Spinning with the Earth on the Last Days of the Year

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Just as the wild waves of holiday madness began settling into a manageable surf, a spinning undertow sucked me in. This is my dramatic way of telling you about my latest adventure with vertigo set off simply by turning my head on a pillow Monday morning.

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Best laid plans for pre-New Year cleaning and organizing, yoga and writing – dashed. And yet, these past two crazy kaleidoscope days delivered me right where I need to be: looking inward. Being quiet and moving slowly works best to keep the spins at bay. Nature is physically forcing me to do just what I psychically need.

Quiet is exactly what I’d been craving – usually my preferred state and the place from where I write. With barely a glimpse of silence these past 6 weeks during these busy bookstore days, I’ve spun right out of control and I appreciate this strange, if uncomfortable manifestation.  Forced to slow,  become more conscious and to literally, keep my head down.

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Ironically, the post I’d been working on before this one was about the joy of looking UP. Simply turning my head whether to the ceiling or the stars – expands my lungs, my heart, and my spirit – something I’d written about before here during another holiday season. A wonderful, simple exercise that never fails to calm and inspire me. Except when experiencing vertigo. Looking up sets off an intense bout of whirling.

So today, like yesterday, I stayed low. I managed to scrub the bathroom – the lower fixtures, back around porcelain fixtures into those frightening corners. But the shower curtain switch will have to wait for another day when I can lift my gaze.

For now, for these last days of the year, I am forced within. To stay steady, I must move carefully and consciously to find my way again, to match the wild spinning of the days as we hurtle towards another year.

Somehow, even in my discomfort, this feels right.

In what direction are you looking?

Whether up or down or all around, warmest wishes for 2015!

Stuff

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Here’s my handsome fellow at a flea market last summer. He left the album and hat behind after our photo shoot, but I’m sure we walked away with other goodies purchased that day. I can’t recall what. Nor can I remember the gifts I received last Christmas although there was plenty under the tree for me. Do you remember what you got?

We’ve agreed that this is the year we will rein things. College bills are daunting, cars need new tires and it’s really time for us to buy a new bed. Besides, we’re all grown-ups now. If we want it, we can figure out how to buy it for ourselves. The point is, in our house, we do not need more “stuff”.

But it’s Christmas so that’s what we do. It seems, impossible to ignore tradition and not get a tree, not put presents under it, not get up in the morning and cover each other’s laps in wrapped goodies. Not quite yet. But Molly, now a worker-bee as well as a student, gets that it’s tough to both pay bills and buy stuff (or eat out) willy-nilly. She has also discovered the joys of thrift shopping. We’ve agreed this year, to only buy each other second-hand gifts.

I’ve already scored some real gems.

glovesI haven’t quite decided who will get these wooly gloves ($4) but I’m thinking my sister will appreciate them. (you can let me know, A)

Although I appreciate how Goodwill Stores sort clothing by color (easy to pass by those salmon colored slacks) the amount of stuff is just too overwhelming — a bit like going to Kohls. I prefer smaller, church thrift shops usually tucked into basement rooms and run by women whose average age is 75 who lovingly price and merchandise the fantastic goodies donated by surrounding communities. In this neck of the woods, often very wealthy residents – resulting in some great finds.

For $4 I bought these cool lights I’ll hopefully get around to hanging from the porch before January. I can be a crank about a lot of holiday-hoopla but love Christmas lights – brightening up the long winter nights. R suggested these look like meatballs but I think they’re funky.

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In that same shop I also found this beautiful frame for $2 – a keeper. I turned it over to R who will fill it with just right (probably zany) photographs. Not bad, right?

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Of course, I do work in a bookstore and receive a lovely, extra employee discount during the holiday season so I will be buying new books for presents. But books don’t count as ‘stuff’, do they? We can never have enough of them.

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Where will you be shopping this year?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Have you noticed how much harder we work these days? Whether you’re grinding away at a company, school system, government, non-profit, retail, construction, I bet you’re working harder than ever. Regardless of reports from the financial experts about the economy being in recovery, we are all working our asses off.  The accepted mantra is still: “I’m lucky to have a job” code for: “shut-up, don’t complain”.

