I’m taking a hiatus from the book tour this week. My favorite niece (See above. She’s bigger now.) is getting married and I expect to fulfill my auntly duties by running errands and tying bows on things. Apparently I am also the designated cake decorator, in which, fortunately, I will be assisted by a talented friend of the family.
I will make a strong effort not to drop anything.
Sand Dunes, Washington Island
I am not on the Island today, but I know how beautiful autumn can be there, and I am pining a bit.
Instead, it is my last day in Michigan before heading back to engagements in Wisconsin. It is a crisp September day that began with fog rising on the lake with the sun glowing through.
Tonight I will be at the Hackley Public Library in Muskegon. Stop by and say hello.
6 pm, Hackley Public Library
I began this novel seven years ago. I didn’t know it was a novel then, and there were many times between then and now that I doubted it was anything at all. But here it is, a published novel, and tomorrow I will leave home–without dogs,and I haven’t explained that to them yet–to begin a book tour.
I am nervous, excited, and have a certain wry awareness that the life I abandoned as an opera singer–living out of a suitcase in strange cities–has come back to find me. Why? I wonder. There are peculiarities about fate at work here.
Nevertheless, here we go. At least there will be no one with bulldozers to ask me about the water lines.
Saturday, September 20–Shelby Township, Michigan–Book Signing
Barnes & Noble
14165 Hall Rd, Shelby Township, MI
Sunday September 21 Northville, Michigan–Book Signing
Barnes & Noble
17111 Haggerty Rd, Northville, MI
Tuesday, September 23–Muskegon Michigan–Talk, Reading, Book Signing
Hackley Public Library
316 W. Webster
Muskegon, MI 49440
I have to admit that I am using this as an excuse for a four hour ferry ride to Michigan. Who wouldn’t?
It is a jittery place, knowing that your book is out there, and that strangers are reading it. North of the Tension Line is off press and ready to ship, so any errors in editing are now permanent. But the hundreds of Advance Reading Copies are out there like little seeds, taking root or dying. There are so many things to worry about, but they are all things that are stupid to worry about, because they are beyond my control. I can’t make people like the book. I can’t re-read anymore and correct. I can only wait, and hope. And try not to wait and hope.
As any writer knows, you put your heart out there and hope that no one stomps it.
It will be a good night for a long romp with dogs. And possibly a cocktail.
Any day now I am expecting a package from Beaufort Books filled with first editions of North of the Tension Line. When it comes, my friends will be receiving a spur of the minute call to come for champagne. Megan, Felicia, Michael, Eric–my team extraordinaire: I wish you could be here!
My sister and I needed a little break from the melancholy task of closing my late mother’s house, so we decided a little trip up the Door Peninsula was in order. With North of the Tension Line coming out in September (pre-order now!!) I thought I should introduce myself to some booksellers and shop owners. We ambled up the Peninsula and down the other side, and managed a brief 18 hours on Washington Island, too.
On our way home, we made a lunch stop at the Albatross Drive-In, which has a cameo appearance in North of the Tension Line. Everyone there was excited and happy about the book, and told me they would make my cheeseburger with extra love. Along with the best burgers on earth, the Albatross also sells Albatross t-shirts.
On the back is their slogan, excerpted from the sign below.
And it’s all true.
Now is the time to pre-order your copy of North of the Tension Line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at your local bookseller.
Support your local novelist.
My mother died ten days ago and I haven’t cried. What I mean to say is that I have shed some tears, but I haven’t wept. I know that grief has its own path, but it feels wrong that I have been so business-like and dry-eyed. For reasons of my own I am re-reading the Odyssey, and there is in Homeric literature an understanding that weeping and tears are essential tributes to the dead. Not crying is wrong.
People tell me that she was a great age and it is natural. That is true. But death is unwelcome. Someone reminded me yesterday of a happy event a few months past, and my heart went straight to the distinction between now and then: My mother is gone now. Then, she was on this earth, only a phone call or a drive away. Now she is gone forever, unreachable, untouchable, all hurts and old wounds now frozen into permanent scars, all love and tenderness irrelevant.
