Tear

When one word can be pronounced in two different ways and each pronunciation determines what the word means within a particular context, it’s referred to as a heteronym. There are numerous examples of this phenomena in English, and I give a shout out to Dr. Martin Adam from Masaryk University for first drawing this to my attention. For example, you record your favorite song. And if you are sufficiently old or sufficiently cool or happen to be both, you might have a vinyl record. At the moment I am not focused on music though, but on tears. Tear is another heteronym, which I was reminded of when reading The Typography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher.

That tear can refer to the salty drop sliding from your eye, down your cheek and also refer to what one can do with material such as paper or fabric makes utter sense to me today. Even though these two tears are not etymological cousins, they feel related. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of sadness, tears of gratitude, tears of frustration. Although there have been many instances for me in the last three months that produced tears of gratitude, there have also been numerous ones that produced tears of frustration and pain. January 6th was the day I heard the news Georgia was sending two Democratic Senators to Washington, and then I watched in disbelief as insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol.

tears of grief

Now in Montana, while I wait for weather to turn warmer and Covid numbers to drop so I can take my bookstore out, there are numerous occasions for tears and tears. A friend’s new grandbaby, the season’s first crocus, someone who had a dark period of grief is gently pulled outside to start gardening, the older women I quilt with are all in good health and vaccinated. And then there is the situation in Helena where my local state representative gave a speech encouraging an increase in the cost of childcare so women would be more likely to stay home. Or the current Montana governor who killed a wolf near Yellowstone Park without cause. The state legislature chips away at funding for suicide prevention, public education, and mental health services, also restricting LGBT rights, while expanding rights to carry guns, as though everyone carrying a gun is going to be the solution for societal challenges.

So I cry. And I tear with rage the newspaper that covers the stories of this year’s state legislature because I can’t believe what some of those people are doing. I tear fabric to make Covid quilts because this pandemic has taken too many people from us, kept us apart from too many whom we love. I tear paper to create artist books. And I read. Which is how I came to rediscover Rose-Lynn Fisher’s book on tears.

Sometimes there’s a benefit in reading a book that brings tears. It cleanses your eyes, provides an empathetic release as you turn pages. Just in case you are in need of this therapy…

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

If you are more inclined to want to tear things to release tension or frustration, I suggest piles of newspapers waiting to be recycled.

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?

Books in their many manifestations

There are trips with the traveling bookstore. There are trips taken without the bookstore. There are pristine hardback books I handle reverently when visiting other bookstores. There are paperbacks with tears and coffee stains that friends pass on to me. There are artist books that I make and put my heart into. There are artist books that others make which dazzle me. There are old books that have been chewed by mice and some pages crumble when turned but still the owner is loathed to throw them away. There are books bought and read so quickly that the reader can’t even remember reading them. And there are those special books that one reads again and again and again.

There are surprises in books. A used book that when opened contains a letter in smudged pencil someone was using as a bookmark. There are books that come up on the book club list which don’t look the least bit interesting and then turn out to be a favorite. There is a book someone was ready to throw away and when that particular book finds its way to my bookstore, is the exact book the next customer was searching for.

There are books with such amazing photos that words aren’t necessary. There are books with just enough words to push one through the door into another universe (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). And there are books that one can’t touch but still create magic. This was my experience recently when visiting The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, and watching William Kentridge’s Second Hand Reading.

four from the road

  • When having breakfast at Weimers Diner & Donuts in Sturgis, South Dakota, I saw a poster asking for donations. New underwear, tshirts and socks for men were being sought to give to veterans. But why aren’t there federal resources in this country for those veterans? Why is a small town with a population of 7,000 having to find clothing for the individuals who served their country?
  • Through my good fortune of staying with Cathy and Dave, Servas hosts in Sioux Falls, I attended a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and River of Fire. To say her talk was inspirational does not begin to do it justice. It was one of the most impassioned and articulate talks I have ever heard. If you are unable to catch Sister Helen on her current tour, please read her books.
  • While in Sioux Falls, I also heard about OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), a program under the University of South Dakota. OLLI “brings together curious people who want to learn for the love of it…[and] aims to engage the mind, stimulate the senses and foster learning through an affordable program of classes, tours, lectures, films and active learning opportunities.” Many of the people teaching these classes and leading tours are community volunteers. My mind immediately twirled with the variety of talks and tours that knowledgeable individuals in my community could offer. But I realized my own focus needs to be developing senior housing before getting caught up trying to establish a program like OLLI. That’s just part of Maslow’s hierarchy.
  • Drawn to possibilities. Often people who come to the bookstore ask how it got started, what inspired me. They enjoy the idea of something new, something they hadn’t experienced before, browsing in the confined space of this traveling bookstore. I am also drawn to new ideas – the possibility of putting together community classes with volunteer instructors, learning how Sister Helen Prejean went from exchanging letters with someone in prison to being a voice against the death penalty. We can be drawn to a possibility we may not have previously considered. Then its a matter of taking the next step.

Tour Day #3

St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore Ukulele from Marla Goodman

The third day on the road with the tour. I set up the bookstore yesterday in Bozeman @wildryewhiskey. Just now pulled into Sheridan, WY to set up in a few hours at Luminous Brewhouse. Between the miles driving to get to these places and the times when the bookstore is actually open, there is reflection and impressions. First, I realized even when I feel kind, there are individuals who set the bar even higher for kindness. Which is good. It lets me see I still have much more to learn.

And I pondered how doing an adventure like this current bookstore odyssey on my own tends to reinforce selfish tendency. After all I get to decide when and where to stop for coffee, which books to put out, which color tshirts to bring along, where to have dinner (and in Sheridan this is easy as I always want to go to the Thai food truck). Thinking on this today between Billings and Crow Agency, it was a reminder to be more cooperative. Because even as sole owner of a traveling bookstore, there are all sorts of people to cooperate with – the business owners who host the bookstore, the individuals who host me, the waitress at the Lariat Country Kitchen in Hardin, MT, the young family who stopped by the bookstore yesterday, the young man on crutches who told me about losing his job.

And that leads into questions as I cross mountains and high plains, what this venture is all about. Because it is easy to cop an attitude that what I am doing with this traveling bookstore is so much better then what Amazon is doing. I can give a kid an extra book and I support local businesses like the cafe in Hardin and the Thai food truck in Sheridan. I talk with people about their life and my life and the world and our challenges. And Amazon doesn’t do any of that when you put in your order and credit card number and then three days later have a box show up at your door.

But being a traveling bookstore does mean using fossil fuels to take the books to Sheridan and Sturgis, Toledo and Leesburg. It is trying to sell books at a price most people can afford but it is not selling them for ninety-nine cents. And while I am out on the road having these conversations and peddling books, I am not in my community using my time there.

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.

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.

 

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.