27 October 2010

Inside the Book Tour: Be poor and happy. Be a librarian

Meeting people who love their work

My front yard, Bedlam Farm

It's wonderful for a writer to get into the world, and breathe in the threads of life. I began to look back and gather in what I have seen and heard, as I enter the last week. One of the ironies of the tour is that I have repeatedly found a group of Americans who love their work, work hard, are cheerful and empathetic and help countless people. They live modest and simple lives and unlike most Americans, they love what they do and seem to want little more than to keep doing it. They don't seek money or fame, and work in increasingly brutal conditions, assaulted by politicians, social and cultural and religous fanatics, angry budget cutters and fickle politicians.

Yet I have yet to meet a grumpy librarian, or a mean one. They don't even whine nearly as much as writers, and they have good reason.  The image of formidable women hissing "sssssh" is far out of date. I pushed Random House to let me go talk about my book at libraries, and I am grateful they agreed. I went to four libraries on the book tour, two of them hastily organized talks via Facebook.

What surprised me is that libraries were the most vital, energetic, busy and crowded places that I saw. Some bookstores seemed tired to me, battered and uncertain. Some seemed forward looking, creative and prosperous. But all of the libraries were vital and busy,  stuffed with people using computers, looking for work, in need of free books and audio tapes, or looking for a comfortable and welcoming place to be. I met librarians studying e-book software, downloading audio tapes, organizing literacy groups and dancing with children.

It was not what I expected. The librarians I talked to were very much in touch with real people, were open to change, and were braced for more battering by craven politicians and voters who have lost any sense of what a civilization costs.

Everywhere I went, librarians reported deep and continuing budget cuts in a country that saves banks and auto companies but cannibalizes libraries. We and our children will pay for that barrenness of soul and vision.

Going to libraries was powerful for me, like taking vitamins for the soul and mind. People there love books, tell and hear and see stories, celebrate what I do. If some of the bookstores seemed to yawn a bit -oh, another writer selling books – then the form of the conversation was alive in places like Bainbridge, Ohio, and S.Hadley, Mass.

On a book tour, the events can be rote, and very much taken for granted. That did not happen in a library. I never felt more appreciated, or invigorated by passionate questions from people who love stories. For a storyteller, that is as good as it gets.

I'm planning another tour for Rose, one I am organizing myself, a library book tour, and I've already got a bunch of invitations. I can't quite process them until after the book tour, but I can put together a pretty good Northeastern swing, and I bet I have great crowds and sell a lot of books to boot. And maybe focus some attention on this increasingly rare subculture that still love what they do. Like me.

Maria and the donkeys. What is happening? (I think)

Emotions, back and forth

The photographs of Maria and the donkeys seem to touch a nerve all over the country, as I've learned on book tour and elsewhere. Maria has her own life, her own identify as an artist, and I try not to photograph her too often. But I can't stop taking these photos,they are so powerful. People have been saying the donkeys are expressive, and offering their own theories about the emotion.

I've been saying all over the country that I believe women and animals are having a conversation,one that is rich and evolving. Lulu is not smiling, in my mind, or saying anything. She is exchanging emotions with Maria, which is, I believe how animals love. Animals like donkey's and dogs are extraordinary readers of human emotion – the donkeys are even more sensitive to this than the dogs, I think. And women tend to show more emotion than men, a generalization but largely true. Maria is a person with a lot of emotion, and they are close to the surface. If she is angry or sad or happy, you know it. Lulu sees this, and reacts to it. It is a palbable, almost visible exchange, a communication beyond language and without words. But it is showing up in the photos I think, and something special and beautiful to see. That's my theory.

I'll post a topic on Facebook for people to post theirs.

Last events. Framingham, Concord

Let me in. Lenore at dinnertime

Is there any creature on the earth happier or more focused than a Lab at dinnertime?

The book tour is in its last week. Bittersweet. I've loved the conversation, eager to get back to work. When I finish the grieving book, I have to figure out what I'm doing next and right now, I have no idea. My short story collection – "Dancing Dogs" is finished, and my first kid's book "Meet The Dogs of Bedlam Farm" is out in April. The grieving book, "Going Home: Finding Peace When Animals Die" is coming out next year, don't have a date yet.

The last two events of the "Rose In A Storm"  book tour are these: Thursday (tomorrow) 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Framingham, Mass.

Saturday, November 6, 8 a.m., I'm speaking at the Concord, Mass. Festival of Authors, with writers Gish Jen and Brunonia Barry.

There will be a talk, Q&A, signing. In April, I've accepted an invitation to be the guest speaker at the Woodstock Writers Festival in Woodstock, N.Y. But the Concord appearance – at the famous Concord Inn – is the end of the "Rolling Rose" book tour. And a wild ride it has been.

Guardian, Bedlam Farm

Frieda's job

Frieda's troubles and trials come mostly from the fact that she is a working dog – a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix – who never quite found her work. She has it now, she is the Guardian of Bedlam Farm. I appreciate her watching my back and watching over the farm. With Frieda around, your back is covered. And she has her role in life, which so many dogs need.

Expressions of love. A thousand words…

Worth a thousand words

Some photos are worth a thousand words.