Sixty-six degrees at eight in the morning on July 4 in Door County. My hands smell of lavender from making bouquets and the harvest piles up in an old, rusty green Suburban Garden wagon. The cold spring delayed sprigs maturing, but the first varieties are now ready. These mornings of working at a table with a sweeping view of blooming lavender rows, friends bent over the bushy plants, and collies running offer a respite from news and worries.
Yes, the world is dipping and swaying for huge reasons, and it is hard to be proud of the state of our nation. I couldn’t get into the goofy happiness of a small town 4th of July parade and snapping pictures of kids on decorated tractor wagons and the grocery store staff pushing decorated shopping carts. I haven’t absorbed the sickening news of another mass shooter at a different parade. National discord and gun violence keep Americans in an uncomfortable state of anxiety so I’m looking for moments of simple pleasure to build personal peace of mind. I’m talking really simple pleasures:
Fresh peas, shelled by someone else.
Sunshine and cool air this morning.
Two fawns playing in a neighbors’ yard.
Straight from the field strawberries.
Farmers market greens and cherry tomatoes.
Giggles of a happy infant granddaughter.
Our eight-year-old granddaughter singing.
Music while working.
A short pile of books.
Family and good friends a call or text away.
Some days you must restore your own core to keep pushing through your role in the bigger world. Here’s hoping you can create a list of simple pleasures to support minutes of personal peace.
Sunrise is later and setting earlier. In the country farmers are busy harvesting, leaving enough behind to keep the blackbirds, sand cranes, seagulls, geese, and other birds picking through the stubble for food.
On the way to our neighbor’s farm stand to check on supplies and empty the cash box, I check on how red peppers have turned since picking ripe ones two days ago. A few butterflies twirl past, bees still visit the hydrangea at field’s edge and the Black-eyed Susan hold their own.
September is buzzing away as sprays of golden or red leaves announce. Seventy-five today feels warmer than a month ago, but we’re wearing shoes and long pants or shorts and sweatshirts in the mornings. The air feels quiet, not packed with potential. It is easier to look back at the good times of summer than forward at the diminishing weeks until winter.
Covid doesn’t help the slide. What seemed like the summer of returning normal has been anything but that. The reality that one in 500 Americans have died of Covid lays particularly heavy as the rules are tweaked, stubborn people hold on to their right to defy the scientists, doctors, and leaders. Do you see your grandchildren? Is the fall festival safe? And how will the holidays play out this year? How will we keep our family members alive and healthy? How far do washed hands and masks take us in protecting the young.
Arranging the stand’s products, remembering harvesting some of it during late June, and breathing in the September morning air makes for a good start. In a month we’ll be walking in fallen leaves. Please live today with care for each other.
During the heart of COVID lock down a new book project forced its way beyond a planned longish short story. With competition in the fiction market so difficult, my 2020 and 2021 work goals did not include a novel length work. But after months of keeping control within a tightly defined setting, one character began disintegrating. Old pain leaked into the new life she was learning and speckled soft-color sunny days with deep splotches of rusty and black stains. A short story about resiliency faced a wall of resistance.
My nice character abused all my plans and won the upper hand as the original plot imploded. Someone had to suffer, maybe even die, to let character, plot, and setting strings roll into a ball worth throwing from one hand to another. Loss, betrayal, discovery, and forgiveness don’t develop over autumn days differentiated by the nothing more significant that the choice of jam on tomorrow’s sandwich. There must be days when the cupboard is empty, or the bread is moldy, or someone has switched raspberry jam with despised jalapeno jelly that must be eaten. Because this is life.
My tormented character may be demanding to create her fictional life with a streak of realism in this interim pandemic world where historic fires, floods and power players’ disregard for regular people deny the magic of rainbows and predictable endings. Perhaps spending years in the world of 40 Thieves on Saipan, I’m more open to a character who chooses to walk the world carrying pain, fresh socks, blank notebooks, and a sandwich with any jam in a backpack instead of watching the world through others’ windows.
The Saturday Evening Post recently picked up a pandemic-influenced story I wrote. It is about a chain of events that could happen to anyone, but are different because this is 2020.
Writers are wondering how the pandemic will impact what people want to read. Will novels written in 2018 remain relevant with the social changes experienced this year? As racial, economic, political, and geographical divides widen, can any one person truly write the American story? Can writers still tell the stories they want to tell or do changing cultural norms define what a writer is allowed to write?
This whole chain of questions sent me to Publishers Lunch to see what publishers were buying for their 2021 offerings. As the economy weakens, the first lesson is that publishers are buying fewer titles. The second observation is nonfiction titles are bubbling along at about the same clip. A third observation is the presence international and diversity in fiction and memoir.
Of course more titles will flood the market through indie presses and self-publishing than the traditional route so what 2021 will bring to book consumers is largely unknown. No one can predict whether new books released will match consumers’ pandemic-era interests. You can bring a book to market, but book readers chose what they want to read.
