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.

Stand up

I am traveling.  Currently traveling without the bookstore as I am on the other side of the ocean.  Regardless of where I am, there are opportunities to meet good people, to have thought provoking encounters.  Recently a juxtaposition of conversations pushed me to examine the expectations I hold and the impatience I often feel these days.96FFE953-152D-4015-87AF-E268C380881F

I met a social activist in Brno, Czech Republic.  She is heartedly involved in local politics, searching out how to improve services for older people, and helping with ways to feed the homeless in her city among other causes she is involved with. During our conversation I was inspired and relieved that this person was trying so hard to improve the quality of life for people in her extended community.

There are others I conversed with on this trip.  Some people teach school, others raise families, or are artists, or work in IT, or are retired.  Some volunteer at summer camps and others help in prisons in their spare time, while some put together community theater after day jobs. Is there any particular work or community service that is better than another?  Surely there is a need in every place for carpenters, cooks, shop assistants, musicians, doctors, welders, and teachers.  And thus there must also be a need for the various ways people freely contribute to their community.  Scout leaders, hospice volunteers, parents who help at schools, individuals who donate to the arts, drivers for Meals on Wheels, people who write letters to elected officials, and those who take to the streets to counter injustice.

I want every individual to give to their community in a meaningful way.  Some religions encourage tithing a percentage of income. Is it unrealistic to ask people to tithe a percentage of time? And what age should we begin?  In one conversation recently, a young man told me he didn’t volunteer but tried to live a caring life helping his friends.  Another person said she didn’t volunteer but was working to raise her children well.  That her contribution to the larger community would be these two children who grew up polite, creative, thoughtful.  These answers challenged my hope we can be caring to those in our immediate circle and help improve the greater community as well. Is this expecting too much?  Can a parent who has skills to raise children give four hours a week to help other children in an after school program or work towards improving state or federal education policy? Can the man who cares about his friends donate time at a homeless shelter or become involved with NAMI? Over the last few years, a number of individuals and groups began to provide accessible ways to make a difference without leaving home.  Jen Hoffman’s Americans of Conscience Checklist is one.

Yes, we can have meaningful conversations, care for our children, help our friends. But these are very much within the context of our community, our state, our country.  Our efforts need to include this context if we truly care about anyone.

 

Checking in from the road

The twenty-first day of the tour; 3,741 miles so far.  Thirteen events in six states.  Many new people and some remarkable conversations.  Stayed with good friends along the way and so appreciate their hospitality: Addie’s room with her amazing art, Tama’s dog Scout, Sarah’s delicious breakfast, Bill and Mary sharing their new home which they had barely moved into, Tom (West Virginia) appreciative when we brought out the Buffalo Trace bourbon we had chanced upon in Illinois, Dawn letting us do laundry while we sat over dinner. A friend from college days drove to Morgantown from Annapolis to see the bookstore 4DF90BE4-8EC2-4BB4-8D6B-76A896AAB5B4in motion.  Thirty-four years to catch up on while standing in the rain there and finally moved to a diner to share past, present, future. People throw out questions I don’t know how to answer: what’s the goal of the traveling bookstore? Is it successful? How long do I plan to do this?

The bookstore does well navigating steep hills, mountain passes, tight urban spaces. When it seems the inventory is dangerously low, people drop off bags of books that turn out to be exactly what is needed.  When business is slow so disappointment starts to creep in, someone shows up and in delight buys numerous books they had been looking for.  Or I lament we aren’t getting enough young customers and suddenly there are so many kids wanting to look at books, try out the typewriter that a line forms.

And those wonderful bookstore owners met along the way and we instantly bond. Page 158 Books and the Battery Park Book Exchange come to mind.  And other places we hadn’t expected but found when hungry or just in need of coffee.  Or the Rhiannon Giddens concert we were fortunate enough to attend in Raleigh.  Now in Dayton ready to cross the miles to Sheridan where the bookstore sets up on April 20.  But first a moment to reflect on the richness of this adventure and enjoy a snow-free morning.

Let’s talk

We try in different ways.

Support our local community groups or send checks to national nonprofits.  We try to teach our children right from wrong.  We might pitch in at the food bank or drop unneeded clothes off at the thrift store.  Maybe we wear a button for our candidate or put a sign on our lawn. And some people take to the streets to speak out louder.  Some travel to North Dakota.  We sit with friends and lament the challenges in our community, in our nation, in the world.  We listimg_0410en to politicians and activists and rock stars and neighbors. And now there are people wondering what more they can do.

They want to do more. They want to listen harder and they want to be heard.  There is an attempt to separate facts and fiction.  Does the bookstore have anything that will tell me how to live?  Is there something written that gives answers to the quagmire we find ourselves in?  A woman asked me today, “Is it really just about money?”

Yes, we need to act.  We need to leave our homes, to do more then shake our heads at what is presented in the media.  We need to act responsibly and with a vision. And we need to talk. We need to talk not only with Friday night friends or people we work with, we need to talk with strangers.  Or at the very least people who think differently or act differently or look differently.  Let’s get those ideas out there. Let’s brainstorm.  Let’s think outside the box because obviously the box ain’t working.

A very full garden

Years ago, a college professor explained he assigned term papers as writing was a very useful way to work on one’s thinking. I personally write numerous things daily from letters (not just emails but paper letters that are mailed from the post office), a journal, morning writing jots to get the day started, sometimes writing exercises with friends, items for work  and, occasionally, the blog.  But even with all this writing, I feel the state of the world is winning and often my thinking remains jumbled.  So here I am writing with the hope to clarify what I need to do. Recently while on a trip to San Francisco, I was struck by the number of homeless people there and the IMG_1923dire situations.  Perhaps it was coming from the northwest corner of Montana where  due to the weather and the overall lack of concentrated population, there are few homeless individuals in the town where I live. While in the big city though, I was overwhelmed with not only  the individuals living on the streets but the juxtaposition of their lives with the multi-million dollar homes and fancy shops.  Yes, this is a political reality in our country as well as a political statement on my part.

Also some years ago, I thought it was possible to be apolitical. I had decided at that point (with the extreme naivete of youth) that teaching adult literacy classes was a useful occupation removed from the political arena.  Of course I quickly came to understand that literacy is one of many basic needs determined by the political.  I tried hard to teach not only literacy skills in those classes but an awareness for participation.  We each need to act on our beliefs and values.

It can feel overwhelming with the media barrage and the daily list we wake up to, but it is essential to remember what is important and do something.  To do something that will involve more than talking with like-minded friends or buying organic coffee.  To make what I believe is important an item on that daily list, to start walking that talk.