What a Writer Needs

Packing for a roadtrip to Telluride CO for a poetry weekend. And I’m suffering my usual doubts and desires about packing. After many years of writing I know, sort of, what I need to get writing done. But traveling means that I can’t have it all. I cannot take along my office space or my favorite coffee shop despite my need for a place where I’m comfortable and not likely to be distracted or interrupted. So, scratch that for the next few days, although I’ll find a corner now and then. Being an early riser often means that I can write before fellow travelers are afoot.

Of course, I need my basic tools–plenty of paper and ink, a reliable, portable thing, in my case that’s an iPad and attached keyboard. Of course, I need time. When my children were young, writing time was late evening. Now my internal clock prefers early morning. I’ll just have to be flexible as a guest in someone’s home.

My real need is writing every day, yes, every day. And of course, I need readers and other writers. I need librarians. (This week, I tried to read The Library Book by Susan Orlean, an account of the horrific fire years ago at the Los Angeles Public Library. Had to set it aside before I finished because it’s just too hard to read with tears in my eyes.)

Every devoted writer needs what she needs–the sound of language, the sight of words lined up across the page, margin to margin, good ducklings after their mama. Most of all I need to keep writing, because as E. M. Forster said, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” Hope you all have a good week. See you after I get home.

Gluttony

How little resistance I have for books. I walked into the library, slid two novels by Donna Leon into the return slot, a machine that reads the barcodes into another machine that tells the library that I’ve returned these two Guido Brunetti mysteries. What the digital system cannot do is record that I actually read the books. Nor if I liked reading them or not. For all the library knows, I might have used them as paperweights on my desk. Dear Reader, I read them and longed for more.

But I came to the library intending not to carry any books home this weekend. Because if I do, I’ll read them. And I already have poems to critique for Monday morning, a poetry reading to prepare for this coming week, and a hefty assignment for the workshop looming on Monday evening. Like any other addict, my intention means nothing.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the library, I have three books on the table beside my easy chair: James Wood’s How Fiction Works, Mary Robinson’s Climate Justice, and Elaine Pagels’ Why Religion? Gluttony is one of the seven cardinal sins, so I’m a sinner. Mea culpa; wanna make something of it? I also have a hold at another library for Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, recommended in Adrienne Rich’s Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry, which is, partly read, on my coffee table. Despite the assignments for Monday, I’m going to start with Wood’s book. It’s the smallest one on the stack and if I don’t dawdle, I might finish it before lunch.

For the Love of Libraries

I carry a wallet full of library cards. You never know when you’ll need a book. My libraries include Anythink Wright Farms, in Thornton, Colorado. I’m there most Mondays when they open at 9:30. I was there yesterday; that’s how I start my work week. And there’s no predicting what might be going on. Yesterday, having coffee with my friend at the library cafe–yes, in the library there’s a cafe–and my librarian friend, Laura, came to say hello and tell us that there were goats out in the playground. Yes, this library has a huge playground adjacent to the children’s room. And there were goats! I love goats. The cover art on one of my poetry books, Two Gun Lil, features me as a child with a goat under my arm.

My first library was in Harmony, RI, a single room behind the fire station. This small but mighty place had an important effect on me. I cannot imagine my life without books in an almost limitless supply. Soon I’ll tuck another library card into my wallet for my annual trip to Maine, where I’ll visit the Berry Memorial Library in Bar Mills. I hold card number 345. It’s a small town.

This afternoon I’ll go back to Anythink to see “Birds of Prey with HawkQuest.” I’m crazy for raptors and welcome the chance to see them up close. Up close and live will be an owl, eagle, falcon, hawk. In a library! A few weeks ago there were baby chicks in a heated tub. Thursday evening I’ll be there again to hear Colorado’s Poet Laureate, Joseph Hutchison read from his newest book, Eyes of the Cuervo/Ojos del Crow.

I’ve said it before, but it’s important: Ben Franklin gave the USA a marvelous gift, although libraries have changed their services over the years since he hired a librarian to care for books that Ben and friends shared. Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions, still sit in front of the NY Public, mecca of sorts. I think of them often, take comfort that they endure. If you haven’t been to a library this week, go. It will do you good.

Where Do Books Come From?

When I was little, books were there. They are still there, here, everywhere. My earliest reading memory is of Dick, Jane, Spot, Puff and Sally. Bored out of my mind, I never knew which page I was supposed to read standing by my desk. I’d already read the whole book and got no joy from reading snippets to my equally bored classmates. It’s a wonder any of us grew to like reading with such a beginning. Somehow, though, even in rural settings where libraries and movie theaters were mysterious rumors, I read all of Nancy Drew, all of the Black Stallion books, tried and discarded the Bobbsey Twins, and disdained the series of historical novels my mother gave me in the sixth grade. I never saw the inside of the tiny library in East Sebago, Maine, where we lived while I was in high school. The school library was also the principal’s office, so you can imagine how inadequate that was.

Now books come and go, many staying with me. Some wander to a friend’s house and come back, and I’m delighted, having forgotten that I ever owned such a book.  This week I’m in deep with futuristic books, as another writer and I will host a salon for Boulder Writers’ Workshop next weekend. We want to focus on world building, a special delight and challenge for novelists. So, I’ve been greedily buying and reading or rereading books by some of my favorite authors: Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, Marge Piercy. Yes, I buy ebooks. I also buy print books on line and in stores. I haunt used book shelves in thrift stores. Recently, I mentioned on Face Book visiting a bookstore I had not been to, Coyote Ridge Books in Broomfield, CO. What a delight to see a clean, well-lighted place with a knowledgeable guide who put his hand on just what I wanted. Blessed be real booksellers. Then I went to one of the big bookstores and found with minimal direction another book I needed. I was sorry to have bought it, because, like Dick & Jane and the Bobbseys, it will not stay long in my heart. But the point is that I knew how to get it, and I know that even this dud it will find its way to someone who loves it. Long may it live–in someone else’s bookcase.