Early Morning

Today I was up before the dawn, likely due to some suspicious skittering in the vents that I at first attributed to branches tapping at my window.  My phone lit up on my nightstand: it was my gentleman caller, texting to say that he had made it home.  In foggy delight that we were both somehow awake at 4:45, we chatted for a little bit.  I panicked about the shuffling–a mouse, undoubtedly–and attempted to discern, with moral support via text, whether or not the little creature was confined to the vents or diving in and out of second grade spelling tests under my bed.

I read for a while, then, still Michael Perry’s Truck.  After fifty pages of hunting tales and cab painting and descriptions that otherwise seemed not so far from what I know, having spent most summer weekends of my life in Wisconsin, I turned out the lamp.

My window lit a pale blue box against the dark, rodent-conquered room.  I heard the wind pick up, an inhale preceding the hollow sound of millions of leaves brushing against one another.  I could see the leaves move if I craned my neck, using the pillow for leverage.  Somehow, being able to see the leaves even as I heard them made me think that I could possibly get back to sleep, mouse or no mouse.  In the way we learn when we are very young, now that it was daytime, the demons had shrunk considerably.

There was a whine from the kitchen.  Ruby, perhaps hearing the ruffle of pages turning, had decided to begin the morning ritual of whimper, pace, gate rattle.  She’s very polite about it, even going so far as to adopt a look of, “Why, good morning!  Fancy you being awake at this time, too!  Shall we go for a romp outside, since we both happen to be up?”  I let her outside, pulling on a fleece as I followed.

She bolted for the weeds at the edge of our yard, preferring this morning to do her business in private.  I trudged up the driveway for the paper.  Ruby came running back, orange plastic “log” in mouth.  I tossed it for her a few times before she became distracted by the business of a neighborhood dog, deposited in a neat pile in the grass behind the garage.  She was only coaxed away by my promise of breakfast.

After the panicked realization that we were both locked out of a sleeping house at six a.m., and after some–thankfully brief–fumbling for spare key, we both settled down in the kitchen again.  Me with the thick bundle of paper, Ruby with a bowl full of kibble and another bowl of water which she sloshed into her food to create a textual masterpiece.

It’s six-thirty now.  The mouse has gone back to his nest of old clothes in a corner of the laundry room.  The sky has lightened enough to reveal another overcast, fifty-percent-chance-of-rain day.  Ruby has settled back onto her large pillow, waiting for me to quiet down so she can commence her mid-morning nap.  I think I’ll follow her example on that one; it’s much too early for me to be awake, anyway.

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Memorial Day Weekend

My family’s Memorial Day weekend, like most of our weekends once the ice is melted, was spent up at the boat.  “Up at the boat” for my entire life (quite literally: there are photos infant Holly asleep in a car seat wedged between fish coolers on the back deck) has meant the boat my family owns on Lake Superior.  We don’t have a cabin, we don’t have isolated acreage with four wheelers and an archery range, but we do have a boat that sleeps four plus one dog, and a vast expanse of lake to float her on.

Although there was a time when I hated the idea of leaving the “civilization” of cable TV and frequent showers in favor of fishing, exploring the Apostle Islands, and meeting the many characters who moonlight as avid boaters, I have since come around.

I even filleted two fish last weekend.  Of course, I refused to hold the head while slicing the torso, so my brave younger sister did that for me.  I never said I was Ahab.

Here’s last weekend, “up at the boat”:

Ruby pleading for attention during the ride down.  Also, as per usual, using anything within reach as a pillow.

Ruby pleading for attention during the drive down. Also, as per usual, using anything within reach as a pillow.

My breakfast view.

My breakfast view.

Reading material.  Let the Michael Perry obsession continue.  Oh how I aspire to write books like this someday.

Reading material. Let the Michael Perry obsession continue. Oh how I aspire to write books like this someday.

I call this one "Glassy Water with Downrigger."

I call this one “Glassy Water with Downrigger.”

After a fish took a lure and broke the line, Dad felt compelled to go down and do some untangling.  I got to drive.

After a fish took a lure and broke the line, Dad felt compelled to go down and do some untangling. I got to drive.

The person in possession of the wheel is also in charge of watching the lines.  When a pole dips and bends sporadically, there's a fish on.

The person in possession of the wheel is also in charge of watching the lines. When a pole dips and bends sporadically, there’s a fish on.

I also got to keep tabs on what was going on down below.

I kept tabs on what was going on down below.

Once my driving duties were over, I took a nap on the couch.  When I awoke, the wind had picked up significantly.

Once my driving duties were over, I took a nap on the couch. When I awoke, the wind had picked up significantly.

Our catch.  You can't see all of them, but we caught nine Coho salmon.  Enough to win us $35 in the marina fishing contest.

Our catch. You can’t see all of them, but we caught nine Coho salmon. Enough to win us $35 in the marina fishing contest.

Ruby is fond of giving the camera forlorn looks.  But believe me when I say that she gets more than her share of attention from all of us.

