Fellow Homebound Publications author Heidi Barr has become a voice I listen to regularly. She often puts into words my own seeking, wondering, and musing. Her latest post, “Screen Time, Take Two,” and re-blogged here, especially spoke to me.
Maintaining balance with my use of screen time, as well as many other behaviors that drift off-center, is like the BOSU ball I use in my fitness workouts. I can be standing solid on the rounded, ribbed surface, and a small shift sets my legs wobbling. With focus and perhaps an equally slight alteration, I regain my steady stance. Sometimes, though, I lunge forward, arms flailing, feet sliding to the flat, steady floor. I take a few deep breaths and step up again onto the tippy ball, knowing that sustaining equilibrium requires constant adjustments.
Thank you, Heidi, for your honesty, wisdom, and help to name one of the big challenges I face.
I wrote the following post four years ago. The issues outlined in it are still a struggle, but we can only change what we name, right? Right. So, here it is again, slightly modified to fit the present.
I spend too much time looking at screens.
I have decided this before, but it screens have proved very persistent at creeping back into the limelight. They have become a central part of my days, and I am realizing that my balance is off. I have been crafting my definition of what “simple living” means to me for a long time now. But even with a mindset that is pretty solidly committed to principals of simplicity or “enough but not too much”, it still seems like screens have been taking center stage. I need to figure out how much screen time is enough, but not too much.
Five weeks ago, I celebrated the “birth day” of my first grandchild (Maggie), born to my son and daughter-in-law in Chicago. That’s where I’m writing from now, as I spend this month learning to be a grandmother.
There’s a part of me that also wants to be in Seattle tonight to celebrate another “birth day” – the launch of the memoir, Guts, by Janet Buttenwieser. For the past seven years or so, Janet and I have written together, critiqued each other’s work, and boosted each other’s spirits while seeking publishers. She helped me discern that the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program would be a good fit for me, and more than once she’s bolstered me when doubts about my writing overcome me. And through the years, we’ve also become friends. Seeing her story in print is a great joy.
Guts is a memoir about family, friendship, illness, loss, and hope. Janet was working on it when author Brian Doyle came to teach in our writing program. Here’s what he thought of it: “Can you read a book about pain while grinning and trying not to cry and not being able to think of a single book that’s anything like it? Yup. This one. Guts.”
If you can’t make it to the release party tonight, check Janet’s website for future events. I know I’ll be getting to at least one of them. In the meantime, Maggie and I will be cheering her on.
It’s finally here: the publication day for GUTS!! I’m over the moon that this long-awaited day has finally arrived. Tonight is the first of many celebrations and events: a launch party hosted by the wonderful Hugo House. For the past few weeks, as people have received and read advance copies of GUTS, I’ve been sent […]
Sometimes opportunities come along that you never could have anticipated. That’s the case with an invitation I received last spring to join the board of the inaugural Orcas Island Lit Fest.
The three-day festival (April 13-15) on Orcas Island will welcome a diverse group of emerging new voices as well as critically acclaimed and award-winning writers, poets, and literary figures from around the world to celebrate the literary arts. How lucky I am to be a part of the planning for this exciting event, just a short ferry ride away.
A couple of years ago I attended the Oakland Book Festival and learned how literary festivals are different from writing conferences. They’re both about books and writing and authors, but festivals, like the upcoming one on Orcas, bring together people who love to read books with the authors who love to write them.
Sam Gailey, author and OILF board member, describes it this way:
“The Orcas Island Lit Festival is doing for literature what the Telluride Film Fest has done so magically and intimately for filmmakers.”
There’s loads of information on the festival website (updates added almost daily), so that’s the place to check for all the details, to buy tickets (only $65 for a weekend pass), and to volunteer or support the festival in this, its first year. Until you click to the page, here’s a quick overview.
The festival will kick off Friday night with a Lit Walk and open mic readings at locations around quaint Eastsound Village. Saturday morning, Family Lit Fun will host Thor Hanson, readings by characters in costumes, a kids’ coloring station, and readings by award-winning Young Adult authors. That same morning, the Book Fair opens at the Orcas Center for the Arts, featuring book sales by Darvill’s Bookstore, book signings, and exhibits by literary journals, independent presses and publishers. Food and a book arts exhibit will be available at the Center all weekend, too.
