december 2020

December 7, 2020

Post image for december 2020

How to show up and write a blog post right now? How to catch up? How to make it worthy of this unprecedented time? How to say everything there is to say?

I’ll start small. One thing I’ve been doing to get through this time is writing in my backyard–something I’d never done before the pandemic. But it’s like going somewhere! There’s something about being outside, with all that fresh air and extra space around me that expands my thinking. Almost every day this spring and summer I was out there, working, getting to know the local birds. The chestnut-backed chickadees feasting on my spent sunflowers currently have my heart. But it’s getting colder now–well, Northern California cold–and it only works for a few hours on sunny mornings, before the low late-fall sun gets trapped behind trees.

I took this photo of my work space back in May, when my sweet peas were blooming. That month I participated in a photo challenge with Tracey Clark–a daily photo based on a prompt–and loved it. I posted them on Instagram. I liked how it circumvented my normal thinking when it comes to posting on IG. Why post? Who cares? Why should I share this? With the challenge, I took the photo, posted it and skipped second-guessing my motivations.

I decided to do another photo challenge this month. I’m sharing on Instagram, if you like that kind of thing. My workspace these days looks like this:

Do you subscribe to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter? Every Friday he sends an email with 10 links to things worth sharing. I love it. Last week’s newsletter tipped me off to his new audiobook, based on his three books on creativity. My library had it! So there Austin was in my ears the other day as I rambled the hills around my home, telling me it’s important to have creative hobbies outside my main focus–for me, writing.

I’ve managed, despite the world blazing up around us, to be productive writing-wise in the past few months. Someone wants to read a proposal and sample chapters for my book project, which is thrilling–but it’s made me very single-minded. I haven’t made time for taking photos–or blogging. Austin is reminding me that all of these creative acts feed each other.


Someone else talking in my ear lately is my friend, Molly. We met via blogging eleven years ago and lately have been making dates to chat on the phone during our morning walks. We’ve talked a lot about social media and the documentary The Social Dilemma, and concerns about bubbles and algorithms and what connection really means. Molly has stayed off Instagram for the past few months, but the other day she randomly showed up with a post. And in the comments below, a few folks started waxing nostalgic about the old days of long-form blogging.

I do love this space. It’s all mine–no algorithms, no ads. It feels both very retro and suddenly fresh, given how people are beginning to look at social media differently. For several months I’ve been thinking about trying something new here: making my posts more like a newsletter, with brief reflections and links to books and music and other good stuff. (Anyone remember my long-ago atwitter posts here?)

I like the idea of a newsletter, but I don’t want to start up yet another thing. So I think I’ll apply the newsletter format to posts here–can I pull it off once a month? If you like how newsletters show up in your email inbox, you can subscribe to posts at the top of the right column, or here. (I recently migrated my mailing list to mail chimp, so if you’re a longtime subscriber, your notification emails might look different.)

A few things that have my attention these days:

Jerald Walker’s collection How to Make a Slave and Other Essays. I was so happy to see this book get nominated for the National Book Award! I’ve loved Walker’s work since hearing him read the title essay at the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference a few years back. One night I found myself sitting across from him at a mixer at a local bar (remember when we could mix at bars?) and he surprised me by seeming genuinely interested in my memoir project, and the fact that my family homeschooled. We laughed and chatted and swapped parenting stories. (My reflections on that conference make me want to weep with nostalgia now.) In Walker’s collection, he often uses second person (you do this, you do that) to put a reader in his shoes as he explores issues of race as a black man. The essays are funny and thought-provoking. Try this one and you’ll be convinced.

Any writers (or other obsessive types) have my ridiculous habit of playing one song on repeat for hours while working? Sometimes a certain song fits the pace and the feeling of the essay I’m working on and I let it rip. A few recents replays: Adrienne Lenker’s “Zombie Girl,” Phoebe Bridgers’ Copycat Killers version of “Savior Complex” (I’ve had Phoebe Bridgers on repeat for months), and Taylor Swift’s Long Pond Studio Sessions version of “The Lakes.” (Am I suddenly a Swiftie? I don’t know, but I do love her pandemic album.)

So, tell me, pretty please, something that’s getting you through these days.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly December 7, 2020 at 2:05 pm

I love the idea of the newsletter format blog post! I was thinking of something similar (surprise, surprise ). There was a blog I followed YEARS ago, written by a woman who had been blogging since before I knew the word “blog”, who wrote bullet style posts (with links! Which I miss! And wonder why Insta doesn’t do!) about what she was reading, listening to, cooking, knitting, etc. Yes, I feel a new year project brewing…can’t wait to fill each other’s ears as we walkthrough our respective neighborhoods!

