Turning a Blog Into a Book (and Please Help Me Find a Great Subtitle!): Everyday Magic, Day 908

Yup, this is the photo that will wrap around the book cover. Thanks to Daniel and Ken Lassman for taking it together.

My posts are fewer and further apart at the same time that I’ve been thinking about this blog more than ever. That’s because I’ve been working on Everyday Magic, the book based on this blog. As with most things, it’s more work than I imagined, but a lot more fun too.

The first phase was wandering through over 900 blog posts to figure out what top 250 or so posts should make it into the book. Given the limits of what my mind can hold, let’s just say there were charts, lists, categories, earnest struggles between ego and what makes for perhaps better reading, then most lists and charts.

From there, I moved to revision land, a place many roads and bike trails lead to, but few seem to lead back out again. Revising a piece of writing is like weeding a vegetable garden so large that by the time you get from beginning to end, there’s been a monsoon and invasion of rabbits. What you thought was there is long gone, and what you cleared is now suffocating the once towering broccoli. Commas invade or seem to run off together in a huff, and then there’s the surprise gaps between sense and nonsense. I also wanted to find a good balance of funny and tender, hot and cold (literally with so many posts on weather), grief and joy, charged news of the day and breezy observations of a sweet evening.

Once I finished with that — although finishing is always an arbitrary moment a writer lifts her hands to the sky, and says, “enough….I think” — it was proofreading time. Thanks to my friend Rosalea, I relocated the herd of commas as well as easing out excessive bouts of verbiage. Punctuation can be illusive, people, so be on the watch. It’s also amazing common to type the word “the” as “the the.”

Now the book is with my publisher, Tracy and her fine Meadowlark Press, where more proofreading is surely a thing, then design, proofs, galleys, and hopefully enough time and clear eyes on the pages to catch what needs to be caught. Eventually this fall sometime, the book moves out of my house and into a dorm room of its own, hopefully remembering to go to classes and stretch its legs into its new life.

The view from here and now

There’s also been an adventure in revisiting the stories I tell myself and obviously you, the kind and patient reader. While there have been moments when I had to hit my forehead with my palm, despairing that I’m still hung up on the same meaningless crap (will I ever completely give up of yearning to lose weight?), there’s also been ample revelations about how outrageously blessed I am to be part of my family, community, the prairies of Kansas, and at this moment, the woods of Vermont that I’m sharing at just above the top of this computer. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

P.S. I’m still searching for a subtitle for the book. If you can help me figure one out, I’ll send you a free book once it’s out. Contenders currently are the following. Please feel free to say which you like, and/or to suggest other subtitles.

  1. Everyday Magic: Fieldnotes on Ordinary and Extraordinary Curiosity, Beauty, and Surprise
  2. Everyday Magic:: Fieldnotes on Curiosity and Charm in Life’s Wild Tumble
  3. Everyday Magic: True Stories in Search of Curiosity and Wonder
  4. Everyday Magic:: Living with Beauty, Verve, and Surprise
  5. Everyday Magic:: Curiosity, Beauty, and Surprise, One Blog Post At a Time

 

In Gratitude for Nancy O’Connor: Everyday Magic, Day 907

Our local food co-op, the veritable Community Mercantile, just celebrated its marvelous school garden project at West Junior High School and the person who founded the project and has given so much to our community over the last 25 years, Nancy O’Connor. When Rita York, general manager of the Merc, asked me to do a toast, that toast turned into this poem. Nancy has inspired me for 30 years, not just about the beauty and vitality of a good carrot or ways to roast vegetables to make them irresistible. Her dedication to weaving together community, and feeding everyone in the process, has changed the lives of thousands of people in our region. She also brings to all she does enduring excellence, steady patience and humor, and expansive vision. Thank you, Nancy, and long may your flag fly and your spirit shine!

In Gratitude for Nancy

Let her near the food, and everything changes:

broccoli opens the pathway to nirvana,

beets show us new ways to glimpse the sunset,

quinoa leads the wooded path to the banquet

where everyone begins laughing without knowing why,

clinking our glasses to toast the goldness of the garden,

the kindness of the kitchen, the dream of the dining room.

Take a taste of life in gratitude for Nancy who,

dish by dish, class by class, carries all the ingredients

her car can hold to gather us together so we can see

who we are, and how we can make peace on the plate.

Listen to her speak through what she grows and cooks,

teaches and mentors, about the marvel of who we can be,

one meal at a time, our bodies chiming in time

with what the earth offers, how we can put

our hands and time to good use to feed the soul

of the world we inhabit that inhabits us.

Endings and Beginnings at Midnight: Everyday Magic, Day 906

It is 12:04 a.m., and I”m writing this from our back deck where I sit cross-legged in a chair and stare up at two enormous trees. The wind pours wave after wave through the tree to my right, Cottonwood Mel, and the moon rises through the the branches and thick leaves of the tree to my left.

I should be sleeping perhaps, but instead, I’m letting the wind bathe me free and watching the stars above and the lightning bugs below. It’s a time of big endings and beginnings for me, and the confluence of all, plus some misguided coffee in the afternoon, has landed me here, telling the field how much I love it, letting this land know how much it has healed and held me over many years.

