Last night’s reading with Percival Everett, Brynn Saito and Maxine Hong Kingston at City Lights was packed, and it was a rumble of beauty. Percival starting off with protest pieces, Maxine reading about old San Francisco and then lovely Brynn reading from her launch book, her Keatsian poems unfolding like a fan. We went with Maxine to dinner at the Stinky Rose and some had the 40 clove garlic chicken, and we drank wine and then I flew To Chicago where the plane stumbled down through thick clouds into this cold thick air and then the sales meeting where I am heading shortly. With enough coffee, you forget sleep. I climbed the sky, I found the morning. I need to write and sleep and work out. What am I doing?
They said, “summer camp,” when I was a child. What they meant was, “You will be camping all summer.” I grew up in a cult in Southern New Hampshire run by a charismatic English evangelist who instructed us to be preppers, to raise our own food, to climb mountains, to hike forests, to speak in tongues. We lived in dorms where we slept on the floor, and did a lot of things normal American kids do at summer camp. We learned archery. We rode horses, climbed mountains canoed rivers in British Colombia. We killed chickens, gutted, plucked and cleaned them. We fried up chicken livers with a side of green beans.
We were frontier kids, dirty all summer. We picked apples and made cider. We rode horses, mostly bareback. We did a lot of field work. When I hear people talk about the joy of gardening, I laugh. When you are actually raising all your own food, it’s a lot of seeding, weeding, and then picking. We gardened in New Hampshire and went on mountain climbing expeditions. We climbed all the White Mountains. I climbed Mount Washington in my bare feet. On the way up, we ate lemon and honey. Our cult leader had been told by God that honey is important because it is mentioned many times in the Bible. It’s also mentioned many times by Winnie the Pooh, but that didn’t seem to have as much weight.
In British Columbia, we lived in long hogans and camped. Eighty kids in two buses drove across Canada, boarded the ferries and crossed to Vancouver Island. Along the way, we were given small Ziploc bags of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips. We were hungry. We saved the chocolate till last. We rolled it around in our fingers; it melted in the sun. There, we washed all our own clothes on washboards, we learned survival skills. We caught salmon in the Georgia Straits and cooked them in fires we made on the shore.
When I tell people about the blood, mud, hiking fifty miles at thirteen with an eighty pound backpack in Keds, being bucked off a horse, winding a shirt around my head until it stopped bleeding, when I tell people, they say, how did you manage? We climbed trees and slid down them until the insides of our legs were raw. Nobody said don’t do that. People ask, how did you survive? How did you leave?
The story of summer camp is that all that hiking and canoeing, all that riding, all that time picking apples and berries, making cider and carrot juice, all that danger and wild, all of it made me know I could do anything. That’s the coin toss of life. You toss your kid into camp; it feels like you’re severing the umbilical cord. It feels unbearable, like you’ve thrown your kid into the dark, but you haven’t. You have thrown your kid forward into the future, their future. A future in which they will love you for letting them grow up and create that cocoon around themselves that we need as adults.
Americans send their kids to summer camps to learn to act for themselves. To learn to be able to wake up bored, lonely, or scared, and to solve those problems. When our kids are young, they turn to us for everything, and that has to end sometime. Summer camp is a step in the direction of independence. Our children don’t necessarily need to ride horses or shoot arrows or climb trees. But we want them to become adults who can act on the world, have agency in their own lives.
My childhood was unnecessarily extreme, but as a parent, my husband and I sent our kids to summer camp. We took them camping. We taught them to raise vegetables and chickens and swim, but also to ride horses, ski, and ice skate which are completely unnecessary skills in So Cal. We climbed Mt. Whitney. In summer camp, our kids learned how to create their own world. The skills of community building helped my daughter when she came out and moved to San Francisco. She made a new identity in a new world in a new city. My son graduated from high school and went to Nepal to work in an orphanage when he was nineteen. He’s been travelling the world since, supporting himself as he backpacks through Australia, New Zealand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Europe. He wrote to me this morning that he’s going to cycle at least part of the way from India to Bangladesh. When I think of him out there, biking around East Asia, I want to say to parents, “Send your kids to summer camp.”
We have an aviary, and you can hear the birds arguing about when it’s time to push the babies out of the nest. Finally they do, and the birds climb down from the nest, and then they do what they were born to do, they start flying. Don’t you want to see your kids fly?
Mark gave me the birthday present I wanted. All of Richard Bausch’s books which our friend Jon Peede will agree will take a lot of time to read and even longer to think about, but now that I have them all, off I go to the races. Peace is one of his books that literally knocks my socks off. His language is the original language the stars spoke to each other before the moon and the sun got involved.
