I’ve been quiet and you probably think I fell into the ocean or got blown away by coastal storms. But no, I’m still here, learning all I can about my new home.
The reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been busy. For a tiny dot on the map between Yachats and Lincoln City, Newport’s population is about the same as the town I left in Idaho. If you want a Costco or a Lowe’s you have to drive several miles, just like I did in Idaho. But unlike the town I left behind, there is so much more to do here I barely have time to read, let alone write.
Check out the latest issue of Oregon Coast Today and you will see there is always something going on. Add to that everything happening in The Valley between here and Portland and there is no time to be bored. Ever.
Take for instance last weekend. Since I don’t like to drive Portland traffic my son quietly obliged, taking me to Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock. I was so revitalized I’m still vibrating. My favorite author, Alice Hoffman, was in town and spoke about her new book Faithful. She even signed my copy and thanked me for stopping by. So many other talented writers attended, not to mention many Oregon presses including Ooligan Press, Tin House, and my favorite, Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press. If that wasn’t great enough, admission to the event included admittance to the Portland Art Museum and the Andy Warhol exhibit. Now my son was vibrating, snapping pictures and studying one-of-a-kind art. Yes, it was raining. But in spite of the rain, it was a positive, energizing day.
That evening my family took in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical put on by my grandson Dante’s high school class. The students were top notch, high energy, and amazing. The day ended with dinner at The Ram and a glass of wine. Perfect.
Many people told me I was crazy to move to Oregon. Several said I’d get depressed and miss the sun. And even though I miss my friends in Idaho, and sometimes I do miss the sun, mostly I love it here. Even when it’s raining.
This weekend Nye Beach Writers Series is hosting Lauren Kessler, from Eugene, Oregon.
Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and self-designated guinea pig journalist who combines lively narrative with deep research to explore everything from the seemingly romantic but oh-so-gritty world of ballet to the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement, from the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship to the hidden world of Alzheimer’s sufferers. She is the author of nine works of narrative nonfiction, including her latest, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Her other work includes Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging; My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence, and Pacific Northwest Book Award winner Dancing with Rose (published in paperback as Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s.
Please join us February 20, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. General admission is $8; students are admitted free. Open mic to follow.
15 Things You May Not Know About Lauren Kessler
1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?
I write for many reasons, but mostly I write because I am intensely curious about…well, about most everything…and writing funds my curiosity and gives legitimacy to my nosiness. It allows me to ask questions without being a nuisance (usually). It allows me to immerse myself in people’s lives without being arrested for stalking. I can even eavesdrop. At one point early in my writing career, I thought maybe I should specialize. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t set those boundaries. And so, during the past decade, I’ve written about exotic plant smuggling and assisted suicide, about communist spies and women’s basketball players, about a whorehouse in the Mojave desert , about my mother. About Alzheimer’s. About 21st century teen girl culture. About ballet. I write to learn.
2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
When I am writing (as opposed to researching, traveling, immersing myself in the world I am going to write about) I keep to a strict routine. A routine means I can focus on the work itself and not waste energy on thinking about how my day will or should go. I wake early, go for a run, then work for about 5 hours. I stand when I work. I drink many many cups of green and herbal tea. When things get tough, I chain chew Orbit Sweet Mint Gum. I don’t have a problem with discipline. This is work I love. I am intensely aware of the privilege I have to do it.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
I have never counted. And it is actually impossible to determine, given the every day fiddling, tweaking, revising, rewriting that is a normal part of the process.
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best: When Stubborn Twig, which won the Oregon Book Award, was chosen as the first statewide “Everybody Reads” selection to celebrate Oregon’s sesquicentennial. I had the opportunity to travel to 23 cities and towns across the state to talk about the book, about writing and about our state’s history. Second best: Appearing on the David Letterman Show for Happy Bottom Riding Club.
The worst: When, mid-book, my editor at Viking — whom I loved and had worked with on other projects — left the publishing house.
5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
I love the act of writing, how alive I feel when I am making connections, when it feels as if I am truly truly using my brain. And I equally love diving into the worlds I want to write about, immersing myself fully, learning by doing.
I dislike pitching book ideas to my agent because sometimes what grabs me is not what grabs him.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?
I am a voracious reader. When I am researching a book, I immerse myself in the literature of that world — narrative nonfiction, novels, memoir, poetry, film — as well as, of course, the research and writing of experts. I read, alternately, narrative nonfiction and novels, trading off. All-time favorite authors: May Sarton, Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler, Vladmir Nabokov.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
Best: Sweat the small stuff.
Worst: Stick with what you know.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
The iconic narrative/ literary nonfiction writers: John McPhee, Gay Talese, Joan Didion
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I am at the beginning of a new project, another immersion into a fascinating world…but it’s too early to talk about it.
