Writing, Retreating, Mothering

I’m writing again. And it feels wonderful after such a long struggle. It’s as if I’ve been scanning the AM dial for a year, everything coming in crunchy and fuzzed. Now, I’m over on FM, and the signal is suddenly clear. All I have to do is sit down, tune in, and listen. The words are there. Thank goodness. The words are there. I only have to listen.

I make time as I can, and I am fiercely protective of that time. When I am writing, I am a bear in her den, growling and glaring at any intrusion. Sometimes, after a particularly powerful and deep hibernatory session, transition to daylight is fraught. Listening to the muse and listening to one’s child are entirely different exercises. With the muse, I am selfish and gluttonous, greedily gobbling every word sent my way. With my daughter, I must unhinge my heart and empty all its contents into her ravenous and radiant soul. I am slowly learning how to transition, how to build both a body of work and the mind of a child. I am learning to inhabit writerhood and motherhood simultaneously. The balance is delicate, but I am glad for it.

I’m also happy to announce that our first Mumuration Community women’s retreat is scheduled for this spring. It’s called “Shadowboxing: Exploring Our Shadow to Embrace the Other,” and it will be held near Moab, Utah, in April. There will be elements of meditation, writing, yoga, hiking, and connecting within the sacred circle we create together. My co-leader and I have been dear friends for fifteen years now, sharing the ups and downs of lives lived big. We are a powerful team. I’m excited for all that lies ahead in this venture. This is the first of many retreats to come.

I write, I plan retreats, and I raise a daughter who is watching all the while.It’s an interesting balance, this motherhood thing. How do we bring a full heart and abundant energy to our children while also nurturing our own passions and identities? How do we raise children who are proud of their strong, independent mothers while also feeling like they have access to all their mothers have to offer? It’s forever push-pull. Somedays I fail. But the struggle, I think, is so, so worth it.

Writing brings me joy, and that is extra joy I am able to bring to my daughter.

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The Only Book Worth Writing

It has been a season of activity. I have a few articles that have been placed in recent months (view “Being and Belonging in the West” and “Recover, Redeem, Rejoice, Repeat” here; the third piece is available in a new anthology titled Red Rock Testimony). I have two further articles in the works. Our arborist business is going full tilt, and I’ve been grateful to return to work with my husband on occasion. We’re a good team. There is the garden to tend, the chickens to feed, and our daughter races through it all with an ever-expanding mind and heart. We’ve managed to mix in a few family wilderness adventures, too, including a river trip and an alpine backpacking weekend. I’m also planning a series of women’s retreats – collaborating with a friend – slated to begin this summer. More information will be forthcoming on this site and at Murmuration.

Summer is a season of abundance, and that is especially true this year.

But what about the Mike Miksche book? Where is that amidst all this activity and bounty?

That’s a good question.

JFK 1963

JFK sketch by Mike Miksche

For a year now, I’ve had the most amazing of research assistants. I can say in all honesty that she knows the material better than I do. Her generosity has irrevocably altered the focus of this project – and the focus upon it in my life. I am forever grateful. Thanks to her efforts, I’ve been more passionate about Miksche’s life than ever before, more immersed in his existence, more enthralled with his path. Late this winter, I knew it was time finally weave all the details together and lend form to a life long ago faded from memory.

I went away on a writing retreat. I quickly knocked out 10,000 words. I was on top of the world. Then I got stuck. And then, even worse, I realized that all that I’d written was writing down the wrong track. My compass bearing was off, and I’d wandered off into a dark wood.

So, I started over. And I started over again. Each approach was not quite the right one. I’m still writing my way to the right one. Every day. Again and again.

Wind-up Man and Woman

Artwork by Mike Miksche

I share this as an act of vulnerability. I share this as a testament to what really goes into a book. Yes, there are the words, there is the creativity, the vision, the passion. But behind the poetry, there is often soul-searching. There is often gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, flailing of thought and heart. There is often quiet despair. The solitary stillness of doubt.

I have great doubts about my ability to write this book.

