Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Personal Narrative of Reading, Leaving and Returning

I took an unintentional break from reading for more years than I can say. I used to read all of the time, from before I could read words. My mother would take me to the public library and we'd spend hours (it felt) in the children's section picking out books, stacking them up, and checking them out on her library card. I read my way through my childhood and I don't remember the habit slowing in my pre-teen or teenage years. I spent a summer in my closet reading the whole Anne of Green Gables series. Another time, I returned again and again to the Stephen King shelf, pulling out one thick book, going home, then returning with it read and my hands ready to pull another from the shelf.

Libraries were a wonderful place. Classrooms, not so much. I never did well with being assigned books to read, as my reading experience had always been one of a personal discovery--or what felt like one, even though my mother had been an elementary school teacher and taken children's literature classes and knew how to find the better of the books, though I wouldn't realize this until I took children's literature courses myself in college and realized that all the books I loved and remembered were also on the lists of must-read and Caldecott books.

Reading programs, though, made me angry and ill, and probably have something to do with the drought of not-reading I recently experienced. Reading programs, BookIt! in my elementary school days, did two terrible things to my approach to reading:

1. They made reaching the end of a book = Good Girl, Good Student.
2. They harnessed my competitive side, which is one of my worst sides, to one of my best life-experiences: reading. And so reading became no longer about the experience of reading but about reading-more-than-so-and-so. Or reading-enough-to-get-a-star-and-pizza.
3. Probably someone else has already explored the stupidity of linking reading to the reward of material objects or unhealthy food. That, too.
4. Has anyone written about how simplifying a book into a barrier to a goal may also simplify the reading experience for the child? Maybe keeping an eye on the prize isn't wise. Maybe it's hard to read, really read, when one eye is on the page and the other is on the wall chart tracking everyone's progress.
5. Surely, there's an essay to click about the ridiculous situation that is tying reading and the expansion of knowledge to consumer-capitalism. A "free" pizza in a buying economy . . .

So, after BookIt! was discarded, a new awful program, perhaps a worse program, started running at my school: Accelerated Reader. Maybe you've heard of it. I hope not.

Accelerated Reader did something on the high side of awful. For one, it turned every book into a reading level, and these reading levels were marked on every book. Some teachers used these levels to prevent children from reading "outside" of their level; some teachers used the levels as "goals." Always the levels felt like teacher-induced-peer-pressure.

It seems, in my memory, that the levels were marked on the outside of the books so anyone who caught you reading would know exactly what level you were reading at. Adults don't seem as aware of how children organize themselves into hierarchies, but they do. They do it through the clothes they wear (class markers), the amount of Disney movies they know about (and Disney materials they wear/play with), capabilities on the playground, and any number of markers in the classroom. There is also the constant pressure to grow up and not be a baby. My son is four and already using that language. He's not a baby. He's a big boy. He'll be a man. And I remember cringing when the language was used against him by toddlers who would call him a baby, or still do since he's shorter than most children his age. I'm not a baby, he'll say when he is incorrectly identified. And now it's happening when someone calls him a little boy. Mama, I am not a little boy. I'm a big boy. Of course, this is followed by discussions about what all of this means, but my point is that this same kind of hierarchy-making happened with the classroom reading program, Accelerated Reader.

The books not in the Accelerated Reader program, i.e., not in the testing depository, were shunned.  Each level of book was allotted a certain number of points, it seems like; so, when a student finished reading a book, to earn those points, he or she took a computerized test about the book--a multiple-choice, computerized test in which there were wrong answers and right answers, but the wrong answers and right answers required a specific way of understanding the book. I'm sure this was all sold to the school from the angle of computer-literacy. If it still exists, I'm sure it's also now sold on the idea of saving paper, as though before such multiple-choice reading tests teachers were giving multiple-choice reading tests. I don't think they were.
Not the good ones.
Anyway.

More than once, I had to argue my case about an answer that the test marked wrong. And I won my cases, but I was always a good reader, a confident student, and someone who was deeply wronged by being called wrong by a computer in regards to a question that allowed a more faceted answer than A. B. or C. allowed.

I cringe at the thought of all the students who were told their answers were wrong and just assumed the computer was right, and that they had misunderstood the book. More than cringe. It makes me feel nauseous.

I survived Accelerated Reader, and went on to study literature in college and again in graduate school. So, I read, sure, but not in the way that felt like reading. I had been warned by a fellow from my town who had gone the college-literature route that the way you are taught to read in college ultimately changes the reading experience, and you can't return to how you read previously. And it was true. And I resented it for what seems like an unnecessarily long time--this inability to read without noticing the stylistic devices, the use of symbolism, the historical questions, the lack of gender awareness, and so forth. I'd been taught how to see more of the world in a book than I'd been able to see before. And I didn't like it because it was uncomfortable, I guess. Maybe it felt less pure, as though being able to follow only a story, only what is directly printed on the page, was more authentic than analyzing. I wanted the cigar to be only a cigar, to hear a joke and it be just a joke and not an indication of a problematic culture.

