multidimensional

Libby, MT

Perhaps if I was more of a tech head, I could figure out how to have multiple columns in one post. There would be vertical lines dividing the different columns where thoughts could run parallel and distinct but at the same time could be scanned horizontally to see how ideas overlapped. That layout might capture the complexity of a traveling bookstore and its owner, at least at this moment in time.

Instead a dedicated reader must slug through paragraphs and sort out what and how different segments connect. In 1964, Lorraine Hansberry wrote, “Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be – if there is to be a world.” Last summer a couple about to get married visited the bookstore. This summer over two thousand children are in US detention camps. In August, the bookstore set up at the Riverfront Blues Festival where many good conversations were had over the awesome two-day event about books, about life, about music, about writing, about the world. In August, a man killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio with an assault rifle. That event happened in thirty-two seconds.

Plans are underway for the next cross-country traveling bookstore trip. Friends, friends of friends, people I don’t really know, someone’s second cousin reach out to offer advice where to set up along the way, offer places to stay. This adventure stretches from October 14 to November 11, from Eureka, Montana to Baltimore, Maryland and back. The anchor event for the series of stops is the 24th Annual Baltimore Book Festival (November 1-3). Some people ask if I am afraid to take my bookstore to Baltimore, to set up there for three days, to travel alone. No, because I could be a victim of a mass shooting in Dayton or El Paso or at a garlic festival, in a school, at a place of worship. But that possibility does not stop me from writing about the world as I think it “ought to be and must be.” It won’t stop the bookstore from opening its doors in cities, in small towns, at breweries, cafes and farmers markets.

Lincoln County Fair 2017

But before heading off to Baltimore, there is the Lincoln County Fair on August 23 – 25. Kids enter their 4H livestock, judges sample pies, jams and breads, pavilions fill with quilts, art, vegetables and flowers, and there is the fairway with all sorts of food, booths and games. St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore has been setting up at this fair since it first stocked its book shelves in 2015. The event is a highlight of summer to hear what young people are up to, how older residents are doing, what issues take up space in this county.

To give perspective for those outside of Montana – Lincoln County has more square miles than Delaware. It is a county where 24% of the children live in poverty. Libby, the county seat, has the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) clinic where 12% of county residents have been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease.

It is not entirely easy to be a traveling bookstore owner, but I am doing it because I believe in a world that ought to be.

books and maps and time

I suppose there are people out there who think if one has a traveling bookstore that certain months would be easy. Park the bookstore, stay at home, curl up with delightful books and read through the winter.  And then when Spring actually appears, get out the key, turn on the bookstore and hit the road. Although I am ever hopeful there will be more traveling bookstores in this country (and abroad), I should dissuade you – this is not the case.  There is a bit more work involved.IMG_1441

First there are the incoming books that pile up and pile up and PILE UP until the garage/warehouse is overflowing, and the top of the washing machine (don’t ask me why except it is a flat surface) is full of books and the floor space next to the front door has boxes of books which tip over when visitors come by and everything has to be sorted so the very best reads can then be put in the bookstore or boxed for upcoming trips.

Then there is applying to festivals (Yaak River Fest, Libby’s Riverfront Blues Festival, Montana Book Festival, Baltimore Book Festival, etc) and setting up trips.  The first long distance trip this year is scheduled May 15 – June 7 and is called in my notes, “The Western Bookstore Adventure”. This means getting out the maps, the phone, the computer, and starting to talk with anyone and everyone who might know something about Sheridan, Denver, Grand Junction, Sacramento, Ashland, etc etc etc.  How many miles is it from Casper, WY to Buena Vista, CO?  Who do I know in Salt Lake City who might put me up when the bookstore is there?  Is it a good idea to set up in Winnemucca the last weekend in May during the Run-A-Mucca Motorcycle Rally?  Will the owners of Populuxe Brewing who I briefly met let me set up in their parking lot when I am in Seattle? And how do all these places fit into a three-week travel schedule?  The mantra becomes Pace Yourself. Balance. I am typically not good at either.

Because of course there are so many places I would enjoy taking the bookstore. And there are invites from people whom I would dearly enjoy seeing and meeting.  But for some reason whether I use a paper calendar or the one on my phone, there are only so many days in a week, weeks in a month, months in a year.  There are community commitments in Eureka, MT up until May 14 and the Trash2Flash fashion show/fundraiser June 8. These make bookends for when the traveling bookstore can be out-of-state.  Of course the rest of June and July, the bookstore will set up in Eureka and other parts of Montana, land of my heart.

But for now, its back to organize books, maps, phone, computer, and oh, remember to order business cards, set an appointment for the bookstore to get a tune up, pace yourself, and balance.

