field notes (7.29.16)

Visited the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, Minn. after years(!) of driving by it and thinking that I should really stop sometime. An amazing place.

Made reservations for a solo, silent retreat.

Made reservations to view the Kerlan Collection.

Life is a struggle and a good spy gets in there and fights. Remember that. No nonsense.” – from HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh

Reading: HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh and GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

I think being an artist means telling the truth, your truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you or others. You can tell your truth in any medium you choose: text, paint, conversation, pie baking, sculpture, kind acts, singing. Whatever. The medium is irrelevant, the message is paramount.

field notes (7.22.16)

Reading: HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh and DECONSTRUCTING PENGUINS by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I think we’re creative all day long. We have to have an appointment to have that work out on the page. Because the creative part of us gets tired of waiting, or just gets tired.” – Mary Oliver

Being outside in nature is vital. It is the origin of all art. It is from which all art is derived. Everything else is just an interpretation of it. That is why, as artists (and we’re all artists), it is vital to connect to place, to the outside environment.

Well, I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.” – Harriet in HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh

Toured the Wanda Gag House in New Ulm, Minn. The house had a beautiful hum about it. It was as if Wanda’s father had built a stage set for his children to live up to. Maybe, that’s exactly what he intended. He created an environment that supported and encouraged creative expression. And that’s what he got. My favorite parts were an elaborately embroidered Bohemian tunic that Wanda wore once she moved out East. I also loved, loved Anton Gag’s attic studio. The color and light and dimensions of that room were thrilling.

Visited Blue Mounds State Park: the prairie and quartzite cliffs took my breath away. The bison eluded us, but just knowing they were there was enough.

Visited Touch the Sky Prairie in Luverne, Minn. This place left me humming and happy and awakened. So grateful it is being protected.

Visited Pipestone National Monument: the colors!

Enjoyed the Wilder Pageant and visiting the site of Laura’s dugout on the banks of Plum Creek. Beautiful: to see hundreds of little girls dressed in calico dresses, aprons, bonnets and boots bubbling with excitement about the story of a young pioneer girl.

field notes (7.15.16)

Took a whirlwind trip to Grand Marais, MN in which I soaked in the art at the Art Festival and mentally spent about $1,000 the first day, ate a whitefish sandwich (for the first time!) at Dockside Fish Market, visited Drury Lane Books, had a beautiful and restorative hike on Artist’s Point (this was the highlight of the trip), met Kristofer at Upstate MN, took so many photographs of Lake Superior, almost sailed the Hjordis (sail was cancelled due to potential for threatening weather…second time this has happened to me), ate and talked with dear friends, ate delicious donuts at World’s Best Donuts and once again tried to do too much in too little time

Oh, one of the potters at the Art Festival spoke with me about his work and how he gathers clay from different places as a way to connect to place in his art. Love that.

Was reminded again and again how good travel is for my soul, and also how good staying home is for my soul as well.

I must try to write more directly.  In SALT TO THE SEA, author Ruta Sepetys writes, “The moon hid behind the clouds, unable to stomach the wretched scene.” And those words are true and true. I would’ve written, “The moon hid behind the clouds, AS IF it were unable to stomach the wretched scene.” Yuck! Right? Those hedging words and phrases lack clarity and confidence. Need to work on this. Must remove all those vague qualifiers from my writing…especially if I’m qualifying from a place of fear. (Also, that book was beautiful.)


“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert (amen, amen, amen)

curator: the person in charge of a museum, art collection, zoo, etc.

Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability.” – Brene Brown

Naming and owning some new manifestations: here’s to keeping after it!

When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted me exactly.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Having an accountability partner is such a gift. This week I had to put what was just a hunch into words and it opened up a new world for me. Writing is powerful. Accountability is powerful.

field notes (7.8.16)

My latest essay: DRAGON SLAYING

Reminding myself that craft comes first, always.

So much of my life feels like I’ve got to choose: X or Y, A or B. I am  exhausted by this limited way of thinking and so I’ recommitting myself to what I’m calling The Practice of &. That means I choose X & Y, A & B. Feel free to join me.

You know you live in Minnesota, the land of literary loveliness, when you read BIG BELCHING BOG to your kids on Wednesday, hike out to the Lake Bemidji State Park Bog on Thursday and then take you hubby out there on Friday only to notice that the grand and glorious Phyllis Root is at the bog as well. And so you introduce yourself and stumble with your words and feel as if well, maybe meeting Phyllis Root means something. (Maybe it doesn’t?) But you decide to go with it meaning something because you need it to mean something.

Magical Realism is something I need to pay attention to. It feels closer to the truth.

Reading: I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith and TORTILLA FLAT by John Steinbeck

Practicing inversions! Which is just a fancy way of saying I’m doing handstands against the wall while my kids watch, amazed.

I am submitting: two essays and 1 picture-book biography manuscript this week!