Ah, the good old days. I guess. Something like that.

But I still did not read all the books that were assigned to me. Refusing to read was my way of rebelling, maybe. Or an attempt to assert some kind of control over a life that felt happening regardless of my decisions. I'd done my best to fail high school, had come close, and was saved and carried into college as fast as my mother and high-school counselor could carry me. My dad had died. I was making a good amount of money as a waitress. I had a boyfriend. I had, basically, the necessary parts of a life that could continue on, day after day, in the small town where I'd been born. To my mind, I was doing all right without attending school.

I wasn't.

In a bigger city, in a bigger school, I would have not graduated high school, and life would have kept going because that's what life does, no matter what happens, it keeps going until it doesn't. Even in my small town, plenty of us did not graduate and life went on, taking the form of whatever versions are available.

I should probably talk to my son about the inevitability of life as much as the inevitability of death. Both seem as damnable in their own ways.

My mother had been a teacher. She had an understanding of the system that many parents don't have--that is, she had a confidence to talk to people, to enter the building, to speak on her daughter's behalf. She knew the language of education and educators. All while she's a new widow. When people asked what they could do to help, which is what most everyone says after someone dies, I doubt any of them imagined that one way to help was to tell my mother she was brave, to assure her of her decisions, to drive her to the high school to talk to the principal about my excessive absences, to drive the both of us to the doctor to discuss my depression of the moment and as a family inheritance.

Or maybe people did help her that way. I was a teenager and oblivious to the world outside of my head, and that was a limited world. Thank you, Mother. Thank you, community. I'm sorry I had to hate you in order to leave. It's the only way I knew to save myself.

I don't remember reading much then. I discovered Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar while turning the wire rack of my high-school library. I checked it out. I read it. That was important. Later, my English teacher told me of my life then, that I'd been missing from class often, and she remembers the day I came back.

Thank you, Mrs. Pierce.
Thank you, Miss Thomas.

Reading in graduate school was difficult. One part was reading the stories that my classmates were writing, as I was in an MFA program, and much of that means "workshop," which is the situation of reading a classmate's story and then discussing it as a class. The same is done to the story you've written. Some students thrive in this kind of situation. Some people thrive in parties, in crowded clubs, and find god in the rush of the subway. I did not, unfortunately. This was probably a large strike against reading or my desire to read because the new voices that tried to choir around the voice of analysis I'd learned in college weren't so nice. Well, often they didn't speak at all. It would be the turn for discussion around my story, and it would often be a silent discussion as though the professor had suddenly decided we would have silent reading time.

Which is awkward.

The other part of my graduate school experience was becoming an instructor, and much of that is not reading full-length books but reading non-fiction essays that are relatively short and manageable for a classroom of writing students to discuss, consider, and then write responses to. They are, probably, the effect of students raised on BookIt! and Accelerated Reader. Acceptably diverse, exceedingly readable, clear in the point and easily complicated. I'd never been a non-fiction reader, much less a reader of essays, but that's what I became for the next thirteen years. During this time, the internet helped my new non-fiction habit by providing the world's newspapers in my hand with just a scroll and a click. And I've been clicking and clicking. Clicking and clicking.

I wrote a book. I clicked and clicked. I wrote another. I taught.

Much of teaching writing is reading and preparing for class and then trying a different approach the next semester/quarter, and so that means new essays, more reading. Shifts in assignments. Writing new assignments. Discarding this set of readings, searching for more readings. And then, of course, the reading of student papers. Lots of student papers.

What are you reading?
Student papers.

That's the recurring joke in the halls of English departments. Followed by the laugh, the shrug, the yearning that means oh, to be alone in a library again with so many books--but this is good, too, just different.

After over a decade of teaching, I stopped. Some other day I'll address my life as an adjunct--the love of teaching coupled with the rage of position, and the resulting humiliation, shame, and powerlessness, not to mention financial struggle and the powerlessness that entails.

Reading had not, after all, led to security. In fact, my love for reading, my life of reading, my college training to be a reader had resulted in a life that was less secure than had I stayed in my rural town and continued waitressing.

But everyone discovers, eventually, that utopia is utopia. Well, not everyone, I guess. Becoming tenured allows some forgetfulness. Living in a neighborhood where teenagers don't crowd the corner and leave their milk cartons scattered across the sidewalk allows some forgetfulness. Washing dishes in water from the faucet not infused with lead allows some forgetfulness. Setting a cemetery on the outskirts of a community allows forgetfulness. Raising a son instead of a daughter encourages a kind of forgetfulness until I forcibly remember my son will become a man, a white man with blue eyes and blond hair in a country that already winks at him and pats him and endears him far more than were he a girl, were he dressed in raggedy sweatpants and a mismatching shirt too short in the sleeves, were he not white.