In 2010 Time magazine named Jonathan Franzen the great American novelist. That’s been a title bequeathed to mostly middle-class, middle-age, white men. Depending on your age and reading preferences, it can be difficult to find yourself in their work. As 2020 rolls toward 2021, Franzen’s work reflects an indulgent white upper middle class perspective that always felt odd, but now is purely outdated. Something is surely replacing that tradition. Which brings the original question back into play– how will the pandemic impact what people want to read. What will be relevant?
Releasing a new book is an incredibly thrilling professional achievement in the life of a writer. A combination of personal excitement and contractual obligation lead us to dropping the name of our new book (40 Thieves on Saipan) on social media for months.
40 Thieves on Saipan, the story of an elite WWII Marine Scout-Sniper platoon in one of the Pacific Theater’s bloodiest battles, released June 2. In the midst of a pandemic and deep racial protests, the book launch may be one drop of water in the thousands of gallons going over my home area’s Minnehaha Falls. But that drop is important to co-author Joseph Tachovsky, me and the families and friends of the 40 Thieves platoon.
U.S. citizens within the armed forces sacrifice their lives each year in the name of freedom. In WWII young men were required to serve with limited ability to choose a branch of the services.
Eleanor Roosevelt said “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps.”
Few women authors write war battle books. Before I became a novelist, I was a journalist. From reading transcripts of the surviving Thieves platoon. to digging into Marine leaders’ diaries. to researching battle details, this book was a deep lesson in war and its most disposable asset, those who wear uniforms. In its stark truth, 40 Thieves on Saipan becomes an anti-war message. For any prospective military recruit, their parent, sweetheart or spouse, child, or friend, this book cuts through the advertising to the reality of carrying a weapon in war and adjusting to life back in the states later.
I’ll head back to other blog topics in the near future, but now my pride in 40 Thieves on Saipan is like any new parent. The book is available through Amazon, B&N online, BAM, and in bookstores. Joseph and I will be contributing part of our net royalties to specific nonprofit groups serving US vets.
This was the summer we were going to explore the Brabant Walloon Province of Belgium where the majority of my ancestors once lived. Our son and daughter-in-law proposed the trip and a second planning meeting was about to be held when COVID-19 erupted outside China.
As plans fell apart in February for a special Easter vacation with my husband’s family and I cancelled a flight to Wisconsin a few weeks later, we wondered how summer travel might be impacted. Italy’s struggle with the immensity of COVID-19 gave the Western world a dose of reality.
We are fortunate to have a second home close to the Wisconsin Belgian community where both my maternal and paternal ancestors settled. Spring through fall planning for visits of family, friends, and fellow writers is usually complete by now. Changes happen, but certain events are written in permanent marker on our calendars before Easter. Until this year. A rough schedule is on my desk with April and May crossed off. The calendar remains blank.
May and June would already be different because the release of 40 Thieves on Saipanowns that time. The regular events to launch a book won’t happen in a shelter in place nation. No launch parties. No bookstore signings. Joseph Tachovsky, my co-author, and I are offering signed bookplates to those who are interested and pre-order the book. We’ll be virtual guests at book club meetings if invited. We’ll be visible on social media and he will be interviewed remotely on radio and television stations. Our publisher is confident and so are we.
Kids and young people are missing irreplaceable milestones like graduations, proms, new jobs, gathering for weddings. The dates circled with permanent marker during normal times. We mourn our lost isolated in quiet homes or viewing small screens. We celebrate births with no idea of when we’ll hold the newborn or hug the parents. We cannot fly to be with those needing physical care. It is what we do so that more of us will be here when this fight is over.
Surviving war does not equate to a free ticket home.
COVID-19 is like a world war with every country fighting unique battles to beat a largely invisible enemy. When a vaccine is ready, how will wearied populations move forward? How will first responders and all on the front lines find their equilibrium? Where will we mourn our dead?
A good number of the 40 Thieves on Saipan WWII platoon survivors re-enlisted for the Korean conflict. They had seen too much, experienced too much, to return to the family dinner table. For the rest of their lives, many fought the bloody Pacific Theater battles of their youth. Between 1.4 and 1.5 million World War II vets fought in Korea. My father was one of those.
Some WWI and WWII vets disappeared after finding home side re-integration in the United States too difficult. My father-in-law was one of those. Without credit cards and mobile phones, pulling up roots in the 1950s was far easier. The women they left behind were granted the dignity of being known ‘war widows’ even if somewhere their legal spouse was alive.
Mental health issues have dogged veterans as long as men have waged war. Some WWII and Vietnam vets who had suffered as prisoners of war returned home able to rehabilitate. Others did the best they could. I worked with a well-functioning man who chose to remove his shoes and eat his lunch under his desk. He had spent months in a Russian prisoner camp and carried this vulnerability to the work world.
Hit with the double whammy of COVID-19 and economic tsunami, not all of us will have the tenacity to start over. Suicide rates in the United States have risen dramatically since the start of the millennium, particularly among white middle age men. Vietnam and Afghanistan vets are dying at their own hand daily.