Authors are not immune. I know very few who can live solely off book sales. Even when the economy was booming, making a life in any of the arts was challenging whether an artist, musician, actor or writer. But publishing has been particularly crazy these last years. With self-publishing, e-books, and the internet – the playing field for writers has been completely transformed. (Journalist? What’s that?)

Mid-list authors (in other words, most authors) have always complained that publishers were not doing enough to promote their book – even when  times were flush and publishers were helping- at least more than now. In the late 90s, I hosted a few local author mingling events and they all bitched about a perceived lack of support from their publishers. But times have changed. These days most authors are footing the bill themselves when it comes to hawking their books and not blaming their publishers as much. They’ve witnessed the bloodletting, the shrinking and disappearances of publishing houses – it’s understood that the industry is tough, that the book world has turned into the wild-west so they better just saddle up and get on with it.

From my front row seat, I’ve vicariously experienced the journeys of many author friends as they’ve launched their books. From the thrilling first days when the book hits the shelves, watching sales (hopefully) skyrocket, holding events, getting reviewed. (who knew how hard that is!) For perhaps a year or so, (if you’re lucky) the excitement continues. Okay, I’m exaggerating – maybe not a year. Sadly, their baby may well be stacked in the remainders section by then.  The harsh news is that rarely does life change much when your book is published. Not from what I’ve seen. Think – buying a lottery ticket.

I’ve internalized all of this over the years, yet still plug away at my own book simply because I can’t help it. Of course I will work my ass off to make my book successful but I also know the odds. My expectations are tempered by years on the other side of the desk/counter. I won’t expect to buy a bigger house, or even to pay off my (used) car. I expect I’ll still be getting up at 5:30 in the morning to write before going off to my job.

Many years ago, author Robert Stone came to the store to promote Damascus Gate (great book) and a young man asked for some words of wisdom because he wanted to be a writer. “Don’t quit your day job!” Stone answered. I never forgot that. And I won’t. At least not until the movie rights sell. Or I win the lottery.

What about you? How’s work?

Author Events: Notes to Myself and a Rant

After 17 years of running author events at a bookstore, I think I can claim to be something of an expert on the subject. Having learned from some of the best authors who have graced the store, (you know who you are) I know what to do when it’s my turn to be the star.

When it is me behind that podium talking about my book, the number of chairs (set up by someone else for a change!) will be conservative since it looks better to be adding chairs then have rows of empty seats. But worry not: at my event, those chairs will be full because I will only appear where I am pretty damn sure of an audience. That means, my proud mother (not in my case, since she’s no longer alive – but you get my drift) lives in town or I have a lot of friends nearby. I’ve contacted an existing group interested in the subject I write about.

Yes, authors, the onus is largely on you. Unless you are a ‘name’ or are a psychic willing to do readings at your event (seriously – this always gets a crowd) do not go down a list randomly calling bookstores hoping to set up an event. And even if my publisher provided publicist (still dreaming) sets up my events for me, I will still personally reach out to the organizers to discuss the date. Maybe they always have a core group audience – and more likely, not. I’ll know in advance what kind of hustling I need to do to entice my supporters out and will do it. I will not delude myself that an audience will just be there – I know how hard it is to get people to come out so I’ll help rather than talk only to 3 homeless people asleep in the chairs.

At my book events, here’s what I will not do: I will not read from my book. I know, that’s what everyone’s instinct is — to share your glorious book with everyone by reading your favorite passages. Okay, maybe I would read a very little bit. Trust me, even 10 minutes at a shot is a wee bit too much. Really. The fact is, most people, including authors, are not good readers – not good enough to have that be the feature of the show. Record yourself and you’ll understand. See how your voice changes into a ‘readerly’ voice? Maybe this sounds good to you, but it’s unnatural sounding and in most cases, is terribly soporific.