When I began writing every morning, I didn't start reading, too. I continued my habit of reading one or two books a summer, which began in college and suited the life of a teacher. One summer was Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Another summer was Winter Light by Faulkner. Another summer Lolita by Nabokov and Kerouac's On the Road. Hemingway's Garden of Eden.

At some point, I discovered Ingmar Bergman and read his films like books, but faster, of course. Then I read more films like books and convinced myself I was doing the same thing. I wasn't. But I was analyzing.

But analyzing is not reading.

All the while, I continued to click and read articles, then scroll for more as though reading a thousand short articles is the same as reading one long book.

It's not.

But there's always more articles, titles to click, to like, to share, to comment on, to be disgusted by, to endanger one's belief in love and truth. There's also more books on a long shelf, but I'd changed the purpose of shelves and so I forget that, too. As a kid, my bookcase was full of books I'd read. At some point, it became a bookcase full of books I want to read. Some have sat there for nearly twenty years since I first found them in a box outside of a professor's door, marked free. More have leaned against each other for five and ten years. I became a want-to-reader. It's sort of a funny thing to be. I would visit the bookstore, follow the steps of choosing a book to read as I had my whole life, then buy it, and take it home. But instead of reading it, I'd put it on the shelf. If there are ghost writers, perhaps my future had become the ghost reader for my present.

All the while, I clicked and read articles and essays. Long ones, short ones. One article led to another, and I'd read that. In all those years, I found one excellent essayist: Eli Saslow. Read this essay-article by him: A Survivor's Life

This is not to say there aren't more excellent essayists. Clearly, I was not reading deliberately. By my method of running a dial up and down radio stations, I'd landed on one excellent song. Of course.

In all the essay-reading for my college students, I found an excellent writer: Georgina Kleege but I'd learned about her by wandering, some Summer day, in the San Marcos, TX public library and finding her book, Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller on the bookshelf. Very few of the essays in the college anthologies moved me in any palatable way. They were essays that served a different purpose, I guess, which seems silly to say now, since the purpose was to give excellent essays to writing students. Or should have been. I need to think about this more.

If I'd done any self-reflection in regards to my reading discoveries, maybe I would have changed my reading habit sooner. But I also had a way of rationalizing why I didn't read more, and this was to say I read only dead authors. There are so many, after all. Really, I don't like the discomfort of reading new people. It may be connected to my social anxiety. My therapist is dubious.

I heard a story on the radio once about song preferences and age. It was told by a man who must have been in his thirties or forties and found the music his twenty-something colleague listened to horrendous and ear-piercing. Whereas, the man continued to listen to the same songs he'd always loved as a teenager.

Comfort zones.

Of course, other things were happening in my life that made reading more difficult: a miscarriage, the disintegration of a marriage, a living baby, a new relationship, moving from one house to another, another three classes--midterms, another round of 90 student essays, each four-eight pages long. Breastfeeding, busyness, teaching, not teaching, writing, not-writing, needing-to-write, wishing-to-write, being a mother, becoming a runner. I was not supine on a beach with a hand empty of book, but I did treat reading like impossible exercise. I just didn't have the time. Busy, busy, busy. So busy. Man, I respect everyone who is reading, but I myself just can't do it. Maybe one day. Maybe when I get this-whatever figured out. Love to exercise, but you know. Time. Routine. Life.

When I stopped smoking, I had oodles of time. Oodles and oodles of time. It's disarming how much time I now gained. So, I later used that for running but not reading. And I'm glad I run now. Live long. Be well. Cheers to running.

There was also something romantic about being a writer who doesn't read. In retrospect, it was akin to the romance I imagined around smoking cigarettes like Rita Hayworth. Turns out, Rita Hayworth would have been beautiful without smoking cigarettes. Turns out, her beauty bled onto the cigarettes, and the smoke in her hair hurt her throat. Turns out, reading a book is necessary to a living, curious brain--even when the book isn't the best book there ever was.

Luckily, some romances end.

In September, I lost my non-reading habit. Two major things happened:
1. I volunteered to become a co-leader of a local book club.
2. I attended the Montana Book Festival.

The first book I read out of the drought was Sherman Alexie's new memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. Then I facilitated a discussion about it, and had a wonderful time. I loved reading again--having thoughts while reading, jotting notes, thinking about the book when I wasn't actively reading the book, scooping up time when I could to read. And to be around readers again. Turns out, my enjoyment of the book itself didn't hinge on the writing but on the experience of reading. Just as my enjoyment of books when I was a kid didn't hinge on the quiz or pizza but on the experience of thinking, learning, questioning, imagining, remembering, wondering, and all the things that occur while words transform their meanings into my brain.