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patricia December 7, 2020 at 5:09 pm

Hi you! I love the newsletter format. (And I really liked writing those atwitter posts here years ago.) There’s something that seems much more doable in keeping things shorter, and sharing cool stuff. It’s so fun to collect good things when you have a goal in mind. Austin Kleon’s links are always fantastic in the way they connect in unexpected ways–they’re forays of a fascinating mind. And something tells me that your links would have a similar mind-at-work vibe. 🙂

Insta doesn’t do links because they don’t want us to leave Insta. Which is why we have to be rebels so we can do whatever we want!

Keep brewing that project! I hope, hope, hope you do it!

(My mornings this week are filled up with appointments. Would Thursday morning work? We can carry on via text…) xo!

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Francie December 7, 2020 at 5:46 pm

If I squint just right, those two rabbits turn into mussel shells attractively arranged on a bed of seaweed and, making me smile and think of where I grew up in Newfoundland, where sadly I won’t be spending Christmas this year.

But COVID has brought sweet gifts as well: the homeschool I have dreamed of for years became a reality this year for my fourth-grade son, and I get to do it with extended family support rather than in the face of their objections. It is going beautifully.

My first-grade daughter is going to school, which also feels like the right choice for us (fingers crossed), but her gift to me has been discovering a precocious love of the classics. She overheard me reading The Odyssey to myself and asked if I would rad it to her. I did (with just a little light editing in the fly and lots of pauses to discuss unfamiliar words), and she listened with rapt attention for months. Then she asked for Moby Dick, of all things. So we dove in, and we loved it, and she chose to celebrate our accomplishment with a family outing for ice cream and a donation from her piggy bank to the World Wildlife Fund. She is currently drifting off the sleep amid the clash of swords and challenges of gods outside the walls of Troy, and we occasionally dip into the audiobook of Finnegans Wake and giggle at all the funny words. Her brother sometimes listens in and joins our lively discussions of theme and character and simile.

I am pinching myself. How did I get to spend a pandemic year with such delightful humans at such a charming age?

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patricia December 7, 2020 at 10:03 pm

Oh wow–you grew up in Newfoundland! I’m sorry you won’t get to be there this year, Francie. It’s a tough year!

I’m so happy to hear that you’re getting to try homeschooling. And I hadn’t thought of that particular benefit of the pandemic–no family disapproval over homeschooling! ha!

Your daughter certainly sounds precocious–The Odyssey? Moby Dick?! It’s amazing that she’s interested in such advanced stuff. Lively discussions of theme and character and simile totally sounds like homeschooling. Which is to say, you can go to school and still be a homeschooler at heart. <3

How wonderful that you're enjoying their company so much. Sweet gifts in this time for sure.

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Liz Uyehara December 7, 2020 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for sharing this little peek into your workspace. I get the sense that you really know how to make yourself comfortable for the purposes of aiding your creativity. I’ve been spending the pandemic year just playing music. (playing uke, baritone, guitar and singing with a choir pandemic style–we all go in one at a time to record just our part) I’ll listen to one song on repeat for awhile too–usually it’s a song I want to learn and internalize. I’ve been feeling a little guilty for spending so much time on music because I haven’t really done much art, which I consider to be my main focus. I too believe that all creative acts feed one another, but it’s nice to hear someone else say it. I enjoy all of your writing and you are a fabulous visual artist as well. You’re a talented photographer as well!

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patricia December 7, 2020 at 10:08 pm

Hi Liz! I’ve loved listening to your uke-playing on Instagram. And the pandemic choir sounds amazing! I know it can feel wrong to ignore our art, but I think any time we “cheat” on one art form with another form, something good comes of it. So long as you’re using your creative mind, it’s all good, right?

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Dawn Smith December 8, 2020 at 2:41 am

Can I reply in a bullet list (inspired by Molly)? Yes, let’s do that!
– “How to make it worthy of this unprecedented time?” Am I the only one who thinks “unprecedented” will be the word of the year?
– Working outdoors: An enclosed outdoor gazebo with a tiny wood stove is on my project list. Does that just make it a work shed? I don’t know, but I think I’ve told you about this dream. I love that you’ve been working outdoors and the thought of Nor. Cali “winter” driving you in.
– “Someone wants to read a proposal and sample chapters for my book project.” Thrilling! I’m excited about this development!
– “. . . ridiculous habit of playing one song on repeat for hours while working?” Yes, I do. Now I love that we have this in common. (Yes, Taylor’s new album has lots of songs I like for this purpose. My family humored me with the Disney+ special about Folklore. So good! Torture for them—not a home filled with Swifties here.)
– “. . . no algorithms, no ads.” YES!
– The idea of a newsletter format: This feels more manageable—writing in chunks to build a post rather than craft one.
I now have four tabs open to explore during my work break. So much to love in and about this post!
xo
Dawn