Who am I to believe that I can write about what it is to be gay, to have gone to war, to struggle with alcoholism and an unruly mind? To write about Manhattan, life at midcentury, the advertising and art worlds? Who am I to believe that I can come to know – not just understand, but know – any of this? How can I possibly inhabit this man’s world? How can I speak of it convincingly and, more importantly, truthfully?

Yet, I continue to come back to the words of the great thinker and writer Hélène Cixous: “The only book that is worth writing is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write. The book that hurts us (we who are writing), that makes us tremble, redden, bleed.”

That is this book. Hands down.

I am still in the dark wood, but I am also still so alive for this story, willing to walk as many miles as it takes to find the the path – the words – to telling Mike Miksche’s story. Not a day goes by without this project being in my awareness, without my great-uncle filling my thoughts, without my heart straining for the kind of knowing necessary to truly speak his life.

Amidst doubt, the research continues. I am grateful to so many for their help: Gayle Rubin, Catherine Johnson-Roehr, Scott Bartlett, John Connolly, Jakob VanLammeren, Robert Mainardi and Trent Dunphy, Noah Barth, Michael Schreiber, and many others. And big, big thanks to Jessica Campbell for her role as Researcher Extraordinaire.

However, I’m interested in more stories, more glimpses into Mike Miksche’s life. Did you know him? Do you have stories about him? Artwork by him? Did he touch your life in any way? If so, please contact me through this website.

This story will be told. I will tremble. I will bleed. But it will happen.

 

“Bird.”

mike miksche birdsMy great-uncle has touched yet another generation. This week, our daughter keyed in on the Miksche print that graces our cabin wall. She pointed. And she said her first word: “Bird.”

Bird. This from the girl whose first sounds were that of pygmy owls and Canada geese. In the hospital, not crying, but bird calls.

Bird. This print has been a part of nearly all of my days. It hung in my parents’ home throughout my childhood. My own copy has moved with me from apartment to apartment, to trailer, to cabin.

Bird. This, this subject of three of the first articles I ever had published: raven, owl, swallow.

Other birds out the window have since captured Sylvie’s interest: black-capped chickadees in the sunflowers, Stellar’s jays stealing the dog food, turkey families weaving through the trees. But it was Mike Miksche’s drawing that first spoke to her, eliciting the first word.

Long after she fledges, this image – these birds – will decorate Sylvie’s memories of home.

It Bears (Belatedly) Noting…

Blow Sand in His Soul: Bates Wilson, the Heart of Canyonlands, my debut book, outsold Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire at Back of Beyond Bookstore in 2014. <insert the sound of my own horn tooting>

This is personally meaningful for many reasons. For one, Abbey has topped the best-seller list for 24 years running. Blow Sand is the first book to knock Desert Solitaire off the podium. Wow. Secondly, I worked at Back of Beyond a decade ago. I ordered books, stocked shelves, and dreamed of having an ISBN number of my own someday. Now I do. It’s 9780991504008…for anyone that cares. And thirdly, Ed Abbey had an enormous influence on my life trajectory. Desert Solitaire and Monkeywrench Gang taught me to fiercely love the redrock and to believe in the power of words – my words – to instigate, educate, illuminate.

Here’s the announcement from the bookstore.

Back of Beyond Bookstore

Back in the Saddle

Though the feats are minor, they are noteworthy in this new life of mine: I’ve had two articles published in the past couple months, and I’ve returned to work on my next book project. Some days, the Aerosmith song “Back in the Saddle” loops through my head…though I am embarrassed to admit that particular track so readily queues up in my mental jukebox.

The Reader, July 9, 2015.

The Reader, July 9, 2015.

The Reader, May 28, 2015

The Reader, May 28, 2015

My new outlet for articles is The Reader, Sandpoint’s alternative weekly.

(Find my latest work by clicking on the cover images.) I enjoy musing about and connecting with my community by contributing to local publications. Writing for the Moab’s newspaper, The Times-Independent, was some of the most rewarding work I did during my days in the desert. It’s nice to engage with one’s readership – and actually talk about the topic at hand – at the grocery store, the post office, a potluck. Why write except for these moments of communion?