Then, at the end of September, I attended the Montana Book Festival. I was to be on a panel of writers discussing the unhappy ending. To prepare to sit with these strangers and the anxiety, I decided to order their books. This, I thought, would make the terrifying experience less so because then I'd know what to say to them. So, that's what I did. Turns out, it takes longer to read a book in reality, but I still read one in full and started another, which I just finished this weekend.

Turns out, you can come back to a book and pick up where you left it and keep going.

I had a wonderful experience reading Polly Buckingham's The Expense of a View. It's a collection of stories that are quiet and beautiful and tragic in all the ways I thought no one was writing but wanted people to write.

Then I read Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho between reading Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories by Donna Miscolta, which I just finished this weekend. It's a beautiful and rich examination of a family originally from Mexico that immigrates in the 1930s, and follows the lives of the children and grandchildren into the present-day. I'm so glad to know this family, to have lived with them now these past several months. Lupita, I'm sorry your grandchildren set their children on your lap like you were an artifact. Rosa, I'm sorry what that man did to you. You tried to be beautiful when nothing else was. Thank you, Donna Miscolta for writing this book.

Last night, the book club met to discuss Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is an amazing book, a book to its highest degree, wrought and well wrought. Yesterday, I read his essay, Donald Trump is the First White President, which I'd scrolled past when it came out, but was too long to study, and so I'd printed it to read for a later that luckily came.

A most wonderful series of things has begun to happen because of reading long works again. One is I'm having the excitement again of wanting to shove books into people's hands, dreams of buying copies of Between the World and Me and just handing them to every person I pass. Read about the white woman who pushes his son on an escalator. Read about the yard at Howard University. I wept here, on page 117, when he's talking about his wife visiting Paris, France, and how it'd never been in his imagination of his life that he would one day see Paris. And she's showing him pictures of the doors, all the huge, colorful doors, that she took. And he writes "But now your mother had gone and done it, and when she returned her eyes were dancing with all the possibilities out there, not just for her but for you and for me. It is quite ridiculous how the feeling spread. It was like falling in love--the things that get you are so small" . . . [emphasis mine]. And I knew what he meant. And I wept because I, too, had grown up in a place with a limited narrative of what my life would be like, and I too had somehow found myself across the ocean later in life, and the doors of Ireland, how I just kept taking pictures of them. The little things. Yes. How our imaginations can be unflung. How our lives can be made larger and more beautiful and uglier and more hopeful and lovely and harder than we ever could know. But that's not quite that, either. But I don't have to explain it because I understand and feel it all when I read that passage. The act of reading knows what I mean.

And my memories are increasing. Just as memories rise when I'm writing, they rise when I'm reading. By not reading, I'd conditioned myself to relive a specific set of memories that rose from my particular writing. But now, with reading, I'm having memories I haven't for a long time, and part of that includes rethinking them, understanding them from where I am today, what I'm reading right now. So, I'm changing, too, and that's exciting. My plant has so many leaves to turn to the light. And there I'd been leaving them in a room with one tiny window far too high for all of them to reach.

And book clubs. I've never been in a book club. But I love this book club. I so enjoy discussing a book with other people, knowing that while I'm reading, they are reading, too, that we're doing this together, somehow. I like how the discussion is not the same experience as reading the book, and that I like it--I'd always imagined that the discussion would ruin the book, somehow, because I've never been a communal reader. Or, better, never understood my role as a reader within a larger community.

So, that's what I wanted to tell you. I'm reading again. And I joined a second book club, so I know what book I'll be reading this weekend. Next month, my book club is all coming with books we've chosen on our own, read, and then we're going to discuss them and then give them to each other.

Reading.

Oh, dear world where I grew up and learned and then left. I'm back, Reading. And I'm so glad.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ghosts, Grief, and Halloween: Remembering Childhood and My Sister

Me, age one
I woke up this Halloween morning excited for my son to put on his Halloween costume. He's Willy Wonka this year, and the past three days I've spent crouched over purple velvet and the sewing machine. He woke up with the same excitement and quickly ate his cereal so he could turn into the candy man. But I've been followed all morning with a deep, bittersweet feeling.

At first, I thought it was because of the disjunction between his experience and my own. Of working so hard on the costume, and then to watch him walk into preschool to the bubbly buzz of his friends asking who he was, and his proud reply. I waved goodbye and drove back into the non-costumed world. But, I think it's maybe only a little of that I was feeling. Mostly, I'm missing my sister.

When mourning is spoken of, it's the holidays, the anniversaries, the birthdays, that are agreed to be the hardest of the other 364 hard days. And Halloween is the holiday I miss my sister most on. Or think of her most on. Or, it's the same. Thinking and missing. One leading to the other.

My sister and me, then my sister a year earlier
On Friday, I learned last-minute about a Halloween carnival my son would enjoy attending, but because I wasn't done with his official Halloween costume, he and I bicycled to the store to put together a ghost costume. I knew how to put it together because of the ghost costume my sister created for my first trick-or-treat.

