Just My Type

Surely the sun shone bright that July day in 1973 when I achieved my goal of typing 50 words per minute with no mistakes. Even if it was raining, I’m certain the sun would have split apart thunderclouds to send a beam of light through the panes of glass in Mr. McGeorge’s classroom.

It had been my mom’s idea for me to take the typing class during summer vacation between my junior and senior years of high school. A small-town newspaper editor, she probably reasoned it would be a useful skill to have, “Because you never know when you might need it.” I was pretty certain I’d never “need” to know stenography (the other summer class Mr. McGeorge taught), but I could accept that typing might come in handy when I went to college to study English.

Hunched over a black  Royal typewriter, pounding its QWERTY keys into the touch memory of my fingertips, I willed my fingers to move faster through drills, repeatedly typing simple sentences. Mr. McGeorge, always in black trousers, a crisp, short-sleeved shirt, and a plain, black tie, strode among our desks. I’m sure he carried a stopwatch, too, for all of the exercises were timed as I attempted to increase my speed while decreasing my errors.

The stakes were high. A few rows of sleek, red, self-correcting IBM Selectrics waited to reward my achievement. I dreamed of the day I’d type quickly enough to graduate to the light gray keyboard that propelled a silver ball of letters across the page. I’d no longer have to lift my right hand off the keys at the end of a line to press a silver arm that sent the carriage back to the left margin; with just a slight stretch of my right pinky, the RETURN button sent the ball of type back to start a new line. Best of all was the X key that magically eliminated miss-typed letters so I could replace them with the correct ones.

Nearly forty-five years later, I don’t worry so much about the speed of my typing. My lightweight, silver laptop automatically corrects many of my typos, or at least signals their presence with a squiggly, red line. I can highlight words, sentences, and entire paragraphs, then move them to another spot in the document—or to the “trash.” Now, I can’t imagine writing a 60,000-word manuscript on the Royal, but I’m glad it’s still around. Like many writers today, I’m infatuated with any kind of manual typewriter.

During a recent wait in the San Francisco airport, I discovered an exhibit celebrating the typewriter as “…one of the great inventions of the modern world…” easing and speeding communication on paper when typewriters appeared in the late 1800s. The exhibit caught the attention of other passengers, too, as a dozen or more paused, like me, in front of the display, jockeying rolling suitcases (some likely holding laptops and e-readers) and snapping photos with smart phones.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if the exhibit is still there, but if it is, it’s the perfect advertisement for a book released earlier this month, Uncommon Type – Some Stories by Tom Hanks. According to New York Times reporter Concepción de León, “The collection of 17 stories all include, in one way or another, typewriters, which are Mr. Hanks’s passion.”

There’s a good deal of buzz about the actor’s book. Evidently, Hanks is as good on the keyboard as in film.

“It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.”    ~Steve Martin

“Reading Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type is like finding out that Alice Munro is also the greatest actress of our time.”    ~ Ann Patchett

I haven’t yet read Uncommon Type, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping at least one of Hanks’s stories includes my personal favorite. As a Chicago transplant, it’s just my type.

What’s your favorite type?

 

Sick of the News and Wondering – Why Write?

This morning after I turned the key in the ignition to drive to the gym, I flicked on the radio. It’s programmed for NPR, and as I heard, “Here are the day’s headlines,” I switched to the classical music station. I knew my heart would be pounding soon enough in my circuit class; I didn’t need the morning report to raise my blood pressure.

I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Distressed by accounts of wildfires, hurricanes, mass shootings, sexual assault and harassment, earthquakes, dismantling of our health care system, and environmental protections erased, I’ve had to limit my intake of current events. And that distresses me, too, because denial or ignoring does nothing to ease the suffering of our world.

I’m not alone. In the last week, two women I admire have responded to these troubles, each in her own way.

Eileen-Valley-Green-e1504621326715I’ve written previously about Eileen Flanagan, and I found her course, We Were Made for This Moment, extremely helpful in the early months of 2017. A couple of days ago, an email from Eileen asked, “Sick of the news?” Some intense, exciting work had kept her away from media, and when she tuned in again, she writes, “…I went on a CNN binge. It was the spiritual equivalent of chowing down pork rinds and jellybeans right after your yoga retreat.” The news literally made her sick, disturbing her eating and sleeping. Eventually, though, she realized “…it wasn’t just the stories themselves that were depressing; it was the way they were presented, with no role for me to play but voyeur. It confirmed my intention to keep my focus on things people like you and I can actually do to create the world we want to see.”