Two tracks of moderated panel discussions begin Saturday afternoon featuring invited artists, thought leaders, and publishing professionals. On Saturday evening, the Lit Fest’s marquee event (additional fee) takes place on the Orcas Center’s main stage, with readings by the festival’s award-winning lineup of invited authors. Afterwards, things get a bit more raucous at the Battle of the Genres gala after-party. Sunday morning is day two of the workshop program and more fantastic panels to attend at the Orcas Center, all of it capped off with a final closing event at the Book Fair.
In the past five months since the release of my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve organized nearly twenty events to promote the book. I learned with my first book, Hands at Work, the importance of book readings and signings to introduce readers to my work. As I wrote in Afterthought #67, I took seriously guidance I received about author events, particularly regarding my “costume.”
The more I give readings, I gain stronger appreciation for the advice to think of it as a “performance.” I learned that at the first workshop I attended on the art of the author reading, and again at a workshop by former Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen. Her poetry (Every Dress a Decision, The Girl Who Goes Alone, and Where Currents Meet) is exquisite, and Elizabeth’s work in theater and radio is evident when she “performs” her own poems and those of others. Here’s some of her advice that I believe applies to readings of all genres:
Select what you’ll read with attention to breaking the ice, developing an arc, and leaving the audience with what you want them to remember.
Let the audience have a moment or two to breathe between parts you read, especially if you’re making a big transition or you’ve just finished an emotional section [I’ve found this is the perfect time to take a drink of water; it gives me a break, too].
Practice and time yourself so you can be respectful of the audience and fellow readers.
Wear shoes that allow you to feel the ground and stay balanced.
Performing gets easier with practice—read for an audience as often as you can.
Remind yourself that nervousness is simply the energy required to do this special thing, and that the performance requires you, but it’s not about you.
I’ve found that the Question and Answer segment is always rich, and although I never know what people will ask, I follow Elizabeth’s advice here, too, about how to prepare:
Think about what I’d do for an interview.
Ponder what I want to leave someone with.
Consider the stories I want to tell about the book and my process.
I’ve had some surprises at readings, and so far, they’ve all been a delight. For example, an entire book club came to a recent reading and sat in the front row.
At another event, a woman in the audience told me she’d seen advertising for my memoir at a bookstore where she’d just read. I was thrilled to learn that her book (Crown Jewel Wilderness, conveniently displayed on the shelf behind me), is a history of North Cascades National Park. In March I’ll host Lauren Danner for a reading at Lopez Bookshop.
Another time, a young man around my son’s age claimed a front row seat and jotted notes in a spiral notebook throughout the reading. He asked a thoughtful question about relying on memory when writing memoir, so when he came up for me to sign the book, I asked if he’s a writer. Turns out he’s studying writing, and his instructor assigned students to attend a reading (I LOVE this teacher) and write a report about it. At the same reading, an audience member brought her journal, along with my book, to the table where I was signing. After she had a friend take a photo of her with me, she told me she has journals devoted to author events and asked me to write a note on the page she dedicated to my reading. I’ve also been moved by health care providers telling their own stories of burnout and questions about their work.
I now have my own list of author event do’s and don’ts:
Always take extra books.
Always have water.
Don’t worry about silence when you ask who has a question. As a Quaker, I’m quite comfortable with waiting for people to be ready to speak.
Remember—if people close their eyes at readings, they’re probably not asleep. That’s just how some people listen.
Be prepared to learn something about your own journey through the questions from the audience.
Send a thank you note to the event host.
Perhaps the greatest joy is when I receive comments about my book from people far away. Recently, a friend emailed that while she was on vacation in Mexico and reading Hiking Naked, she met another American from Seattle who knows me but didn’t know about the book—so my friend filled her in. Another email came from a woman I met in Stehekin when she was a teen. Now a midwife, she resonated with my experience of burnout and is planning a sabbatical from that role.
A text message showed up from a friend of my son who had spotted Hiking Naked in a bookstore he visited.
And just the other day I received a photo and Facebook message from a woman who was reading my book in a coffee shop in Great Britain and wondered why she got some funny looks!
Now I offer some suggestions to those of you who attend readings about how to support the author who has not only written the book but has prepared for this performance:
Buy a book.
Thank the author after the reading (even if you don’t buy a book).
Recommend the book to others personally, through social media, and reviews such as on Amazon and Goodreads.
Thank the venue for hosting the event.
As I plan for more events through 2018, I look forward to more performances.
If you’re an author, what advice would you give to writers preparing for readings?
If you’re a reader, what is it about readings that you enjoy?