πόλις

I suspect with a traveling bookstore, things seem to go faster than if my business was in one place, situated in a brick-and-mortar bookstore securely settled at one address.  At least that is how it felt recently. Within the last week, there was a fantastic article about the bookstore by Brittany Shoot in Atlas Obscura.  There was a day spent canvassing for the upcoming November election that brought forth stronger opinions then I typically hear when the bookstore is set up. There was setting up at a harvest festival yesterday in a Montana town and meeting all sorts of people: an individual from a Methodist church who offered books left over from their annual book sale, a high school student who immediately fell in love with the traveling bookstore concept and is going to save Processed with MOLDIVto start her own, an author who writes about what racism feels like in small Western rural communities, a teen mom excited to find a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson because she read it as a child and wants to share it with her new family, and a lively conversation about growing old in reference to Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare. Also over the past week there has been harsh discussion on local social media about a political poster at the county fair. There are times when I am tempted to ignore things, but I can’t

Friends point out it might be better for my business to stay apolitical.  But I know after umpteen years that it isn’t possible.  Thinking about this today while reflecting on everything that came my way this week, I remembered the Greek word πόλις (polis) and how that evolved to become the English word politics.

Decades ago when first starting to support myself, I decided it was good to do work that wasn’t involved with politics. I ended up cooking at the Salvation Army. Within a fairly short time though, I realized cooking for people who came through the dinner line brought up questions about who needed food, where that food came from,  and what determined who has access to what kinds of food.  Even as a cook, I was involved in a political situation.  Some years later I found myself teaching basic skills to adults: reading, writing and mathematics to people who for numerous reasons hadn’t picked up these skills earlier in life.  Before too much time went by, I realized what brought those students into the classroom was very much a product of political decisions.  Which schools had enough funding? What quality of teachers were available? What did a school board support?

I eventually realized it is impossible to find a place in civic life that isn’t political one way or another.  Thus with a traveling bookstore – what books are on the shelves, which towns do I go to, which neighborhoods? And each of these decisions from books to where the traveling bookstore sets up says something about my politics.  I can’t be apolitical. None of us can.

 

 

 

 

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Community

The traveling bookstore set up at the Lincoln County Fair over the weekend. Three days of 4H kids with their animals. Jars of jams, crusty breads and plates of fudge being sampled and awarded ribbons, a booth raffling a rifle, another raffling a painting.  There was live music and delicious pies, the most beautiful flowers people grew to enter as well as prize vegetables. A couboystyping2018nty fair in a county whose population is around 20,000.  Enough entries in Foods, Crafts and Arts to enjoy wandering through but not overwhelming crowds. A pleasure to talk with neighbors, hang with kids, visit with other vendors and, of course, sell books.

Lots of conversations over the three days about politics, about how to engage with people whose conclusions are fundamentally different from mine, about what makes a good community, about various books.  The one that still rumbles in my mind is about community.  Community is so closely tied to home that it is necessary to make sense of it.  At least for me.

When I am on the road with the bookstore, city people often ask what it is like to live in a small town.  I point out the things I like. I know my neighbors, I trust my mechanic, I can leave my front door unlocked. When there is a need I feel strongly about, it might be possible to do something about it.  Twenty years ago a group of us formed an organization to bring in an annual professional concert series.  It has continued and even grown.  This winter there will be jazz musicians from Seattle, Ghanaian performers, a classical quintet, a blues band from Vancouver, BC, and a Irish/Scottish duo from Oregon.  Living in a small town forces me to talk with a variety of people, not only those who think the same way I do.  Our local book club has women all across the political spectrum and from numerous religions with a few atheists mixed in as well.

I know that some local businesses I use are owned by people who don’t agree with my politics. And I don’t agree with theirs. But I shop in their store and they buy books from me. It is a necessity because otherwise we would each need to drive seventy miles one way to go to a bigger town.  A bit too far to pick up a James Lee Burke novel or get a can of spray paint. So we find ways to get along, some activities mutually enjoyed liked listening to good music, going to the local microbrewery. And sometimes we have to face our differences and try to have a civil discussion.  It doesn’t always work, but sometimes.