Our priest asked us at the cemetery whether we wanted to stay to watch her lowered into the earth, and to the dismay of my sister, I said yes, and everyone else felt compelled to stay at my wish. We tucked her in next to my father, the hard edge of his vault visible after six years, a blanket of orange and magenta roses waiting to be laid across her grave.
My tribute, I suppose, is still unpaid. I think it will burst upon me like a sudden storm, splattering innocent passersby whether they are sympathetic or not.
And that is the way of grief.
It’s been a lousy spring. I loved the harsh cold and daily snow of the the winter, even while everyone else was complaining. But this spring, even by Wisconsin standards, has been just plain bad: cold, rainy, and miserable, June is nearly gone, and we haven’t yet felt the full bloom of summer. It’s oppressive, and it feels like a year lost from one’s life.
I adore peonies. I recall one summer day, coming into the kitchen of my much-beloved German voice coach to find a full vase of deep red peonies. They took my breath away with their beauty. Noticing my reaction, my coach said to me, “They are like Wagner, aren’t they?”
That was a long time ago, in another lifetime. My peonies, which are abundant and in many colors, are the joy of my every June. I adore their perfume, and their variety, and I pick them extravagantly to fill the house. But this year I have been distracted and busy, and I missed almost all their bloom. This evening, after my early-rising husband had gone to bed, the dogs and I went out into the summer twilight–mercifully dry–and picked the last remaining blossoms. I tried not to notice the petals on the ground, wasted by the rain, and the browning and withered blooms that still remained on the stems. I found a few lovely and fully blossoming flowers, and I cut them all to bring into the house. Despite there being so few, their scent fills the room.
Normally, I am jealous of my flowers, and I find it difficult to part with them. But this time I know that my peonies will sleep only tonight in my house. Tomorrow I will bring them to my mother’s bedside for her to savor their scent and the voluptuousness of their color. However much I try to pretend otherwise, I know she will not be here when they bloom again. I dread to think of seeing peonies for the last time. I hope she doesn’t know.
One of my favorite writers, the melancholy anthropologist Loren Eiseley, wrote an essay called “The Most Perfect Day in the World”. In it, he describes a day when, utterly impoverished and riding freight trains across the country, he and a friend stopped in a small town on a sunny day, pooled their resources to buy a case of grape soda, and lay on the grass in the shade of a big tree all day, drinking soda and watching the clouds. This notion of perfection would not suit everyone, but it strikes me as a fine expression of the pure enjoyment of living: when time stops and you can live in this one moment, freed from fear and worry.
Today I am home from the office, ostensibly to proof my manuscript. But I have not done much work. It is a delightfully cool, breezy June morning, the first time that sunshine has combined with the full fresh bloom of early summer. The dogs and I lolled on the grass before attacking the long list of procrastination–I mean errands–on my list. I walked in the garden where the irises are an edible deep purple, the pink roses are in bud, and the peonies are tight balls waiting to burst. I rambled out to the garage to find the loppers to prune the dead branches from the climbing rose on the arbor, and wrestled them to the ground without too many thorn pricks. It is impossible to breathe in the air on day like this without experiencing a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. This is how I would like to spend my mornings forever.
But the day’s beauty makes a hard contrast to the suffering happening in this moment in other parts of the world, of the people who are terrified, in pain, in fear of horrible deaths, in an agony of despair for their futures. Marcus Aurelius counsels the practice of these contrasts as a method of valuing each moment of life and of inuring the soul against too much dependence on the vagaries of fortune. I read his teachings, and I have tried to absorb them. And I believe that we must all do what we can to make what we touch better, and to broaden our reach to others. But I think that modern angst is the result of our knowing too much about the suffering we cannot control. We are bombarded by war and poverty and natural disasters in every corner of the world, by the sufferings of people and the sufferings of animals. There is no doubt that we are meant to endure the suffering around us. But the suffering of the whole world is not a burden a human being can bear.
And so, Pete, and Moses and I will go out into the orchard and play ball in the sunshine, grateful for our blessings. But I will also offer my prayers for the souls in the dark, knowing that I am helpless to give them any relief. For us, it is the most beautiful day in the world. And that is how it has to be.