Have you noticed that very few authors read their own audio books? The publishers are not dumb. You can write, but chances are you can’t read. I don’t need you to read to me. Don’t read. Talk to your audience and tell them about why you had to tell the story that is your book. Tell us what you ate for breakfast – whatever. If someone has traveled in the rain or snow or come in from a beautiful day to sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour (and it should never be more than that!)  it is because they are interested in YOU. Don’t disappoint them.

Pretend you’re a standup comic and work out a routine. Even if it’s not funny. Or imagine you are a motivational speaker and getting paid $10,000 for this event. (Hey, this may lead to something!) Or just be your quiet self but tell us your story. We will then want to read your book. And then you can read us a passage or two, if you must.

Just be natural. Don’t come with a script – but know your lines so it flows. And if you’re doing lots of venues in the area or are appearing at the same place, even years later, don’t tell the same story. Your groupies are there and have heard it – tell them a new one.

Here’s my suggested program: following the brief but charming introduction your host makes for you, greet your audience – calling out any local connections, the one’s you love, etc. and perhaps, their significance to you and/or your book. Connecting like this make everyone feel a little cozier – most of all you. These are your peeps after all so taking these minutes to reach out – it will relax you enough to enjoy this time. And then, so will your audience.

Now, tell us a good anecdote or two to draw us closer to you and your work. Okay, you can read a brief passage to illustrate some point you just mentioned. Now stop reading. Stop. I said stop… and tell us something else. Talk to us. Make us laugh and cry. You do it in your book, you can do it here. Readers want to know more about you or they would not have shown up. You know what I mean. Why do you think your picture and a blurb are on the back jacket of the cover? Who are you? It’s sometimes what readers look at even before the blurb. Flesh out that blurb.

This should fill about 20-30 minutes. We really love you now and want to know more and now feel okay asking. So ask for questions. You’ll panic because no one raises their hand right away. Wait a few seconds but don’t make it awkward. People are shy and no one wants to be first. So ask your own question to the audience – that will give someone courage to raise their hand. Sometimes if authors have a friend or relative in attendance, they’ll plant a question – a good idea. You’ve just got to get the ball rolling, that’s all.

You’ve now been at this for about 45 to 50 minutes. Unless you’ve got a really scintillating discussion going, stop. Thank everyone for coming and tell them you’ll be happy to sign books for them. Enjoy this one-on-one with your readers but don’t linger too long with any one of them – share contact info if you must catch up or ask them to wait and join you for a drink later,  but don’t keep others waiting. You want everyone to buy your book and people are busy. You are a salesperson here to sell your book: sell it! Help keep books and bookstores alive by doing it right. We’ll all live happily ever after.

Oh yeah, this was advice to myself, wasn’t it?

Maybe you disagree. Do you want to hear authors read their books?

 

Not Available on Amazon

Christmas is over. Phew. The craziness of retail is exhausting. Not unpleasant, just whirlwind-busy with very little down-time. Unwinding at the end of a day was nearly impossible as even in my dreams I was ringing up customers and searching for books before I got to wake up and do it all again for real.

And really, it’s enjoyable. Most people are happy to be in a bookstore and that makes for good company. Customers exclaimed over and over again how nice it was to see the store so busy and I agreed. Other stores that sells clothing or towels usually just feel frantic and unbearable when they get crowded. A good atmosphere exists in our store because we sell BOOKS – books that inspire, excite, move — hell: that sometimes save us!

Most of the year, my position entails a lot of hours in my little back office and outside the store’s walls, working on sales to schools and companies. (Call me when you need to buy in bulk!) But during this time of year, it’s all-hands-on-deck, the ‘deck’ being out on the book floor.  For me, being with customers looking for books is a treat. Of course, we sell a lot of other great and beautiful things, but it’s books that really jazz me.

