In this new year, let's not make plans, projects or promises.
Let's start here, now, with small measures like this:
Be swift to be kind.
Isn't this everything and enough?
In this new year, let's not make plans, projects or promises.
Let's start here, now, with small measures like this:
Be swift to be kind.
Isn't this everything and enough?
Ahhh, don't you love these languid days between Christmas and New Year?
For readers and writers and those who enjoy soft unstructured time, it's an excuse to sink into books without distraction or guilt. And a chance to look back with gratitude at books that have entertained, elevated and sustained.
Here are some of my favorite books I read this year (not necessarily books published in 2018):
The Great Believers
by Rebecca Makkai
I have just a few chapters left in this page-turner and it just may be my favorite novel of 2018. It's a wrenching and real character study of shame and despair of AIDS in the 1980s.
Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng
A slow-burning story about a small town thrown into disarray by a court dispute, with a simmering plot on the complicated angst of family love.
by Ian McEwan
A classic tale of murder and betrayal, and such an odd, delightful, unexpected novel.
The Italian Teacher
by Tom Rachman
A novel with a slow start but phenomenal build, with unexpected twists and a nicely wistful conclusion. (My favorite of his novels is The Imperfectionists).
by David Sedaris
Here's my new discovery: David Sedaris is best enjoyed by audiobook. An animated performer, Sedaris tells a story with vivid voice and comedic timing that leaves me laughing out loud. I'll never "read" him again. (My favorite of his audiobooks is Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls)
My Misspent Youth: Essays
by Megan Daum
I'm late to the party on this one but glad I caught up. I lived briefly in New York, and while not usually nostalgic, this collection of sharp and honest essays brought back the wonder and ache of those Manhattan days.
Notes from a No Man's Land: American Essays
by Eula Bliss
I'm still not sure if I like this book but months later I keep thinking about it so it definitely stirred me — and isn't that the best kind of reading experience? Reviewer Robert Polito sums my sentiment: " . . . a mix of insistence and quandary, as though she is despairing and pressing on simultaneously."
Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give
by Ada Calhoun
On our first date I told my now-husband that I didn't believe in the institution of marriage. And so, this collection, both sharp and tender, hits me where I live and love. "By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole," she writes. "To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being — what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift."
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use if for Life
by Twyla Tharp
From the renowned choreographer, an excellent, practical guide to fostering creativity.
A daunting but valuable first-person account from a New York Times columnist navigating the labyrinth of health care and housing choices for her mother. "Wherever I was, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing . . . The car was my sanctuary. Before heading home from the Meadowview, with my mother snug in bed, I slumped over the steering wheel, sobbing. Across America, in parking lots like this one, middle-aged daughters do this all the time. I never noticed until I became one of them."
You Think It, I'll Say It
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Months after tearing through this collection, I'm still pierced by the sharp and poignant ways we love and hurt one another. With echoes of Ann Beattie and Lorrie Moore, Sittenfeld, known primarily as a novelist, shines in the short form too.
Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
by Kevin Powers
I wasn't looking for poetry when I stumbled across this book, and that makes the discovery all the better. Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers has created a deeply affecting portrait of a life shaped by war — and, frankly, it's a voice of experience I haven't read nearly enough. Read the title poem here.
Believing is Not the Same as Being Saved
by Lisa Martin
It's not a perfect book of poetry, uneven in spots and needing an editor to tighten the gems. But there are stunners in this collection that make my heart lurch with recognition.
Remind me, is this how it always goes?
There’s a way of speaking as if the difference
matters, as if the road home is finite—everything
begins and ends somewhere, like your hand
in mine . . . The mind
seeks a place where it can learn to lie down.
— from Map For the Road Home
Your Turn: What books stirred and stayed with you this year?
Because attention attracts gratitude and gratitude expands joy, it's time for Thankful Thursday.
From the small to the immense, from the puny to the profound, what are you thankful for today?
the light is just right
like today, I come to
a quiet place and sit
at a wood table where
the slant of sun shines
and for a moment, or
even minutes, I am
exactly where I should
be, doing exactly what
is good and true:
thinking of you.
— Drew Myron
No one wants to hear about your dream. How vivid and compelling. How it shakes you still, that image, this morning over coffee and conversation. This conversation is over; let's talk about me.
I had a dream of frogs in my house. I told no one, but Google says frogs mean fortune or fear. Just like everything in life.