Ruby is fond of giving the camera forlorn looks. But believe me when I say that she gets more than her share of attention from all of us.

See?

See?

After a long day on the water, it was time to head back to the marina for the annual chili dump.  This is the most delicious bowl in the world.

After a long day on the water, we headed back to the marina for the annual chili dump. This is the most delicious bowl in the world.

What I’ll Read When I Have Time

So far the Marble Memo keeping is going well, thank you.  I only have a few pages filled, but I think it’ll take me a while to get used to thinking in terms of the notebook.  It took me a while to get used to thinking in terms of a blog.  You know, in days gone by, when I drove around the gas station three times because I forgot which side of the truck the tank was on, or when I slipped playing broomball and concussed myself, I would just think, “Wow, that’s unfortunate.”  But now, I think, “Wow, this’ll make for a great post.”

Eventually, beyond merely listening to people talk or observing something unique, I’ll learn to write down what I see and hear.

In other news, I have some richness in my bookshelf that I’d like to share with you.  As much as I’m dreading graduation because it means the end of college (yes, Dad, I went to the resume-writing workshop today.  And yes, I know what J-O-B spells), I’m also looking forward to reveling in delicious books every evening.  I’ve spent the last four years (well, really the last twenty-two, but the last four especially) amassing piles and piles of books that I haven’t had time to read yet.  Here are the ones I plan to devour first (and yes, I seem to associate books with eating…):

1. The White Forest, by Adam McOmber.  I met him!  I met him!  He was at the Literary Festival, and I had the honor of taking a workshop with him, and of introducing him later when he gave a reading.  I gave a rather creepy introduction, referencing last Spring, when he Google chatted with my fiction writing class.  People laughed, but honestly, it was creepy.  He came up to me afterward to say thank you, which was nice.  And he signed my book, which was awfully nice.  

2. Coop, by Michael Perry.  I swear I’m not deliberately plugging the Lit Fest, but Michael Perry was one of the authors last year.  I also took a workshop with him, but didn’t get a book signed because I was too cheap to pay full price, and opted for Amazon instead.

3. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.  A friend gave it to me for my birthday, with a nice inscription citing a George W. Bush quote.  Can’t beat that.

4. One the Road, by Jack Kerouac.  Also a birthday present.  Boy, people know me well.

5. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.  NOT BECAUSE OF THE MOVIE.  I’m way more hipster than that.  No, seriously.  I’ve been meaning to read it for years.

6. Three Cups of Tea, by David Oliver Relin.  Various family members have been telling me about this book for quite some time now.  Also, I met David sophomore year, when he spoke on campus … I am so sorry about all this name dropping, you guys.  But it makes sense, right?  That I’d want to read books written by people I’ve actually had contact with? 

7. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott.  For the zillionth time.  But now I own the Penguin Threads edition, which is just about the prettiest book edition I’ve ever seen.

Rachel Sumpter Penguin Threads Little Women cover

Marble Memo

I think I’ve missed my window to blog about UMM’s third annual Prairie Gate Literary Festival, held on campus last weekend.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit to my short interest span in this department, but I find when I don’t blog about something right away, I lose the desire to blog about it, even if I know it should be blogged about and deserves to be.  This event really, really deserves it.

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If you can hear a common inhalation of breath after a poem is read,

If you can wear a real, plastic name tag that identifies you as somebody important,

If you can chat with a published poet and blogger while attempting to gnaw spiced beef off a stick with as much grace as you can muster,

If you spend a whole weekend steeped in the literary,

If you’re invited to your college’s librarian’s house for beers to celebrate a successful weekend,

Then you should probably blog about it afterward.  At least a little bit.

Here’s my little bit:

I had the chance to take a 75 minute workshop with Patti See.  At one point, she pulled a little notebook out of her bag.  It was black-and-white marbled, cloth spined, and filled with writing.  She explained that she’s been carrying around notebooks like this for years.  In them, she scribbles ideas for future stories, whether they be in the form of quotes, names, imagery, etc.

Later that night, I sat on a couch, clutching a beer and trying not to giggle at the fact that my professors were doing the same.  (The whole “teacher must sleep at school” illusion never goes away, does it)?  I chatted with the winner of the festival’s short story contest, a middle-aged man who had attended UMM once, and now drives a UPS truck and freelance writes on the side.  He had been in Patti’s workshop as well, and noted casually that the kind of notebook she had used to be called a Marble Memo.

Being someone who couldn’t ignore advice from established writers if she tried, I googled “Marble Memo” when I got home.  It took a while, but eventually, buried in Amazon, I found them.  Little marbled notebooks, just the right size for a pocket.  It cost $3 for two of them, but because Amazon didn’t think it made sense to ship something so cheap, I was forced to buy Michael Perry’s Coop and the film Blue Valentine just to get the notebooks.  $30 total.  Don’t laugh.

They came today: the notebooks (one red, one green), the book, the movie.  I’ve been meaning to start a writer’s notebook for years, but this is the first time I’ve encountered one that is small enough and convenient enough to be habit-forming.  I hope someday I’ll have a drawer full of them.