Ren Faire yesterday was good and tiring. Turkey drumsticks. Cider/beer.
Huge balls floating in pools with one kid in each one, tumbling and their parents cheering. Each child alone yet able to see the other children. Some with their phones, taking pictures as they turned over. The parents taking pictures too. An ideal 21st century kid activity.
Jason went from LAX to Mapplethorpe to our house to sushi. Today he is visiting Don Bachardy.
Today I am teaching and then Book Soup reading which everyone should come to because it will be fantastic. All three of these poets are dangerously sweeping the cosmos for big ideas.
This week—San Francisco, Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara. I like Virgin Airlines. At SFO, I have a favorite Kombucha place. We will get away this weekend and walk by the water. Isn’t there still water in all the stories?
The sky is blue. The sun is still rising. There is still water. There is water that moves and water that’s still. Both are good places to be.
The purple bougainvillea is climbing the tree and then cascading down, its purple petals washing the sky, light flaming through them. The playhouse is –now that the painting is completed–green and orange, nestling cottage like between the trees. The tea garden and the herb garden smell lemony and sweet. The oranges are all over the garden now. Blood oranges.
Some people will never forgive you. Breathe.
The blood oranges make a good mimosa, the juice exploding from them, orange blood everywhere.
Some people will always need to punish. Breathe.
The Empress tree has huge leaves like hands. Through those hands, the oranges glow like liquid gold.
You can only say, “This was my intention.” You cannot speak to the intention of others.
The blood oranges are underfoot.
After you at least partially forgive yourself, you go on putting one foot in front of the other.
Still not quite over the jet lag. I sleep thickly and dream wildly. Of falling. Of flying very awkwardly.
But flying still. The purple petals pile around the blood oranges. I am not alone. I have someone to watch over me.
The mistake is to think you should have lots of friends. A human connection with someone you trust, threads of trust through the heart doesn’t come easily if you have a complicated heart. When you have a friend, you sit down and have tea or vodka or wine and you share stories. Stories are the fabric of a friendship.
In Virginia, I was first learning friendships as a semi adult. I sat down with some kids at a park and we ate pickles and potato chips. We were in the park, lying down eventually looking at the clouds, and we found animals in the sky. That was the beginning. Pickles, potato chips and animal clouds are a very good beginning.
I am glad to be home, the chicks are talking all the time, our birthdays are this month. We used to ski in January, now it’s all sky and petals happening. The birds are nesting and during the windstorm last weekend, our cat slept on the roof like Jesus on the boat.
What happened when you came home?
From London? On Friday? The baby chicks came.
Tobi and I went to hear Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvasov sing at the Broad Stage; we were carried on music.
Saturday: We painted the playhouse green and orange. I had a haircut.
Mark and I went to dinner with the Bonpanes and had cake.
Sunday: We had birthday cake for lunch. We went to Disney Hall to hear Alexander’s Feast.
This week—work, reading on Wednesday, dinner with Ron Carlson Thursday, Magic Castle Friday.
Amid the chaos and work, the readings and books, the sweeping up piles of pink petals from the patio, we are finding that we can build ourselves a cathedral of the soul.
In movies, they often say, Only one man can solve this problem. It’s not one woman. It’s one man. That’s when they call Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, or Clint Eastwood. Those men are the only man that can solve certain global problems. One man seems pretty limiting. It could be a woman. Amazing things do happen. We started this press twenty-one years ago. We are small but growing. At the London Book Fair, you realize how many publishers there are globally and how small you are. Like a star in the Milky Way Galaxy. But Red Hen Press is still a star. Glowing in the spring sky.
London is energetic. I like the feel of the air. It hasn’t started raining although they said it would. Maybe I brought California. It’s lively here, and Karen and Teri were fantastic. We went out for Indian food tonight with Raina. We got drinks at the hotel where Eliot courted his second wife, the Russel Hotel.
Past Kensington Palace and the tulip gardens. Past the statue of Queen Victoria. Past the lilies of the valley and the swans; the English doves which are so much bigger than the American ones, then down the street past shops and flower sellers, little cafes and fruit shops. Past the English schoolboys hitting each other in the street and the English schoolgirls pretending not to care. After breakfast of poached eggs and steamed tomatoes watching the others with their beans and sausage. The full English breakfast is a bit much for me. And then I here I am and Jeffrey Archer is talking about the debut of his book Cain and Abel on the Johnny Carson show, and I’m at the book fair and off to the races.