I’ve been in a writing mood, so here’s a small but true tale of hidden treasure to start off this Field Notes dispatch (yes, there are books).
Our story takes place right here where I live. Ours is a small satellite community of Salem that was incorporated into the city some years ago, but we remain sort of a quirky second cousin (twice removed). We’re close enough to go play downtown and enjoy all the wonderful things it offers and yet are outside of that daily hustle, noise, and traffic. We’re off the beaten path. I love it that way.
My home turf and main stomping grounds are here on the west side of the river. We have a great neighborhood coffee house and grocery store, and all the other necessities: a library, post office, schools, and credit union, along with a few restaurants, parks, shops, and such. We even have a small farmer’s market in the summer now, an offshoot of the big one downtown. There’s a funky little strip of historical buildings lining Edgewater Drive lying next to the highway and river beyond. It’s our version of main street and while it lies at the border of of our community, it’s the nexus mundi, the heart and soul of it.
We have all the basics a small community needs to thrive, except one. We lack a bookstore.
Okay, yes, I admit there is one bookstore here, but I was completely underwhelmed at first sighting. It lies at the far no-man’s-land edge of our beloved Edgewater Drive district and nothing about it looks inviting or interesting. It seems kind of forlorn, housed in a plain one-story, utilitarian cinder-block building, painted bargain-basement tan and tucked between a huge Goodwill Store, a sterile medical clinic, and a weedy vacant lot. Lying beyond are remnants of the old industrial district of packing, canning, and warehouse businesses that were the heart of West Salem’s early economy. My imagination cast the store as dark and dusty inside, dealing mostly in smelly, disintegrating paperbacks from the 80s and 90s. Not for me.
How often do we do that? Make a snap judgement about something in the speed of a drive by, never looking closer because that one glance tells us all we think we need to know. But every time I pass it again, I do wonder about it (well, for another nano second or two).
As far as I can tell, it’s the only bookstore here in West Salem. And for devoted readers, having a neighborhood bookstore is mana from heaven. Online book buying is convenient, less expensive, and easy, but it doesn’t give us the sensual experience of exploring the shelves for treasures and holding real books in our hands for a closer look. This is why I believe brick-and-mortar bookstores are safe from obsolescence for a long time to come.
I thought of the store again one morning late last week as I was driving down Edgewater and craving a little in-person tempus liber. I mean, what if it is more than it appears? I of all people know full well the magic and wonders lying hidden in plain sight all around us. Time to investigate.
I got there right as they opened and mine was the only car parked out front on the street. Not very encouraging. Once inside, however, I found a well-lit, clean, cheerful place with rows upon rows of neat bookshelves. Rather than the grumpy, bored old man wearing slept-in clothes and in deep need of a shave I’d half-expected, there were three women working that morning, happily chatting with each other as they shelved some new arrivals. The youngest had Rockabilly jet black hair, inked sleeves, and a sweet smile and the oldest, 60-ish, had a salt-and-pepper ponytail and sported rolled-cuff jeans and a vintage cardigan (all encouraging signs in my book). But more importantly, they clearly enjoyed their work. They called out a welcoming “good morning” and then left me to my exploring. No ‘helpful” interrogations or hovering. Bonus points for that.
There wasn’t any real decor or ornament to the store. Somehow it still managed to feel warm and inviting. It was simply the magical aura of book lovers and well-appreciated books, I was sure of it. Everything was well-maintained, easy to navigate with wide aisles and organized bookshelves. No tottering stacks of questionable overstock on the floors like some claustrophobic bookstores I’ve ventured into. Okay, so it passed first-level muster within a minute. The true litmus test was what was on their shelves.
I did as I always do in a new-to-me bookstore, I walked the aisles to get my bearings and see which sections they gave prime real estate and any books they turned face-out to highlight. Then I perused my favorite genres and looked for several specific authors and titles, those jewels that are often passed over by mainstream booksellers and readers. Yep, all were nicely stocked with authors and titles I, too, would have ensured were on the shelf were the store mine.
It turns out the Reader’s Guide is the oldest indie bookstore operating in Salem and has a long-term devoted following. They stock mostly used books (in good condition) and some new titles, too. They have a cute little gift section and some funky artistic cards. No, it’s not a bookish mothership like Powell’s, Tattered Cover, or Changing Hands, but it’s exactly what a small neighborhood bookstore should be. A welcoming place to come and leisurely explore the shelves, find a book or two that insist upon coming home with you, and hang out in the ambiance of kindred readers and good reads. And here it sat all along. Only took me a year and a half to venture in and discover its hidden charms.
