished Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (again and again). Also, Driftless by David Rhodes and am in the midst of Don Quixote by Cervantes. Finally finished reading all the Newbery winners.

and I just watched the movie Sweet Land. I know, I know, this is not a blog about movies. But, this is such a beautiful movie. It left me renewed but also wondering about a lot of things and resolving even more. And I think that there should be many, many more films like this. If there were, I’d actually go out to the movies again. It was based on the novel A Gravestone Made of Wheat by Will Weaver. (see? book connection!)

What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon

To Lure Young Readers, Nonfiction Writers Sanitize and Simplify

A Quiz on Children’s Books You Can Do in the Car

have you heard that the AWP conference is going to be in Minneapolis this year?

from rachel field

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Something told the wild geese

It was time to go.

Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered, – “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring,

Berries, luster-glossed,

But beneath warm feathers

Something cautioned, – “Frost.”

All the sagging orchards

Steamed with amber spice,

But each wild breast stiffened

At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese

It was time to fly,–

Summer sun was on their wings,

Winter in their cry.

mary jane’s grave

I visited Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter’s gravesite in St. Paul this summer. I was surprised that her gravestone was so simple, so spare.

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There was no mention of her birthdate, no trumpeting of her accomplishments. I liked it. Its matter-of-factness seemed just right.

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wild rumpus

This summer, I made a few pilgrimages to Wild Rumpus, that beloved independent bookstore in Minneapolis.

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This place makes me want buy stacks of books, open my very own bo0kstore and get some pet chickens. Immediately. And maybe put some turquoise streaks in my hair to fit in with the booksellers.

It reminds me of the value of independent bookstores. (Warning, I’m about to get sappy.) It reminds me why Amazon is a failure when you are looking to discover and explore books. It reminds me why independent bookstores put Big Box stores to shame. It reminds me why having physical (not virtual!) gathering places to be around (and touch!) books is vital.

I read a lot about books: magazines devoted to reviewing and explaining them, blogs discussing them, etc. But it never fails that when I go into an actual bookstore I am startled to find so many gems that I had never even heard about or to explore a book that I had only read a description of.

I had an involved conversation with one of the bookkeepers about the best translation of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales (try the one translated by Tiina Nunnally), what she thought of Philip Pullman’s version of the Brothers Grimm stories (excellent) and we talked about the emergence of picture book biographies (brilliant). Where else could I have such a conversation?

When you go, let your kids walk through the purple, kid-sized door (it is jammed every time we go, but we wrangle it open because kid-sized doors are one of the delights of childhood and they are ALWAYS worth wrangling), chase some of their chickens or cats, enjoy the maze-like aisles, purchase a stack of books and buy some stickers (they have great stickers).

from martha graham

Box Canyon 040“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

starting over

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Last month I finished the first draft of my very first picture book biography.

And then I did what I usually do with my first draft – I sent it to my first readers, revised based on those comments, revised some more based on new ideas and fantasize about submitting.

But something different happened this time. I revised my manuscript and it wasn’t enough. I was stuck. I wrote about that here.

The problem was I knew I wasn’t telling the story the way it deserved. It was lacking. It was missing something. It seemed off.

The problem was I couldn’t quite articulate what was wrong with it. That knowledge kept picking at me at odd moments. And when I got quiet enough, that knowledge said horrid things to me like:

“you have to start over”

“your sentences are pretty but they don’t add up”

“trying harder isn’t going to make a difference here”

So I got some help because I needed it. And two lovely writers, my mentors, told me what was wrong. They didn’t tell me how to fix it. That’s my job. But now I know what is wrong. And I have a small idea of how to fix it.

So, I am starting over.

It actually pains me to write that sentence. I do not want to start over. I want my little manuscript to be whole and lovely, and frankly, I want it to be Done. But it is not. And the idea that saves me from abandoning this manuscript is that I’d much rather write something excellent than just be done.

I’m opening a blank document and beginning again.

I have no idea how to do this. And sometimes the knowledge of all the thinking and writing I have ahead of me makes me want to lie down and take a nap…for a week. And then I read this post by Seth Godin and I get to work.

And it is my hope that I will be able to do this one thing well – tell this woman’s story beautifully.

winters: my secret power

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In the midst of this unrelenting winter, when its cold teeth were firmly grasping my neck, a friend sent me this quote: “Wisdom comes with winters.” ~ Oscar Wilde

It was a comfort as I braved another week (another month) of below zero weather. It made me feel as if my fortitude would bring me a reward – a valuable gift – if I could just make it through the tunnel of snow and cold. Mostly, the quote helped me feel as if my suffering had meaning – which always makes suffering a little more OK. The formula is simple: I go through a trial and am stronger for it.

I learned later that the quote really did not mean that. Not at all. I was tolerating winter, not embracing its gifts. And therein lies the difference.

Sometimes it feels like a national pastime, to hate winter. As soon as the shine of the New Year grows dull, the complaining – about the cold, dark, snow, gray, blah, blah, blah – begins. Yes, the days get long. But I’ve lived in and traveled to a variety of places and each one has its own special climate and weather. We complain about the rain in Washington, about the crushing heat in Arizona, the chattering cold of Minnesota, the humidity of Tennessee. But, I say, isn’t that part of the loveliness, the uniqueness that makes those places what they are?

There wouldn’t be a confluence of waterfalls around Washington without the rain. There would be no saguaro cacti in Arizona without the dry heat. The humidity of Tennessee affords us magnolia trees. The cold of Minnesota offers us the miracle of the birch tree.

There is a natural inward turning for me in winter. After Christmas, I get very quiet. I read a lot. I make soup. I fill the pages in my journal. I read some more. I write. I read. I roast sweet potatoes. I sew a quilt top. I knit. I bake bread. I read.

This winter, with its record-setting and humbling cold, I stayed home. It didn’t feel safe or wise to leave the safety of home. I felt like by getting quiet and reading and doing all these things, I was gaining some wisdom. Winter forced me to be still. Quiet. This was my instinctual understanding of those words by Wilde.

It wasn’t until I was reading a section in Leadership Education by Oliver & Rachel DeMille that I understood Wilde’s quote in a fuller way. As it turns out, wisdom does come with winters, but it doesn’t come by just bearing through it.

The DeMilles write, “Winters are for stories. In our agrarian past, people worked hard from spring through fall, and took winters off as a natural time to share the learning of the past…Much of a farmer’s work was done for the year when the snow fell, and winter was a time of learning… Winter is a time for stories and study.”

They continue, “The activities of body in spring, summer and fall prepare the mind for yet another significant annual learning spurt from October through April…the natural time to significant paradigm shifts and great learning is winter.”

For most of my life, I’ve naturally read more, regrouped, dug deep, reflected and written during winter. But I’ve never known why. I’ve never put a name on this natural pattern. And I love, love, love it when I finally can understand in a factual way something that before was a hunch, a quiet urge.

And so this winter – and for all my winters to come – I embrace the cold, the stories, the quiet, the inward turning, the writing. I won’t will the calendar pages to move quickly to the warmer months. I’ll embrace the gift of winter, the power of those cold days – to dig in without distraction.

Today, as I run down a manuscript, I am grateful for these lingering days of chill air. I know that as soon as the sun emerges and decides to stay – I will be unable to resist (nor should I) the lure of long days spent running, biking and gardening outside.