The past month has also gifted me with an angel in the form of a fellow research geek who has inspired me to return to work on the story of my great-uncle, Mike Miksche. She is just as enthralled with his life as I am and is perhaps even more devoted to unearthing every detail. It’s a delight to have someone with whom to converse and compare notes daily. I feel motivated to make the most of nap times now. I feel more like me.

Much gratitude to my new partner in crime. May I do right by her enthusiasm and assistance. And heartfelt thanks to my daughter who has allowed me to reengage with the written word. May my work inspire her to pursue her own passions someday.

Sylvan Wylde Quintano: A New Story Unfolds

SylvieShe arrived on a December night, and our world was forever changed. We’re now in the midst of a new love story, a new life story. I’m learning more about matters of the heart than I ever could have imagined; my fierce love for my daughter is pointing out my weaknesses and developing new strengths in their place. Pregnancy, birth, motherhood…every aspect of it, every moment, is transformative.

Though my heart is filled to overflowing, there are days when it feels like the rest of me – the writer, the arborist, the athlete, the one who meditates, the one who reads, the one who enjoys a good beer or two after a long day’s work – has been swept away in the current. I joke that my new job title is Input & Output Coordinator for Sylvan Quintano Enterprises. Time to update the resume.

During this “longest shortest time,” writing feels a million miles away. But I have faith that I’ll Mom and Daughter on the Clark Forkfind my way back. I have faith that this precious time with Sylvie is the most important thing. And a better writer – a better woman – will be born of it.

I haven’t completely let go of my work. I have a speaking engagement and book signing in Utah in May. Sylvie will join me. I write letters to my daughter – to be opened when she’s older – as nap time allows. A friend has a story for me to work on for High Country News. And my great-uncle is never far from my mind. His story continues to haunt me, and I know his path will make it onto paper. It must. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to him.

For now, though, the days are dominated by diaper changes and breastfeeding, holding and hugging my little girl. This is the most important work of my life. Everything else can wait just a little longer for the words still to be told.

Book Tour & Baby

Baby bones up on Bates Wilson before flying to Salt Lake for interviews.

Baby bones up on Bates Wilson before flying to Salt Lake for interviews.

It’s a time of abundance in this life held by a little log cabin in the woods. Our work world is full (check out Sand Creek Tree Service for a glimpse at the busier side of our life), the garden has peaked, our firewood is nearly in, we have a freezer full of berries and a cupboard full of jam. Plus, we’re now embarking on the greatest journey of our lives: parenthood. The little one is due December 12, and by the feel of things, he or she is excited to have more room to flail about come winter. We can’t wait to finally feel the grasp of fingers that for now keep pushing against the barrier of my belly.

One hundred books signed and ready for the Utah Symphony's major donors.

One hundred books signed and ready for the Utah Symphony’s major donors.

In the midst of all this bounty and wonder, I’m also enjoying my first book tour, this in support of Blow Sand in His Soul: Bates Wilson, the Heart of Canyonlands. August found me in Salt Lake City and Moab, engaging in interviews with radio personalities and newspapers, signing books at the national parks, attending meetings, giving talks and sharing readings. It was a whirlwind and a joy, coming with a sense of affirmation and exhilaration. As I flew out of Moab on my journey home from Round One, my exhaustion was held at bay by an upwelling of gratitude for the place and the community that made this whole thing possible. My world would not be what it is without the people and places of the Colorado Plateau.

Signing books at the Island in the Sky Visitors Center.

Signing books at the Island in the Sky Visitors Center.

Round Two finds me back in Utah in September to help celebrate Canyonlands National Park’s 50th birthday. The park was signed into being September 12, 1964, thanks in large part to the efforts of Bates Wilson. As a means of honoring the man, the park, and this momentous occasion, I will be offering a reading and discussion at the Grand County Public Library, presenting to area high school classes, signing books and speaking at a Canyonlands film festival event, and giving a talk at the big birthday bash in the Needles (along with renowned author, historian and conservationist Douglas Brinkley). It is another whirlwind in the making. As I sit at my small desk (a repurposed wooden pallet with white pine legs) in the corner of our loft (my old office is now the baby’s room), it is hard to imagine being out in the world in such a public way again. But it will happen, and it will again be a wonder.