After all of these years, the store feels a bit like my home – and when customers come in, I genuinely welcome them. My favorite is seeing a blank face – an obvious call for help in finding a book, or even better – making a suggestion. Best of all is when they are looking for a book for themselves. I ask questions: Are they taking a trip? Where to? What was the last book they loved? Together we wander the tables and shelves – a mix of gems, new and old.   Of course, suggesting is particularly easy if we share the same taste, but if not, I still can connect them to other books that they’ll like based on the clues they give me. Or if it’s sci-fi (sorry, I’m lost then) I’ll introduce one of several of my colleagues who love that genre. Likewise, we have history buffs, mystery and of course, kid’s book experts.

Grandparents often seem stumped when it comes to finding books for grandchildren and I suggest they choose ones they loved as children rather than trying to figure out the hot new series and whether the kid will like it. This usually launches a great discussion about their lives as we ponder the selections together. (The Wind in the Willows anyone?) What beauties there are on those Children’s Classics shelves!

Hearing my customers’ stories while trying to find them a book is an honor and the connections made in the aisles of the store can be profound. I’ve shared tears with people struggling with addiction-fall-out, or grieving the death of a loved one. I’ve shared travel stories with customers planning trips across the globe, recipes and favorite cookbooks, dog stories in the pet section, garden joys and woes in the gardening section and every kind of story in fiction. You name it. The stuff of life, everyday.

When someone is nearby while I’m discussing books with one customer, sometimes I’ll see another listening in.  That third person may pipe in too, making their own suggestions, unable to resist the urge to passionately gush about a book they loved – or hated – often going on to share their story. I love this infectious engagement, a beautiful face-to-face bonding over books made possible in our brick and mortar bookstore. Not available on Amazon.

Customer Service (Or: Just Be Nice)

Traveling across China in the early 1980s when Communism prevailed, I learned that “customer service” is really more of a Capitalist expectation.  The response to a request for just about anything was usually one word that sounded to me like “Mei-o” – a purposely ambiguous answer that essentially meant something like, “Go away, we don’t have any, just f-off”. This was a stark contrast to my life in Kyoto where customers in the teeniest corner shop are treated like celebrities,  with deep bowing and an abundance of “Domo Arigato”s sweetly offered for even the smallest purchase.

I have worked in the same bookstore now for more than 15 years. I like it. I appreciate the unexpectedness of every day, my encounters with different characters. I love what we sell and meeting new people, seeing the regulars, many who have become my friends. I love talking books on a daily basis.

Some days can be tough though, especially during this busy holiday season. Customers can be harried, impatient when we’re short handed or frustrated by someone who is new and not up to speed yet. Yes, even book people can be rude and sometimes downright mean. I try and swallow it.

This morning, I went shopping in my local grocery store. I ventured out early hoping to beat the hordes but even at 7:00 AM the place was hopping. Besides being less than 5 minutes from my house, this store stocks locally sourced produce and prides itself on great customer service, and in the long time I’ve been shopping there, they’ve always delivered it. Except this morning.

I just wanted to know where the lobster tails were. After all, there was a huge sign indicating they were on sale – but only crab legs and shrimp packed the freezer – nary a lobster tail.

“Excuse me,” I stopped a man nearby who looked managerial in his white coat. He gave me an annoyed look as I asked him, “Where are the lobster tails?” then swooped his arm dramatically towards the sign with a look that said, “Duh?!”

My usually low blood pressure soared but I calmly responded, “There are none there.”

This past week I spent more than 50 hours on my feet, helping customers. Now maybe he has too, and maybe he’s pissed off about the over-fishing of the world’s oceans? Hey, I feel great solidarity with my comrades working in stores – especially at this time of year – but I really had just asked the question, no attitude.

He flipped behind a few frozen shrimp bags before calling to one of his minions to get the lobster tails.

“I guess I’m not so stupid after all, eh?” I said as I walked away from him. I just couldn’t resist throwing a barb at him. Why couldn’t I just leave it? Why am I even writing about it now? It was momentary and he was flip. I certainly have been guilty of that. But I’ll be even more careful now because it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end, no matter what side of the proverbial counter you are on.

I won’t say I’ve never been snarky at work – but over the years in the business I’ve gotten better at controlling the impulse of a snotty retort. Because who knows what’s up with them? And maybe I can make things better by instead being kind and apologetic if things aren’t going right for them, in our store or in their life. I really believe that and try to be nice. Period.

