This week I’ve opened my store on Etsy! For a long time, I debated whether the effort to open one would be worth it, since I have other venues where my art and book are sold, but it answered two important needs I’d been pondering for a while. Plus like most things, it wasn’t as complicated to execute as I’d imagined.
I can easily offer signed copies of The Flight of The Starling paperback on Etsy. If you want an autographed copy of the book, personalized for you or your favorite fairy tale reader (or simply signed), you can now order one from directly me. To prove it, here’s a photo that includes my book, my hand, and my library wallpaper.
I ordered a bunch of paperback copies in March 2020, anticipating a book sale at the local writer’s conference, and then 2020 was all PLOT TWIST! So since I have them on a shelf, and people have asked how to get signed copies before, this feels inevitable.
Downloadable Digital Images
My Society6 storefront is an awesome tool for printing art on anything you can imagine (coffee mugs, notebooks, and tote bags are my favorite), but currently they have no option for simply buying a digital image. Etsy to the rescue!
As someone who has done a lot of layouts, desktop publishing, and just plain switching up my computer wallpaper, I love digital art. You can print it and put it in a frame, tack it to your office wall, make it into a birthday card, or set it as a pretty background on any of your screens. It’s quick and easy and if you lose it or scratch it, you can download another copy, forever. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying physical art – the online equivalent of buying a print at the art fair.
A new store deserved a new artwork, right? Cue the trumpets.
Sea Spiral – Digital Art on Etsy
One digital art purchase includes 5 files, sized to fit various standard frames. If you buy it and somehow it doesn’t fit your needs, just contact me and I will adjust and send a brand-new file, free of charge.
Now that I’ve got the store open and figured out the finicky process of resizing to make the files, I’ll start adding more artwork in the near future. Have any advice or suggestions for running an Etsy journey? Leave me a comment.
Lately I’ve been taking walks every Sunday with a friend. It’s socially distanced, outside, and away from our houses and kids. We’ve explored neighborhoods and trails, window-shopped our quaint downtown on shoveled sidewalks and slogged through woods on snowshoes. We both look forward to it every week, not just for the chance to get a couple hours of fresh air but for the novelty of in-person conversation.
One Sunday we were walking a trail by the Yahara River that wends through the woods. In the summer time, bullfrogs belt their basso profundo blues and red-winged blackbirds trill their swampy arias. In winter it’s far from barren, just more quiet. Snow shushes everything and the wildlife, if they aren’t sleeping deep in nests and holes, at least don’t feel like singing.
The beauty of the woods in winter is sometimes blatant – white snow sticks to black trees preening to be photographed naked – and other times elusive. Leaves turn brown, flowers die, color leaches out of the natural world. Maybe it’s that hyper-awareness that’s come from being cooped up indoors, but I found myself eagerly looking for beautiful objects this winter as if on a dare.
So when we stopped on a bench a mile and a half from our cars, I didn’t just notice the big black oaks that twist so dramatically. I tuned in to a small white branch among the decaying foliage.
I got close to inspect it. Along the pale branch were curling whisps like a grapevine seeking a fence, and leaves that still had all their fibers and structure but none of their color. I’d never seen this kind of ghost leaf before, but since then I’ve realized they’re pretty common in the Midwest. Back in Montana, the leaves either dry and crumble, or rot into dirt, not stop halfway through and decide to haunt the forest floor.
I was reaching for them, lacey leaves like delicate wings, and I wanted to explain to my friend why I was so interested in dead leaves. I wish I’d thought to call my collection of dry naked sticks a “winter bouquet,” but sometimes writers aren’t eloquent on the spot. So I plucked the ghost vines and said, “I have this vase of … desiccated things in my house, and I want to add this to it.”
She laughed. “If I had to pick a phrase that described how you decorate,” she said, “it would be ‘I have this vase of desiccated things in my house.’”
It sounded more morbid than I usually think of my eclectic and colorful home, but at the same time, she’s not wrong. I collect shells and rocks, feathers and sticks with ant writing. I have a couple animal skulls (clean), a paper wasp nest (empty), and an enormous array of crystals. My husband tends more toward strange devices and mechanical things, like microscopes, pocket watches, and an antique electroshock machine with a hand crank.
