A tease

Perched at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there is a sense things might get better. At least that is the word on some streets. Changes in the White House, changes as vaccines roll out, lessons learned this year that perhaps we’ll carry forward. We listened to Greta Thunberg and Anthony Fauci. We saw footage that pierced our hearts. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. We watched protests that involved too many people getting hurt, too many journalists getting arrested, too many people killed. We looked around for individuals we could talk with about all that was going on, but often faced neighbors who told us the pandemic was a hoax, the protesters were asking for it, and the election had been stolen. And too often too many of us responded with silence.

We inch into 2021 hopeful enough people will get vaccines to put the skids on Covid-19. We want to believe change in the US administration will help this country come to grips with inequalities, climate change and an economic disaster too many American face daily. It just isn’t a new calendar but, we hope, a chance for us to do better. But that then becomes the question. Because there are certainly changes as the new year begins, but for those changes to work, to sink in roots, to grow, to put out leaves, produce fruit, we need to put in effort. We need to ask ourselves what we are individually capable of…and then try to go a step or two further. Yes, we can read inspirational books, follow Heather Cox Richardson and Andy Slavitt online, marvel at the determination and grit of Stacey Abrams and José Andrés. But we also need to make changes in our own lives, our actions, perhaps even our beliefs.

This doesn’t mean sunny resolutions on January 1 but efforts that become part of the fabric of daily life. Where in your community are you putting time? Can you do more? How are you spending money (if you have money to spend)? Can you find ways to shop local, order from independent stores rather than behemoths with awful labor practices? Speak up. Get on a local school board, planning council, health department board. Help at the food bank but also put effort into making food banks unnecessary. Write your representatives in Washington and in your state legislature. Write letters to the editor. Find ways to talk with people – even people who think/look/act differently then you do. Find ways to engage in civic discourse and not just scroll through Facebook/Parler/Twitter.

Today, tomorrow, this new year has such potential. We just need to find ways to help utilize it, to transform this potential into a reality. What are you going to do?

Quilting words

It is a slow season for a traveling bookstore in northwest Montana. The snow is starting to settle in and the pandemic has settled heavily in these parts as well. So the bookstore is parked. Occasionally locals stop by and I put a bag of books together for them. It is a very good season to be reading.

Besides my own reading, there is also quilting. Some years back, I began going to a group that meets every Friday to hand quilt in an old schoolhouse. Their efforts bring in funds to support the local museum. Not a person who sews by nature, I mostly wanted to be with these women who knew the history of the valley and who lead by example. They told me I needed to quilt if I was going to hang with them on Fridays so gradually I learned how to make small(ish) stitches, how to attach quilt layers to a frame.

stretching back of quilt on frame

This year in an attempt to make the physical and mental adjustments to Covid, I began creating three quilts. For me, quilting is collaboration. There really isn’t any way to imagine doing it alone. I asked people for fabric, I asked for gloves – as the one quilt features gloves and how our sense of touching others changed during these times. For another quilt, I wanted faces so a friend, Shirley Jacobs, began helping me produce wood block portraits of twenty individuals who passed away over the last six months. Another friend who is a remarkable quilter helped us piece the portrait quilt together. And this week, the women began the process of putting it on the frame to quilt.

Basting

Thinking about this and the wonderful children’s books available about quilts, I decided to put together a list just in case you need ideas for holiday shopping. Of course, you can order any of these from independent bookstores.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Quiltmaker’s Gift by J. Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson

Quilt Story by Tony Johnson and Tomie de Paola

Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

Halloween

Last week while sorting books at the end of the traveling bookstore season, I had the idea to give books rather than mass-produced candy away for Halloween. There were a few aspects to figure out especially distributing something in the midst of a pandemic. With help from a friend, we wrapped over fifty books, marking each with a code so it was easy to discern if the package would be appropriate for a pre-schooler, a beginning reader, middle school student, etc. The town folks decided to do a Trunk or Treat on the main street so I minimally decorated the back of my car, loaded a pumpkin along with the books, and parked downtown.