That’s why, after my own long week of holiday retail madness, this guy’s rudeness stung.  Those lobster tails better be good.

The Times and Time (to Read)

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I only read the Saturday and Sunday edition of the New York Times – it’s all I can manage. Delivered early in the mornings to my driveway, folded neatly in a long blue bag, this is one of my favorite treats of the week. Getting it over two days gives me a head-start on what can seem a mountain of newsprint. I start by pulling out all the adverts along with the Sports and Auto sections since I almost never read anything in either. I take at least a brief look at every article in the day’s news, not reading every single article, but at least getting the gist. It’s important to me to have at least a good sense of what’s going on in the world.

The Book Review gets a once-over to see what’s being reviewed before I set it aside for a thorough read later. I like to know what customers will be looking for in the store this week and if any of the books I’m reading made it. I keep eyeing the Donna Tartt Advanced Reader Copy that’s in our freebie stack in the break room. I always pick her stuff up with curiosity but have yet to feel compelled to read any – always a bit too weird for my taste. Although today’s Review  makes her latest more intriguing, I see that Stephen King reviews it, affirming for me that it’s probably not my thing. I mean, there’s only so much time…

Back to the newspaper: of course I read all the fun stuff, Arts and Leisure – all the wonderful goings-on in the city I don’t go to. Same with the Travel Section, because with a kid in college ($) I have to be (and kind of am) content to get my travel thrills vicariously. I  am particularly fond of pieces where the writing about the food in a place is also terrific – a double pleasure. Unless there’s an article I find compelling, I’ll save the magazine section for later in the week or to read in bed along with the Book Review. I try and get through the Week in Review, reading my favorite columnists’ pieces. Now that they’ve ‘themed’ this section – it’s easier for me to skip through quickly if I’m not compelled by the week’s topic.2013-10-13 11.33.35

Reading the New York Times requires a lot of time. And meanwhile, my books (never mind my own writing, the laundry, the garden and my man) call to me. I have 3 going now. My Life in France by Julia Child is the book of choice in the One Town, One Book where the bookstore is located and I hope to come up with some charming way for us to participate. The book is delightful – just like Julia. What a joyful woman she was.

Clean by David Sheff tends to fall to the bottom of my current reads – where years ago, I would have felt an urgency for this important and helpful book, now I read it with more detachment. While still moved, since I am no longer dealing with an emergency of my own, it can wait. I still want to know and understand the insanity that destroyed my husband so I suspect that although I’ve borrowed this from work, I will probably end up buying it. Sheff writes beautifully about living and coping with your loved one’s addiction.

Night Film by Marish Pessl, author is a fat one – dubbed a literary thriller. Not usually my kind of thing as I’ve already noted – so I contradict myself here – especially as it’s compared to a Stephen King thriller. I picked this up because I am interested when publishers really get behind a book like they did this. So far, it hasn’t really taken off as I think they hoped – but who knows with these things. When it comes to choosing from my current 3 in-progress reads, this is the one I go for first. It’s entertaining, I want to know what happens next. There’s a racing pulse to the story that keeps it moving. My gripe about the book is that every page has an average of 8-10 italicized words. Every page. Throughout the book. I’m reading the ARC so I thought, surely this nonsense will be edited out. It feels so amateurish and irritating. Nope. This strange tic is still there. (you get the idea) Am I missing something? What’s the point? But otherwise, I’m enjoying the story narrated by a feckless journalist who, with two sidekicks he picks up along the way, becomes obsessed with finding answers about the death of the daughter of a mysterious director of dark, horror films. It includes ‘documentation’ – photos and news clippings that are kind of nice side-note. We’re talking New York Post here, not New York Times, okay?

Meanwhile, intriguing new books arrive in the store daily, enticing me even as the older ones I keep meaning to read, beckon. How will I ever get to them? I marvel at my friend Nina Sankovitch‘s discipline in reading a book a day and writing about it (same day!) for a year as she recounted in her beautiful memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Some tips: don’t turn on the television, and read everywhere.