Map reads

Getting in some travel this winter without the bookstore but of course there are books involved.  The last trip was by train down through Portland, along the west coast in jumbled connections arranged by Amtrak that included trains, taxi, buses and more trains to finally arrive in Albuquerque.  On the way back to Montana passing through the Bay Area, managed to take trams, ferries, and BART.  Sufficient opportunities to see what people are reading on public transportation.  Saw many copies of Michelle Obama’s Becoming being read, most in English while others were translated editions in Spanish, German, French and one I couldn’t quite decipher.  Had the pleasure of hearing two IMG_0902thought-filled poetry readings, meeting a travel writer for the NY Times, experiencing Pegasus Books and East Bay Booksellers, Powell’s and Broadway Books, and marveled at the number of little free libraries in most neighborhoods we passed through.

At Powell’s, pleased to see people of all ages roaming the aisles which are carefully numbered and mapped out.  Thought about what a map of my traveling bookstore might look like if I designed one. Although my bookstore has only one aisle, it does offer diversity of place.  The map would need to incorporate those places in various times.  Powell’s has one map as its aisles ( and bookstore) are stationary.  A map of St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore would obviously require more advanced cartographic techniques.

Appreciated Amtrak‘s customer service, especially Libbi in Portland who helped out with muddled reservations, the woman at the Sacramento station who arranged for a forty-eight mile taxi ride so we could make our connection, and the Amtrak bus driver between Bakersfield and LA who had a lovely smile, purple braids and made us feel warmly welcomed despite the damp weather.  In general, nearly everyone encountered renewed our faith in humanity: the waitstaff at Milo’s, Don at Robertson & Sons Violin Shop, the man at Smyths Accordions who didn’t mind us all squeezed into the tiny showroom as Ray tried out various accordions.

Arriving home inspired to try harder, to start planning the spring bookstore trip heading south, and to be kinder to people met by chance on the road.

 

 

A new venture

We started a new book club in the Tobacco Valley.  It’s called the Open Book Club because you don’t have to RSVP to attend. You just have to read the book and show up to talk about it at HA Brewery. Okay…so maybe there are a few more suggestions.  You should show up by 2:00pm when it starts and only one person talks at a time.  No doubt this is something many of us heard growing up (“Let them finish – don’t interrupt”). When there is a group discussion, listen to the person talking before adding your ideas.  img_0840

Today was the first meeting and it did go well.  People showed up and we had a great conversation. The book was Ivan Doig’s The Sea Runners which seemed like the ideal story to begin a new venture with.  We set out without knowing exactly where we were going.  No idea what we might run into. None of us knew who might be there to take part.  Eight readers showed up for this first one – a hearty group to begin the adventure.  At the end of the discussion, different individuals took on a month they will be responsible for. This means selecting the book and promising to be there for that month’s discussion.

This is an interesting community activity I hope other communities are trying.  It might be easy to have a book club where we know each other well like an old shoe.  Its comfortable. You know what to expect. But an Open Book Club where you aren’t really sure what the person sitting next to you thinks – helps push the envelope on communication skills.  And perhaps it brings up ideas you hadn’t considered. The people at the table aren’t old friends you met with monthly for years, but whoever wanted to talk about Doig’s book this particular Sunday afternoon.  One woman at today’s gathering brought a marine atlas so we could look at Canada’s western coastline to better imagine what the men faced as they canoed from Alaska to Oregon.

I already look forward to next month.

Feb 17: Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt (Collins)

March 17: White Waters and Black by Gordon MacCreagh (Schloeder)

April 21: Utopia by Thomas More (Elrod)

May 19:  Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos (Hvizdak))

June 16: The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow (Gill)

July 21: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Hindle)

 

Mixt

That time of year.  So much going on.  A few bookstore events, a note about bookstore tshirts and a bit of literary nonfiction.

November 24:  Shop Small Saturday! The bookstore sets up next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka.  Perfect location for a Textual Apothecary.  9am – 3pm

December 1: Holly Faire! The bookstore sets up at the Creative Arts Center for their holiday bazaar.  9am – 5pm.  1st Ave West in Eureka.

Bookstore tshirts People send inquiries about purchasing traveling bookstore tshirts.  As this isn’t an online business, it is a small challenge to find the ideal way to fill orders.  If you send a check with your order (size, men or women’s style, mailing address), the tshirt you want will be mailed.  $25/shirt.  St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore  PO Box 2036  Eureka, MT 59917. But of course it is better to meet the bookstore while it is on the road and get your shirt at a discounted price as well as conversation.

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My name is Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller. My friends call me Martin. As with most of us who reach the sixth decade, many things touched our lives over the years. Many things – some tender as a delicate blossom in spring, some strong as a tank pushing through barbed wire into war. Some we barely notice like the first time I walked into Rosenstein’s store to buy a bottle of ink. One is on my body forever.