The books were mostly a big hit. I suspect it was a combination of recipients getting something different (a book and not just another packet of M&M’s), and as it came wrapped, there was the heightened sense of receiving a surprise. Of course I quickly realized that small children often have small bags for their treats, so large picture books were problematic. Next year I will do a better job on that. I also realized that even in a small town, I should have had at least twice as many books to give out. Next year.

There’s the tendency to be optimistic that next year things will be better – politically, with the pandemic, with climate change. Surely we’ll get a handle on some of these things. Its evident we aren’t simply facing one person who happens to be a bully, but a sizeable portion of our citizens who support him. And we aren’t all diligently focused on stemming the Covid tide but muddled hurling terms like anti-maskers and hoax at each other.

I was thinking about all this while handing out books. There were kids dressed as unicorns and others as Harry Potters. Quite a few Captain Americas, some witches and princesses mingled in there, and four young people dressed as cows. A local restaurant owner dressed as a plague doctor, had me wondering when is a costume no longer a costume. There were two youngsters dressed in camo but I figured we’re in Montana and its hunting season.

It did surprise me the number of adults who weren’t wearing masks as they socialized along the downtown sidewalk meeting up with friends, standing in groups talking. It was unnerving to see a young teen dressed as Kyle Rittenhouse. I must admit I felt relieved to hand out the last few books and drive away. But of course, we can’t really drive away now, can we? Wherever we are, we are part of the solution – or part of the problem. But we can’t be neutral, it isn’t possible to live outside the fray. We can’t just drive away, leaving the problems in our rear view mirror. Its a matter of deciding where to put our energy.

What we can do

I know most of the titles in my traveling bookstore and also a good portion of the ones in my warehouse/garage. And normally I would say I definitely know which books I have on the bookshelves in my house because really, there aren’t that many in my house compared to the bookstore and the garage. But last week while trying to find one on my shelf to lend a friend, I came across a book I didn’t recognize. Looked interesting so I pulled it out and immediately consumed it – staying up way too late that night. The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepúlveda is a gem. Compare it to a delicious dinner that immediately has you wanting more. And more. I began to investigate Sepúlveda, what else he had written and was writing. A very sharp, dark moment when I discovered he died this past April from COVID.

A children’s book Sepúlveda wrote, The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly did catch my attention as I read about this author/political activist. A cat teaching a seagull to fly. Sounds rather impossible, doesn’t it? But aren’t there moments these days when many things seem impossible? The current state of the US? The pandemic? What about attempts to limit the USPS (an entity that independent bookstores very much depend on)? How to best educate our young people as we scramble to find what works and is healthy for communities? The climate situation continuing to spin out of control? Yes, the list of daunting tasks facing us goes on and on. But in Sepúlveda’s story (spoiler alert), the cat does indeed teach the seagull to fly. It is not easy. And it involves working with others because rarely can gargantuan tasks be accomplished alone. I am truly thankful for the tales Sepúlveda bequeathed us, and his reminder that regardless of the task, we need to find our way. Things may seem impossible, and this Chilean author had many experiences in his own life that were indeed challenging, but we cannot give up.

Bookstore quandaries

When individuals remark how much they would enjoy owning a bookstore, I wonder if they have any idea the number of quandaries a bookstore owner must constantly mull over. Of course there is the question of what sort of books to carry. Should it be used or new or some combination? But then which titles? Are you selecting titles that will be popular with any customer who walks thru the door, or are you selecting titles you believe are really good books – reads that improve the world somehow with ideas or the story or the style of writing? Or finding some middle ground?

With a traveling bookstore, there are also questions about where to set up. Farmers markets, county fairs and music festivals might seem to be easy choices. But what about setting up in the parking lot of bars or fast food joints? Is it useful to open the wonderful world of books to anyone and everyone, anywhere regardless? Or should the bookstore be more selective – similar to choosing non-GMO foods?

Of course, that is a whole other rabbit hole to go down when starting to consider what is healthy. Does it even make sense to drive around the country selling books? On the one hand, this particular bookstore gets reasonably good mileage and uses solar to power the store’s lights. But can that begin to justify using petroleum products to peddle books?

The current pandemic raises other questions about customers’ safety. Is it possible to take enough precautions wiping off the grab bar, washing hands frequently, even making free face masks available? I begin this traveling bookstore season without any long trips planned for the summer, keeping the bookstore in the northwest corner of Montana, but still…is opening the bookstore sensitive to the community?