Tonight, I had my last governing meeting for an organization I’ve been involved in deeply for 13 years, now on solid ground and blossoming, and me having realized close to a year ago that it was time to step off and make greater space for others. Following the Curve, a book of poems is at the publisher, another — one based on this very blog — is being proof-read, and my novel Miriam’s Well that I’ve been writing for 13 or more years, is coming out later in the year. Other endings abound, and all seem especially fortuitous. A chronic illness gig that has occupied me too often for many years seems to be, I hope I hope I hope, packing its bags and only making short appearances. The cars are almost paid off. The shed we wanted to build for 20 years is kinda sorta almost done. Bigger projects of the big dream variety in my life and work seem to be ebbing and flowing to new pulls of the moon.

But what is happening at this moment calls me attention: the wind suddenly surges like a standing ovation for the best concert in the world, an ovation that can’t stop itself. I think it’s over, but the fast air through my air and on my skin, the rocking branches of the trees, and the sound the sky makes tells me otherwise. Then, without warning, a few seconds of quiet before it starts all over again.

It’s a cliche, true that though, to say everything is beginning and ending at once, like the 19 minutes since I started this post, the moon climbing a few branches higher, a errant lightning bug sailing over the railing of the deck and back to the woods. While the endings are sometimes easier to see, at least in retrospect, the beginnings are especially mysterious, even tracking when the beginning begins. The chatter hum of the cicadas and the yawning roar of a distant plane tell me how little I know. Yet everything sings to and through me of how blessed I am to be here on a summer night with my best elemental friend, the wind.

Putting the New Poetry Book to Bed: Everyday Magic, Day 905

It’s called “putting the book to bed” when you turn in your final version of a whole bunch of pages about to be published as a real, live book. Ten minutes ago, I put Following the Curve, my next book of poetry, to bed, tucking it into an email, covering it with kisses, and wishing it well. It was a long time coming as all books, and especially poetry books are. That’s because I find that poetry can be almost infinitely revised — there are thousands of ways to break a line, add or subtract punctuation, change a word, or kill a darling (editing out a beloved line because it’s not needed).

To celebrate, I write this blog post, and I share the ending poem from this new collection:

Your Body is a Conversation With the World

What are you waiting for? From the first air

in the first room, while a winter radiator breathed

enough warmth for your your mother,

the world was chatting you up.

You gasped, you cried, you waved your tiny hands

for the ocean you left, and the story laughed itself silly

in each cell until it multiplied into millions more

marching to or denying the heart’s measured drum.

Your body watches the moth on the other side

of the screen, drinks the water from the blue glass,

and jumps in its sleep, so much dialogue in this

continuing tender reckoning of bare foot on gravel,

whippoorwill telling the ears of nightfall.

You’re always in conversation about how you’re not

a separate animal but a talisman of your own place

alongside the freeway and the prairie,

each step another word, each shrug another question

for the lightning bug caught on the ceiling,

the cat leaping from refrigerator to your shoulder,

the wind or its absence evident in the still grasses.

The answers may knock you over or have nothing to do

with the question you’re pacing across the day.

Time tells its stories through your body,

so yoked to this love that it cannot stop singing.

The Everyday Miracle of Rainbows: Everyday Magic, Day 904

I didn’t see my first rainbow until I was 12 on the day my newborn brother died. In the middle of our house stuffed with grieving relatives, my younger brother and I quietly sipped soup at the kitchen counter early that evening until I noticed something strange and beautiful in the backyard. Within seconds, all of us were outside, amazed by a perfect arc over our house while my grandmothers, first in Yiddish, then in English, hugged us and said this was the miracle God gave us after taking our brother.

Why I didn’t see a rainbow until I was 12 was because I wasn’t looking, not having imagined rainbows were possible in real life. Growing up in Brooklyn, then central New Jersey, there were also a lot of buildings, trees, houses, and shopping malls in the way.

After I married an rainbow whisperer, able to read the sky and aim us toward wherever the most likely rainbow is, I learned that rainbows, especially in areas of the country prone to late afternoon storms, can be everyday happenings. “Not rare but precious,” Ruth Gendler wrote about beauty in her book Notes on the Need for Beauty. Nothing could be truer of rainbows in summertime Kansas, where mountains and an excess of trees don’t get in the way.

How to see a rainbow? When the sun is nearing one horizon, and dark clouds fill the other horizon, look carefully at those dark clouds directly across from the sun. Although I’ve slept through many early morning rainbows, I do catch early evening ones. When our often southwest-to-northeast storms have moved past us, and the setting sun breaks through its western clouds, poof! There’s a rainbow somewhere.

Meteorologically, we know light , reflected, refracted and dispersed through water droplets, cooks up rainbows. Looking at the meaning gets more tricky although symbolism abounds bout light piercing darkness. After the flood, the crew, animals and humans, on Noah’s arc witnessed a helluva rainbow, which we can call a symbol of hope, miracles, redemption, new beginnings, and according to the tale and film Finian’s Rainbow, our heart’s deepest dreams coming true (check out Fred Astaire and Petula Clark singing “Look to the Rainbow”). Living in Kansas, we can never escape all manner of Wizard of Oz references (step outside of the state, and someone is bound to say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”).  But of course, we also claim one of the best rainbow songs and singers of all time — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by the ever-vibrant Judy Garland, who yearns to get the hell out of Kansas until she escapes. Then she yearns with all her being to be back under the rainbow.