Note to self #1001: Never judge a bookstore by its cover.
It pays to take the time look closer at what’s around us, even if it doesn’t quite fit the ideal of what we imagine it should be (and yeah, I’m not just talking about bookstores here). I should have known better than dismiss this place based on outside appearances alone. I do know better. And even more, there were clues. First, it dwells at the far end of my favorite street in our community (and as you know, the magic is often found at the edges and boundaries of our well-trodden paths). Second, some of my best discoveries where I fast became a regular were coffeehouses, shops, restaurants, and yes, bookstores, in just these kinds of charmless, nondescript buildings. (It’s called low overhead and denotes a wise indie business owner who ensures they’ll have a much better chance of staying afloat through the inevitable recessions and economic downturns). Finally, this bookstore had clearly been here a long time and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that they must be doing something right to be able to keep their doors open.
Yours in wild wonder and slow magic (and curious discoveries),
On deck this week…
- Um. More snow. Seriously not normal for here. It’s gorgeous though. The roads have been dicey enough the schools and universities cancelled classes today. I’m hunkering down for a couple of days here at home (there’s plenty of coffee, books, and a lovely stack of logs for the fire in reserve). As one of the baristas at our neighborhood coffeehouse warned me, “Salem doesn’t do snow well.” It’s not about a lack of beauty or even Salemanders appreciation of it. It’s about how most folks living here don’t drive on icy or snowy roads except one or two days a year, if that. Crazy pants.
- Preparing April’s materials for the spring session of Seasons of Wonder. The membership area is already open and the March material is posted and ready. I am so READY for spring. You, too? Then come join us. Let’s get our spring magic on together, shall we?
- Creative prep for the Pull. Pen. Paint. course that I’m co-teaching with a wonderful cadre of magical creatives. Registration is open and we get started on March 1st. The lesson I’m teaching comes just a few weeks after we begin, so I’m diving into creating imagery and content for the adventure. The lesson I’m leading is all about creative wayfinding through weaving oracle or tarot cards, collage, and altars together into a beautiful tapestry of support, intention, and clarity. I hope to see you there!
- Bookkeeping! Yep, time to finally buckle down and deal with my least-favorite part of running a one-person bidness. The buck stops with me. Awesome. Oh, what I’d give for Bob Cratchet and a few his bookkeeping buddies in the Muppets Christmas Carol.
- Saw How to Train Your Dragon 3 yesterday and we loved every minute of it. This is a perfect example of how you can just keep raising the bar and evolve a beloved original story into rich new terrain. I love that they didn’t follow the typical animated movie path here. They didn’t rush out anemic sequels to cash in fast on a profitable first release like so many studios do. At the core of the success of all the HTTYD movies is superb storytelling. The writers expanded the HTTYD world with each sequel and developed the characters in new directions, and gave us a very satisfying ending. And don’t get me started on the gorgeous new level of animation mojo.
Ready to shake off the winter blahs? Yep, me too.
We’re stepping into spring in just a few short weeks and that rising energy is already sneaking in to tickle us awake, inviting us to start venturing out of our winter caves and back into the light. The spring session of Seasons on Wonderstarts on March 1st just as we’re nearing the end of winter and takes on a journey into the enchanting heart of spring. After the slower rhythm and deep dreaming of winter, spring wakes us up and invites us to explore new paths, ideas, projects, and possibilities. I’m already beginning to feel the stirrings of spring here in Oregon and can’t wait to dive into this new season of creative magic with you. We’re seeking out the extraordinary in the ordinary, grounding ourselves in the magic of the moment, and nourishing our creative spirits.
I’d love for you to join us.
Some of the topics and themes we’re exploring this spring:
*Stepping into spring’s energies & gifts at the Equinox
*Shining up our practices & routines
*Clearing the decks for creative magic
*Playful curiosity & Creative Inspiration
*Spring Wonder Dates
*Enchanted Explorations (think aerial recon in a dirigible 😉
*Beltane & May Day
*Blooming Wild & Wise
We officially begin on March 1st (but psst…we’ve already kicked off for early-enrollers 😉
You’ll find all the details and can register right OVER HERE.