Too Big, Too Much – A Rare Visit to Costco

I live in a very small house and have a very small refrigerator. Thus, Costco, home of oversized items, is not my kind of place. However, I went there the other day to buy a few things for Molly’s graduation party.

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I arrived first thing Friday morning so I’d beat the just-got-the-paycheck crowds. Using all my body weight, I yanked a gigantic carriage out of the cart-corral. The first clue to the fun-house world I was about to enter, was a tiny older (than me) woman completely dwarfed by her carriage, next to a man as wide as his.2013-07-12 10.42.28

Costco is a shopping ‘club’ – you must belong and a card with your photo on it is necessary even to enter. Seriously? You want to spend money – be my guest – right? Flashing R’s card at the gatekeeper at the door, she waved me through with not even a glance at R’s photo.

Once inside, I confess to a bit of excitement at being inside the airplane hangar shopping warehouse.  I began my adventure by wheeling past the movie-theater-sized televisions, down the aisles with fans, air conditioners, flooring, towels, even mattresses were stacked against the cinder block walls. I vaguely recall thinking there was something we could use in one of those street-wide aisles – a good deal – but I was easily distracted and definitely forgot everything once I got to the food.

Twenty whole wheat tortillas landed in my cart, hot dog and sandwich buns – all ridiculously cheap. The mausoleum-style meat freezers were packed with every cut of animal imaginable, fish, chicken. Fruit and vegetables were impressive too, but I was getting overwhelmed. Where would I put everything?  I picked up items that didn’t need refrigeration – tomatoes and 3 cucumbers, a bag of gorgeous rainbow color potatoes.  The cases of water, iced tea and Italian sodas made my monster-cart even less manageable.  And soon the thrill was gone. It felt wrong, all these terrible processed foods: gigantic jars of neon orange cheese balls, mega-sized boxes of cookies and candy, restaurant supply bags of sugar.

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My years overseas in smaller countries with smaller spaces and certainly smaller refrigerators, still informs my food shopping habits.  My fridge in Kyoto was the kind kids use in their college-dorm rooms. Same as in Croatia, Bosnia and Italy. In those places, like in much of the world, one picks up things at the market almost daily. And we knew the butcher, the fish guy, the green grocer in Zagreb and Metkovic and of course, in Italy where we regularly visited the open-air markets. Shopping for the night’s dinner, wicker basket on my arm, I regularly ran into neighbors and chatted – mostly about the weather because of my limited vocabulary.

No, this big stuff, BIG way of doing things in America is not for me. After all, there’s just the three of us here — soon to be two — and we don’t need so much. We once had an American size fridge but things got lost in it, and inevitably, we ended up throwing stuff  out. This still happens even with our smaller fridge.

While I confess I was briefly seduced by Costco’s carnival atmosphere and crazy offering of goods, I’d rather make my daily stops. It’s easier to grab a basket and high-tail it in and out of one of the more manageable (although plenty big) grocery stores on my daily flight path. And now that the party’s over, what the hell am I going to do with all this leftover bread?

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Internet Love-Hate and A Future in Goats

imagesPygmy goats. That’s the latest idea R and I kicked around over brunch at a diner yesterday. They’re adorable creatures and of course, small enough that we might even be able to get started on our .24 acreage in this urban-suburban town. We could make soap and cheese.

There’s great inspiration for other ways to live, to be found in cyberspace. This wonderful blogger in England who left the rat-race and made a lovely life for herself and her beloved cows is one of my favorite. And thank you, Eileen, for reminding me about The Fabulous Beekman Boys and their goats. They certainly made a go of it.

With the book business being in such turmoil, I’d be foolish not to think about other options, even if they are mostly fantastical at this point. (health insurance from the pygmy goat association?) Commerce continues to move online. How can booksellers, writers, musicians, travel agents and, as you’ll see, to a lesser extent, even auto mechanics make a living these days?

