Friday, March 29, 2019
progress of all sorts
Late March is mud season around here and also sap time, and I must say that getting anything accomplished lately has felt like swimming through maple syrup. So slow, but certainly not as sweet. However I am in fact getting boatloads of things accomplished, despite feeling bogged down and even slightly stuck. I find a way to work steadily through it all. My island painting book is sitting before me in a new draft, one I am about to take some scissors to in an effort to edit and rearrange. Parts of the draft are terrible, make no sense, and I will leave them on the cutting room floor, but other parts are shaping up and thus I have hope for the whole thing. Meanwhile the color proofs for my next painting show catalogue arrived today. The draft and color proof are here beside me now:
Understatement: I have worked hard on this show. Upstairs in my studio are almost sixty paintings, framed and ready to take to the gallery in May. The gallerists were just here to look everything over and ease my worried mind. I haven't neglected other business either. Our taxes are filed. Looking back, I sold a fair number of books last year but I made a lot more money from the sale of my paintings. This is a heartening trend. I've been thinking again of having a little bookshop someday, perhaps in my old age, but it will have to be adjacent to my art gallery!
Speaking of bookshops, I just visited Stone Soup in Camden and bought a Maine island book I hadn't yet read, Winter Harbor by Bernice Richmond (Henry Holt 1943). Her writing gives me valuable perspective on my own book-to-be, encompassing as it does an island narrative and personal memoir. The book opens with such a great little paragraph, one that catches the reader immediately. When Bernice Richmond began with this, I for one couldn't wait to hear all about it (p.3):
"Reg and I are little people. No one ever heard of us, we have no names, we have no wealth, yet something wonderful, exciting and full of adventure happened to us."
How could you not keep reading after that? She launches immediately into the tale of how she and her husband came to buy a lighthouse on a tiny island off Winter Harbor, west of the Schoodic peninsula. The book chronicles their first three seasons there, during 1939, 1940, and 1941. The war is a backdrop she barely mentions, but when she does, her descriptions are powerful and memorable. In the book's second paragraph she says (ibid) "...at that time an unmistakable gloom was settling over the world and it was hard to understand what, if anything, the future held for us." The lighthouse is a symbol to her of everything good in our character, but the book isn't just symbolic. It's all about the practical work of island living and her very real joy in renovating the light tower and keeper's house, living there, and sharing the lighthouse and the island with her friends, family, and neighbors.
It was a wonderful book to read at this particular moment. I'd like to read her follow-up memoir, Our Island Lighthouse (Random House 1947) but don't have it on hand, and prices online run about $100 a copy, ugh. Anyway, what I really want to read next is a little something called The Mueller Report (U.S. Government Printing Office 2019). (I made that up. The publishing information, not the wanting-to-read-it part. That is real. I would like to know, after all this time, what happened. The truth, please, the facts.) Instead I'm deep into the early chapters of the brand new Barry Lopez book Horizon (Knopf 2019). It's hot off the press and I bought it last week at Bookstacks in Bucksport. So far it's a mix of the hopeful and the hopeless, regarding nature and climate change. His descriptions of places and experiences are so right and his writing is so generous and wide-reaching, I read along and feel as if I'm somehow brimming over. Like our yard this afternoon, which was full of flocks of red winged blackbirds, robins, juncoes, and sparrows. The sun is breaking through the gray sky, after a day of rain. It's truly spring. I thought it might never arrive, but here it is.
Saturday, March 02, 2019
Ice and snow are still covering the crocuses around here, but I know the bulbs are under there and will awaken soon. They must be thinking things over, surely. The turning of the month is a big one - March always feels so close to spring. Spring! I can't wait. It's been so cold for so long. We bundled up and attended the same local library book sale this morning that we often attend, since the friends-of-the-library group holds it on the first Saturday of each month, all winter. If the roads are dry and we have cabin fever, we go. Today's haul consisted of two bags of books for $50. From that, I have a small stack here beside me to keep for a while. A Mary Wesley novel I haven't read yet, a softcover reprint of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis, a reprint of W.H. Auden's commonplace book A Certain World (Viking 1970), Annie Leibovitz's memoir At Work (Random House 2008), a fluffy contemporary novel about a bookseller (can't resist, will report back if any good), and an 800-page diary I'd never heard of, Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke's War Diaries 1939-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001), which looks like a fascinating slog, just what I like. For now, I'll keep it on the shelf near the war diaries of James Lees-Milne and Frances Partridge.
Because even though I am buying books to read, I'm barely reading a thing right now. (Writing, I am still writing!) But diaries are on my mind. Written in one of my own, somewhere, years ago, is a quote from Wendell Berry, which goes something like this: "From my various ancestors I inherited both great wealth and great poverty. It has taken me years to figure out which is which." But can I find this quote? No, I cannot. Not in an old diary, or in the Wendell Berry books on my shelves here at home. The google machine is also unhelpful in this regard, but I am quite sure Wendell Berry said it, and so I paraphrase him here, regarding an inheritance I recently received. I am a stepchild, and my step-grandfather died a few cold Januaries ago. I have good memories of him, and even more of my step-grandmother, who was the only real grandmother I ever knew when I was a child. But they were complicated people, as people are, and when I think of them now, the quote comes to mind.
All that is to say, my stepfather stopped by the other day with a gift for me, from his father's house. He and my aunts and uncle are cleaning out the house, to offer it for sale. Bittersweet doesn't cover it but will have to stand in as shorthand. The gift came in four heavy boxes. Here is the first box:
Huge glorious hardcovers in their jackets. All twenty volumes of the OED, Second Edition. With a gift inscription from nearly twenty years ago. It was an 80th birthday present to my step-grandfather, and I remember seeing it on his shelves, and yearning, more than just a little, to have my own set. And now here it is, come to stay. My grandparents gave me other gifts, throughout my life, but this last one feels so special.
As I struggle to find the right words to finish (or at least come to a good resting place with) the book I am attempting to write, the OED, this compenium of the best of our language, sits like an anchor to windward. An apt simile, since my grandparents were sailors. I am now pondering the booklover's eternal dilemma. I speak of course of shelf space. Ryan and I have been talking about building a new bookcase to house the set.
Book update - this week I finished editing the third draft of my island painting book. It comes into ever-clearer focus. I still have much to do but can see real progress and even glimpse an endpoint. It's twelve chapters now, and almost 100,000 words, many of which need to be cut, but are satisfying to contemplate in their mass. Words. WORDS. Our stories, our language. What a gift it is.