There is no way to catch you up. We've had 6 events since we last blogged about our time on the road and each one has been different in terms of tone and timing and space. We've been at a pie shop, a painter's studio, an art gallery, and 3 libraries. We've met so many kind, generous people and have helped hundreds of them make tiny books. We've had deep conversations, brief time with dear friends, dips in glacial swimming holes, good food, hearty laughter, and the gift of a wider community building everywhere we go. My son joined us for 10 days and I don't have the words to describe how good it felt to share our work with him and spend miles and miles with nothing between us but wind and sun.
But I'd like to tell you about yesterday at the Ojai Library. It was hot. Really hot. Across the street some trees were being trimmed and the sawdust from the wood chipper was swirling in the air when we arrived at the library, the debris nearly choking us. But the parking lot had been completely cleared and the librarian greeted us with a squeal and ran around the desk to welcome all of us in. Sherry and Christine were traveling with us, making it feel like a party.
People began to trickle in and we jumped into bookmaking and showing off the collection. The excitement built. A family from Chicago came in and their son excitedly began folding paper and typing on the typewriter. Leslie and her daughter arrived with huge joyful hugs. Kellen delighted in a tiny book called "Jokes. Yay!"
Across the library a group of children were clearly studying. Later, I found out that it was an ESL group who comes to the library every summer day to practice their reading skills. I felt a strange disconnect between their studiousness and our raucous fun just thirty feet away. One of their pre-school aged siblings sat at our table cutting bits of paper. When I asked if she wanted to make a tiny book, she shook her head "no." Her mother shyly watched me teach someone else the accordion fold and mimicked my folding movements. When we got to the last step she held up her prototype and asked if I could instruct her on the final creases, a wide smile breaking open when I marveled at the way she had simply observed and learned. Seconds later her demure daughter wanted to make a tiny book, too.
Eventually the ESL program ended and one of the women working with them brought two young boys over and asked if we could teach them to make books. Then 2 girls. Then 2 more. Then 3. Then a couple more. Suddenly the entire group had joined us and several of their mothers, as well. More people came in and the room was buzzing with fantastic friendly energy. All hands were on deck. Sherry, Christine, Travis, and Evlyn all jumped in to help show people how to make books. I felt like corking a bottle of champagne.
Christine captured this photo just after our event ended. Outside of the caravan in the quieted dusty parking lot, our overt joy feels contagious. The word lucky suddenly doesn't seem immense enough. Damn lucky.
I'd like to tell you about kindness. Kathy's gift of cut paper accompanying our stash in the trailer, and the oohs and aahs of workshop participants since who have made covers for their tiny books with it. Jonathan's welcome and Miles' magic tricks and Amy D.'s iced tea and chicken pot pie and Luna's eagerness and Flora's generous offer of time and space. I'd like to tell you about the ranch in Redmond and Okie Scrabble with Pixie and Skye and Cinnamon and the delight and ease of it all. I'd like to tell you about swimming with Ivy, and how saying goodbye made my heart pinchier than I'd expected. I'd like to tell you about how hot Sacramento was and how the bottles of chilled water that Barbara gave us were just the tip of the iceberg of joy. I'd like to tell you about how hard Evlyn worked and how easy she made it look. And the marvel of The Brickhouse Gallery and everything it stands for. I'd like to tell you about entering California and the flood of memories it brought back. And the uncomplicated beauty of Mt. Shasta and the more complicated beauty of the lake beneath it. I'd like to tell you about 27 Powers and seeing Laurie and Stef again and how everything fit so neatly into itself, like the perfect, secret pocket. I'd like to tell you about P and K-town and their friends at the library and the stack of tiny books that piled steadily to the heavens. I'd like to tell you about Sherry's squeal of joy and behind the scenes and Madonna Inn at 10:30 p.m. and how sweet the truffles were. I'd like to tell you about long drives and road snacks and gas-station coffee and chile-lime Doritos and handfuls of almonds from the front seat. I'd like to tell you about the Pacific Coast Highway and that otherworldly fog and Christine's marriage of intelligence and laughter that ups my own bar. I'd like to tell you about bacon costumes and re-envisioning Wonder Woman and sage in the front yard and a hummingbird alighting, ever so briefly, on a branch. And the cresting of dolphins to my right as we barreled along at 65 miles an hour. But how I saw them nevertheless. I saw them all.