Last week, I set up the bookstore at a very small farmers market in a very small town, wearing my face mask and having hand sanitizer available. There were four other vendors that day and a handful of folks admiring the lovely early summer produce, perusing flower planters made from old horseshoes, and contemplating delicious bags of homemade fudge. A couple men stopped by the bookstore, gave me a nod and went in. They were each wearing a sidearm, a handgun in a holster. I had focused on keeping things clean and customers safely distanced and now here was a quandary I hadn’t yet considered. Where did I stand on having guns worn in the bookstore?

It has been nearly a week and I am still mulling this quandary over. Do I post a sign stating no firearms allowed? Do I try to engage in a conversation the next time (if there is a next time) when someone comes up to shop for books sporting a gun? Do I shrug it off as after all the two men were polite, bought books, and even talked with me about their choice of books?

I haven’t come up with an answer yet that is personally satisfying. I will take this opportunity though to warn anyone considering opening a bookstore that there will be an awful lot of things to think about.

I’m being careful

It would help if Google translate could distinguish the intonation and nuances of individuals saying, “I’m being careful.” Hopefully someday someone will do a study to tease out what everyone meant who uttered this sentence over the last few months. Even in my small rural community, there is a range of information, misinformation, political beliefs, health beliefs, health concerns and personal preferences manifested in “I’m being careful”.

I’m being careful. I have a mask if I have to leave my house and I wash all the groceries delivered to my door. But really, I haven’t left my house in weeks and I certainly don’t let anyone come visit.

I’m being careful. I only go to the box stores when I am very low on stuff and then I try to keep my distance from other customers. I help some of my neighbors by shopping for them while I am there. When I stop by afterwards to drop off their purchases, I only visit for a few minutes, just long enough to say hello and make sure they are doing okay.

I’m being careful. I wash my hands at least ten times a day and when I come home, I always use the hand sanitizer my mom gave me. When my girl friend comes over, she uses it too.

I’m being careful. I always take my mask with me just in case I have to stand close to someone to talk. I rarely go out – perhaps a few times a week to the grocery store and the post office, perhaps the copy shop. Of course I do the bank’s drive thru and occasionally I do a coffee drive thru but those are obviously safe. And when I get gas, I’m standing outside.

I’m being careful. But I’m 89 years old and really don’t want to spend the time I have left stuck in my house alone. I listen to my doctor but I admit I play cards once a week with friends and invited the grandchildren over on Mother’s Day. Life is short. But, yes, I do try to be as careful as possible.

I’m being careful. I decided to go to Florida to visit my sister for a week but we only walked on the beach in the morning when hardly anyone else was there. And because we know sun and warmth stop the virus, I decided it was fine to visit her rather than just stay stuck at home.

I’m being careful. I only associate with a handful of people who live nearby. We think of ourselves as a social pod so as long as we all are careful, we’ll stay healthy. And besides limiting our group’s exposure to germs, the neighborhood pod keeps us sane. I mean we’re social creatures after all.

I’m being careful. I am making sure we all keep the rights this great country gives us. No one can tell me what to do, and I am being very careful that it stays that way. We had a rally in Helena last week.

I’m being careful. I’ve gone through gallons of bleach! I am being extra careful because I have workers remodeling my bathroom this month and I want to make sure none of us gets sick. And I told those construction guys I didn’t want them partying over the weekend, because we all need to be very cautious during this pandemic.

I’m being careful. We wintered in Arizona and really didn’t socialize a whole lot there once the virus started. Now we’re headed back to Montana for the summer. Of course we’ll be careful, although now the Montana governor announced after June 1 there isn’t any need for people coming in from out of state to quarantine. So what’s a week here or there?

I’m being careful. The local farmers market is opening for the season. They said all vendors should take precautions and make hand sanitizer available for customers. I’ll only allow one person or family group into the traveling bookstore at a time because I’m being careful.