Halloween, Autumn--the whole month of October--are inextricably tied to my childhood and my sister, who was sixteen years older than me. Our father enjoyed Halloween, too, and had a special delight of the grotesque and the surprise of fear. I remember wandering up an aisle in a sort of warehouse store in our town, and seeing him up ahead, and then he turned, wearing a gorilla-looking mask. I was terrified. He was full of laughter. The result was the tragedy of a child not ready for that kind of fright--a kind of unintentional hazing into the season of masks and transformation.

Ghost me, first Trick-or-Treat
One of my brothers, too, gets a kick out of Halloween, the comic-grossness of it. A rubber severed hand, a plastic rat with red eyes, a candy bowl with an automated scream or hand. Give him the quirky strange, a bowl of candy eyeballs, and he's happier than happy. What was his best childhood Halloween? In Houston, they'd take garbage bags and fill them up with treats. What was the worst? The year my family decided to eat his candy without telling him (I was not born yet). When the party store opened in the city, he took me and we wandered the aisles, ogling the masks lining the wall, more expensive and bloody and realistic than we'd ever seen.

But my sister knew how to mix fear and comfort--how to delight in the season and share that in a way that did not terrify but that allowed enjoyment of the terrifying. I guess it's the Spirit of Halloween she had.

She would come over on Halloween, late afternoon, every year, as reliable as love and sunset. I would sit on the dining room chair, and on the table she would spread out the face paint, perfectly oval and in its wonderful plastic and cardboard packaging. Eye shadow. The little sponge applicators. Brushes. Her tools laid out, she would crouch in front of me. An unwanted dishtowel would be pushed inside the collar of my shirt.

And I would be told to hold still. Hold still. The feeling of the cold cream of the paint against my warm skin. My sister's careful expression. The heel of her hand against my jaw as she drew me into her imagination of who I would be that night.

When she was done, there would be the mirror reveal. This part I do not remember in the same way, though I know I was pleased, always.

Witch me (green face, red socks!)
I remember when I was a witch and she sprayed my hair orange, and I had to lean forward in the car the whole night so that I wouldn't get the orange on the upholstery.

I remember her taking me to her parents-in-law's house. The warmth of the furnace. I was a ghost. Everyone was delighted. I remember the spiderweb stockings. How lovely they were.

I remember the dark nights, the road and just her headlights as she drove us miles into the country so we could trick-or-treat her grandmother-in-law.

And then collecting the candy and hurrying back to her little car, which was always small, always unreliable, always one of my favorite places to be, and then she'd drive us to our next house. My elementary-school music teacher's cabin, which was at the end of a winding gravel lane, the headlights of my sister's car pressing against the tall, cold trees, and the effigy of Tom Dooley that my teacher would hang from one of the trees because she taught us the song every year.

With Yoda
Then, after, or before, I can't remember the order of our geography, we would drive into town and she would park, and we would walk to the few houses in a row that had their porch-lights on. The spookiest houses, with cobwebs and false men sitting on their porch swing and scary howling music, I would attempt to visit but I mostly remember avoiding them.

I can't remember whether she dressed up, too.

She also took my friends. One Halloween, my friend Amy who was a punk rocker with a star drawn around one eye. Another year, my best friend Ashley who was a devil in red felt. I became the same devil another year. Or maybe that's what I remember, visiting Ashley's house but in that costume.

Our mother enjoyed Halloween, too, and did sew several of my costumes as I would hover around the sewing machine, watching or trying on a pinned sleeve or standing on a chair as she moved around me, pinning the hem high enough so I wouldn't trip. I was Sleeping Beauty two years in a row. A French Maid another year with a wonderfully ruffly skirt and starched cap. But before this, I was horrified to be a witch who wore sweatpants due to the reality of cold, Midwestern Halloweens.
My son as a ghost

At the end of the evening, my sister and I returned home, sometimes to the last of the trick-or-treaters running across the yard, having collected goods from our mother and a bit of fright from our father who lurked in a mask or set up the wooden robot at the bottom of the stairs, lighted eyes on. The screaming doormat would be turned off, the candy counted on the living room carpet, and my sister would say goodbye before driving the dark road to her own home.

Then I was nine, and she had become a mother, and from that point on, my memories fade of our Halloweens. Seems like we all went to the pumpkin patch one year, and maybe she had both children by then. A wagon was involved, but it was my niece, or nephew, or both who sat in it. I continued to trick-or-treat, long past the age cut-off, to the point that Ashley and I were driving in my own small, unreliable car.

Boo
Once my sister had her own children, her spirit of Halloween didn't change, but her own little family moved to a different town, and her Halloweens came to me second-hand. She threw Halloween parties in the back yard. Her children became cowboys, vampires, and  more, but I have no memories for this.

Last Friday evening, my son climbed into his chair by the kitchen table, and I carefully drew circles of white paint on his soft cheeks, his forehead, down the smooth cliffs of his nose. He was delighted to see the ghost in the mirror and concerned that ghosts didn't wear tennis shoes. He held his hands under the tulle veil and ran, all in white.