Nampa, Idaho was a dream. Pulling into a tiny parking lot and falling into the arms of Kathy Wilkins, whose hugs felt like homecoming. Our resting place for the night was the Brave Girls Clubhouse and Kathy treated us like family from the moment we arrived. She brought us coffee and breakfast the next morning, printed extra posters for the show at Nampa Public Library since ours were beginning to look ratty, and sent us off on our merry way. She came by the library to check on us and stayed to make a tiny book (which she then snuck into our collection when we weren't looking - 10 Simple Ways to Have More Peace is the perfect addition, especially when the world feels so bruised and baffling). Before we hit the road, she sent us off with 3 huge stacks of gorgeous paper to replenish our supply before our forthcoming events. I told you, Nampa was dreamy.
A whole class of 8th graders submitted tiny books to our show, each one prompted by an Edgar Allen Poe quote from their unit in English class to illustrate the dragon fold. I love this idea for bringing literature to life, of grounding it in a new and tangible way. It seems apropos to end here:
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. ~Edgar Allen Poe
The country stretches wide and close all at once. The foreign becoming familiar. Mountains like bookends. Rivers like a bookmark. The highway like a story we are writing mile by mile. I am a little at a loss for words. But I am hardly at a loss for gratitude.
Kindness. Generosity. Joy. These are the things I keep seeing, after miles on the highways between stops, when we land in a new place. The full greeting. The honest desire to help. The elegance and selflessness of each offer. How Camille and Anna drove up to Rapid City and jumped right in, and then jumped right in the next day during our morning in Custer. Brad's ease and flexibility and clear excitement and open arms. Bottles of water passed over on hot afternoons. Tommy's wide eyes and eagerness and the rolling cart he steered through the massive Salt Lake City library. The backyard picnic at Amy's. Tim's run to the grocery store for roast chicken. Evan's tenderness, and laughter in the car on the long climb into Idaho. Travis's steady presence. And always, by my side, my love. It seems like the further away we get, the more at home we feel.
Surprises. Like the way South Dakota suddenly changes when you cross the Mississippi and corn gives way to mountains and moon-like landscapes. Like the oboe and guitar playing in the Badlands National Park under a starry sky and the terrific storm, which hit out of the blue in the middle of the night - lighting up our campsite and sending lightning and wind and hail and rain down on us for hours. Like the rainbow that greeted us with equal fierceness at 5 AM the next morning as we wandered around the park in a sleepless daze. Like Camille and Anna walking down the sidewalk toward us in Rapid City wearing "tiny matters" T-shirts and huge smiles as if they were a uniform and they were on the winning team. Like Janet's stories of her hike in Nepal at the age of sixty-five and the fearless way she takes on a new pursuit every decade, still undecided about what it will be in her eighties! Like the tumble of Maya's wallet off of the roof of the car and onto the interstate as we left the rest area. Like Travis scanning the roadside and triumphantly locating every important document and the only slightly tattered wallet. Like the sound hail makes when it hits Maude's aluminum roof. Like Tommy greeting us with a big welcoming hug. Like Evan looking taller and even closer to his man-self when he arrived from New Jersey, landing by my side in the atrium of the Salt Lake City Library. Like the hordes of people awed by tiny books in the Share Space. Like the three brothers in matching white button down shirts, who spent hours looking at the collection and then making their own. Like Arbor and Scott's warm smiles and their gifts of paper and beer. Like Avi giving us his book about the colors of feelings - white is wonder. Like Jo Packham from Where Women Create Magazine hugging me tight, oohing and aahing over our collection of tiny books, and then handing us a box of hot-off-the-press copies of the magazine with our story gracing the pages! Like the love written all over Amy and Tim's faces. Like Grace's wide wide smile and the sound of our laughter with Mr. Christer echoing in the backyard half the night. Like a red-and-white checkered blanket. Like yellow jackets swarming for strawberries. Like the sweet taste of fudge ice cream and sharing a spoon. Like sleep after every long and perfect day.
We have some catching up to do from the past few days; a few of the campgrounds we've been staying that have had spotty wifi, so we've leaned heavily on our Instagram feed (@thecreativitycaravan) to share our journey visually. But here is the post following our Chicago and Madison stops.