Confession: In a book or poem, when I come upon a dream sequence I always skip ahead.
Don't tell me your dream. I'll have to feign interest and that wears us both. Well, not you. You look perky, and I just wanna go back to bed.
In the year since my mother died, I've dreamed of her just once. I woke up reassured. But I did not write the dream down and now she's gone again.
Dreams are vague and real, foreboding and foretelling. Dreams mean nothing. And everything.
Yesterday an old man with sad eyes told me his dream:
He and his dying wife return to the island where they honeymooned 60 years ago. They are happy, she is healthy and young. "She is just like she used to be," he says, with a strained smile and tears.
Hushed and slow, like a prayer or a plea, he offers his vision and I accept the gift.
Okay, I say, tell me more.
I'm not certain of much, but this:
There is nothing better than a busy week as it unspools into Sunday evening, in a quiet house, with a good book, and your mind, finally, finally, finds a peaceful ease.
Today's good line:
"One thing I've learned, Father — that in life it's best to keep the then and the now and the what's-to-be as close together in your thoughts as you can. It's when you let gaps creep in, when you separate out the intervals and dwell on them, that you can't bear the sorrow."
— from The All of It, a novel by Jeannette Haien
It's time for a literary lookback.
I'm making stock (turkey bones on the stove) and taking stock (of good books). It's time for round up and review: What have I read? What have I loved?
I can hardly recall last week's novel, let alone of year of books. Was it a bleak year in stories? A crushing season of poems?
Please, help revive my reading memory:
What good books did you read this year?
Because the world is heavy, and our hearts too, it's time for redirection. Please join me for Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for things small and large, from the puny to the profound.
I find the best things when not trying. This week I'm thankful for:
• Goodwill Boutique
Yesterday I scored a new-with-tags suede coat, a Coach laptop bag, and Cole Haan wedges. Do you have a Goodwill Boutique near you? No, really, not just a Goodwill but a boutique version in which they sort donations for gently used designer brands. The prices are higher than a traditional thrift store, but the quality is better. And best of all, they sort through the pilled, spilled and spoiled clothing so I don't have to.
• Scooby-Doo Stamps
"Charismatic canine," the United States Postal Service calls the Great Dane character from the 1970s-era cartoon series. I'm loving the fun and inspired stamps lately: Mister Rogers, Oscar de la Renta, Andrew Wyeth . . . even popsicle scratch-n-sniff stamps!
• A Timely Line
Somewhere, someone dies again and I think
there went another piece of me
— Lisa Martin
excerpt from Sonnet for what we resolve into
The best poems are discovered by accident. You're looking for this or that and a poem peers out, calling. I'm ragged with world events (another shooting, another fire, another crisis) when I open this book — where did it come from? did I buy it? was it a gift? — and suddenly the line floods my head, my hands, my heart.
It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. What are you thankful for today?
A static gloom covers the day, hours of gray.
The day is so without event, so without emotion, I know now this is what is called ordinary. I don’t know what to do with ordinary except to call it a suspension between sad and sunny.
I’m having a do-nothing day, I announce to another (but mostly to myself), and then stumble across this:
“The women . . . are interesting because they’re permitted to risk being boring, which feels somehow like a luxury. It’s a relief.”
“Boredom is often dismissed as a lack of imagination — this not true. Boredom is a signal that we are indeed imaginative creatures, and that the existential distress of being in a state of blah is often the mind readying itself for the epiphany," writes Nick Cave.
I’m not bored exactly, but I am not moved. Is this the blah before brilliance? It’s too much to wish because this creative stupor is a gray that has hovered for what feels like forever. Ordinary turns time inside-out, both enlarging its importance and diminishing your ability. In its lack of color and light, ordinary does absolutely nothing.
But what if ordinary is the lull that lets light in?
It happens so often now I don’t even notice. I’m chatting with a woman and in the course of our conversation she tells me of her husband's death. Her eyes soften and we talk slower and lower and time wells between us in a way that seals us in a moment quiet and safe.
“Intimacy is such a hushed and heartbreaking thing that I think it happens between strangers every bit as much as it does between lifelong lovers, sometimes even more so," writes Robert Vivian in The Least Cricket of Evening.
Lately, an elderly man and I exchange hellos and talk of the weather. Each day I learn a little more. He is quiet and proud but his eyes carry heartache. He apologizes — for emotion, for sharing, I do not know — and I will mew words that say nothing that matters. Still, each day we start again with hellos and smiles.