I am surprised how much of my life is experiencing my past from my present. What did my sister think of when she crouched in front of me all those years?

Love, I think.

Excitement.

Happy Halloween, dear sister.

And to you, and you, and you.





Monday, October 16, 2017

The Whole World at Once has Crossed the Ocean: New Review

Writer, editor, and teacher, John Richard Kenny lives over in Dublin, Ireland and has published a review of The Whole World at Once (Vandalia Press/West Virginia UP 2017). And what a review. Glad I woke up today:

"This is an astonishing collection, beautifully written, heartrending, and deeply affecting."

Read the full review here:
https://johnrichardkenny.com/2017/10/12/book-review-the-whole-world-at-once-by-erin-pringle/


Friday, October 13, 2017

Wares and Words at Spokane Zine Fest 2017

Sewing the cover design for digging
I am so very excited to take part in the Spokane Zine Fest this year. Spokane Zine Fest is a day-long event in which people creating zines, printing with small presses, and selling chapbooks and other handmade word art gather up and share their work with the community, and much of the work, if not all, is for sale. So, basically, the most awesome event ever.

As long as I've been making stories, I've been making little books to put them in--so, I mean, let's go back all the way to age three? Four? I know I have a copy of the book somewhere, as my mother just sent it the other day or month. Therefore, you can imagine my delight!--my absolute delight!--when I learned of the festival and then learned I could have a table at it. 

Delightful!

While I will have the more traditionally printed copies of my books for sale, The Floating Order, The Whole World at Once, and the two story chapbooks from The Head and the Hand and Awst----that didn't seem quite enough. My rumbling brain rumbled. And as it rumbled, I began to imagine handmade ways to take part. And then I began making a mental list of supplies. And yesterday, I started printing and cutting and pressing the pedal of the sewing-machine.


Now, I'm happy to reveal some of the results that I've made, and will be for sale at my table. 

1. A Mourning Story 
This is a newly written piece made especially for the Zine Fest. It hasn't been published. I've printed it on transparent vellum and quilted that to the image of a crazy quilt that's housed in the Indianapolis Museum of Art and from 1885. So, the story, the image, the sisters in the story, and the writer are Midwestern. I really like how this turned out. 

Close-up of one quilted corner of A Mourning Story

Close-up of a quilted corner of another quilted
version of A Mourning Story
2. Digging
Digging is one of my favorite stories, and definitely one of my best read-aloud stories. I wrote this in San Marcos, Texas, originally published it with Lake Effect, and included it in my first story collection, The Floating Order (Two Ravens Press 2009). The history of the story nearly contains the history of my writing career. The story is fairy tale set within a war zone, in which only two children remain alive.

Covers for the story "digging" before tying loose ends
First page of the story "digging"

3. Why Jimmy
The story received second-place in the Austin Chronicle Story Contest, years ago. This is the other story that I read aloud when I'm asked to do so because of the narrator's captivating and energetic voice. The story also appears in The Floating Order. It follows a child's recollections of how she and her cousin Jimmy came to live with their grandparents, and how it happened that her cousin melted to the roof of the house.


Cover of the story Why Jimmy
First page of Why Jimmy; pages are stitched into the cover 





4. Trolls
This is one of my lost stories, in that while it was published (Whistling Shade 2007), I didn't include it in The Floating Order, and just left it to the wind, and the wind and time took care of tending it until now. This seems like a good opportunity to bring its life back to awareness. One day, a soldier appears at the narrator's house, as he is being pursued by trolls.
Production line

Cover of trolls

First page of Trolls, book complete and story stitched into cover


In sleepless and grand conclusion, I look forward to meeting everyone tomorrow and the experience of participating in the festival. (My own table! My stitchery!) Come by for a visit and to purchase my wares and words for your favorite people, including yourself.
three chapbooks: digging, trolls, and why jimmy
made by erin pringle
Measurements:
Digging - 4x6ish
Why Jimmy - 5x7ish
Trolls - 4x6ish




Event Details
Spokane Zine Fest 2017
at The Bartlett (228 West Sprague, Spokane, WA)
11 AM - 5 PM
Saturday, October 14
Free and open to the public: you and you and you and you, too





Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grief as Fractured Prism: New Interview with Michael Noll at Read to Write Stories

My broken stained glass (CC)

Read to Write Stories is a twice-weekly blog that provides writing exercises and interviews with contemporary writers. It is the virtual living room where page-storytellers gather to discuss what they're up to, why, and the craft behind the words on the page. And then everyone leaves with a new writing exercise to ensure that the tradition of printed storytelling continues.

This week, I'm super lucky to be the writer in the living room with Michael Noll.