But do we have consensus as to what makes a good community?  There are diverse opinions about local schools.  Some of us want better academics, others are interested in a trophy winning football team. Should the elementary library carry books with Muslim characters?  Outside of school, where should the jobs be?  Open up the forests for more logging or train people for jobs that require other skills? I try to understand my role as a small business owner in this town, finding ways to improve the quality of life.  But whose life? The county fair gave me three days to glimpse the heart of this community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To je škoda

The traveling bookstore needs a new alternator.  It became evident Wednesday when it needed to be jumped twice – once going to the farmers market and then by the end of the market, it wouldn’t start again. Another jump and I drove it directly to the local mechanics.  Eureka being a small town, the part won’t be in until Monday which means cancelling two venues this weekend – the Historic Hotel Libby and Riverfront Blues Festival.  First time a mechanical problem prevented the bookstore from getting somewhere it needed to go.  The Czech saying ‘to je škoda’ came to mind.IMG_2976

So a few unscheduled days open up as the bookstore sits at the mechanics.  This morning instead of getting up early to drive to Libby, MT, I sit over coffee writing posts, writing letters, planning for the next few weeks, appreciating some time to reflect.  With summer activities, very hot weather, forest fires filling the sky with smoke, and the political state in this country, there is certainly plenty to reflect on.

Last summer also had bad forest fires. Tensions in this valley rose. Where to put the blame for the loss of timber, loss of homes, loss of tourist dollars, and loss of clear summer skies?  There were all sorts of accusations, harsh condemnations. When the weather is too hot and the sky a ghostly yellow blocking any view of the mountains, I understand people wanting to yell, wanting to find someone or something to blame.  Some sources say this weather and the amount of fires we experience will be the new norm.  How will this community adapt if tourists stop coming in August because smoke hangs heavy? How can I adapt to not being short tempered?

And then there is the political situation.  Does the word political even begin to cover the magnitude of the current times in this country?  Strong divisions, curtailing human rights, public lands used for personal profit, confrontations, mass shootings.  Locally I watch our mental health services and medical care erode.  The Congressman from Montana won the election the day after beating up a journalist.

So a day to think on these things, to write letters and to decide which actions are sensible in these times. To not let the heat or fires fuel over reactions or cause passivity. To use the time allotted in the best possible way.

 

Thanks

Thanks to the very good friends who put me up (and put up with me) while I was on the recent west coast road trip with the bookstore.  I much appreciated the parking spots for the bookstore, the beds for me, delicious meals and, of course, that strong morning coffee.

And thanks to the gracious businesses that hosted the traveling bookstore. Some were Processed with MOLDIVreturn venues which are always a treat.  Some were entirely new and delightfully surprising.  Your support for this small pop-up business is appreciated. If it weren’t for you providing a space, I would probably get citations from local law enforcement.

And the wonderful people who stopped/shopped at the bookstore! Parents with kids, wise elders, hipsters and folks who just happened to walk by and decided to investigate a van that was actually a bookstore.  There were many individuals whose conversations stay with me….talk about current politics, the Wieliczka salt mine, the dire situation with ICE detainees in Oregon, favorite authors, the struggles as urban neighborhoods gentrify, the challenging twists that life sometimes throws our way, the wonder of book clubs in all sorts of communities, bees, homelessness and expanding tent neighborhoods, the death of a young daughter, typewriters and the people who use them, fix them and collect them.

Now back in northwest Montana sending thanks to all of you who make this happen.

Perplexities

The traveling bookstore is on the road because, after all, that is what a traveling bookstore does. It goes places. Last Sunday was an event at Extracto Coffee in Portland, a lovely day filled with new people stopping by to experience the bookstore, and old friends stopping by to enjoy the scene.  On Monday, while still in Portland, we set up at Ace Typewriter which is always a treat, talking with Matt, visiting with folks who brought in a typewriter to be fixed or who stopped by to pick up one Matt repaired to missiontypeinperfection.

Within the hours parked near Extracto Coffee and the hours parked on N. Lombard by Ace Typewriter, there were numerous conversations.  Two young people just finishing college talked about thoughts for their future. A man from the Bronx with his grown son enjoyed Father’s Day together. A friend provided information about a vigil in Sheridan, OR where hundreds of asylum seekers are being held in the federal prison.  A woman talked with me about growing older and what services and support are available (and those that are not) in urban Oregon and in rural Montana. A mom with a cute little kid dressed in a Superman outfit stopped by.  The boy found a picture book about dogs he wanted and his mom gave him a dollar to pay for it.  She told me it was the first time he ever bought something and we agreed buying a book was a good place to start.  There were discussions about the gentrification of neighborhoods and about the growing number of unhoused individuals in our cities, some of the startling inequalities that face us daily.

People go past the bookstore walking, on bikes, skateboards, pushing shopping carts, and pushing strollers.  A man in an electric wheelchair rolled by with a boy and a dog sitting on his lap.  A young man asks me to hold his carryout container of soup while he digs out his wallet to pay for a book. A woman is pleased when she hears she can take her dog in the bookstore with her.