It’s important to have friends who truly see you, and who can put a name to your truths.
My winter bouquet had two sticks in it. One was furred with white fungus, the other had two tiny white cups of mushroom like wee satellite dishes or heavy-lidded eyes. Longer than flowers, they cast dramatic shadows in their vase. A grey feather and empty milkweed pods added variety in texture. The ghost vines were next. I took a lot of time arranging them so they would shoot out in just the right direction, create a pleasing line along and away from the rest of the bouquet. I added long flat grass fronds and tight dark stems of headless flowers, which my cats promptly destroyed.
All in all the arrangement has an otherworldly feel that I like. When you think about it, our world becomes a bit alien in winter, as plants die, wildlife sleeps, and humans often hide themselves away. The seed pods, curling and hairy, look as if something strange and possibly tentacled had hatched out of them. The ghost leaves whisper, translucent, of the world before the seasonal apocalypse. Everything is stark, minimal, silhouetted.
I’ve picked up random gifts from Mother Nature on a regular basis (one of my many witchy habits), but I never chose to arrange them deliberately until this winter. Now as spring is booting up and it’s past time to take down the Christmas lights on the porch, I’m unsure what to do with my vase of desiccated and beautiful oddments. Should I pack it away, bundling them carefully into a box in the attic with my other seasonal décor? Or should I sprinkle them in my backyard bushes and kitchen garden, letting them return to the earth and resume their arrested decay? If I keep them, am I depriving future winters of the joy of collecting a new array of Spartan beauties?
As usual, I’m overthinking it. Of course I will pack them away. Next autumn or winter, I’ll take them out, cull the bits that have crumbled to dust or wilted beyond saving. The rest will go back in their vase, standing tall and austere in the corner of my dining room, and I’ll add more ghost leaves or cemetery weeds or whatever next winter decides to gift me. I’ll find a way to celebrate in the dark times and appreciate the loveliness in demise.
After all, it’s who I am.
All the best,
Post script: After I took my photos, I left the winter bouquet in my library instead of putting it back on the high cabinet in the dining room. A crash and skitter, spilled sand and broken sticks, and I instantly remembered how impermanent nature’s beauty can be. Thanks, Fluffy, Topaz, and Ruby, for reminding me!
The rocks at Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island, Wisconsin, are so smooth they feel almost soft. The unique silky texture makes the rocks precious; you’d get a $200 fine for removing one! On a chilly day, visitors built rock stacks with these smooth, flat stones well-loved by the waves, instead of swimming. This stack was ours.
I worked hard in post to get separation of color in the individual rocks. Plus doesn’t that swirl of cloud at the top look a bit like an eye? Look out for the VFD.
Oak tree paths twist and turn above our heads, on a walk in Stoughton, Wisconsin.
My son and I got up a plan to walk the whole town, since we were doing a couple blocks every day with the dog, and we’d walked every block near our house so many times it was boring. I searched online for a detailed map, printed it on several pieces of paper, taped them together and posted them on my bulletin board. When we walk somewhere new, we mark it with a highlighter. My son especially likes the mapping part of it. This means we may need to drive to our starting point, whether a couple blocks or a mile, and then walk our dog together on a few new blocks. It’s still houses and sidewalks, woods and lawns and driveways, but there is novelty in it, and in a lockdown, your brain needs novelty to keep alert and break the unbearable sameness of the day-to-day.
We have not completed our goal of walking every street in our small city, which only covers about 4 square miles, because some days we just go around the block to get the dog (and us) quick exercise without fuss. But whenever we do, we discover something new. Stoughton has a great number of Victorian houses, for instance, and the architectural details never bore me. Plus we observe chicken coops and gardens and all sorts of unique choices. One block had no less than three large houses painted a very similar pink of the “dusty rose” variety. The vast canopy of an oak tree was one of those finds.