My father was a minister and my mother was a very sweet woman. They raised me in the Lutheran faith, a strict German family, quite conservative and yet I felt loved by my parents while growing up. After completing high school, I entered the Navy and eventually served on submarines and U-boats. Unfortunately or should I say fortunately depending on where you stand on such matters, Germany was in the First World War at that point. By 1918, I grew to know beyond a doubt military life and war were not for me. I considered following in my father’s footsteps, to become a minister.

But before starting down that path, I had the wonderful fortune to meet Else and we married in 1919. Who could have asked for a better woman and wife? We decided to try farming as I envisioned a bucolic life together tending the fields, raising children, sitting by the stove on snowy winter nights reading to each other. But it was difficult for us to get enough money to buy a small farm so we decided I should pursue becoming a minister. Finally I was ordained in 1924  and received my first placement as curate at Münster’s Church of the Redeemer.

We did well in those years. I was able to do what the church and congregation needed and expected of me. Eventually we moved to serve a larger church outside Berlin. With Else and my vocation, life settled into a pattern I enjoyed and appreciated. Evenings after dinner when there weren’t church events, Else and I sat in the parlor. Sometimes I would have a small glass of schnapps, smoking my pipe as I read. Else worked on her sewing. She sewed christening outfits for infants. She had a way with delicate stitches on those tiny clothes.

During quiet evenings at home we might listen to the radio. There was quite a lot going on in the early 1930s. Adolf Hitler was about to become Chancellor. I thought he had good ideas how to strengthen our country and improve the economy. Once in 1932, I actually met with the man as I represented the committee of Protestant churches. When we spoke together that afternoon, I believed he had our country’s best interests at heart. He had a vision that inspired me. He solemnly promised he would maintain the laws of the Church. There might be some restrictions against Jews but nothing serious. I saw he truly wanted our country to be strong and good. He was looking for the best way to accomplish this and I had faith in him. When I left that meeting, I nearly ran I was so excited to get home. I wanted to tell Else how fortunate we were as Germans to have this leader, to have this future for our children.

I will always remember that evening. Else and I talked of our plans for the next year, how I might apply to a larger church. We even drank a small toast together after the children were in bed. Our family was growing and with the little ones, it would be prudent for me to find a position better suited for a large family. There was such a glow that evening. There was such a glow.

But the glow didn’t last. Within the year it became evident Hitler had other plans, which were not in keeping with Church laws. His government took over churches, dictating what was allowed. It was a difficult time and I didn’t know what to do. Else looked to me for answers but what could I tell her? Members in my congregation had growing concerns. Should they be worried? Could this government be voted out?

One afternoon I struggled writing a sermon, trying to find the right words to calm people’s fears. I remember it was an early Thursday afternoon. The children were quietly resting following lunch. I needed ink for my pen and appreciated the opportunity for a short walk to the stationary shop a few blocks away. I looked forward to chatting with Mr. Rosenstein about pens and papers because we both appreciated quality in writing supplies. The afternoon weather was brisk but warm enough. The blue sky with a few random clouds put me in a better mood. Surely we would weather this government and move on to something better.

Arriving at the shop, I was surprised to find it locked. The blinds were drawn and I immediately thought something must have happened to Mr. Rosenstein or his wife. I went to the newspaper kiosk a few steps away to ask the gentleman there if he knew. He winked and told me the Rosensteins had moved. Moved? That didn’t make the least bit of sense. What about their shop? The man looked at me as though I was a dunce. “They’re Jews, for godsake! The government is finally taking them away.”

I needed to do something. But truth be told I didn’t know what to do. You might think a man of the cloth would pray and ask for guidance at a time like this. But it was as though some dark heavy wool settled not only on my country but on my faith and my mind. I met with other ministers who were also troubled by the increasing violence and propaganda. We formed a group to oppose these anti-Christian governmental policies. We asked for meetings but Hitler’s regime had no use for us by then.

We still tried. I could have tried harder, but I didn’t know then how terrible it would become. I truly didn’t know. On a hot July morning I sat with Else in the garden’s shade as the children played. There was a knock at the door. Else went to answer. How could she know it was the police there to arrest me? We were a good German family. I was a minister. Yet they took me to a prison. Eventually they sent me to Dachau.

Dachau was the first camp the Nazis built. It grew over time into what they called sub camps. There were so many prisoners being brought in they needed to continually expand the complex. Tens of thousands of Germans, Austrians, Poles, French and Czechs. And yes, there were many clergy imprisoned at Dachau along with Jews. The Nazis thought clergy whether Catholic or Protestant would persuade people to fight against the insanity of the government. So they locked us up, used us as fodder along with the others. Seven years I was at Dachau. Seven years living in a hell only humans could create.

So many deaths. So much senseless torture. So many lives torn asunder. We rarely had news from outside the walls. I tried to picture Else and the children around the table eating dinner together or out in the garden. But mostly all I managed was to survive, to do whatever I was told. And then one day, one which had dawned like so many others, life changed when US soldiers opened the gates.