The story under discussion is "How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble," which is the first story in The Whole World at Once. Finalist for a Kore Short Fiction Award and a Pushcart nominee, the story was originally published in minnesota review, then as a chapbook by The Head & the Hand Press. It follows a sister's disappearance and the sister who is left.

From interview:
Erin: All these stories are written in the world of death, the mourning of it, the attempt to stop it, the happening of it, and the grief following it. Each death is different in how it’s mourned, which I didn’t know, but now I do, and so as I would try to show grief, how it works. But one story wasn’t enough to sing grief or end mine. 

Read to Write Stories will soon be available as a print book, with new interviews and exercises for the curious writer (and writing student). If you enjoyed the interview and exercise, please let Michael knowhttps://www.facebook.com/Read-to-Write-Stories-435606919843085/ 




Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I Love My Local Letterpress Artist: TypeBee Printshop

Thanks to Breanna White and crew over at TypeBee Printshop for these wonderful business cards. They are made on an old, working letter-press in Post Falls, Idaho, situated in the warehouse behind DOMA Coffee. In fact, if you love DOMA coffee, and bought it in a bag, guess who printed the bag. TypeBee Printshop.



I'd originally learned about Breanna and TypeBee from an article about her that ran in Spokane's weekly, The Inlander. As soon as I read it, I wanted to meet her because she went to school in Illinois, was an artist, interesting words came out of her mouth, and luckily, she was nearby. It took about a year before I had a good reason to email her, beyond a fan letter, which I couldn't write out of the awkward. But once I met her, I did! And then I got to tour her shop, see the wedding invitations, business holiday giveaways, broadsides, calendars, posters, prints, and more that she makes.

Black Lives Matter letters laid out
for pressing for Spokane's MLK parade. The
type is from MLK's era.
Letterpress cabinet where the different type is stored. 

Close up of the blocks that she has used for different projects.


Breanna White running the press

Breanna White running the press



Breanna also has a desk press that she uses for demonstrations and workshops that she teaches at the local library and around town, and so she showed my son Henry how to work the small press.


     

It was a wonderful day, and now, time has passed, and I have these really elegant business cards, a great story to go with them, and better than all of that, a connection to another artist making her way in the world, within the Inland Northwest.

Learn more about Breanna White and TypeBee here:




And if you have a project in mind, 
I know she'll be awesome to work with.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Meet Me in Missoula

Fact and Fiction Bookstore, Missoula, MT (link to origin site for picture)



Northwestern writers will soon leave their own cities and towns to pour into Missoula, Montana to read, meet, talk, learn, and generally celebrate all things literary at The Montana Book Festival. I will be one of those writers.

The festival runs Wednesday, September 27th through October 1st and will host a number of interesting panels, readings, and activities that writers, readers, and community members can participate in. Rather than taking place in one main area, the festival will be popping up in local bookstores, art galleries, bars, event centers, hotels, and more. Sort of like a flash mob everyone expects.


Aside from other places, chairs, or quiet corners, here's where I'll most definitely be:

Saturday (9/30/17) 
12:30 PM 
Panel: "Embracing the Unhappy Ending: Why Sad Stories Matter"
Panelists: Donna Miscolta, Wendy Oleson, Erin Pringle, and Melissa Stephenson
Where? Fact and Fiction Bookstore220 N. Higgins Avenue

2:00 PM
Reading: "A View of The Whole World at Once"
Polly Buckingham and I will read from our new story collections.
Where? Fact and Fiction Bookstore, 220 N. Higgins Avenue


I hope to see you there, or to run into you at any of the other cool events. I'll be the writer chasing alongside her child who's riding his balance bike down the sidewalk. To view the daily festival schedule, including evening events (!), visit the festival website or go directly to the schedule here.

Montana Book Festival 2017: website



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fuse Spokane Book Club: Barefoot Dogs in October

Please join the Fuse Spokane Book Club this October to discuss Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Stark and beautiful, Barefoot Dogs is collection of stories that follows a wealthy Mexican family forced into exile after the patriarch is kidnapped. 

Details:
Oct. 11, 2017
6 PM-8 PM
Spokane Library (downtown), floor 2, Level-Up Classroom
Free and open to the public

Book Details:


More information about the book itself: https://booksarenotaluxury.com/tag/barefoot-dogs/

About the group: The Fuse Book Club is an arm of the Immigration and Inclusion Action Team; we meet the second Wednesday of every month to discuss books by writers of color. Fuse Washington is the largest progressive organization in the state. Learn more about Fuse Washington.



Please join us!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In My Defense: Waiting Years to Visit Riverside State Park

Swinging Bridge at Riverside State Park
photograph by Erin Pringle, CC license

Never an avid trail walker, I do remember walking as a child with my aunt and uncle, grandmother and mother in Wesselman Park, in Evansville, Indiana where my mother had grown up and we visited once or twice a year. Then there was Fox Ridge, which is any easy drive from Casey, IL, where I grew up, and so my mother and I went once a year, or every other. My sister liked walking trails, and took her family when she thought of it, and she was good at thinking of it.

