January 2021 Story Sparks

I chose to open Story Sparks this month with a beautiful sunrise photograph taken by a Canadian friend Amar Athwal. You can find more of his wonderful photographs at banffmoments.com. Dostoyevsky wrote that in a time of despair, “beauty is more important than bread.” I’m not despairing but I am disheartened, sad, angry, anxious and a whole range of emotions that often follow the witnessing of traumatic events. And that’s what we saw, domestic terrorism on live TV. Emphatic people decry the beatings of a policeman with an American flag, cries to harm the vice-President, a Christian cross pushed forward by the mob while a man wore a shirt celebrating the holocaust.

Anger is a secondary emotion, one that skips over grief and sorrow and yes despair. These emotions are not unusual and we should all be alert to headaches, body aches, tears arriving unbidden as we try to witness to what happened however we view the origin or intent. I startle. I’m chewing my nails. Those in recovery be wary of a relapse. Find a friend. Talk. What happened was an un-American way of seeking change at the very least.

So while I try to make sense of a terrible day of Ephiphany, I will seek a few moments of beauty every day — in the days ahead — to help sustain me through difficult times. Pausing before a beautiful painting. Listening to a piece of music. Savoring the softness of a baby’s cheek. Inhaling the scent of bread — if not consuming the food itself — are things we can do to manage the uncertainty and the terrible loss. Hearing and seeing the fluttering wings of a hummingbird reminds me of the beauty and intricate tenderness of the Creator; a reminder that we are not alone. Beauty can help us move forward pursuing our hopes that the division that surrounds us will be eased with intention. I do have terminal Pollyannaitis. But living there is better for my mental health than living at the edge of despair. You might find that so too.

Word Whisperings

Little Faith A Novel by Nickolas Butler
Harper Collins, 2019

I know, my book review is out of sequence. It’s usually at the end of Story Sparks. But I so want you to become aware of this wonderful book that came into my hands by a woman I went to high school with. “You’ll like this,” she said. “It’s set in Wisconsin.” And oh, I do like this book! I sometimes don’t sleep well and I woke at 2:00am on Friday last, and began to read. Around 6:00am, Jerry woke and I began reading it out loud to him, sweet sentences, deep emotions. I cried for my nephew, for my good friend, for my sister. But the tears were healing tears. As one endorser wrote: “A novel as tender and generous as any I’ve read…Heart-stoppingly good.” It’s a story of fierce love — of a grandfather for a grandson; of parents for children. It’s also about faith and certainty and the cost of little faith or one warped. An exquisite story. There were references to small towns that were part of my life — EauClaire, Redwing, Duluth among others. And I understand how people reading about the Northwest in my stories love to see their towns referenced. And with the losses this past year, it is a book that celebrates love. Love wins. You’ll win too if you find this book and read/listen to it. A treasure that has moved me to order Mr. Butler’s other titles: The Hearts of Men, Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire, a short story collection. Little Faith is a story to cherish.

Honoring Barry Lopez

An icon of the writing world passed away recently. National Book Award Winner Barry Lopez. He wrote of landscapes and nature wrapped in wisdom and heart. I had the privilege some years ago to be on stage with him and National Book Award winner Ivan Doig. Both men were mentors or rather I admired both greatly. I’m sure they’d never heard of me nor knew of how they affected my writing. The event was booked as “Best in the Northwest” and I was thrilled to be there sitting between these two great writers. We were asked questions by Brad Smith, the former owner of Paulina Springs Books and Music and Herringbone Books. Paulina Springs, in Sisters, OR hosted my very first book signing for Homestead way back in the 90s. I think Brad was the reason why I was there, actually. He was the president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and when I spoke at his bookstores he once said that if he was ever President of the United States he would name me to a new cabinet position as the Secretary of Stories. I loved that idea. (Here’s a link to theologian Richard Rohr’s latest about the importance of stories cac.org Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations Archive, January, 2021.) It was an enlightening evening. And with the death of Mr. Lopez, I am now the only participant on that stage that is still alive. Brad succumbed to cancer three years ago and Ivan Doig in 2015. So I’ll bear witness to these men whose lives touched so many — as we all bear witness to those we’ve lost this past year. And encourage you to read their body of works, including my favorites: Arctic Dreams -Barry’s and English Creek, Ivan Doig’s treasured Montana story.

Imperial Stock Ranch.com

One of my novels had a connection to a now nearly ghost town named Shaniko.

For a pleasant diversion of all things troubling, visit this website of a company that still exists close to Shaniko. The Shaniko Wool company knows about Responsible Wool Standards (RWS) and why that matters to the environment. If you are interested in wool clothing, in yarn, in sheep and cattle, slip over to imperialstockranch.com. The photographs of this beautiful ranch (that I’ve had the privilege of visiting more than once) are beautiful.

Writing Activities

If you’re looking for some writing insights, pick up a new book by Hope Lyda My Unedited Writing Year. It contains 365 creativity Jump Starts, inspiration, writing practice for fiction and non-fiction. It requires pen or pencil which has a quaintness in our age of computers. I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Another activity takes place on January 18, 2021 at 3:45 Pacific. Join authors Kelly Wyeth, Candace Simar and me help launch Never Let Go, a book by Pam Nowak that I read last year. Its publication was delayed due to Covid-19, but it is a really important book, a novel, based on an incident that happened in the 1800s. The subtitle is “Survival of the Shetek Women” which is a hint at the suspense and mystery that Pam uncovers in this Dakota story. At the Facebook launch event, we’ll be answering questions about writing. There’ll be some give-aways as we help a sister award-winning writer send her book out in to the universe. More at https://fb.me/e/eQps6Ojjm

Until Next Month…

This week, I’m not only without a washing machine (still) but my computer also died. It would open and show me the screen saver picture and had icons across the bottom. But when I clicked on them, little tiny pictures came up. I couldn’t get them to fill the screen, but I could see that the files were there. I was ready to do what Caesar does…hide in the closet. But I took my PC to the computer store and a nice technician named Saul said in his most quiet voice, as though we were discussing an Advanced Directive, “Do you want to save it? It looks like it needs a new power source. Or maybe just copy the hard drive or will you let it die?” I hadn’t thought of being attached to this old machine I haul back and forth from Oregon to California but I was. Still, after a few days of being without it and talking with others (of my age!) who have learned new systems, I decided to have Saul copy the innards and I’d invest in a new computer. Even old rats when given new mazes to learn grow new brain cells. So as an older rat, I’m going to learn new things. This can be a good thing, maybe even beautiful and will keep me out of the closet and instead answering the question, “What do I have control over?” How I respond.

May you recognize your own control. We all have the power to respond.

Be beautiful.