100 Candles for Cleary

Beverly Cleary celebrated a centennial today.

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

If, like me, you grew up devouring her books and secretly believing you were one of her more misunderstood characters, then I suggest you read this tribute; but first prepare to pine for your lost youth. (The very next thing I wanted to do was track down a complete volume of Beverly Cleary classics and let good ol’ Beezus and Ramona put me to sleep for the rest of the week.)

Cleary is, of course, known best for her tender, amusing and true-to-life children’s books. But reading a bit more about her, I was pleased to discover that she also wrote two memoirs, which will soon be added to the stack of books that looms precariously on my nightstand, threatening to bury me in my own bed of neglected commitments.

Still, I’m particularly interested in her autobiographical study of the forgotten art of laissez-faire parenting, of which it appears both Cleary and her father came out on the other side smiling.

…her father, laissez-faire parented to the extreme, was sent to the butcher shop for beefsteak at age fifteen. “Instead of buying the meat, he continued, by what means I do not know, to eastern Oregon, where he worked on ranches all summer,” she writes. When Cleary asked her grandmother if she had worried about his disappearance, she said, “Oh, my, no.” They knew he’d be back, and he was, three months later. “All his father said was, ‘Did you bring the beefsteak?’ ”

Lately I can’t help but think, God forbid I raise a kid without guts like this

So, after 100 years, I have one thing to say to Beverly Cleary: Go get ’em, kid.

 

Original art: by Louis Darling.

Excerpt above: from Sarah Larson’s Beverly Cleary, Age 100 in The New Yorker.

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The Art of Jim

 

Jim Harrison, photographed by Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson Photography

The great loss of Jim Harrison this past Saturday has had me rooting for words. I dug through his old interviews and pored over passages from The Raw and the Cooked and The Beast God Forgot to Invent, whetting my appetite to write often and write well.

But more than that, reading Jim aroused in me what lately feels like my most primal need — to find fulfillment in a good day’s labor. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a manager, producer, coordinator for the corporate machine, some days it seems impossible to find meaning.

Not for Jim. He wrote every word, performed every task with pure purpose. You can’t mistake the career goals of a fisherman, a well-digger or a slow-cooked goose cassoulet, is all I’m saying.

This interview from The Paris Review in 1986 had me transfixed. Captured over five intoxicating days at Jim’s lush farm in Leelanau County, Michigan, the lengthy exchange touches playfully yet purposefully on Jim’s technique, philosophy and history.

It’s a long but worthwhile read. If you can’t sit down to the whole thing, here are a few choice bits that spoke to me. Continue reading

Art of the Sentence

Weekend goal: get my paws on a copy of “At the Bottom of the River” and read it.

"At the Bottom of the River" by Jamaica KincaidIt’s incredible the work that sentences can do beyond simply moving a story forward. With one comma they’ll turn on you. In a dash they can elevate or destroy you.

If you’re reading Kincaid, they’ll pull, pull, pull you ’til you’re taut and then they’ll slingshot you.

“I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea, I washed the clothes, I dressed the children; the cat meowed, the dog barked, the horse neighed, the mouse squeaked, the fly buzzed, the goldfish living in a bowl stretched its jaws; the door banged shut, the stairs creaked, the fridge hummed, the curtains billowed up, the pot boiled, the gas hissed through the stove, the tree branches heavy with snow crashed against the roof; my heart beat loudly thud! thud!, tiny beads of water grew folds, I shed my skin…

— “The Letter from Home,” Jamaica Kincaid

via: Jane Wong’s beautiful analysis Art of the Sentence: Jamaica Kincaid in Tin House

Negative Space

The negative space of writing — what we do when we’re not writing — is probably just as important, if not more, than the act of writing itself.

Which I suppose is one reason why writers are so notoriously tormented. Even the smallest decisions — what color to paint my nails, how to eat my eggs — always seem to paralyze me.

Loving this piece by Ingrid Rojas Contreras in Electric Literature about fretting over the many ways everyday minutia can impact the quantity and quality of your output. (See her chart below.)

Writing Output by Breakfast Types, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras

“All the hours I spend in the back of my throat, flexing my tongue, agonizing in unwritten sentences—is that writing?”

Food for thought.

via: On Not Writing: An Illustrated Guide to My Anxieties by Ingrid Rojas Contreras in Electric Literature

She Came to Slay

Grateful for voices like that of Dr. Zandria Robinson and for women who write, profess and educate. Grateful that her words reached me, and that she and Beyoncé and a whole formation of black, female voices will not stop challenging me to read more deeply, listen more closely and hear the experience of someone who is not just like me.

Beyonce - Formation - YouTube

Beyonce/YouTube

Be sure to read Dr. Robinson’s spirited and inspired piece on New Southern NegressWe Slay, Part I, or her Rolling Stone essay on “Formation” and how Beyoncé’s video is both a tribute to “southern blackness” and a rallying cry for the marginalized.

And just look at this electric sentence:

‘Formation’ is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the ‘punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens‘ in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines.

How To Be a (Person Who is Alive)

“if the opposite of a “pure” or “high-minded” man is one who is “alive,” then isn’t that what he is accusing her of being? A woman who is, simply, alive?”

Sharing one of a number of delightful femlit¹ pieces I’ve read recently challenging the word “slut” — a cheap word that, like its “good twin” the virgin, exists solely to put women in their place.

The author, Tara Ison, also skewers pop culture flicks for perpetuating this useless, dichotomous thinking when it comes to women and monogamy.

via How To Be A Slut: The Choices and Priorities of a Promiscuous Woman, and No, You Do Not Complete Me in Electric Literature.

¹Is this a term? I’m going to keep using it.