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
I would not wait at Penn Station for three hours for my then-boyfriend Phil who missed the train (as I too-much-later found out) because he was busy romancing another girl.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Read, read, read.
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I know all the lines to Vachel Lindsay’s poem, The Congo. Also TupTim’s speech in The King and I.
(this is adapted from the flap copy and back cover)
The mother of three grown children who hasn’t had a ballet slipper on her foot in forty years, Lauren Kessler launches herself, full-force, on a journey to dance in the world’s most popular ballet with a professional company.
The result is a midlife quest at turns harrowing and hilarious, an exploration of what it means to venture far outside your comfort zone, to truly test your own limits and raise the bar(re) on your own life. Lauren’s quest to dance The Nutcracker with the Eugene Ballet Company tackles the big issues: fear, angst, risk, resilience, the refusal to “settle in” to midlife, the refusal to become yet another Invisible Woman. It is also a very funny, very real look at what it’s like to push yourself
further than you ever thought you could go—and what happens when you get there.
Yesterday I received an email from my brother. So, it said, do you still like it there?
Let me think.
I’m headed into the third month in my new house. The boxes are unpacked. Everything has been put away or donated to Goodwill. Most of the pictures are on the wall, with the remaining three in a dining room chair waiting for me to find the perfect place. Finally there is time to take a walk through the wooded neighborhood or sit in front of the window and sip coffee. Finally there is time to take in some community events, which are many.
In spite of the loud clothes my husband sports, we are quiet people. We don’t like a lot of hustle and bustle or big crowds. Newport is anything but quiet during the summer months, but come September vacationers return to their homes and things settle down here. But not too much. In fact, not at all. We’ve discovered there is always something to do on the Oregon Coast. From Lincoln City to Florence, there is always something going on: farmer’s markets, mushroom walks, kite festivals, writing workshops, woodworking classes. This is not a community of old people. This town is very active.
Newport isn’t as big as Jerome, Idaho, which boasts approximately eleven thousand people. Newport has a population of about ten thousand after tourist season. Newport has a great medical facility and the library is awesome for such a small town. Just this week the Newport Public Library Foundation sponsored author Marja Mills, who spent her day talking to Newport students and then, that night, read from her book and shared with the community what it was like to live next door to Alice and Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama. The evening was interesting, and it was free.
Today the sun is shining. Outdoors it’s a balmy 50 degrees. There is no wind. There is no snow. There is no freeway traffic.
So, to answer my brother. Yes, I still like it here. No, wait, that’s wrong. I not only like it here, I think I’m in love.
August 8, 2015
The dutiful son and I leave Happy Valley and merge with traffic heading south on I-5. It’s early enough roads aren’t crowded, and no one is tired and enacting road rage. I’ve driven this road before, several times, and the good thing about I-5 is that it’s a straight shot to Salem, no twisty turns to slow the pace.
We take exit 228 toward Lebanon and Corvallis and begin the windy drive toward the coast. According to mapquest, the trip to Newport is 139 miles. By comparison, a trip from Jerome to Boise, Idaho, a 120-mile drive, would take less than two hours. But here the trip takes almost three as the single-lane road winds at a slow 50, 55-mile pace. Idaho recently raised the freeway speed limit to 80 miles an hour, which makes sense in southern Idaho where there isn’t anything to destroy but desert. Here you couldn’t drive 80 miles an hour if you wanted to, not when curves warn “slow down,” and there are almost as many curves as trees. But the drive is beautiful, and every time I make it I think of Lewis and Clark and how primeval everything must have been 200 years ago. Even now, if road crews didn’t trim back foliage, the blackberries, deer fern, and juniper mistletoe would devour the road, and I would be searching for a way through the forest.
I roll down my window and enjoy the pine-scented air. Back in Idaho temperatures are three digits, here it is cooler, and where I am going the average daily temperature is 64 degrees. That’s part of the reason for this move: no more harsh winters and no more blistering summers. But that’s a lie. The reason for this move is simple. I love the ocean. I want to live on the coast.
It seems like fall, and I’m surprised at how the colors are already changing to red and yellow. It’s the drought my son says when I comment. It’s hard to believe this lush land is experiencing a drought, not with all the green around me. But there are signs everywhere with dead trees and straw-colored grass. And I understand drought. In Idaho, everything is brown and much of the terrain is on fire.
I have a lot to learn about this state that supports the right to die, medicinal marijuana, and mandatory recycling. This green state meshes with my personality. I believe in leaving a light footprint, if I must leave one at all. And I love to play in the dirt. My Idaho friends have placed bets. How long will it be before I put my nose in a nursery? Surprisingly, my list is small: star jasmine, blue hydrangea, peace lilies, and a white magnolia, none of which survive harsh Idaho winters.
Even before I pull into Newport, I smell the salt air. I inhale. It’s comforting, and welcoming, and feels like home.