There were conversations and experiences that touched on hope.  People working to express their opposition to a proposed gas pipe line across Oregon, to speak out against the incarceration of asylum seekers and the separation of families. Having faith that if enough people speak up, these atrocities can be stopped.  But how many constitute enough?  And how do we stop these sorts of things and also make positive changes? Why in this country are there people camped on city streets because they have no where else to live?  Why are so many still without sufficient healthcare?

Today the bookstore heads to San Francisco.  It will set up for two days at SF Center for the Book and on June 23 at Mission Pie for the Third Annual Type-In. No doubt there will be more conversations, more heartache in that city, more challenges for people to face politically, humanely, and more decisions about what each of us will do.

Get these dates down

This upcoming month is an exciting one for the traveling bookstore. I want to be sure you have all the dates and places and times because chances are good that the bookstore is setting up some place you would enjoy going.  As always, this traveling bookstore isn’t just about buying awesome used books. It offers opportunities to type something creative, to have conversations and possibly to solve some problems.  I recently returned from a Humanities Montana meeting reinvigorated that there is hope in civil discourse.  So don’t hesitate to bring a beverage and/or snack and plan to stay a while talking at the bookstore about things that matter.

bookstore in yaakJune 13 Eureka MT Farmers Market   Eureka, MT 3:30 – 6:30

June 17 Extracto Coffee Portland, OR 10:00 – 2:00

June 18 Ace Typewriter Repair  Portland, OR  10:00 – 4:00

June 21 – 22 SF Center for the Book  San Francisco, CA  10:00 – 3:00

June 23  Mission Pie Third Annual Type-In!  San Francisco, CA 10:00 – 1:00

June 25  Port Orford Library  Port Orford, OR  10:00 – 5:00

June 28  Lilo’s Hawaiian BBQ  Hood River, OR  11:00 – 2:00

July 14  HA Brewery  Eureka, MT  4:00 – 7:00

July 20 – 21 Yaak River Festival  Yaak, MT

plus more to come in July and August around Montana!

There’s reading and there’s writing

The sun hits my face. The rude nudge wakes me. I wonder why I slept late into the morning as the sun comes through an upper window of the front door. And why did I fall asleep on the sofa? Wait. It’s not morning. It’s afternoon. I took a nap. My mind adjusts to the mayhem of time. The original waking thought of morning and coffee tumbles into late afternoon. I need to start dinner.Processed with MOLDIV

Writing is like that. A sharp awakening with ideas barely focused but a need for sentences to take shape. Then a realization it’s not what I thought. It’s suddenly something different. Don’t think about putting coffee on, because it’s dinner time.

Actually it’s more complicated than that. When you go to a doctor’s appointment with the flu, you’re asked the ridiculously basic question, how do you feel? You have no idea where to start. The list is too long. Of course there’s an idea of what the story is about or the arch of that essay. There is that first sentence, which needs to be spot on. The specific words, the pacing, the rhythm – you want readers to catch everything. Is the tone exactly right or does it sound so pathetic it conveys the writing of a fourth grader?

Is there an incantation that works with writing? Some spell uttered before putting that first word down? Or an image to hold clearly in mind that will manifest on the page? Or is it simply the advice given when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

Readers naively assume words adhere to the page. Each word neatly placed in an orderly fashion remains fixed forever. Words build into sentences and sentences into paragraphs exactly like a child’s Lego set.  Sharp corners, straight edges. Writers know this isn’t so. Words slip and slide between lines, sneak into another sentence. And it’s not just words that are difficult to cement correctly. There is punctuation, tricky commas and the godawful challenge of semicolons. You finally go to bed thinking you have every letter and possible dot where it needs to be, only to find under dark of night that everything shifts into a mess that needs to be tackled. Again. And again.

Corralling words is just the beginning. Even if you manage to string them into a readable structure, it’s not enough. As though you managed to put a skeleton together but still need muscles, tendons, organs, nerves, and skin. And don’t forget toenails. Eyebrow. Anyone can read a list of words but you want readers to leave with ideas they didn’t have before that first sentence. You want the flow of words to get under and lift them into unimaginable realms of towering clouds and swirling galaxies. Or pull them through a whale’s baleen to be carried into the darkest sea.

How to transform words, letter strings to draw emotions? You endeavor to use writing magic to twist hearts, release tears. You want your story to be a whisper in every reader’s dreams. Because the story came from every reader’s dream. It is a piece of the genetic code everyone had from birth, yet may not realize it is part of their life until they read your story. An important part of life across times and place, captured by a hand print in a cave, submerged with Atlantis, seen from the Apollo. The reader’s breath changes with the words, the heartbeat quickens. You want readers to sigh heavily as they turn the final page. You want the publisher to suggest having a packet of tissues in the back of each book.