. . . . . . . . .
I can see, already, how hard it will be to write about this trip. And I mean write about it beyond the daily movings and doings, the “how” and the “why” in addition to the “what” and the “when” and the “who.” We’ve mapped our tour with such specific dates and locations, but of course beyond that lie the unmappable things, the moments that come at us unexpectedly, the interactions with the people we meet, the brief windows that intimate the larger human experience in all of its awe and wonder and depth and grief and glory. That kind of writing takes time, and that time needs metabolizing in the way that our fast drives and whirlwind events can’t quite offer. We do our best, I think, with the resources we have in the moment. And right now, at this late hour in a campground in the middle of Minnesota, I’m thinking in snippets. Like the three diagonal parking spaces we took up outside Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, and the hot and humid lobby we moved the workshop to so that there wouldn’t be much distance to walk between the caravan and the workshop. Seeing Danielle sitting with Amy and knowing that the heat and humidity couldn’t make a dent in the joy of this reunion. Seeing Michelle again and her amazing kids, and the book Eliza wrote and read out loud. Dishes of candy and the relief of ice-cold water. The pure sunshine beam that is Kathleen, and how that beam stayed so bright all evening. How glad and grateful I am for connections across the wires that stay connected. The drive to Johnsburg and a late dinner of quinoa and quesadillas and sweet, sweet sleep. Watching Travis dive from the dock the next morning. The second cup of coffee. Arriving in Madison and making circles around the library. Laura bounding out of the side doors. The Bubbler Room. A rolling cart. How easily everything unfolded. All the seats filled. Bo and Bob and Terri and Steve at Union Terrace. Pitchers of New Glarus. The longest, most perfect sunset. And this morning and afternoon, driving back along the old route. Baby goats and prairie dogs and a wooden statue of Bigfoot on Route 14. Late lunch in Viroqua. A salad of greens and smoked trout and goat cheese. The peppery, tart dressing. The largest chocolate chip cookie. A drowsy drive through the first half of Minnesota. More roadside attractions. Frankenstein in Janesville. A water tower topped by an otherworldly ear of corn. The first mosquito bites. A campfire made from wet wood. Dreaming of the Badlands, of Rushmore, of all that is stretching in the miles ahead, and the ones after.
Chicago: This is not about the heat and humidity. This is not about the nerve-wracking drive into downtown Chicago. This is not about the parking mishap or so many people wearing headphones and the way they rushed past us, barely glancing, on their way to the train after a long day at work or to a nearby restaurant to meet friends. This is not about the empty sidewalks after rush hour or the disappointment that threatened to mount.
This is about the blue sky over the city. This is about the colorful walls and kitchy style of Catalyst Ranch, the way Eva greeted us with a hug on that same sidewalk out front and the accommodating way her staff moved tables and chairs and printed signs and helped us manage the evening. This is about the two young men walking by who did stop to ogle the caravan and told us about their name tag project, a way to break the barriers between people and start deepening the conversation from the first hello. This is about our collective daydream to travel together someday like gypsies with a train of creatives each with a brilliant idea to make the world a better place. This is about Kathleen and her effervescent personality. Her delight in the small things. Her sassiness, which was exactly as I imagined it would be when we finally met in real time. This is about Danielle taking the train after a long day, tossing her cowboy boots in a corner and standing in the doorway of the caravan in her bare feet exuberantly telling passersby they shouldn’t miss the Tiny Book Show, how exactly right it was to have her next to me. This is about standing at the kitchen counter in Johnsburg at almost 11 PM laughing and eating quinoa and black bean quesadillas, drinking the coldest bottles of beer. This is about the sun rising above the bay the next morning. This is about standing at the edge of the dock with Travis and leaping into summertime. This is about the sheer joy of handstands in the water and the promise of a brand-new day.
Madison: When we make prototype tiny books as we're teaching, I never write anything in them - too little time at each workshop for content-building between the lessons. But I imagine my pages filled with haikus, like Gabriele is doing with all her tiny books in Germany. These are the poems I would have filled my books with in Madison this week. . . .
filling his suitcases with
Drinking in summer
while chords of happy birthday
rise from a dark dock.
Anais and I
riveted to our gardens
willing them to bloom.