One of the ways Eileen shifts her perspective is through teaching, so she’s offering a new, four-week, on-line course, How to Build a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign. It begins October 23, and there’s still time to register. Like her earlier courses, I suspect this one will help participants build their capacity to make change.

In “We Were Made for This Moment,” Eileen discussed a variety of activist roles (helper, organizer, advocate, rebel) and helped me gain some insight into the actions I feel I’m best equipped for and that give me joy. She cautioned that no one can do all the roles, and that if a role doesn’t feed you, burnout is likely.

Hiking Naked Final CoverWriting is both my creative outlet and my way to advocate for change. But as I’ve turned much of my energy to promoting my new book, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve wondered what good it’s doing in the face of the tragedies throughout the world.

Carol-768x1024Another friend, Carol Sexton, reminded me I’m not the only artist raising this question. Her blog post a couple of weeks ago, “Why I Make Art,” wrestled with, “What is the point of this art that I am making?  I see news of police brutality, racial injustice, political corruption, the failure of our current health system, or natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and I am sitting at home making a drawing of lace. I have to wonder whether there is something more I could/should be doing as an artist to address the needs of a hurting world.”

lace

Carol explored her role as an artist further.

“There are artists who focus their art around issues of social justice, and I admire and respect what they do, but that is also not who I am as an artist. I paint images of plants. I draw mandala designs. I carve figures in stone. I am attracted to things that I find beautiful and I want to share them in some way. But how can I justify being an artist when there are so many other worthy causes that need support?”

While acknowledging the privilege of choosing to make art, Carol lists clearly why she continues it. By changing the words “make art” to “write,” the points work for me, too.

  • I continue to make art write because it is what I do, and who I am.
  • I make art write because it is a gift that I have been given, and it would seem wrong not to exercise that gift.
  • I make art write because it satisfies my soul and gives me pleasure on a daily basis.
  • I make art write because part of my livelihood depends on it. In a lifestyle where there is no regular paycheck, every little bit of freelance income counts. And before getting income from art, one must take the time to produce art.
  • I make art write because it brings enjoyment to others.
  • I make art write because in a world full of ugliness and hatred and injustice, there is also much beauty to be shared and celebrated.
  • I make art write not as a direct response to important issues, nor as an escape from thinking or caring about them. I make art write because it is what I do best, and I want to offer my best to the world.

Most days, I trust that if I listen to the voice within, I’ll be led to actions that contribute to the world we want to see. But when I doubt, wisdom from people like Eileen and Carol sustains and inspires me. My hope is that my writing does the same for others.

Whatever your work is, how do you view it in the midst of today’s tribulations?

 

 

 

 

*Afterthought #68 – Fall Reading List

Here on the Salish Sea, signs of autumn appear every day—nippy early mornings and evenings, apples reddening, fog hovering in the bay, and sun and rain glinting on firs and cedars. I’ve pulled out sweaters and dug out my socks from the bottom of the drawer. Ahhhh, my favorite season. I’m looking forward to the slower pace and time indoors to delve into my fall reading list. This year, I’m building a stack of titles by writers who also are friends. They’re all published by smaller presses (including the one who published my memoir, Homebound Publications) and likely aren’t well-known to many readers, but their writing is top notch. So, if you’re looking for books to curl up with, I recommend these (all available now or soon, wherever books are sold):

Heidi-Barr-Cover-250Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth by Heidi Barr is a collection of essays rooted in the rhythm of the natural world. Through the turn of the seasons, Heidi illustrates how the cycles of the earth have informed her everyday life from community to vocation to the food that finds its way to the dinner table. Through gardening, simple living, and prioritizing sustainability, she paints a picture of how remaining close to the earth provides a solid foundation even as the climate changes and the story of the world shifts. Part stories, part wonderings, and part call to act, this collection of meditations invites reflection, encourages awareness, and inspires action. For more information, read my interview with Heidi Barr.