Did I know what to do? No. I managed to find Else. The children, well, they were no longer children as seven years had passed. Two had died. I wanted so badly to go back to the days when I was a minister and the children were small, when life had a rhythm I understood. Now I understood nothing. My life had become something I never could have imagined. Would I ever feel love for my country again, this country which committed such atrocities?

With other German ministers, I compiled a document that testified to our guilt, admitted our shame in not doing more. But the document was a flimsy piece of paper compared to the millions of innocents lost. It meant nothing.

Recently I met a scientist who explained in detail the type of bombs the Americans dropped on Japan. Again I felt the black horror men are capable of committing. I cried as the scientist described the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the shadows etched on sidewalks where people were incinerated by those bombs. And I knew I must act. I began working for peace. I talk with anyone I can. I tell them the mistakes I made and how this time we must stand firm against the worse parts of humanity.

4 February 2017, West Point Cadets tour the Permanent Exhibition.

 

 

 

 

My Oh My

As a traveling bookstore based in northwest Montana, I take winter seriously.  Travels slow down this time of year and most events are closer to home until early Spring.  Yes, there is still sorting books and ordering tshirts, reading because of course talking books is up brittanythere among favorite activities, and getting the typewriter repaired after a summer of many children trying it out with youthful vigor.  The bookstore will open for Shop Small Saturday (November 24) next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka and then on December 1 at the Holly Faire in Eureka.

But this last week there was such a flurry of activity on the bookstore’s social media I wondered what in the world was going on.  Not only ‘likes’ but messages, phone calls, emails and tshirt orders.  It took a few days to determine that an article about the traveling bookstore on Bookbub had gotten the word out to many corners of the world. A bookseller in India wrote me about the van, an author in Colorado invited me to visit, and a writer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin offered to send me copies of her books. And these are just a few of the numerous people who wrote such good things to me about the bookstore and the idea of making books available in all sorts of out of the way places.

This could be a very long post but I assume you are busy helping to get the vote out and/or thinking about the upcoming holidays.  Let me narrow my thoughts to just a few. This fall has been a challenging one for us all with the elections, decisions made in Washington, and the tragedies in Pittsburgh, Kentucky and Florida.  There are many times even within a day when I wonder what I can do to help my community, my country. When the bookstore’s social media started ringing off the wall, I assumed it was something devious but then realized there were good people out there, united around the idea of books and reading, and enthused to see someone with a new bookstore concept (albeit small).  To me, it felt like light coming through the clouds.  Not that it changed the political situation, but it was a reminder of our shared humanity in a tiny way.

Also I wanted to thank Brittany Shoot who was the first journalist to recognize the wonders of a traveling bookstore.  I found this photo from when she hung with the bookstore on a very chilly morning in Woodstock, Illinois.  It was in the parking lot of Isabel’s Family Restaurant.  Another reminder with Brittany’s cheering the bookstore on through snow and ice and Isabel’s providing awesome pie how despite the miles and countless stops, how much the bookstore needs a community even when traveling.

Thank you.

 

A different view

I can point to lots of things.  Just had cataract surgery so one eye is very clear and focused while the other lags behind until next week.  Then there is the political situation which is hard to easily capture.  Sides so divisive now some friendships are ending, there are those family members who stop communicating and various community Facebook pages are shut down due to profanity.  The aspen and larch trees have become golden.  And when I get up early in the morning to walk before the work day begins, it is dark out.  IMG_2524

The bookstore takes a break for a few weeks. Then in November we set up for Shop Small Saturday on 11/24 from 10:00 – 4:00 parked next to Montana Farmacy.  And on December 1, the traveling bookstore will be at the annual Holly Faire from 9:00 – 5:00 at Eureka’s Creative Arts Center. Both enjoyable events plus a chance to find great gifts and support local merchants and artisans.  The bookstore will offer its usual amazing selection of gently used books, St. Rita’s tshirts, gift cards, vintage postcards, and gift certificates.  And yes, the typewriter will be set up in case you want to type a poem or holiday greeting to send someone special or a letter to your representative.

See? This is what I mean.  There are truly dark moments when the days get shorter and the news out of Washington is utterly depressing.  Then I read a wondrous book (Pride by Ibi Zoboi) or watch the autumn sun come through the old school house windows as women hand quilt on a Friday afternoon.  Of course, none of this comes easily.  Ibi Zoboi, while immigrating to the US with her mother, actually had months of separation before the authorities would allow her in.  A quilt takes countless stitches (and sore fingers) to complete.  No doubt it will take even more work for us to make positive changes, to address the starvation in Yemen, the thousands of detained children still in tent camps in Texas. Despite the darkness though, we need to look at these things. And act.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.