Yesterday, walking into the Merc to buy a bunch of zucchini, one vibrant curve surprised me. As I stood at the entrance to the store in wonder, I pointed out the rainbow to a woman about to shop also. “Look like God has given us!” she said while starting to cry. “Yes,” I answered her. We both stared into the rainbow, taking many photos with our phones, which alerted would-be shoppers to stop and look up.

Driving home, it was rainbow slivers and half-arcs all the way until  a full rainbow, so vibrant and stunning that I couldn’t help but back myself up into the chigger-and-tick-filled tallgrass to take more photos. I remembered how the arc is just part of the full circle of a rainbow, which puts me in mind of a song Kelley Hunt and I wrote called “Miracle” with this chorus:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a glory.

You never see the arc of it until after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong.

Last night’s rainbow, like the first rainbow I ever saw, soared over my home, reminding me again of the everyday miracles we’ve given, and also how we can never see the whole miracle until after the storm.

The Beauty of Being Lost in a Great Big Airport Parking Lot: Everyday Magic, Day 903

We lost the car. We didn’t mean to. In fact, both Ken and I distinctly remember me writing down the number of the row where we parked ten days beforehand, but when I pulled out the parking ticket, it was blank, as if I used invisible ink. Ken thought the car might be on row #7, and I was leaning toward row #4, no matter that each row was more or less a double row that stretched dozens of cars on for blocks.

With heavy backpacks and much heavier suitcases on wheels, plus a weighty purse, and a cpap machine for good measure, we embarked on the journey to find the car. We had just emerged from a plane, a small tube of pressurized air where we were flung through space at great speeds for four hours, and we hadn’t slept so well in the last few night, making the search even more challenging. But it was lovely out — overcast, cool-ish, and breezy, and as I later told Ken, this was a good way to get a long hike in.

How long was the hike? While it didn’t seem it would take so long, we marched up and down rows of cars for close to two hours before calling the parking department and begging someone to drive us around. We both had a vague sense of having parked on one end of the lot, but it was hard to remember which end, and this was a lot that held over 5,000 parking spaces. I counted 9 Honda Fits, the car were were searching for although none of the counted ones were ours, while pressing the car key’s panic button to make our car call and response with me, but it was not within reach as we shlepped our stuff to tarnation and back.

In the middle of it all, I looked up and saw a license plate that said, “Beauty.” While there’s nothing normally beautiful about rows of lonely cars, mourning their traveling companions, the license plate stopped me for a moment. I looked up and saw a tree in the distance. I felt the wind across my bare arms. I adjusted the backpack to shift more of the weight to my hips, grateful I was strong enough to search the lot, and I nodded in agreement with that license plate.

By the time the parking truck arrived to drive one of us, me it turned out, it only took a few minutes to find our car, which was parked a mere ten feet from where we gave up on finding it by ourselves, in row #3. From there, we were homeward bound, knowing it’s never exactly a blessing to lose your car and have to haul a bunch of heavy stuff through a parking lot for hours, but wherever we are, lost or found, there’s always the blessing of life. And that’s its own kind of beauty.

Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam!: Everyday Magic, Day 902

Once we saw the postcard, we couldn’t un-see it. Seven buffalo coming on Tuesday — “Please make all necessary arrangements” — rung through our minds all weekend. Yup, we figured buffalo wouldn’t actually arrive, but this little message is one of those whimsical delights of a lifetime. It had no return address, and postmarked in Kansas City meant it could have come from Lawrence or from Kansas City. It was also worded so bureaucratically that whoever sent it is surely a great life artist.

While the buffalo didn’t arrive, getting to share the news on Facebook, not nearly as exciting as getting a small herd, did have it rewards. “Sadley, but not unexpectedly,” I told people, the buffalo didn’t come. “Call Amazon,” my mother wrote, Others suggested I contact Fedex or UPS, and Dan cautioned that the buffalo couldn’t stay in boxes for long in the sun. There were lots of cow patty puns, Bob posted a photo of a historic Brewster Buffalo plane, Cathy shared an image of buffalo walking down the road, and Robin wrote, “How incredibly disappointing for us all.” Laura shared Pete Seeger singing “I’m Going To Mail Myself To You,” and people wondered if we were just ill-prepared or if they showed up somewhere else. I also found several other people who received the same postcard.

My favorite comment of all was Nancy’s — “hey are there! Just very, very well camouflaged!” — because I know this is true. If time is just a human construct, and past lives are actually having simultaneously in other dimensions, then the fields around our house are likely teaming with buffalo at the same time all we detect is chiggers and ticks. Thinking of who was here before us also got me thinking about what it would take to graze buffalo here again although it would take way more than between now and Tuesday to get ready. In the meantime, I’m just a bit sad to not be in what Kathryn called “the critter of the month club,” but very happy to have enjoyed the imagined buffalo with my real community.