Betwixt

‘Tis the season where trees even here in northwest Montana change colors.  The larch shift to a yellow brilliance, the mountain ash offers orange berries and red willows shine in the valley.  The traveling bookstore just returned from the Montana Book Festival which was an astonishing event.  The drive between Eureka and Missoula was a wonderful opportunity to see the IMG_1506season’s foliage while the festival itself delighted in so many ways.  New authors and already famous ones shared words and ideas.  There was an opportunity to see a vintage bookmobile from the Missoula library and to talk with numerous bookstore owners.  There was art and art openings, music and poetry.  There were hipsters and seasoned bibliophiles.  There were MFA students and rappers.  Jane Smiley inspired me to write more and Donna Kaz inspired me to work harder for social change.

As often happens, there were discussions about the traveling bookstore.  How did the idea originate?  How many states has it been to?  Is it successful?  I found that last question thought provoking as it pushed me to consider what success would be for this enterprise, a traveling bookstore that can easily set up anywhere selling used books, offering kids a chance to type on a manual typewriter and others an opportunity to try out a theremin.  One man immediately set down his coffee and briefcase although he seemed to be in a rush because, as he put it, “I’ve always dreamed of playing a theremin!”.  Or Caroline Patterson who took to the theremin instantly and I wondered if it had to do with her name as Carolina Eyck is a theremin virtuoso.  But these are all tangents, an indication of how full and varied the Montana Book Festival was over the three days.  Now back in Eureka, the question about success still sits there unanswered.

Can the answer be framed in monetary terms?  When the traveling bookstore starts bringing in x amount of dollars, it will have achieved success.  Or is it the quantity of social media  – how many likes on Facebook or followers on Instagram?  Perhaps success for the bookstore should be measured in personal terms such as the amount of satisfaction gained from having discussions while set up in Missoula or Portland or Eureka or Rock Island.  Or as someone said, “As long as you enjoy doing it, keep it up.”  As always, there is the sense that if I had just done a business plan before diving into this, I would know how to measure success.

I am continually surprised by the number of people who indicate that they would like to have a traveling bookstore but the stars just don’t align.  They don’t have the time or don’t like being gone from home.  Or they would never consider driving this thing in San Francisco or New York.  I do feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be the driver/owner of this particular bookstore.  And perhaps success – or at least the meaning of it in the case of this traveling bookstore – will manifest over time.  Like life.  As Aristotle pointed out, “One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one sunny day; similarly, one day or a short time does not make a person blessed and happy.”  Perhaps it is something to consider in the business of a traveling bookstore as well.

 

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Missoula

No two places ever feel the same.  The traveling bookstore in Missoula is quite different than the bookstore set up in Eureka or the Yaak or Ovando. This weekend brought all sorts of surprises both good and not so good. Encouraging people to use the typewriter for something creative finally worked! Maybe it was the $1 off any purchase if you typed a poem. Maybe it was the tipping point when more people started typing so others wanted to join the fun. Kids asked about the different keys, oldsters reminisced about their first typewriter when they went off to college, hipsters told me about the typewriter model they had back at their apartment. So many incredible poems I am setting up a file to keep them in because they deserve to be saved. Like this one written by a young man from NJ to get $1 off the book he was buying for his girl friend back  home:

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People typing poems in the moment felt like creativity unleashed.  As though the typewriter sitting there poised with paper ready to go and an empty chair gave them permission to be a poet. And there were poets. Not just in the moment poets but a man who testified to writing poetry elsewhere and he wrote a long one and then took it home because he liked it and wanted to keep it. And then an older gentleman wrote one and took a picture of it with his phone to save.  It almost felt that the traveling bookstore was there to give people an opportunity to write and selling books was a secondary activity.

And then there was a young couple walking past.  The woman was pulled, you could see it, to write and she walked slower, slower, turned toward the typewriter even as they had already passed it. I caught her eye and told her, yes, you should write something, it will only take a minute.  She stopped walking and just as she was about to take a step back towards the table with the typewriter, she looked up at the man she was with and he said No.  Not a No as in sorry hon but we don’t have time.  Not a No like don’t you remember you don’t have fingers to type. But a No you are stupid to even think of doing this.  She turned back and walked away with him. That moment still haunts me.