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” – Jack Kerouac

field notes (7.1.16)

“I paint to learn,” says artist West Fraser, “rather than learn to paint.” (This pretty much sums up my writing philosophy)

Finally subscribed to Orion

Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel is in the midst of its kickstarter campaign. Please consider supporting them. I did.

Listening to so much Lucinda Williams and also the Okee Dokee Brother’s CAN YOU CANOE? album

“I do not write for kids, I write for readers.” – from author Andrew Smith

Reading TORTILLA FLAT by John Steinbeck, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith and I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

field notes (6.24.16)

The most effective forms of revision that are working for me at this moment are asking questions and reading aloud.

I finished my July column for the newspaper last week and was so happy to have completed it so far in advance: I needed time to work on my other projects. Well. I reread it the following day and realized that while the essay was “good,” it wasn’t true. After giving myself 30 minutes to try to make it true, I set it aside and started fresh on a new column. Still working on it…

The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference is happening this week. I’ve been grateful to catch the (free) evening readings.

Going to try biking and running without music. I don’t know why, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should try this. So I will.

Beyond my immediate family, I’ve realized that words are the main relationship of my life.

I love my early morning journaling. If I don’t do it, my whole day feels jagged.

A trip to the Mississippi River Headwaters left me  feeling alive and oxygenated.

Visited Itasca Leathergoods: they are making art.

field notes (6.17.16)

The urge to journal has been overwhelming lately. A quick glance through my notes reveals this. And yet I resist because it doesn’t feel like work, like progress. I wonder if such efforts will add up to anything publishable. But still, I can’t ignore the urge to just write about all the swirling thoughts. And then I read a FB post from the writer Amy Gigi Alexander:

“Tonight I was thinking about all the really dreadful things that happen to one. I mean the dark and terrible, and the grim and depressing – those things which cause anxiety, self-doubt, and make you wish you’d never tried. There’s much you have to overcome to be the person you’re called to be, to do the things which have your name on them – I guess, to even recognize that’s your name on the binding.

But one day, you realize you got to the other side, past all those things. You wouldn’t have gotten to that spot unless those people hadn’t given you a hard time. To get to where you are, you had to really want it. The truth is, the bad stuff can help you define who you are, just as much as the good – and sometimes more so.

I had a bully in elementary school. Her name was Peggy Johnson. Oh, she was cruel. She would scare me every morning telling me she was going to beat me up after school, and I was terrified of her. I was so scared of her, I used to shake, and when I told other kids and my teacher about her threats no one cared. Everyone would just tell me that I was making a big deal out of it, or that I should just avoid her, which was impossible. Sometimes she would hit me in the stomach behind the school yard, and I would just try to be as quiet as possible when it happened, in hopes she would stop.

I barely survived fifth grade because of Peggy Johnson, had it not been for the HARRIET THE SPY books which taught me this: You don’t have to fit in, you just have to be really good. Like Harriet: she was excellent at taking notes. Notes that mattered, later. I began taking notes on Peggy, and those notes helped me understand who she was, and who I was, too. I used those notes later to put her in her place, and it worked.

I’ve taken so many notes in the last ten years. I took notes on how I felt, and every single thing that happened – there is nothing that happened – there is nothing has affected me that I did not write down, in detail. I paid rapt attention. I’ve been like Harriet in that way most of my life, but especially recently. I’ve written more for myself personally, in diary format, in the last three years, than I have in the last twenty. There’s been a great deal to observe and reflect on.

Well, I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY

In a weird way, I’m glad I met Peggy Johnson. I remember the day I stood up to her still, and how she never bothered me again. Not to condone bullying, but the resilient side of myself took Peggy and made something good come out of her. And that’s kind of what adult life is like too – you will meet people who don’t think you can – but the thing is, you very much can, and you will. You really will.

Life is a struggle and a good spy goes in there and fights.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY

Take good notes, because the notes matter. Journaling will be the thing that helps you get to the place you are supposed to be. You’ll see yourself change long before anyone else does. And that’s quite a thing to witness. It’s a force. We’ve all got it.”

And so I am journaling. I began on Monday. My resistance to journaling is connected to my (slowly being phased out) standard operating procedure which is: work as hard and as fast as possible. I’m attempting a new tack. I’m going to not rush. I am going to write daily. My writing may be publishable, it may not. I am recommitting myself to the work. To keep the pen and the pencil moving across the page. I kickstarted my novel on June 1 after spending almost 9 months researching and brainstorming and preparing for it. I’ve got some great scenes down. But, guess what? I’m not ready yet. There are parts of it that are completely blank in my mind. And I know some people will say that I’ve just got to do the work and I’ll write my way into it. But, something tells me that won’t work for me for this novel or for me.