How can a store be sustainable with the internet, in the age of the ravenous AMAZON? Just last week a customer rudely reamed me over the phone when I told him that the price of his book would indeed cost more if he bought the book in the store instead of  online. I get how that seems crazy to a customer – but then again, if you want bookstores, you need to support them. Since the days when we were considered the big bad wolf of the industry, I have said that it is the customer who has the power, who makes the choice to shop one place rather than another. We sustain a store or not.

If people don’t care about stores, if they care more about saving a few dollars, then the store will go away. We can shop at the little guys and even in a big chain like Stop and Shop and Home Depot, we can choose the human over the self-checkout.  We are still people who work in these places – and some of us, many in my place, have a fierce love for the products we sell. I refuse to shop at Amazon, preferring Ebay and Overstock or Craig’s List for my bargains. It bugs me that so many authors websites and blogs link to Amazon for their books. Amazon sells cameras and vacuum cleaners — of course they can undercut everybody else.

Electronic books have made it even tougher to sustain bricks and mortar. The price points of books is so low already and the measly profit must then be cut up and shared by author, publisher, vendor.

So, over eggs benedict at the diner yesterday, I pondered with R, how to make a living in this crazy computer age? What jobs will be left to us? The waitress brought us our check. She was a little older than me. Waitressing was my first job at sixteen and I did it through college and beyond. The thought of ever again rattling off a list of salad dressings, makes me cringe. But I could do it. Food depends on people. So there — we are back to goat cheese.

In the parking lot, R’s Jeep wouldn’t start. He put the key in the ignition and nothing happened. The lights came on, the radio worked, but the engine did not even groan. I called AAA for a tow. Then, on a whim, I googled, “Jeep Cherokee key won’t work in ignition” on my IPhone and read through the comments. “Hit key with rubber mallet when in ignition”. R reached into the back seat (his office) and grabbed a hammer and whacked the key and turned it. The car started. I called AAA and canceled the tow order and laughing, we pulled out of the parking lot, marveling at the wonders of the world-wide-web. We’ll have to have a really great site for our goat products…

“What Saves Us All Is Love”

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Shadowed by the deaths of little children and their teachers, the holiday season in Connecticut passed heavy with sadness. Thoughts of grieving neighbors tempered every day. As I moved through my days at the bookstore, acknowledgement was shared in the minutes spent with strangers while finding or bagging their books. These usually frantic exchanges before Christmas, slowed slightly by a connection of shared sorrow. The season, while bleak, had a poignancy. Customers were kinder. As if feeling the rawness and wonder: how do we go on after these unbearable losses?

Healing seems impossible. How will those parents ever again smile, feel any joy? Yet look: here is the face of the mother that last Christmas of 2011, who woke to a house in flames that killed her three beautiful girls and her parents. In these photos she looks beautiful, smiling, surrounded by her friends who all draw close to her, loving her. Yes, there she is, a year later, living life. In pain, of course — but surely glimpsing a light. For these past 365 days she has carried on with that unbearable weight of her horrible loss — as others have before her. How has she done this? How will the others?

Love, Madonna Badger, the grieving Stamford mother says, saves us all. When we are in the dark night of grief, it seems that light might be smothered, but somehow – lit it stays. This remarkable essence, this life, makes us extraordinary. Inevitably, we all will experience deaths of our loved ones. While quietly we are grateful that this time, this terrible story is not ours, that it is not our beloved, we glimpse the truth that it might have been. And so, a very little bit at least — it is. Helpless to make anything better, we still want to take action, to comfort. Even knowing there are no words, we reach out to our friends and strangers alike, sending messages – because in this world of grieving, no one is really a complete stranger, not for long.

Out of this longing to do something we shower the Newtown community, with toys for their children. Chances are, those families did not need more under their trees but the rest of us needed to do something. To show our love. We drive through blizzards to gather around parents mourning the death of their child. No words can comfort, but we can fill a room, our faces glowing with tears, we can acknowledge and share the one thing that we hope may keep our friends, our fellow humans going forward: love. It is what saves us all.