Monday, June 23, 2014

Come with me

It's not that I've forgotten about this conversation, it's that I wasn't sure what to do with it.  I started this blog when my mind was full of the Tibetan plains and chiru and endangered species.

I'm still interested in endangered species and those who work to save such creatures, but I'm also interested in the food revolution that seems to be taking place in our country, and how it shows up in urban farms and schoolyard gardens.

And I'm interested in issues about writing and the writing life.  So it has seemed that a blog called  "Chiru Journal" might be misleading to you, and it's feeling limiting to me. I have been meeting some wonderful non-fiction writers in the past year and hope to share some interviews with them.  I also want to have some conversations about writing fiction, building a world that calls to readers.  And I hope to think about how to nourish the writer in us when we are not writing.

I hope you'll jump on over Writing Around, my new blog and join me there for a stop on "My Writing Process" Blog Tour.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is there a book...

Last Sunday's New York Times "By the Book" column featured and interview with Sherman Alexie.

The answer that most interests me today is the one to the following question: What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
“The Basketball Diaries,” by Jim Carroll. My dad gave it to me for my 15th birthday. He thought it was only about basketball. But it’s a book about heroin addiction, Catholic guilt, teenage sex, soul sickness and basketball. This book, above all others, is the reason I write.

The comment that struck me was, "This book, above all others, is the reason I write."  Made me wonder, made me form a question for myself is there a book that is the reason that I write?

And I think, not one book, but a stack of books, the stack that I read with Sarah and Justin almost every day. We did not have a huge stack, but we looked forward every day to our time with Curious George, Bartholomew Cubbins, The Cow Who Fell in the Canal, or Pierre, who only would say I don't care. Those times made me want to write a story that could be part of someone's good times.

There are other books that keep me writing--the classic Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney always makes me want to write about a character who is so real that she/he will travel with readers for their entire lives. A newer book My Father's Village by Claire Nivola makes me want to look more closely at my own life for the real stories that are there. And No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson--at the top of my to-read list--I expect will  reminds me that I can tell those life stories however they demand to be told, as history or as a documentary novel.

In my life right now there might be a story about cleaning out the cupboard under the sink. I'm always reminded of Little Meery in Paul Bunyan. Little Meery was consigned to the cupboard under the sink. Who else might live in such a place? Or there might be a story in the two boys who stopped by our house with their own leaf rakes last night, hoping to earn some cash raking our leaves. They did. I wonder what they did with it. Or maybe a story in the piles of clothes that seem to have taken themselves to our bedroom and just dropped.

Finding the possibilities is easy. Finding the persistence to develop the possibilities is the continuing challenge for this writer. But if the story is strong enough, demanding enough, it brings its own insistence that it be told, and that is the next thing to persistence.

And finally a question: what are the books that inspired you?  To write? To change? To be who you are?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading around...and writing

I should be writing but--confession time-- instead decided to read this article on Donna Tartt in today's NY Times. It is about a writer, and writing, after all. The article is prompted by the release of
her new book, "The Goldfinch," and touches on her early life.

The Dickensian sweep of “The Goldfinch” has its roots in Ms. Tartt’s childhood in Grenada, Miss., where she began writing and drawing her own books when she was 5 years old. Taking copies of National Geographic, she would cut out pictures of a zebra or a child, and write a story about the picture. “I wrote books in this way, around images,” Ms. Tartt said, something that didn’t occur to her until “The Goldfinch” — a book that surrounds an image of a luminous yellow-tinged bird — was complete. 

So it was worth it--for the reminder that we all have the same tools, the same prompts--pictures from magazines, objects.  And Donna Tartt didn't mention them but there are the conversations we overhear, the names that capture us. 

Here's another piece from the interview.

Ms. Tartt is a lifelong keeper of notebooks, and some of the earliest scenes in “The Goldfinch” were taken from notes dated 1993. “I was writing for a while not knowing what I was writing,” she said. “That’s the way it’s been with all my books. Things will come to you and you’re not going to know exactly how they fit in. You have to trust in the way they all fit together, that your subconscious knows what you’re doing.”  

 Trust, that's what's needed, especially at the beginning of a work, when the story seems to show up in bits that are not necessarily connected to each other.

Emboldened with trust--and determination, I am now going back to work.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Parties!

