I don’t know if I’ve had a summer that feels like such a definitive break between Before and After since the summer that I graduated high school. A summer where you know everything is about to change, and all you can do is hold onto the sweetness and prepare, best you can, for the leap.
In the fall, my littlest goes off to kindergarten all day long.
This, alone, is enough to make me weepy and nostalgic and send me reaching for the baby pictures. I am officially out of the preschool years, which for a stay at home mom, are absolutely consuming and defining.
And I am also at the end of my book contract.
In the past several years, I have raised two babies, and in the cracks of time that I managed to find between feeding and diapering and potty training and time-outs and snuggles and Dinosaur Train, I released two books. I don’t really know how that happened. I vaguely remember deliriously early mornings writing at the kitchen table, but other than that, the whole thing is a blur.
Now my babies will be getting on the bus, together, and my books are out in the world. My publishing contract is done. I am about to fall face-forward into the first silence I have had in years, and the thought both excites and terrifies me.
I have spent most mornings this summer sitting on my deck with my cup of coffee while the heat makes steam form on the top of the pond and the neighborhood albino squirrel makes his rounds. I have been thinking about what’s next. There is no book deadline. There is no toddler to keep from flinging himself down the living room staircase. There is only me and the blank page and whatever I decide to do with it.
In her book Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo writes, “When our lives change, when the world changes, we must reinvent ourselves as writers.”
So if I haven’t been blogging much lately it is because I am watching my boys float away – by themselves – in the paddleboat. I am holding a blank notebook, waiting to figure out what the next words will be.
I love summer reading. My idea of a perfect summer day involves a flotation device of some sort and a book. Here’s some of what I’ve been reading these past couple of months.
The Art of Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo: Coming off a book writing and release schedule that felt entirely rushed to my sensibility, this book was a grounding read for me. Filled with examples from the writing lives of famous authors and from her own life, this book reminded me of the excruciating beauty of the process of writing and gave me a way back in after being in the no-man’s-land of marketing your writing for the last couple of months. (Not my favorite place, by the way.) A beautiful read that I will go back to again.
Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary, D. L. Mayfield: I was honored to read and endorse this book back in May. When Danielle and her family moved to Minneapolis, I got to witness first-hand some of the passion and pain that comes from choosing a life of downward mobility. The way she wrote about her experiences in this book was tender and honest and filled with grace for both herself and for all of us as we seek to engage with a broken world. It comes out in a couple of weeks, but do yourself a favor and preorder it now.
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart: I’d heard great things about this book and was not disappointed. It kept me guessing the whole time, and the ending absolutely shocked me.
The Lake House, Kate Morton: Kate Morton does the cross-generational mystery so well, and this book was no exception. I love the rough-edged main character, who reminded me of Jordan Cavinaugh from Crossing Jordan – stubborn, unwieldy, and impossible not to root for. I thought the ending of this one was a little tidy, but it was still a good read.
The Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes: If you’ve read any of my What I’m Into posts before, you know I am a dedicated fan of Shonda’s Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I love the way she writes characters – complex and funny and distinct and relatable. So while her insights on living the “yes” life in this book were fun to read, what I most enjoyed about this was getting a small glimpse into her creative process. I particularly loved the insights she shared around her own relationship with the character of Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda, not surprisingly, can put a book together, and I’d love to read something from her that is centered more on her creative work.
The Status of All Things, Lisa Steinke and Liz Fenton: I was a little underwhelmed by this book, but it could be because I was listening to it on audio in the car while my kids were trying to kill each other in the background. When a woman is jilted at her rehearsal dinner, she gets a magical second chance: an opportunity to change her life with Facebook status updates that come true when she writes them. While I wasn’t crazy about the main character (again, maybe the fault of my kids), I did think there was some interesting thoughts her about the fruitless quest to look perfect – or at least good — in the social media world.
Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler: I loved this YA book that tells the story of Min and Ed’s breakup item by item in the inevitable “box” of stuff you return after a relationship ends. The voice is so distinct, the characters so well drawn, and, to top it off, this book includes the best description of a day in public high school that I have ever read.
Still Writing, Dani Shapiro: I learned about this book when I heard Dani Shaprio speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing back in April. I bought it on the spot but didn’t have a chance to read it until I spent two blissful nights alone in Duluth a few weeks ago. Written in small chunks, it reads like a memoir of the writing life and offers lots of insight, encouragement, and guidance. It’s going into my Writer’s Toolbox with all my other writing faves.
