I came home from Ditch Lake Manitoba yesterday, and found a copy of my new picturebook, Grandpa’s Music, in the mail.  What a wonderful feeling, to actually hold a copy in my hands!  And at the same time, be very aware of how much energy has come from others in the creating of this thing.  Another’s vision has a huge role in a picturebook, and before the vision of the illustrator, there is the vision of the editor.  It is altogether something like a stageplay, with each playing a role in the coming together of a production.

Then today, there’s another slim package in the mailbox.  And I open it to find an upside down book…no a book, with a picture of a house on the front…and I can’t read the title…because it’s in Hebrew, and it’s to be read what I think of as back-to-front, right to left.  And it comes with a slip of paper from the publisher of my stories for adults, to let me know that somewhere in this volume is my short story “Across the Hall.”  I couldn’t tell you which of the stories is mine.  All I can read is the title on the title page, and “printed in Israel.”  Again, someone I don’t know, and in all likelihood, will never meet, decided he or she liked my story, thought it worthwhile to include, someone else (possibly) translated it, decided where it would work in the collection…took all those steps that are part of creating a book…and here it is, in my hands.

Thank you to so many people.  Writing is not quite the solitary work that it is believed to be…

ancient yelloweds…

After a year spent working in elementary education, I’ve returned to what feels like home, reading about theories and ideas and writing texts.  I’ve been imagining writing and literature course syllabi, and what texts might be useful to not-so-young writing students.

I’ve captured some notes from Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue, which is a solid book to re-visit, and from Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop (which has the best chapter on point of view).  Then I picked up my old–ancient–copy of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers.  What was I? about 18 when I ordered this from the Quality Paperback Book Club?

Since last September, I’ve had to don reading glasses.  For several months last fall, I’d find I had to have them some days, and other days, I could pull off reading without them.  Now I can’t, not if the book is close to me.  Today, I put on the glasses, and brought the book closer…and as I closed it, the pages fanned, and a particular scent wafted to me: old book smell.

When I was a child, most of what I read was old…old Grosset & Dunlap, most likely.  Nancy Drew, Dana Girls, Judy Bolton.  Ancient yellowed Trixie Belden.  And that old book smell was the best part of summer.

To think I’ve lived long enough to have a book, once new in my hands, acquire that smell.

Just to make sure, I smell it again.

Recycled Summer

Someone took the tent.

     It was a perfect tent.  Big.  Standing room for real people.  A couple of windows for air to blow through.  And the smell: real tent smell of musty canvas with the hot sun pouring through.  You can’t buy that smell.  You can’t manufacture it.  It comes with age and experience.  And now it’s gone.

     I found the tent on a clear Saturday morning, at a townhouse.  The woman selling it looked as if she’d never been on a camping trip in her life.  But she must have had a few secrets.  I bought the entire thing, every pole and peg accounted for, for $6.00, took it home, and set it up.

     That was back when we had only one son.  He thought the tent was the best thing, filled it with his toys, and spent the night in it.  And the night after that.  We had our annual end-of-summer bucket of KFC in it, cleaned it out before school started, and packed it away.

     Truth told, we’re not much of a camping family either, but at Lumbaum Lake, up near Merritt, where my grandmother met my grandfather, all of us—five by then—filled that tent.  It rained, it was gusty.  It was not the most pleasant night we’ve spent together.  But it was all about experience and age.

     Back up, in the yard, the tent continued to make shade on a shadeless day, and keep mosquitoes away by night.

     Fast forward to cleaning out the storeroom, and I realized it’s been a few years since anyone resurrected the tent in the yard.  Everyone’s growing up.  I found every pole, every peg, and carried it to the end of the driveway.  Taped up a sign: Free!  Complete!  And went back to the task of organizing the storeroom.

     The tent sat there for half a day.  It was there when I left to shop for groceries, there when I returned.  There when I brought out another bag of garbage.  The clouds gathered, and I wondered if I’d need to rescue it from the rain.

     I was hauling wood to the woodpile, and realized suddenly that it was no longer there.  Someone took the tent.  I thought of their first moment stepping into it—after the cursing of messing with the poles, the slipped hammer of pounding in the pegs—and how they’d breathe in the tent smell, and note the oranged sunlight, and I wished them memory-building in those canvas walls.  I wished them well.

     You can’t buy that smell.  You can only give it away.