The world will not be a friendlier place in 2021, so where will we find ourselves? In a New York Times op ed David Brooks writes about the US tide of “safetyism” that buffers children and young people from disappointment, from accidents of any size, from developing tenacity. He says that tenacity is not a feature of good character, but what people are trained to do. One of our first challenges will be to find tenacious leaders in families, communities, schools, corporations and government and ask them to help everyone to build the skill set. And to build supports for those who are struck with hesitancy or fear on the journey to our new world.
Surviving this virus war will be a different kind of battle. Stay home. Stay safe.
Plowed snow covers a neighbor’s stonewall. Deer follow each other’s tracks leaving pathways through the woods. Ermine patrol exterior of houses in search of mice. Squirrels catapult between bare tree branches.
Three days of bright sun makes a friend’s installation of solar panels look like a good investment. Melting ice sparkles down the rain chain. The back porch is clear of Friday’s slippery melt and freeze mess. XC skies, snowshoes and sleds drip dry in the garage. Snow polished dangerously on roadways two nights ago has been forgotten.
Weekend visitors have drifted through stores with clearance sales, cruised snow mobile trails closed much of an unpredictable winter, brought a much needed dinner crowd to restaurants and bars. Better to have people late in the season when businesses have been down too long.
Maybe there’s a tease of spring in the breeze. Maybe that’s a foolish dream with more windy days and possible snow predicted midweek. Still time to buy winter gear priced at fifty percent to wear during the duration. The biggest storms often come after chili dinners with friends followed by board games are not quite as fun, jigsaw puzzles fill too many evenings, and the good fireplace wood pile is low. It would be better if football hadn’t finished so early in the season. Catchers and batters camp feels disconnected from this reality. But everyone daydreams about t-shirts and sandals.
County baseball league guys hold their initial season meetings in bars as the high school kids earn their way to winter sports state competitions and those fortunate to have plans pack suitcases for a few weeks in places where palm trees offer shade at the side of a pool. With Easter early this year the little girls could be wearing winter jackets over pretty dresses and searching for eggs will definitely happen inside the house.
There’s still corn in the fields as seed catalogues fill mailboxes. It’s hard to leave the house without slipping feet into boots, jamming gloves in pockets of a warm coat and pulling on a hat. Survival habits for at least another month. The snow that is still to come will clog the driveway for a shorter misery factor. But winter has a way of staying relevant as long as it wants. Put on another pot of chili.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meets in London this week. Members haven’t been in agreement on a number of important topics for many years. The discomfort of disagreement is elevated in the current world leaders gathering.
Most of my adult life the U.S. has been at war. Men and women in camel fatigues drive next to us on the way to work. They shop at Target, pick up lunch at fast food places. Their kids play in our neighborhood. Their parents look for support from those who understand because the U.S. doesn’t feel like a country fighting a real war. Most of us don’t worry about our kids because they are wearing the U.S. uniform in a foreign land, or fighting the daily battles of post-traumatic stress or physical pain when they are among us.
For two years I have been working with another writer on a book project about an amazing Marine platoon that came into existence in the Pacific Theater in 1944. 40 Thieves on Saipan rose from the letters, photos, papers and hours of interviews with survivors of that platoon. My father was on a Navy ship involved in the clean up of the battle of Saipan. Thirty-five to forty thousand men, women and children lost their lives during roughly three weeks of fighting.
How do you tell a mother that her son was decapitated in front of you asks one nineteen year old Marine in 40 Thieves? Who pulls the trigger to end a buddy’s agony as the enemy torments his bullet-ridden body with a machine gun? How can the smell of a battlefield be described?
Queen Anne’s Lace plants too late to blossom wave dried pods in meadows and along roads. More Goldenrod become dull amid remaining greenery. Creeping vine leaves are tinged with brown, exposing dead their host trees and stubs to the elements. An occasional Monarch butterfly flutters where hundreds gathered. Picked of most of its fruit, the last viable tree in the orchard offers rotting pears to squirrels and deer. Birds form back into flocks after months of carefree exploration
In a week the garden changed from generous colorful blossoms to petals dotted with brown specks, stalks of poppies, empty rose stems, leaves without flowers. Too tall decorative grasses or plants tower over shriveled annuals in pots around the porch. Acorns drop with abrupt, gently violent, sounds. Mushrooms claim their day of show.
Farmers markets offer piles of kale, squash, boxes of potatoes, onions and carrots. Remaining tomatoes have fewer days to be used atop store bought lettuce or spinach. Apples replace cherries, blueberries, raspberries. Pumpkins appear piled on wagons.
Summer left the land dragging with it a sense of promise and surplus. Fall took over acting all pragmatic, a combination of awesome color-splotched trees and clearing the earth of produce that can be preserved for the months when nothing will grow. When icy tree branches and drifted snow will be called nature’s beauty.