Before the Fall, Noah Hawley: This book was un-put-downable, just like I’d heard, and I wasn’t surprised to see that the author has won awards including the Emmy, Golden glove, PEN, Critic’s Choice and Peabody. His writing is both suspenseful and insightfully human. But don’t read it on a plane.
Here and Now, Henri Nouwen: I’m in another one of those stages where I’m struggling to read the Bible. This happens to me from time to time, and I have some favorite go-to-books for times like this. This summer, I’ve been reading this book by Henri Nouwen, though, which is interspersed with Scripture and filled with gracious and stunning insights about living in the love of God. It has been a beacon for me this summer.
Andrew and I got hooked on HBO’s miniseries The Night Of and have been faithfully following the story of a boy named Nasir “Naz” Khan, who is charged with a gruesome murder he knows he didn’t commit. The complex cultural and political undertones are fascinating, as is the glimpse into the complicated relationship in the prison system. The John Stone character (John Turturro) is my absolute favorite.
We’re also watching Chef’s Table on Netflix which is a series of beautiful and compelling mini-documentaries on some of the most talented chefs in the world. It’s making me think a lot about art and the way we approach the act of creation.
I made it three episodes into The Bachelorette and then gave up. Sorry Jo Jo. I think I might be (finally) outgrowing this thing…
After hearing about it everywhere, I finally bought the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it in full on the trip home from my writing retreat in Duluth. There may have been some car dancing. Now I desperately want to see the show.
We have done the parades and the fireworks and the lemonade stands and the splash pad. We’ve been to the beach more times than I can count. We attended a Survivor-themed family reunion during which we all wore bandanas and looked for hidden immunity idols. I watched my children catch lightning bugs at my grandparents’ house in Nebraska and then lay next to them in the guest room bed, watching the lights blink lazily through an old mayonnaise bottle.
We watched Kung Fu Panda 3 at the last drive-in theatre in town, eating hot dogs and snuggling in the back of the minivan on a blown-up air mattress. We lit sparklers on the 4th of July. My oldest son learned to drive the paddleboat by himself, cruising lazily around our backyard pond, coming back, eventually pink-faced with a net full of painted turtles.
This summer, I cleaned the house top-to-bottom, organized the storage room, and found the old Pochocco notebook that Alissa and I exchanged notes in during the 7th grade. It had this photo of JTT in the front – our first love.
I had an epically unsuccessful garage sale where it rained for two days and the most interested visitor was the brazen chipmunk that kept skittering around the garage, pillaging the boys’ collection of old corncobs. I brought bags and bags of stuff to Goodwill and then bought a lot of other stuff from my favorite local vintique shop, The Round Barn.
The boys caught dozens of caterpillar, which have been collected in a cracked aquarium on our living room table. We have watched them work themselves into chrysalis – shaking furiously while still clinging to their perch, shedding old skin, folding into themselves. And then we have watched them break out, crumpled wings unfolding into beauty.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing perfect about it. Behind the hazy Instagram-filter of all this summering, there has been more brother-fighting than I could possibly explain. My youngest is practicing rebellion the form of excessive hand-washing that results, daily, piles and piles of barely-used towels discarded in the hallway. We have done almost none of the pages in our summer workbooks, and the kids are gradually losing every bit of education that they absorbed over the last year of school. I keep stepping on Perler beads, and it really hurts.
But all in all, we have been summering in all of the best ways this year, and I am grateful.
I have written basically nothing except for my “Dear Addie” posts at Off the Page, which I continue to turn in exceptionally late.
In the wake of the difficult police and #blacklivesmatter events in June, I wrote this piece about my social media silence on the matter – which is different, to me, than actual silence. In Nouwen’s Here and Now, he writes: “The more I think about the human suffering in our world and my desire to offer a healing response, the more I realize how crucial it is not to allow myself to become paralyzed by feelings of impotence and guilt. More important than ever is to be very faithful to my vocation, to do well the few things that I am called to do…”
So as I sit with my blank notebook thinking about the future, I’m thinking about this too. Where does my vocation intersect with God’s love for justice and mercy, for love and compassion?
I don’t know yet, but I want you to know that I am thinking about it and working it out. I am reading and I am aware and I am allowing these things to sit heavy inside me and be transformed by God’s spirit, into compassion.
So anyway, be patient with me. I will be back in a few weeks, my boys on the bus to school, my world utterly changed. I will begin this work of reinventing myself as a writer. I am terrified and excited and I hope you will bear with me along the way.
Linking up as always with my lovely friend Leigh for What I’m Into.
I miss dialoguing with you in the comments section and hearing what you’re up to! Tell me, friends, what have you been into this summer?