I haven’t been writing as much as I intended on this blog dedicated to finding magic and wonder when life is hard. I keep having ideas and then rejecting them as not inspired enough. Feels like everything on the internet must be Pinterest-worthy these days. I realized I’ve been thinking about it wrong. It’s not that I need the answer, to offer tasty tidbits that will teach readers how to live a magical life. I mean, sometimes, if I’m lucky and lightning strikes, yes. But I don’t want this blog to turn too sweet, too optimistic, poisonous positivity. It’s about the struggle, right?
Yesterday was a struggle. For one reason or another I was cranky. I was feeling mildly unwell, like you do in early March/late winter, when the sky is grey, the snow is grey, and the people are grey from lack of vitamin D and too much worry about the latest flu virus. Yesterday I was Neville who died from ennui.
My mental to-do list is always bigger than my time or energy, especially when I’m forced to do something unavoidable, like work or cook. That’s when the to-do list balloons, taking over the margins of my brain beside meeting notes or vegetables. And when work is done, the couch beckons, Gardenscapes or a word game on my phone rots my brain and then before I know it I’ve whittled away my afternoon, and my son is late for karate.
Obviously I’m a terrible mother. No other mother in the history of karate lessons has ever taken her son to a 30-minute class 10 minutes late. The shame. The horror. How will I ever make it up to him?!? This is my inner voice until every little thing my daughter did evoked a snarl while we sat for 20 whole minutes in the viewing chairs at the dojo.
I tried to reset, sitting there taking deep breaths among the chatting parents and the shouting uniformed child army. I wonder why it didn’t work?
I tried to reset at home, making dinner, moving about in tedious tidying, feeding one animal after another. I wonder why it didn’t work??
I’ve been reading my book (shameless plug) to my children at bedtime. This is a one-of-a-kind joy, something I can never do for the first time again, and it makes me want to write 10 more children’s books before they grow up, just so I could read them aloud to them. But lately, when they’re upstairs alone to get pajamas on, they’ve been playing together happily, sometimes for the first time all day.
So there was no time for stories before lights out.
I sat on my gray couch in my blue living room feeling sorry that I’d wasted my afternoon instead of writing, wondering how I could chase the clouds away while also staying relaxed enough as I wound down toward my own sleep. And that’s when I remembered sometimes it is a struggle. Sometimes you must seek out that spark of joy, not try to will the dark clouds away but run towards the sun. I looked through my library, where I’d recently fluffed my books, rearranging them, and grabbed a tall heavy tome on Michelangelo. I’d inherited this book and didn’t know it well. I was disappointed to see such an abundance of text, academic for sure (though I didn’t read it) and far too many sketches to my non-art-student eyes.
But then there he was, floating on a parchment-colored page: a man’s face in profile. Sketched in red pencil, the lines of his stroke are clearly visible. His face was so clear, so detailed, so specific. I would know this person if I passed him on the street. A weight lifted from my shoulders. A lightness entered me.
Sometimes when I look on great works, I feel I’ve wasted my life. Like Alexander Hamilton, I used to write like I’m running out of time, but job and kids and house and friends and TV and Facebook, and, you know, life, take all my creative energy, and I let them.
But this wasn’t that feeling. What I felt was pure awe.
This was no masterpiece looking down on me from a chapel ceiling, distant and untouchable in its perfection. It was just a sketch. A human brain conceived it, a human hand had drawn it. I could easily imagine Michelangelo scratching this at his kitchen table, planning a masterpiece (Did he even have a kitchen table? Guess I should try reading that book.), but even in that incomplete sketch, he had captured the essence of the real human in the drawing.
Artists can turn ink into blood, so their creations pulse with life.
My toes curled over the pier and gripped the underside of the platform. The wind rippled along my dorsal fin. This was it. If I retrieved the Pearl of Onakai from the Cave of Tears, I would be queen. Assuming I survived the Gauntlet of Terrors first. My knees wobbled. My fingers gripped my mother’s knife. My second stomach churned, but my brain whispered, “Dive in.”
I got my proof copies of my book, The Flight of The
Starling, in the mail yesterday. I don’t know why I ordered 5 of them, the max
Amazon allowed, when I can get author copies for the same price in a few days.