Companions-on-the-Way-250In Companions on the Way, Gunilla Norris has given us all a magnificent gift: A simple book of wisdom so straightforward, so without jargon, and so comforting to read, that no one will want to be without it on the bedside table. Here is a lifetime of good sense. Here are beautiful sentences. And here is a book that is like Grandmother’s arms: entirely reassuring, safe, full of sweetness, and a deep sense of home.” –Stephen Cope, Senior Scholar in Residence, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, bestselling author of The Great Work of Your Life, and Soul Friends.

Reimagining-Cover-180

Drawing from sources ranging from the ancient apocalyptic traditions to contemporary science, The Great Re-Imagining by Theodore Richards explores the deep narratives that have brought us to the brink of apocalypse and invites us to re-imagine our place in the world.

 

paddlingInspired partly by her own spirit of adventure, and partly by the stories of her native coastal ancestors, Irene Skyriver celebrated her fortieth year of life with a solo kayak voyage, paddling from Alaska to her home on Washington’s Lopez Island. Paddling with Spirits interweaves the true account of Irene’s journey with generational stories handed down and vividly re-imagined. The book dips like a paddle itself between the stories of those who inspired her, and Irene’s own journey down a lonely coast.

 

tear in the soul

A Tear in the Soul by Amanda Webster – Born into privilege and wealth, Amanda is a sixth generation Australian descended from white settlers and the third generation to grow up in Kalgoorlie. When she turned five, Amanda became friends with Aboriginal children from the nearby Kurrawang Mission. Forty years later, she confronts her racist blunders, her cultural ignorance and her family’s secret past. And so begins her journey of reconciliation and friendship, taking her into a world she hardly knew existed.

 

Congratulations and thank you to all of these fine writers. Let the rains begin; I’m ready!

Baring My Soul

For the past two weeks, I’ve been doing just that. As I’ve embarked on a book tour for my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’m aware that my story is no longer confined to pages in my journal and documents on my laptop. So far, my words have mostly made their way to friends and family—people who already know me to some degree. Now, they’re coming to know me better, and if I think about that very much, I feel exposed. I’m not complaining about this discovery—after all, I willingly churned out events from and reflections upon my life and sought a publisher to put my  words on pages in a book. A book that I now want and hope people will read. You can start here with Chapter 1.

Still, I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

I have yet to receive any critical reviews, but I expect they’ll appear eventually. I can’t control negative responses any more than I can influence the ways my experience may (or may not) resonate for others. As I learned over and over in Stehekin, my yearning for safety, certainty, and pleasing others was a through line in my life; it was tested there, and I wrestle with it still.

I don’t know how reactions from readers will feel in the coming weeks and months, especially as I encounter more people meeting me for the first time through my book’s pages. Whenever this baring of my soul makes me tremble, though, I’ll remember the smiling faces, the nodding heads, and the books offered to me for my signature at my first two launch events.

Iris&AMS best

The first was in Stehekin, WA where the book is set. There, my mentor and friend, author Ana Maria Spagna, introduced me.

Ste reading

 

 

 

Ron best_Stehekin

 

 

 

 

 

A week later, I celebrated in my current home of Lopez Island, WA. Friend and fellow writer Kip Robinson Greenthal introduced me there, and after I read, we shared in a conversation about writing, nursing, and the challenges of memoir.

signingLopez1

 

 

 

 

 

kip interview

 

 

Today’s publishing industry demands that writers actively promote their books. So, now that Hiking Naked is available wherever books are sold (if your local bookstore doesn’t have it, ask them to order it from their supplier), I hope you’ll pick up a copy. And here’s my request that you help me boost my memoir’s visibility. Once you read Hiking Naked, I hope you’ll take a few moments to review it at Amazon or GoodReads, in newsletters, and on social media. If you’d like me to visit your community, your book club, writing group/class, or your Quaker Meeting, please contact me at iris@irisgraville.com. Despite a few jitters, I enjoy talking with readers, librarians, and booksellers about my work. That’s a type of exposure I look forward to.

Stehekin photos by Tracey Cottingham; Lopez photos by Beth St. George & Karen Hattman