And this is ordinary. These moments of exchange.
I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart), wrote e.e. cummings.
And so we carry secrets and stories, aches and tears — all of it so human and heartbreaking, so beautifully gray and ordinary.
Turning her back
on the toneless expanse,
beyond the window,
the room, which
was the colour of
— from Hotel Du Lac
a novel by Anita Brookner
I love that line, but I don't love the book.
In the same way I sometimes love a stanza but not the whole poem.
Or love a friend but not her opinion.
I am large, I contain multitudes, wrote Whitman.
And so we expand, stretching across the thorny contradiction to get to a single beautiful bloom.
It's Thankful Thursday. Please join me in a weekly pause to appreciate people, places, things & more.
This week I'm thankful for the small things (weather, letters, poems) that help me feel gratitude for the big things (love, learning, sincerity):
A Letter Love Story
A woman tells me she met her husband through writing letters.
The two lived in separate states, had mutual friends, and courted by mail — long, hand-written letters that offered kindness, humor, and truth (I'm fat, she wrote. I don't like bars or church, he wrote). Two months in, they were engaged, having never met or talked on the phone. A month later they married. They've been happily wed for 45 years.
Poem By Chance
The list of books I want to read is long but sometimes a chance encounter jumps to the top. At the library I was looking for a chair and found a book of poems instead: Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. I thought it was a book of heartbreak though letters (and that combo is sure to reel me in). But this was better: a collection of powerfully restrained poems from Kevin Powers, an Iraq War veteran. Here's an excerpt from the opening poem, Customs:
We passed the welcome sign
five miles ago. Another crossing
missed. On some naked mountainside
a small signal fire is lit. I can tell you exactly
what I mean. It is night again and endless
are the stars. I can tell you exactly
what I mean. The world has been replaced
by our ideas about the world.
The Brilliance of Good TV
All praises for David Simon, the writer of television tales. I've recently revisited my two favorites: The Wire, about the drug trade and its reverberations in every aspect of urban life; and Treme, exploring the emotional, physical, financial, and cultural aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Both shows make complex issues real with writing and acting that is deep, honest and accurate. With each episode, I laugh, cry, and can't wait to watch another.
Blue Sky, Yellow Leaves, Warm Sun
For days I say the same phrase to everyone I meet: Can you believe this beautiful weather?
Crisp mornings, cool nights, warm days, blue sky, yellow leaves, day after glorious day. It's a script of happiness because sometimes there are not enough words to convey the gratitude of good weather, so I just repeat my mantra like a contented fool.
Your turn: What are you thankful for today?
— Patricia Bailey
author of The Tragically True
Adventures of Kit Donovan
Welcome to Fast Five Interviews, where we ask five questions to
open the door to know more:
Patricia Bailey — Trish — lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, a small town in southern Oregon. Her debut novel, The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan tells the story of a sharp and spunky 13-year-old girl who defies age and gender expectations to stand up for what’s right.
The young adult novel has earned numerous accolades, including 2018 Oregon Book Award for Children’s Literature, the Oregon Spirit Award from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English, and the 2018 Willy Literary Award from Women Writing the West.
What writers or books have most strongly influenced you?
This shifts for me almost day-to-day, depending on what I’m thinking and what I’m currently working on. That said, I think the one book that stands out for me the most is Pam Houston’s Cowboys Are My Weakness. I remember finding it at a bookstore when I was in college and devouring it. It was the first book I read that felt familiar. I knew these people. I’d been to these places. I had stories like this. It was the very first hint that maybe I had things to say that people would read. That my stories might actually matter too.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
I’m a slow writer, so I think the best advice I’ve gotten is to just take the time you need to get the story right. I’d love to be able to write a quick draft and go from there, but it just doesn’t work for me. Remembering that my process is my process and it takes how long it takes is helpful when I’m feeling old and overwhelmed.
Writing — and publishing — can be difficult work. In the face of challenge, what keeps you going?
I think the act of writing does. I feel better on the days I write. Happier. Clearer. I’m unsettled when I’m not writing. So, if I can remember that the act of writing makes me happy - no matter how hard the day is – and focus on just that part, the other worries seem to shrink a bit.
I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?
Glimmer, jellyfish, moon, smarmy, moxie, shiver, loaf, and about a million more I can’t recall just know. I really should keep a list.
