18 September 2011

what did you read?

Over dinner the other night, my friend Liz was surprised I had not read the same books she had growing up. She also had some thoughtful observations about why she read what she did, something I hadn't considered.

What did I read? And what does that mean?

To be fair, I didn't read much before my family moved back to the states in 1973. Literally. 3rd grade is about the time I figured out, with my persistent grandmother's help, how to read. (Dyslexics Untie!)

So what if I got a late start. Once I got it, I read like one obsessed. Reading was an escape. A window to somewhere else—so many somewhere elses. It touched and comforted me.

I can recall the rough shag under the old baby grand piano in our house at Fairchild AFB where I read with my Snoopy pillow: Walter Farley, Jim Kjelgaard, Marguerite Henry, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When we moved to California the next year, I read in the car through all of Oregon and into the Redwoods. At my Uncle Orson's in Merced, I read through my older cousins' stash of Boys' Life and MAD magazines. The first rental in Bakersfield was furnished with shelves of books: Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Happy Hollisters, Louis L'Amour westerns, fairytale collections, and a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In retrospect, it seems I gravitated toward the lost, challenged, rebellious, or broken. Outlaws, outcasts, people marginalized or misjudged by circumstances outside of their control. Triumphs over great odds. Quests toward salvation, escape, or justice.

The summer in Bakersfield I was 10, and I read from my father's personal books—a grueling story about a medical resident (I thought it was entitled "The Resident" but cannot locate it), and the Hiroshima Diary by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya. That book moved me like no other, even as an adult, perhaps more so because of the years spent living in Japan. Combined with James Herriot's veterinarian series, I concluded that humans were generally more kind to animals than to each other, although barely so.

The summer before seventh grade, I was transitioning with pre-teenage angst to Tolkien, Asimov, Anne McCaffrey. And then to the Russian writers, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky. But my childhood foundation was already set.

I still love a good story with animals. Jim Harrison's dog-training heroine in Julip. Edgar Sawtelle's dogs. But it is the human conflict that informs my own writing. To reflect our struggle to connect. Bare our human foibles. Reveal our victories and our failings. 

If we do not look, we cannot change. 


What did you read?

"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."
~ Maya Angelou

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
~ Benjamin Franklin

13 September 2011

letting summer go

The very best summers when I was a kid included banana Creamies on the farm. I did a lot of growing up on my Uncle John's dairy farm in Cache Valley, Utah. It was a good place to be a kid—feeding chickens and calves, cows and dogs, jumping from the haystacks, riding shotgun on the tractor.

Summer nights, the cool crept over the fields from the Bear River, smell of the slough, cut hay and silage. I lived to hang out with my cousins, all older than me, maybe even in high school. They were smart and funny and beautiful, and I wanted to grow up and be just like them. Evenings were never too late—milking chores started earlier than the sun—but farm nights seemed darker than other places, the sky a deep, black bowl with stars.

One time John Terry and Bart had firecrackers. It could have been the 4th of July. The girls pushed each other in the swings or lounged on the grass. Rockets zipped from the milk cans set on the driveway, and when those ran out, the boys filled the cans with Black Cats that rattled our eyeballs and sent the feral kittens streaking from our laps to the barn.

I'd give anything to spend one more morning in my aunt's kitchen helping her make bread. She could turn out half a dozen loaves quick as a stitch. She'd always burn the last loaf for my Uncle John and butter the blackened top just the way he liked it.

The nostalgic inkling to return "home" to the farm has conflicted me since before I had words, and a certain pang of loss accompanies the musing of what could have been a different life lived out there, although I've made enough peace with the past that regret doesn't dig into me these days. Not too much.

I do wish for that morning with my aunt. Her hands over mine, guiding me through the kneading. Press, fold, turn. Press, fold, turn. "Yup. Just like that."

Once more to hear my uncle call out from the tractor, "There's our Sher-bear."

The regret that remains is that I didn't realize sooner how it was all so precious.


"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
~ Yogi Berra

06 September 2011

seasons changing

For the past couple of months, I've been head down in some once-in-a-lifetime events and writing projects at the expense of this blog. It seems a small cost. I am grateful to hear from some of my readers that I have been missed. At the same time, I am grateful to have met some of you in person on my latest and greatest adventures to Utah.

The MFA school term at Pacific University has hit the halfway mark, summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest—the local weathergirl announced a "heat wave" after two days in a row over 90 degrees—and we've all had more fun than humans are allowed during some raucous birthday parties.

Give me a minute to breathe in the sweet smell of vast, unplanned Saturday afternoons, and I promise, the blog is back.

Defy excessive celebration.