News From North of the Tension Line

Greetings from Washington Island:

Life has been moving at a screaming pace, and I have not been keeping up. We (Pete, Moses, and I) are on the Island this week, cloistered for the purposes of writing Book Three in the North of the Tension Line series. I do the writing. They take me for walks and keep me from sitting for twelve hours straight. Meanwhile, the books have been gaining quite a bit of media attention, and if you haven’t heard about it here first, I apologize.

Now that we are here on the Island, there have been a few setbacks, including some extremely nasty chigger bites (I am not used to coming here when the temperatures are above freezing), but I am otherwise making progress. This is the fast part of writing, when everything is fresh, and the ideas are pushing themselves out onto paper (computer). The slow part comes later, when the plot needs to be knit together, and the loose ends keep popping out.

But I interrupt this time of retreat to mention that I do have a new website, www.jfriordan.com. This blog will continue to exist here, but you will also be able to access it from the website.

You will be able to find details about my next public appearances, to read, watch, and listen to media events, to hear interviews and readings from the books, and to buy the books, as well. In a day or two, my half hour television interview will become public, and you will be able to see it there. (As an aside, if you want incentive to stick to your weight loss plans, watch yourself on television. It’s a kind of horrifying reality check.)

The stats here at North of the Tension Line: Reflections on a Life in Exile have been rising steadily, and I am deeply grateful to my readers. Thank you, and I hope you will stay with me as the story continues.

Please take a moment to check out the website, and, if you would be so kind, to pass it on.

UpNorth at 4

Pete and Moses and I stopped off at Rhinelander yesterday for a guest appearance on UpNorth at 4. 

Then we drove back down to Sturgeon Bay. We put in 500 miles in one day, and the dogs were both patient and well-mannered. But when we got in last night they both burst into a run as if they’d been released from the gates.

We are staying at a cozy place right on the canal, but we are all raring to go. It’s still dark, and too early, but we’re heading out. Don’t want to miss the ferry.

It’s Island time.

In Praise of Small Towns

W.I. Crossroads

My column that will appear in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 

A writer in a national magazine recently theorized that small town voters who are worried about the deterioration of American culture are “insular” and unenlightened, stuck in the past, resistant to progress.
Having grown up in a small town, and also having taught at a high school in the inner city of Milwaukee, I can say that most of my students and their families were also living in their hometown, and the hometown of their families. Does that make them insular? Or does it make them normal?

City life is fine. It is filled with cultural and social and employment opportunities that may not exist elsewhere. You can choose how and whether to connect with other people. But bustle is not for everyone, nor is anonymity.

Some among us choose to live in a different way. But it would be a mistake to believe that small town life is a bucolic and peaceful existence. Living in a small community is not for the faint of heart.

Small towns are a microcosm of the human experience, but with more intensity. You live shoulder to shoulder with your oldest friends, and your fiercest enemies. You daily encounter the person who cheated you; who stood you up; who broke your heart; and with people who know your complete history: every bad decision, every embarrassment, every moment of kindness (if any). In cities, there can be the relief of some anonymity, but not in a small town. Living in a small town is a psychologically raw way to live.

But small town life also requires a deep connection to community that city people may not acquire. It generally means that you go to church because that is what is expected, and what almost everyone does. It means you are surrounded by people who know you. In the city it’s called networking. In a small town, the network is your neighbors, and you are expected to participate. Your neighbors are the ones who gather around you to celebrate births and mourn deaths. They plow your driveway when you have the flu. They raise money to help in a tragedy. They put an arm around your shoulder. They make casseroles. And you, in turn, celebrate, and mourn, and plow, and comfort, and bake. This sharing and mutual support is as old as human beings. And it is good.

We live in a society in which the elites make a continuing push against the values of faith and decency and commonsense. The cultural gatekeepers seem to believe that someone who doesn’t live in your community can decide what’s wrong with you, and what you need. It’s an insult, and a barely veiled one. You are flyover country: insular, irrelevant bumpkins filled with prejudices, unable to participate in the enlightenment of the cities, destined never to be famous. Living in a small town means that you are aware of the scorn heaped upon you by city dwellers who think they are better, and you shrug your shoulders and get on with it.

Maybe resisting progress isn’t all bad. In an age of celebrity and reality television, of Instagram and Twitter, most small town people live out quiet, uncelebrated lives of dignity and depth. They work; they care for their families and their friends; they mow their lawns and mop their floors. They may not be famous or trend-setting. But they have lives worth living.

And that is something worth standing for.

Autumn Island

autumn-sand-dunes-2

God willing, and if I get my work done this week, I leave for the Island on Friday. It will be such a busy week that I will be packing today.

These escapes are not technically vacations, since I usually work twelve to fourteen hours a day. It’s all writing and walking. But this time reconnects the pieces for me so that I can keep going. It’s a renewal.

We’re having an odd fall here in Wisconsin. October 2nd and the trees are still green, and I am a bit disappointed that the full autumn glory will be missing on the Island–that golden light that suffuses and saturates.  But we have to go now, before bow season, since I don’t want big dogs crashing through the underbrush with hunters about.

We will bring the essentials ( in no particular order): the computer; the brown paper bag plot map that hangs on my office wall; the particular black spiral notebooks I cannot live without; colored sharpies for plot lines; The World’s Best Thesaurus; several books of poetry; several pairs of glasses; food for the first few days so I don’t have to interrupt my solitude; coffee; wine; dog food; dog equipment; Essential Dog 1 (Pete); Essential Dog 2 (Moses).

We’ll also bring all the accoutrements for long all-weather walking.

I have a few friends on the Island, now, and toward the end of the week, I will hope to see them.   But for the first half, it will just be the Island, me, the words, and the essential dogs.

We’re heading north of the tension line.

Joy.

 

 

 

Delayed Gratification

 

Pete and Baby Moses

We are expecting a new puppy: a companion for Moses, and a respite–and new pupil–for Pete. My husband has misgivings about a third dog, and–although I generally keep it to myself–so do I. But, sadly, we won’t have three forever, and I want Pete, the elder statesman, to help train the puppy.

The puppy will be a special one, like Moses, carefully bred to be healthy, smart, even-tempered, gentle, and sweet. Also long-lived. These German Shepherds often live to be 13 or 14 years old, which is long for a big dog. Every day I check the breeder’s website, to see the current puppies, and look for news of the coming event. But today I found out it won’t be late fall, but early spring.

I am a little disappointed, but it gives me time to continue my ruminations on names. Leading contenders for now are Marcus Aurelius (guess why); St. Augustine (remember Augie Doggie?); Herodotus (I know); and George.

Official dog names are usually kind of pompous, with the kennel name in the possessive first, followed by the particular dog’s name.  Still, it’s always possible to have fun with the form. With Peter and Moses we have New Testament and Old Testament represented. But the truth is that Moses’ name, although he is officially Moses, Prince of Egypt, was actually the result of my watching The Ten Commandments too frequently in my youth. I wanted to be able to shake my head sorrowfully and say, “Moses, Moses, Moses.”

I’m kind of leaning toward George. But I am open to suggestions. Drop me a line if you have a perfect name for a big, beautiful, new German Shepherd puppy. Did I mention that he’s expected to be 150 pounds? He’ll need something he can grow into.

If I pick your suggestion, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book.

IMG_5144

Moses, left, and Pete on Washington Island.