As one week ends and another begins, what keeps you — and what will you let go?
orphans (noun): in typography, words or phrases that do not fit; in writing, phrases and lines discarded from original text but which the writer hopes will shine in a new work.
[ 1 ]
The morning smelled of fresh laundry.
[ 2 ]
these smooth suede hills
sedge and reed
stubble and stalk
cheat grass and ash
soft winter wheat
[ 3 ]
For years it was winter.
[ 4 ]
Some days, I feel so lucky.
A door opens, a smile widens, I am let into a life.
[ 5 ]
Some days I wake up missing you, counting the days and dreading the markers that will make you more gone. You are here, in my mirror, in my tears, everywhere and nowhere.
[ 6 ]
"Each poem is a miracle that has been invited to happen."
— William Stafford
[ 7 ]
The mind is always editor: sorting, sifting, discarding.
How much energy it takes to write and rewrite a life.
Sometimes when you are driving you begin to know things you can’t see or touch but have always carried: the way a jaw tightens to say nothing, how eyes can dart away a shame, and birds how they form along the telephone wire, each with a secret in a long silence of miles.
On a road for hours, you are sleepy with quiet when a hunger like longing wants the words in your throat to meet the world but knows, like a rain coming, that the feeling will fall and quickly pass. So you hold back and in the suspension the world waits and grows into something similar to illness and you remember the way a fever clarified your life.
Your map is a quilt of lines and dots, and you wear every landscape. You are numb with canyons and hills, with scrub and rock. Every terrain says try me, and so you are haybale and scorched field, broken window and rusted phone. You hold heat and storm, and keep breathing, slow and pronounced, over and over like a prayer or a plea. You are throat and lungs and fear.
Because stillness is a gift, you keep at the wheel, holding tight, holding on.
If you ask, I'll say I'm happy. But I usually add the ish, happyish, wellish, because each moment is singular and subject to change.
Was I born this cramped, all blister and knots? These weeds inside me, prickle and thistle, were they planted or did I emerge from scrubby plain, growing wind-worn and hard all on my own?
These Sunday nights, raising sadness and regret. The solitude of Sundays, the letting go and gearing up. Looking back meets going forward, a loss and weight all at once.
On Sunday, poem as prayer:
A quality of attention has been given to you:
when you turn your head the whole world
leans forward. It waits there thirsting
after its names, and you speak it all out as it
comes to you: you go forward into forest leaves
holding out your hands, trusting all encounters,
telling every mile, "Take me home."
— William Stafford
excerpt from "For People with Problems About How to Believe"
a poem that appears in An Oregon Message: Poems
reminder no. 10 in a series • by drew myron
This is number ten one in a series of reminders that serve as notes to myself (and now you). Consider this a public service announcement, poetic nudge, sticky note, or just idle chatter.
On a weeklong writing project, I lost my way.
There was an agenda, a map, and destinations designed to inspire writing.
But the days got choked with smoke and my haze turned at first to malaise and then to rebellion: Who needs a vista! Who wants some fancy special event?!
I made plans, rescheduled those plans, then cancelled completely. I did not take the hike, drive to the lookout, or dine with the writers. I went instead to my favorite no-pressure, all quiet, mostly clean and quiet place: the library.
And there I wandered, losing my self on the Oregon Trail, in Walt Whitman, in snarky humor, and origami. I wrote and wrote and wrote, mostly a jumble, but maybe a nugget hides in the rubble.
The best part was the sweet relief, realizing inspiration comes to the willing. It's all here and here and here, all within reach. I know this, I do, but often forget.
On this Thankful Thursday, I am thankful, oddly, for plans that unravel and expectations unmet. In a small way, my frustration allowed another sort of writing to take foot, stumble, then, albeit wobbly, stand.
How to Fold
Find a flat surface.
Start with a single fold.
Fold in half.
Fold to back.
Difficulty will increase.
You may feel the chill of not knowing.
Keep steady. Like any trick, it will
take practice and a curious mind.
From luck to wisdom to surprise
you’ll build confidence.
Peel back the petals.
To create wings
fold a loving heart
and hold the center.
— a cut-up poem by Drew Myron, with lines from The Joy of Origami by Margaret Van Sicklen
It's Thankful Thursday.
Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise.
Please join me in a weekly pause
to appreciate people, places & things.