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patricia December 8, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Dawn!
– “Am I the only one who thinks “unprecedented” will be the word of the year?” I don’t know, but it keeps fitting the bill for me!
– “An enclosed outdoor gazebo with a tiny wood stove is on my project list. Does that just make it a work shed? I don’t know, but I think I’ve told you about this dream.” Yes, you have! And I hope you get to do it. When I think of you, there, it makes me feel that I need to not whine and get out in my California yard as often as I can. (But I really do prefer having the sun on my back…)
– “’Someone wants to read a proposal and sample chapters for my book project.’ Thrilling! I’m excited about this development!” Oh, me too–you have no idea. But suddenly a memoir about homeschooling is newly interesting to agents and editors. Upside of a pandemic!
– “’. . . ridiculous habit of playing one song on repeat for hours while working?’ Yes, I do. Now I love that we have this in common. (Yes, Taylor’s new album has lots of songs I like for this purpose. My family humored me with the Disney+ special about Folklore. So good! Torture for them—not a home filled with Swifties here.)” Oh, I’d love to see that Disney Folklore special. Funny thing–whenever I hear the Lumineers I think of you, because I remember you writing about them in a blog post years ago. Evidence of the lasting impact of blog posts!
– “’. . . no algorithms, no ads.’ YES!” 🙂
– “The idea of a newsletter format: This feels more manageable—writing in chunks to build a post rather than craft one.” Yes–building a post does seem more manageable. I’m already taking notes for my next one. And I hope those open tabs led to some good inspiration!
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, Dawn. Other social media never comes close to the connection I feel with people who take the time to chat here. <3

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Laura Sequeira December 11, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Let me first say… I’m so happy to read your blog! As I mentioned before, I can hear your voice in your writing and it makes me feel that you’re in the room with me. I too like the bullet list idea, so here goes…. Things that are getting me through these days:
· Tap dancing – I ordered a pair of tap shoes. I tap dance in the garage on a mat. I’m terrible, but my YouTube teachers don’t know that, so who cares?
· Watercolor Painting – I signed up for a watercolor class through a community college. I have Zoom classes on Fridays. My painting of stacked rocks looks like stacked potatoes, but again, who cares? LOL
· I’m doing a lot of cooking. I never knew that cauliflower was so versatile. I have to say, I’m doing a lot of drinking too. Drinking our homemade Kahlua feels more like embracing creativity, at least that’s what I tell myself. Drinking microbrews is just me supporting local businesses.
· Robby is furloughed for 6 months (volunteer). This it the first time in our 13 years together that we have the same days off. We are watching movies in the evening. We are not big TV watchers, so this couch sitting, jammy wearing, blanket covered snuggle time is new to us and I’m diggin’ it!

These are things that I do outside of working from home. I spend so much time on the computer, I try to do anything but that after 5:00 PM.

I miss you, dear friend. Your writing brings me joy and truly inspires me.

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patricia December 13, 2020 at 9:56 pm

Talk about hearing voices–I hear your voice so much in your words here, my friend!

· Tap dancing – You ordered a pair of tap shoes? You tap dance in your garage? This makes me unbelievably happy. I love that you’re doing this! I only wish I could tap dance beside you!
· Watercolor Painting – I adore that you have watercolor class on Fridays. That you are doing these things for yourself. 🙂
· I’m doing a lot of cooking…Drinking our homemade Kahlua feels more like embracing creativity, at least that’s what I tell myself. Drinking microbrews is just me supporting local businesses.—hahaha. You have always been excellent at justifying your sound decisions. *snort*
· Robby is furloughed for 6 months (volunteer)…his couch sitting, jammy wearing, blanket covered snuggle time is new to us and I’m diggin’ it!–Oh, you two. You deserve this time together. I am so happy for you.

I miss you too! I wish I could just pop up to Portland–I will never take that for granted again. Meanwhile, it means so much to me that you read my stuff and take the time to respond. It’s kinda like high school, when we actually wrote letters to each other? Bemember? As you would say, love your face!

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CathyT December 21, 2020 at 1:41 pm

Oh it has taken me ages to get around to reading this post of yours and boy did I enjoy it — you know, that is what I do with handwritten letters too. Let them sit until I have time to make a cup of tea and sit and ruminate on what the letter is about. The same for blogs… and I DO LOVE blogs and miss them. I come and go from Instagram and FB but blogs…. I must be old 🙂

While you have the sun on your back I have the snow here in MA and it is lovely to look at. We’ve had more snow in the past two storms than we did all of last year so we’ll see what happens and 2021 rolls around. We are healthy and doing as well as can be expected, I guess….

Merry Holidays and a Joy-filled New Year!

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patricia January 11, 2021 at 10:44 pm

CathyT! Well, now it’s taken me ages to respond to your comment! It came in the very day my two older kids came home for Christmas, and regular life pretty much flew out the window at that point–much to my delight.

Thank you for saving the post to read, and for enjoying it. 🙂 I will keep writing blog posts if there are still readers like you who sit down with them alongside a cup of tea. That’s what it’s all about–IG and FB don’t do that. Blogs are coming back, I tell you!

Enjoy that snow out your window–I think you’re getting more soon. Happier new year, that’s my new slogan! And thank you for being such a devoted reader all these years. It means so much to me. xo.

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