The Dickens of it

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (1859). Sort of captures the moment, doesn’t it? Of course, there is the question whether we’ve inched into the spring of hope or are still languishing in the winter of despair? Perhaps we each answer that for ourselves. Not easy, and the plethora of possibilities is overwhelming. In Montana at the moment, lilacs are budding and daffodils are in bloom. Yet even with the promise of apple blossoms, there’s sharp division among townsfolk whether we should open up everything or wait.

Waiting. Not something most of us do well. We want it all now. Actually yesterday would be better. Don’t even mention the 900-day siege of Leningrad. What do you mean it takes five minutes to download a movie?! Our Amazon delivery definitely needs to arrive within the next 24-hours. Zero to sixty in ten – yes, that’s what we want.

But things shifted. Many of us (depending on country and culture) are moving at a very different pace now because we have to. Many main street businesses are still closed. Shelter-in-place. Keep a distance. For days, weeks, months we’ve spent an unbelievable amount of time inside either caged alone or with others who hopefully we won’t grow tired of (or frightened of) before the entrapment ends.

Perhaps it depends on your personality type and economic situation how this experience works. Is it finally time to read that pile of books? How do they manage homeschooling and still work? Or surprisingly, she suddenly became a couch potato addicted to Netflix. He caught up on mounds of correspondence – writing real letters pages long filled with thoughts and emotions. The shoe box of photographs was nearly organized. Maybe it was the time to take on a project never thought possible, yet here you are doing it. Or maybe a darkness descended that threatened to extinguish who you are. Or you are angry because there are those who don’t agree with you, who make different choices, who put you at risk. Or limit your Constitutional rights. Or just do things differently.

Today I would like to have coffee with Margaret Atwood, listen to her sensible views of the world, appreciating her smile, appreciating her use of language, appreciating her wisdom. That’s what I want today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwrQQXt7Icw

Dumping pieces

This post doesn’t offer answers. Rather it serves as a way for me to get the pieces on the table. The way you start one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Open the box. Dump out all pieces and turn them over so the printed sides are facing up. Gradually sort pieces that have straight edges, and the blue ones that surely are part of the sky, and the ones that show they have trees or tiny windows or are part of a boat. Only then can the puzzle start to be assembled.

At this point, in the midst of political chaos and COVID-19, headlines about the stock market, countries closing their borders, people thankfully worrying if children who aren’t going to school will get lunch, and Italians singing their national anthem from balconies, I think about social distancing. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the term until a few week ago. Now I think about it often.

I was traveling in New Mexico, a trip planned months ago with two friends. When we left Montana by train on February 28, we weren’t concerned. By the time we were in New Mexico, we began to think about it and wash our hands compulsively. On the return trip this past week, we seriously considered our actions and interactions.

Social distancing. Don’t shake hands or hug. Don’t attend large gatherings. Cancel the restaurant reservation. The sort of social distancing techniques which is part of particular socio-economic groups. As the train pulled into Los Angeles, and left again following the Los Angeles river, the meaning of social distancing took on a different meaning. Miles of homeless encampments along the tracks. A young woman sitting in the rain next to a pile of garbage. A man washing himself in the river. Some areas had been bulldozed with only a few plastic bags left to signify the tents and belongings which had been hauled away. This is America.

There is certainly social distancing between the individuals who try to survive living in these tents in urban encampments and my window on the train. I suspect residents perched in houses on the California hills also have a significant social distance from those living in these encampments. And the constant reminders in the news to wash our hands frequently? I don’t see evidence of hand washing facilities at these camps. I suppose individuals can go to the river but do they have soap which we are told works well when used properly?

Some political leaders find ways to get those children lunches who aren’t in school, or find alternatives where parents work and children need care during the day when schools have closed. Who resolves issues for the homeless when our attention is focused on the latest broadcasts about COVID-19? How does one stay three to six feet away from people when you are living on the street in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland? How do you get groceries delivered when you don’t have a street address? How do you wash your hands when there isn’t soap?

Stopping by

Is there a best bookstore stop? There are so many different ones and so many are surprises. Sturgis, South Dakota was on the trip itinerary but who knew it would turn out to be such a great stop with thought-provoking conversations and delicious food at Jambonz? Or Crete, Illinois. Have you heard of Crete (not the Mediterranean island but the community south of Chicago)? The bookstore set up at Crete Creative Gallery which had a lovely, delicate exhibit by Sherri Denault and a spread of pastries with coffee by the Benton Street Bakery. Women from local clubs who were so well read I felt provincial and artists, photographers and writers stopped by throughout the day.