First, I haven’t had the time to go through and elaborate on my notes from my research road trip to the South – which is all fodder for the novel. Second, I received a text this week that triggered a cascade of memories that I’ve been pushing under a rug and that directly influences my work on this novel. I felt raw after reading that text. And I know that what that means is that I need to turn toward that pain and fear and figure out what’s on the other side. I need more time to write for myself about this issue before I share it in the form of a novel. I need to complete some circles in my life story. I need time to write my personal story. I need time to read more craft books. I need time to read more YA novels. I need time.

It is not laziness that is compelling me (which is a big fear for me), it’s the necessity of figuring out an honest and true way to live my story before I tell my story. And the feeling that if I try to skip to making a pretty bloom (without a stem or roots), I will not have learned what I am supposed to learn. Instead, I’m building my soil, adding compost. I’m letting me change. I’m writing the changes down. I’m practicing being brave in the way I need to be right now: by going slowly.


A colleague reviewed one of my manuscripts this week and I was reminded that sometimes the best kind of feedback is a series of thoughtful questions.

field notes (6.10.16)

My latest essay, RUNNING ON EMPTY was published this week.

They say to follow your heart, to follow your bliss. But they are wrong. You must follow your fear. You must FACE your fear: behind them lies what you most desire.Turn your feet and your face toward that furnace of your own fire-breathing fear dragon and slay it each day so that you may pursue what you love the most.

Reading NORTH SHORE by Chel Anderson & Adelheid Fischer

I started my novel push: I set some goals and am relishing the times when I lose myself in a scene.

Book ideas abound! I am enjoying playing with them and reminding myself that some books require three years of research and writing and revising and some do not; some ideas arrive quickly and completely. One is not better than the other. They are simply different.

I am officially a tea drinker.

I discovered thousands(!) of yellow lady’s slippers on my bike rides this week. It left me feeling elated and hopeful.

Steady on!

field notes (6.3.16)

This sentence is the best sentence I’ve read in a long time (from Rick Bragg’s MY SOUTHERN JOURNEY): “Juanita, tough and tiny, made of whalebone and hell, looked about to cry.”

I’m in the thick of establishing a new summer writing routine, that is to say, I’m lining up babysitters and setting specific writing goals and creating momentum and saying no.


Carrying the word “amateur” around in my mind’s pocket. From Latin, it means “for the love.” To me, it means creating and doing for the love, for the journey, for the process. Amateur is not about the product. Writing and creating in this vein helps me to take risks and step out of my try-too-hard tendencies.

Polishing & finalizing the teen reading workshop I’m leading on July 20 at the Bemidji Public Library.

Considering attending LoonSong: A Writer’s Retreat.

Reading: READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN by Megan Dowd Lambert and MY SOUTHERN JOURNEY by Rick Bragg (which I love, but would love to see Southern writing which does not disparage the North in its rendering. Which I now realize is the thing I must do as I write my novel which takes place in the North and the South. Have the customs and weather and traditions clash, yes, without naming one inferior and the other superior. Just Different.)

Submitting! (and it feels so good.)

Got the garden planted: squash, carrots, potatoes (they love the soil here), zucchini, tomatoes, green beans.

Made serious progress on our family photo albums this past weekend which I realize may not seem relevant to writing, but is because completing this enormous project will set my mind free to write and fantasize and create on the page.

Craving some time with my watercolors.

Variability is a strength: it is not to be feared.

“The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Mohadesa Najumi

Chewing on this fragment from Megan Dowd Lambert: “picture books as a visual art form.”

Completing final edits for my next essay.

field notes (5.27.16)

I forgot to mention last week, the awesomeness of this web site, TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) a great tool for helping make your photographs as amazing as possible.

“Your sole mission is to articulate your suffering in a way that emancipates you and empowers other women.” – Carole Radziwill

N.B. I’ll build my novel scene by scene, brick by brick. (Building steam for my June 1 start date. Y’all, I’ve got miles and miles to write this summer. And I am ready.)

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

“Midlife: when the Universe grabs you by the shoulders and tells you “I’m not f-ing around, use the gifts you were given.” – Brene Brown (You guys, so many people complain about aging, but let me tell you, there are some mind-blowingly positive benefits. Knowing your gifts, for example.)

Polishing, polishing, polishing a manuscript and query letter. Sleeping and not rushing and being quietly over this project. So that we are both ready when the time comes. Which connects to this next quote which resonates now: “Listen to me. You need to be a home for yourself and your work. You need to be the safe place to present things to be admired and loved.” – Elizabeth Berg

This poem, My heart is a diner that never closes… by Shaindel Beers and published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, is simultaneously splitting me open and inspiring a new work. Why does the best poetry hurt so good?

Listening to Righteously by Lucinda Williams and Little Red Wagon by Miranda Lambert

Finishing SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE by Ron Rash: I do not want these stories to end, and yet, I cannot stop reading.

“I can never get my theology to sound right and true on paper or in conversation, but sometimes, I can get it to feel right in my life, in my living.” – Kelsi Turner