An ad for Andy's event at Back of Beyond Books.

An ad for Andy’s event at Back of Beyond Books.

My thanks to the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks for making this book – and the subsequent tour – possible. Also, gratitude to Andy at Back of Beyond Books for his help every step of the way and for throwing a helluva book party (replete with surprise refreshments). I look forward to eventually introducing our little one to all the people that made my time in the Desert Southwest so special.

Reading at Back of Beyond Books. There was no doubt about the attendance of Bates' friend, Mr. Beam.

Reading at Back of Beyond Books. There was no doubt about the attendance of Bates’ friend, Mr. Beam.

Blow Sand in His Soul

Blow Sand in His SoulIt’s official: My first book has been released! Blow Sand in His Soul: Bates Wilson, the Heart of Canyonlands is now on bookshelves and online. The 170-page biography is richly illustrated with photographs, correspondence, news clippings and more, giving the reader both a visual and descriptive window onto the life of an extraordinary man – a man who forever changed the course of Canyon Country’s future.

Full distribution will occur by mid-summer, with most outlets in the Four Corners region (including independent booksellers in Moab, Durango, Salt Lake City, Grand Junction and more). For those not currently within walking distance of a regional retailer, the book is available online through both Canyonlands Natural History Association and Back of Beyond Books. Click on either of the links or the book image to direct yourself to a purchase page.

Here’s a little about the book, from the back cover:

Bates Wilson, photo courtesy the National Park Service.

Bates Wilson, photo courtesy the National Park Service.

Bates Wilson was a force of nature, like a river. Or a flash flood. And the course he carved through the desert landscape is still apparent today. Though he never received a high school diploma, Bates became one of the most respected men in the National Park Service. Canyonlands National Park today stands as a testament to his singular love of place, his ability to transcend political partisanship, and his damned good dutch oven cooking. Anyone who ate with Bates in Canyon Country was made a believer in its worth and beauty. Anyone who ate with Bates became his friend.

He was admired by a certain young ranger named Edward Abbey, and developed a life-long friendship with Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. This is the man responsible for the enduring wildness of the Needles, Maze and Island in the Sky. This cowboy-cum-diplomat is the Father of Canyonlands.

Winter: A Season of Time and Space

As the thermometer’s red line submits to gravity’s pull, as the sun arcs surreptitiously behind the southern horizon of trees, and as snow silently erases the earth’s hues and contours, I go inward. Into the cabin, into my head. Toward the story that needs to be told.

IMG_20121215_115713Winter is my season of time and space – to research, to write, to contemplate and connect. These are the magic months when creativity comes to the fore. When projects prevail that have nothing to do with paychecks. Our seasonal employment of tree trimming and firefighting have slowed to a standstill. There is nothing to do, nowhere to be. The garden will wait. So, too, the bees. Everything pauses while I follow a story that, in this season, matters for everything.

I am researching the life of my great-uncle, Mike Miksche. It is a massive undertaking. The words to tell his tale are a long way off. For now, I am nothing more than a student to his work and world. So much of his experience is foreign to me: being male, of a different sexual orientation, a different era, going to war, living in New York, feeling the onset of a despairing madness. Who am I to write this story? I ask myself. But then, who else? It is what I feel compelled to do.

I’ve posted a bit on my Stories in Progress page, and I hope to share more, here, as I learn it during these slow months of silence and space.

Our North Idaho winters are a blessing. I hope to do right by this gift of time.

Finally…

Camping Dec67

Photo courtesy the Wilson Family

After two-and-a-half months of biting my fingernails, waiting for feedback, imagining the worst, I received word from the book committee yesterday that I can finally begin penning the Bates Wilson story.

I was commissioned nearly a year ago to write a book about Bates Wilson, “Father of Canyonlands,” for the Bates Wilson Legacy Fund. The biography will be published in 2014. In the midst of our move and marriage, I completed the outline for the story, turned it in, and then began waiting. And worrying. But yesterday’s news included no changes to the outline, just a simple, “The consesus was that we want you to move forward with all your skills and abilities!!” Fantastic.

So, now begins the fun part: writing. Finally.