A new book is always exciting. Opening the box for the first time and seeing all those hours of researching, writing and revising fitted between colorful covers makes a holiday.  Hearing readers say they like the story is the best kind of music.  And book parties are the best kinds of parties.

This last weekend was a banner weekend--with two book parties for Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.

New Bo Books, Cedar Rapids

Saturday story hour at New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids was a great chance to visit with long-time friends and to meet new friends of all ages. Kids could connect Will Allen's farm with their own vegetable gardens. We made vegetable and flower mobiles. And we did have cake.Thanks, New Bo Books!

veggies from Laura's farm

Yesterday Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table went to Laura's Krouse's Abbe Hills Farm.

Such is the power of Will Allen's vision of good food for all that just sharing his story brings people together with good food, introduces kids to the places where food is grown, and gives them a chance to try that food.

one family learns about Farmer Will

Farmer Laura shares okra
Kids come back from the field

Enough said

And, yes, in addition to the veggies, we did have cake.

It was a party after all.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Inspired by Will Allen--Matthew 25 Urban Farm~Cedar Rapids

Clint Twedt-Ball and his brother Courtney Ball, co-directors of Matthew 25 farm

Good ideas grow like plump seeds dropped in good ground.  Last weekend I had a chance to see that again.

I went to an urban farm in Cedar Rapids--Matthew 25. The farm was inspired by Will Allen and has as its goal the same goal as Will Allen's Growing Power Farm-- to provide tasty, healthy food at reasonable prices to people in the area. The co-directors are Clint Twedt-Ball and his brother Courtney.

Play equipment welcomes neighborhood kids

No fences

Vegetables grow next to train tracks and industrial buildings

Matthew 25 has plans to send one of its farmers to Will Allen's Growing Power Farm this winter, expand its farm next year, grow more vegetables plant more fruit trees. Courtney Ball has worked with others to set up school yard gardens at two schools in Cedar Rapids. 

At a time when there are people in our country who would cut food stamp benefits to those who need them (see Paul Krugman on this), thus depriving children--and adults--of needed food, it is uplifting to meet people who are succeeding at helping others to eat better and are strengthening communities with good food.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Announcing: good times

Writing is such a solitary activity that whenever we have a chance for getting together with writers, readers, and general book-lovers we know it will be a good time.

Well, I am excited today to announce two such get togethers--to help launch Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.
10:00 Saturday, October 12 New-Bo Books 1105 3rd St. SE Cedar Rapids, IA 10:00 a.m. Reading and signing

Sunday, October 13 Abbe Hills Farm Abbe Hills Road, Mount Vernon, IA  2:00-4:00 p.m. 
Reading, signing, and veggie gathering for kids on Laura Krouse's working farm. Refreshments for all.
(for driving directions go to

If you are interested in farming, urban farming, gardening, children's literature, mark your calendar and plan to join us.  We had so much fun with the cake for The Chiru of High Tibet that we may have to have cake, too.
Come Saturday and/or Sunday to find out!

Philip Lee at Readers to Eaters, Eric-Shabazz Larkin and I are excited about this early review of Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.  Come to the parties, hear the story of Will Allen, talk about farming--urban or rural. Celebrate an amazing man--Will Allen!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney at the end of August

Seamus Heaney is on my mind today, because he's gone now.

Of course I had to go to youtube and watch him read some poems; and then remember when he came to Iowa City to do a reading and I took Sweeney Astray for him to sign. By then Sweeney was no longer a new book, out for 13 years (in fact it was the only book available at the bookstore) but Seamus Heaney said, "Ah Sweeney, how good to see Sweeney!" as if I had done him a favor in asking him to sign this book.

Sweeney Astray is the story of a man cursed in battle, made mad,transformed into a creature that lives in treetops, survives on cress and water, lost to his former life, and alone. It is a haunting piece. One never forgets Sweeney. But more than that, was that lovely moment of grace at the signing. I felt as if we--Seamus Heaney and me!-- were joint friends of the haunted Sweeney.

And here's  Seamus Heaney reading one of his best-known poems "Digging."

Listening to him makes me want to do better, try harder, go deeper. But it's August in Iowa. Against that yearning is set the torpor of too many, too-hot days. I feel as if I am operating in slow motion.  So how to break through, slug out of the sluggishness. 

Take pen in hand, turn off the computer, open the notebook, dig.

Thank you Seamus Heaney.