What are you thankful for today?
You have your own oceans
Your mind is quick and sharp and strange.
You don’t have to be afraid of the oceans inside you.
Let the tides do their work. The moon grows
bright then dark, and then bright again.
Do not dwell in too much darkness.
Do not make a home in deep caves of loss.
If there’s no way to predict the thing that comes next,
what freedom would it give you to imagine this week and next?
Your ambition doesn’t
have to be greedy to hold its own wild energy.
It doesn’t have to be noisy to change
the world around you. Embrace the messy.
Remember to pay attention to where
sorrow lives inside you, and where in
your body you store love.
You don’t have to think your body into clarity.
You might feel the change roaring in the distance
and the change rumbling under your feet. What urgency
has held you tight and what are the words you want to hear?
You’ve traveled a long way through a world that is not your own.
Push your way back.
You have your own landscape, mountains and forests
and plains full of life. You have your own oceans
uncharted and blue and wild. You know the shape
of the world you move through.
Show up and just be you.
— a mash-up by Drew Myron of horoscope lines
from Madame Clairevoyant and Holiday Mathis
I'm in a quandary: Is this found poetry, a cut-up poem? Is attribution enough? My mind runs and reels. To borrow, to take, to remake — is this moral, correct, kind? If assembly is required, is it art or is it theft?
Dear Reader, is this a poem and can I call it mine?
So, wherever you came from, whichever way you swing,
whatever is standing in your way, just remember:
You’re bigger than that. Like the man said:
You contain multitudes.
— from Lawn Boy
a novel by Jonathan Evison
This semi-autobiographical story is packed with angst, anger, and the ingredients of real life: race, class, snark and smiles.
“What I wanted was a book written by a guy who worked as a landscaper or a cannery grunt or a guy who installed heating vents," says Mike Muñoz, the 22-year-old protagonist who mows lawns and imagines his life as an author. "Something about modern class struggle in the trenches. Something plainspoken, without all the shiver-thin coverlets of snow and all the rest of that luminous prose. Something that didn’t have a pretentious quote at the beginning from some old geezer poet that gave away the whole point of the book. Something that didn’t employ the ‘fishbowl lens’ or a ‘prismatic narrative structure’ or any of that crap they teach rich kids out in the cornfields.”
Thankfully, Lawn Boy cuts a fresh tale, true to life with hints of hope.
is to want
is to have
is to hold
of age 10 is
to want to crest
a hill on a bike
alone for the
first time on
a road you
— Drew Myron
The world is wracked and wrecked, frantic and full. It's Friday, let's finally, for a moment, set aside worry and slip into something more comfortable.
What's your Feel Good Friday?
Just as gin is more potent at 30,000 feet, so are poems. I'm reading a book on a late flight home when every line shakes me, and the quiet man sharing our armrest senses my tears and without saying a word I think he wishes me well.
In the pool, my sister and I float, holding hands in hot summer sun, as if we always have.
The other day I could not remember if the sun rose in the west and set in the east, or rose in the east and set in the west. I know the answer, but some days I question everything I think I know and realize I know so very little.
At the nursing home, I ask the quiet elderly man, “Can I get you anything?”
“No,” he replies, “I’m just waiting for the stewardess.”
Because the world is big and our troubles too, it's time for rest and perspective. Please join me for Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for things large and small, from the puny to the profound.
On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for:
Misread as message
In reading my horoscope the other day, this is what I saw:
"Reading the amens is a specialty of yours."
This is what it actually said:
"Reading the omens . . ."
I prefer the amens.
Just for you
A friend sent me — by old fashioned mail, which is a gratitude in itself — a batch of handmade notecards. The cards are beautifully crafted, with matching, repurposed envelopes too. I'm impressed with her artful design and skill, and moved by the gift. With a single unexpected kindness, I felt a real attitude shift.
Poems, here and gone
For more than 15 years, I've collected my favorite poems and placed them in one single, growing Word document. Kindness was in there, along with Praying, and pages of known and lesser-known poems that I stumbled across and then held close. Until last week, when I lost the 100-page file and over a decade of beloved lines — poof! gone!
I thought about reassembling the collection. But maybe not. Maybe it's time for new stock, reflecting my tastes and perspectives today. Some of the old standards will still be there but it's time now to find fresh favorites.
And you, dear reader and friend, what's in your collection? what are your favorite poems?