There was driving the bookstore through twisting golden-forested roads in central Pennsylvania to get to Punxsutawney. I wondered how a town so off the beaten track ended up on the tour. Then I met the sparkling Jeanne Curtis in person who had extended the original invitation. I met her cousins, local librarians, a talented young musician (Samantha Sears), a kid who bought a book about mining for his grandfather, a woman who bought a book about the West for her father, a man who wants to move to Montana to be a fishing guide (please do this, Jason, life is short!), and the man who is one of two official keepers for the groundhogs, Punxsy Phil and Phyllis. I heard about the mines closing and schools consolidating, young people moving away to find work.

In every town there are stories; perhaps it’s a trade where I bring books and individuals give stories – about the grandfather who used to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine, or the mom in Toledo who left her car running as she quickly bought three children’s books. She was on her way to work but wants her kids to grow up reading. Or the woman in Punxsutawney who volunteers for the Parents Teachers Organization and helped put together “Reading Under the Stars” where families gather on a special evening to spread out blankets in the sports stadium and enjoy reading activities. There was the 96 year old woman in Toledo a friend brought to the bookstore. She explained her local library delivers books to her twice a month so she doesn’t need to buy any but she did want to see this traveling bookstore she heard so much about.

Many wondrous individuals. But there are dark moments too. Why do so many women ask if I am afraid to travel alone in this country? The other evening after closing the bookstore, I got a GoFundMe request for a friend with mountains of medical bills. I read a NBC article that the number is now over five thousand children who have been separated from their families at our border. Driving into Maryland from Pennsylvania, I see a Confederate flag.

midsummer

OverIMG_1357 coffee this morning jotted down some bookstore thoughts.  Now with a few weeks’ perspective, there is the wonder of my Western States Bookstore Tour and all the great things that came from that – new people, new gig locations, new sights to remember, old friends, revisiting places I had set up before that welcomed me back. For those of you who might consider starting up your own traveling bookstore business, I will caution that 3-4 weeks on the road is exhilarating and exhausting.  So many adventures! Some nail biting, some heart warming.  For now it is a treat to be back in Montana and know that for the rest of the summer I will mostly be peddling books in these parts.

Since returning home, bookstore wonders happen even in Lincoln County, Montana.  The county is large by some standards; has more square miles than Delaware but a population just shy of 20,000 people.  So lots of forests and mountains, rivers and lakes but rather small towns.  Last week with the bookstore at the Eureka farmers market, I started talking with Stella, a young person who obviously loves books.  Turns out she is an avid reader and hopes to become a journalist after college.  But as she is currently twelve years old, still has time to change her mind. She mentioned doing a regular podcast about books.  Definitely appreciate a young person who isn’t shy about her passion and is willing to actualize something she cares about.

A realization that came from having the bookstore at farmers markets – perhaps all those luscious vegetables and fruits at booths near by – was how books are like fertilizer.  They help ideas grow.  They nurture new thoughts.  They strengthen so many things from general knowledge to vocabulary to understanding of cultures.  I suppose having a Textual Apothecary, this thought shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.

A few short notes…

Mission Pie which is a wonderful place in San Fransisco that hosted the bookstore and Type-Ins numerous times will close its doors on September 1.  So very thankful for all they gave the community over the years.IMG_1440

I recently completed a chapbook with Shirley Jacobs and will have limited copies available at the bookstore.

Upcoming bookstore events (although there are bound to be more which will be updated on the bookstore’s Facebook page):

every Wednesday at Eureka Farmers Market 3:30 – 6:30

every Friday at Trego Farmers Market 4:00 – 7:00 (unless scheduled for another event)

July 18 TBC Laughing Dog Brewery, Sandpoint ID

July 19 – 20 Yaak music festival, Yaak MT

August 9 – 10 Riverfront Blues Festival, Libby MT

August 23-25 Lincoln County Fair, Eureka MT

September 14 Kootenai Harvest Festival, Libby MT