I was excited, I guess, to hold it in my hands, and I’m more likely to walk
into book stores with a real product to pitch than an ephemeral web link.
I keep picking the book up. Stroking the cover. Flipping it
over to confirm the presence of my photo on the back. Feeling its weight.
Opening to a random page and reading till something makes me laugh. There are
so many little jokes in it that I have forgotten.
I want to sleep with it under my pillow. I want to wear it
inside my shirt over my heart.
Every time I got through a new gate, over a new hurdle, in
this publishing journey, I would say to myself, “It’s starting to look like a
real book.” The cover. The pre-sale listing. The author web page. “It’s almost
like a real book.”
So today as I hold the book, I think, “Is it a real book
yet? When is the moment it becomes a real book? When I get the final print?
When I see it on a shelf in a store? When a stranger buys and reads it? Is
there one moment?”
I am Pinocchio. I am the Velveteen Rabbit. I am waiting to
be loved enough to become real.
It feels oddly similar to how I felt before giving birth. I remember being 5 or 6 months pregnant with my first child when I got my first gift of baby clothes. I held up the onesie, sized for a 7-pound newborn human. Tiny for clothes, but huge it seemed to me, with the baby still part of my body. I also had certain, specific expectations of how I would feel when giving birth, and was disappointed when the experience delivered something else. Something more complicated than those glossy narratives of new motherhood.
So I’m trying not to manage my expectations too much. I want
to feel however I feel about publishing my first book without telling myself a
story of how I should be feeling at this or that milestone. I don’t want to
create a story of what my experience will be, because I know now that can set
up its own kind of disappointment. I’ve loved this book a long time and it is
so scary to think of people possibly hating it. Not getting it. Thinking it
doesn’t work or isn’t worth the effort. If there is a point where it becomes a
“real” book, does that armor me against the opinions of people who don’t think
it should be?
I don’t know. I think it was a real book long ago. I’ve just
been waiting to finally put it into newborn clothes.
Snow on the ground this morning, the first of the season.
And not a little snow – 2 or 3 inches. An impressive amount for October in
I’d gone to bed in a foul mood after an up and down day. I
got the first proof copies of my book, The Flight of The Starling, in the mail,
which was thrilling, but I also spent half the day fighting with Microsoft Word
and Adobe Acrobat over an embedded fonts problem. A stupid technical glitch
that I have to fix in order to publish this book. So close and yet so far.
Plus the kids didn’t want to get out of bed, and for some reason, my son, who’s ten, decided that snow was the worst thing that could’ve happened to him. Oh what a hassle. We’ll have to find all our snow gear. (Nevermind that I did that while they ate breakfast.) Why oh why does the school make us put on snow pants to play outside? On and on. His grumpiness infected me. By the time I was driving them to school – late out the door, plus extra minutes scraping the car – I was as pissed at the October snow as he was.
When I got back home, I realized I needed to reset. First
snows are magical, and that is my quest: to seek out the magical aspects of
life, to acknowledge that awe can be found every day if only we look. More troubleshooting
is still ahead of me today, and I didn’t want to give in to the dark clouds so
early in the day. I decided I would try my best to appreciate the first snow,
to look with new eyes and see the wonder in it, dammit.
All it took was a walk around my block. The first thing I
noticed was the sounds, a shushing and a plopping as the trees threw snowballs
with their leaves. (Yes, I got hit, once. Yes, I shrieked.)
The neighbors’ potted plant, long leaves thickened with
snow, became a tentacled monster. Halloween decorations turned cartoonish,
plastic skeletons grinning at their foolishness in the extra bright light. A
huge rope spiderweb tied to porch rails sparkled with frost.
The trees dropped spontaneous snow-showers, flash flurries
that glittered in the morning sun, silver and gold. The orange and red leaves
on the sidewalk stood out more sharply, a last flame of fall before the black
and white of winter.
It wasn’t just the snow itself that seemed beautiful – it
was the autumn snow. The October snow. And of course, bare black trees outlined
in clinging white are pretty hard to growl at. My cheeks grew pleasantly
chilled in one block, and the warmth inside my front door was welcoming and
The hardest part of finding the
magic was deciding that I could.