The time I spent with wet leaves, unidentifiable wildflowers, and leaf-covered skies, came less from nature parks and more from bicycling a mile down the rural road to Ruley's, which, may not be how it's spelled but was how it was pronounced.

Rue-lee's.

Roolie was the sound of the name of the old man who once owned the tree-covered property, or maybe his was just the house closest to the woods where my brothers took me to sled then roam, and later find old vases, part of cups--the bits of people's ghosts they left behind or purposely dumped. I never have known. Which is probably why broken things in the ground tend to appear in most every story I write.

Riverside Wildflowers
photograph by Erin Pringle, CC license
But even for my limited adventures, I didn't roam that much. I was not a Tom Sawyer, not an Anne of Green Gables. Though I did read both and loved Anne. Not so much her love of nature but her love of high romance and her wish for the glamorous-never that wasn't her life. Now that I think of it, most of the books I read, and loved, were set in nature. Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge to Terabithia, My Side of the Mountain, and all the books by Mary Downing Hahn. .

Though this tendency toward reading rural settings may not be a proclivity so much as impossibility of escaping as a child reader since there has long been a symbolic connection between the child and nature, and a tendency to romanticize one as symbolic of the other. Isn't Rousseau's Emile a much healthier and better boy the closer his knees are to crawling through the field? And the enchantment of Kate Greenaway's children seems not fully possible without their flowers and green grass. Dorothy and Alice both leave countrysides to more crowded places, and so those places are more nightmarish than ideal. A warning, then, of leaving nature. Or perhaps, like myself, I read a vast number of children's books by writers with social anxiety, and so of course the books are set in nature. They were simply set where people were not.

River view from Riverside State Park
Erin Pringle, CC license
So, maybe I did spend a great deal of time in nature, it was just the imagined sort, and so, compelling in a way the cornfields and country roads around me were not. Sometimes, I would be passenger to my father's long country drives. He carried a gun and camera everywhere he went--moreso the camera than the gun, but he shot with both, and while I assume he took more pleasure from the photograph than the death, I can't say. He collected as many cameras as he did guns. But when he needed peace and calm, it was to the country roads he went. He'd grown up rural, too. More rural than me. And while I'm not his age yet, the age he was when I was a child, I am closer than I have ever been, and have begun feeling, more deeply, the urges to find a country road and follow it. And a raw belief that I'll feel better once I do, the more free, the more myself, the more in the world I will feel, instead of hovering outside of it, pushed there, perhaps, by the awareness of others.

The thing about living far from the place where one grew up is feeling somewhat lost all the time. Not in a pervasive way, but it hovers, that feeling. Whereas my faraway hometown and the entire area of it is in my bones. I know every road to home from every direction, and as far as two and three towns away, if not further. The way animals know where their dens are, or at least the way they seem to. The longing for that knowing hovers in me, too. Perhaps both feelings will fade as time moves on. I somehow doubt it. Maybe I don't wish for it, either, the fading.

But I began all of this to share with you that I finally visited Riverside Park after nearly a decade of living in the Northwest and a meager ten minutes from it, and I assume you would wonder why it took me so long. Because I've never been much of a trail taker. Because I've never known how to see the beauty of nature as more interesting than people. Because I lived smack in the middle of it instead of in an urban place that might send me running to a trail faster. Because I didn't fit in my hometown, and so lots of people assumed I'd be happier in a much different place, and much different meant a city. And so I thought I'd be happy in a city, too, and still have a tendency to avoid nature rather run to it--after years of blaming it for a life that didn't seem to suit me, even though it was mine.

That is to say, I wish I had visited years ago. I fell so in love with the place and so immediately that the only way I can figure out why it took me so long is to tell you this story.

It felt good to be there. I liked the rocks in my path and under the path and along the path. I liked the sound of the rocks against the river. The ducks floating by and quacking as though grumbling. The Vs of geese honking from here to there. The groups of women on horses following ribbons tied here and there to tree branches. The lone woman on a horse, now and then. The great weight of horses. The strangers I encountered now and then who said Good Morning with their mouths and eyes. Watching my son exclaim over the bridge, the spiderwebs on the bridge, the stairs leading up from the bridge to the trails. His eagerness to stop every few steps to examine another rock and decide whether it would be a good rock to pocket, as he has a fondness for pocketing rocks. My partner moving steadily beside, ahead, or behind me, her face against the light, her love for the river there, though we didn't speak of it. The silence. The stones under the water. The pebbles that looked like the pebbles I grew up with. Round and gray, soft. The smell of nature that I remember. The new smell that is a Northwestern one, of so many pine needles on top of so many more.

Also, I took a camera, and I think I will again.


River, Riverside State Park
Erin Pringle, CC license



Sunlight in Riverside State Park
Erin Pringle, CC license


My Face
Nature selfie, CC license