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Notes I Took

The Michael Perry workshop was this morning.

I think I was worried that he would have us do some writing, and then read our work aloud.    Which seems silly in retrospect, especially since I’m not exactly shy about sharing the things I write (hence this blog).  But blogging to strangers (who I’ll likely never meet) and writing to peers in a Fiction Writing class is different than writing to famous authors.

Even if they’re Michael Perry and utterly approachable.  (See below).

Here are some of the notes I jotted down during the workshop.  I didn’t take meticulous notes, as I kept getting caught up in the stories he was telling, but this is what I managed:

1.  Learn about writer’s rights: copyrights, etc.

2.  Self-publishing requires promotion: sell books at craft shows, events, etc.  Take down names of buyers, send postcards to those people when you publish something else.

3.  While in the editing process: make a little booklet out of one of your chapters.  Staple pages together, and carry it with you to mark up while you’re in a deer stand, in a waiting room, etc.

4.  Key to creative non-fiction: get your facts straight!

5.  The only power you have over your reader is trust.

6.  Choose words for their taste over their meaning (Dylan Thomas).

7.  Read what you’re trying to write.

8.  Work at writing every day.

Support the U Day

It seems that every story I tell begins with me waking up obnoxiously early.  Since I guess I’ve only heavily hinted at it up until now, I should say straight out that I am not a morning person.  Far from it.  You would know this if you’ve ever talked to me before nine a.m; I may have been incoherent, or I may have been mean.  What I’ve come to learn, however, is that although they start sluggishly, and usually with little natural light, early mornings often lead to fantastic days.

Today was Support the U Day.  A three-hour bus ride during which I managed to pour people’s OJ without sloshing it all over their jeans, teach the Minnesota Rouser to everyone (while possibly singing/chanting out of tune; ask the guy who stood in front of me), and accomplish nothing homework-related.

Then we arrived, and despite attempts to be everlastingly blasé, my mouth hung open just a tad.  I’ll never fail to be impressed by the state capitol building.  It’s marble and murals and an echoing rotunda and an inspiring portrait of Jesse Ventura in the basement:

In the standing-around-and-gaping stage before the rally began, (Support the U Day, I must explain, is when students of the University of Minnesota bus down to the Capitol to talk to their legislators about the importance of funding the U), President Kaler (of the U of MN) came up and shook my hand.  Well, we all know how I get around famous people.  I stuttered something about us being from Morris, while wondering if my handshake had been limp.  Everyone hates a limp handshake.

We pause for a moment in order for the writer to mention that she is currently blogging in her apartment stairwell (for lack of a better place to go), and that the RA just came by on his rounds.  Your friendly blogger scared him half to death, which was fairly entertaining, especially paired with the fact that it’s awfully difficult to explain yourself when you and Mac are sitting in a stairwell on a Friday night.

And back to the story…

Note: there is no snow in Minnesota currently. This picture (along with the one of Jesse) was taken last year, when I brought my camera to Support the U Day (and remembered to use it).

The rally was kicked off (as all rallies should be) with speeches.  We heard from President Kaler, from Governor Dayton, and from various student leaders.  Then Morris folks, at the count of four, began clapping out the Rouser.  We ended up singing alone (despite, I must add, the number of other U of MN students in the vicinity), but it was fun and it got everyone revved for some lobbying.

Unfortunately, and unlike last year, students were not able to meet with their legislators (from their home districts) individually.  Instead, because both the senate and the house were in session, we had to send notes into the forums, asking certain legislators to come out and chat with us.  Most of them were kind enough to do so, and we huddled around them in vaulted hallways, listening to them defend their votes with regards to the U.  They all said, of course, that the University is important, and that we (the students) are the future.     Yes, yes.  But then why are you cutting University funding down to 20% of our budget request?  How do you expect us to live up to the high standards we’ve established-technological innovation, top-notch research, sustainability, global outlook, academic excellence, etc.-if you won’t provide us with the means to maintain them?  How do you expect our generation, and the next, to lead the state someday, when we consistently feel that the state doesn’t value our education?  What do you have to say to the first generation college student who works three part-time jobs while at school, and will still graduate with $30,000 worth of student loans?

Those are some of the questions we had, and will continue to have, as the state continues to hole up in the Capitol and ignore the needs of its most valuable resource.

The bus ride home was quieter; most people snuggled down into their jackets and slept.  A few Disney singalongs floated up from the back of the bus, but I was too far gone to think about joining in.  So far gone, in fact, that when I finally awoke, I had a spot of drool on my sweater.  Attractive.

Tomorrow, I am happy to report, has the makings of being just as powerful of a day.  At 10:30 I’m going to a creative non-fiction writing workshop led by Michael Perry (http://sneezingcow.com/).  Having read an excerpt from “Coop” in class, and having attended his reading/concert earlier this evening, I can safely say that I will be learning a lot in this workshop.  And that I want to read all of his books, and will do so the minute Amazon delivers them to me.