A Tiny Cabinet of Wondrous Things
I’ve given this section of Field Notes a new name. (Fair warning: it could change at whim as I go along.) The “links” part of the name it once had doesn’t quite evoke the curiosity and delight of stumbling on truly cool and creative bits of magic lurking in plain sight ~ in the real world and in the wilds of the interwebs.
So, there you go. Welcome to my tiny curated Cabinet of Wondrous Things.
1. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig. Oh my. Wonder Sister Aimee shared this in the Secret Lair and I was instantly entranced. Love made up words? This is your playground. Check out this video for the word Sonder. And this one for Lutalica. Rabbit hole warning!
2. Looking for the Hobbit, a tv mini series hosted by master illustrator John Howe. I stumbled across this on Amazon a few weeks ago. It’s a bit awkward and low budget, but there’s deep charm here and the delight of hanging out with John Howe as he sketches and reflects on his art practice and his fascination with JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I was enchanted with his approach to illustrating a fictional world, combining deep observation of the natural and built world with pure imagination:
“The fantastical drawings are a sort of alchemy, a blend of two things.
The form, of course, must be imaginative and mythical. But the substances, textures, and colors must also be real.
So, you have to really look. Look closer, and then look again.”
3. Pia Jane Bijkerk’s lush book My Heart Wanders: A Celebration of Taking Risks, Letting Go and Making a Home Wherever You Are. Talk about curating wonder (and creating it). This book is a deep dive into Pia’s gorgeous photographic collages, spaces, and way of seeing the world. It’s a lyrical memoir of following her heart and finding a whole new way of living and creating. I keep turning to it, savoring each image and the creative byways Pia explores as she explores new directions for her work and life. Gorgeous.
4. From the archives at Terry Windling’s Myth & Moor blog: “The Small Things.”“Trust. Simplify. Value the small things. Live fully in the natural world.“ Yes, this.
5. “Telescopes and Microscopes,” a blog post by Seth Godin. I don’t often share or quote Seth. But this post about reframing opportunities and challenges is so beautifully wise, it deserves a mention.
6. Music by Stephanie Dosen. I’ve long admired Stephanie’s Tiny Owl Knits quirky knitting patterns, but I didn’t know about her music. That is until Wonder Sister Jessica shared a few links with me to some of her songs. Stephanie’s music is simple and yet enchantingly rich at the same time. Makes beautiful background music for the studio. Thank you, Jessica.
7. Have you ever fallen in love with a color? I’m still obsessing on variations of a dusty puce color, a purplish warm brown. Then when it’s cast in the soft light of a misty day? Pure heaven. (And no, it’s not mauve. It’s something that’s else.) But fair warning, don’t dive too deeply in the origins of this color’s naming. Ew. I’m thinking we should come up with our own name for it and sidestep the ick factor. If bliss had a sound, it would be this color.
8. And have you ever seen a building and instantly envisioned how you would use it in creative and offbeat new ways? Happens to me all the time. The old Capital National Bank building here in Salem is just such a place. First time I saw it a few years ago I stood agog, mind whirring with all the possibilities. Currently, it’s an antique store. Oh but wouldn’t it make an amazing private club for wonder seekers and creatives? A old salon-style coffeehouse and curious bookstore with secret rooms for conspiring and plotting new adventures? Or simply an amazing residence (with my art and writing studio upstairs in the turret, of course). I imagine a private walled-in courtyard in back that it must surely have, and perhaps a groovy 19th-century printing press and bookbindery tucked into the basement left from some earlier owner. Just drove past it again recently and my mind instantly started conjuring new possibilities for the space.
9. Now firmly on my list to read before long: Born To Be Posthumous: the Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery. Thinking of cabinets of wondrous things, made me think of cabinets filled with odd treasures, which made me think of Edward Gorey. Googled around a bit about him and stumbled onto the website for his house, which is now open to the public. I’d love to visit it someday and take in the world he crafted for himself and his cats. And then I remembered this new biography about him someone mentioned to me recently (sorry, can’t recall who), and here we are. (Welcome to my brain.)
10. On Friday, I received Martin Shaw’s new book, The Night Wages. I pre-ordered it months ago and have been not-so-patiently waiting for its arrival. I know I’m not the only person who receives a long-anticipated book and immediately tosses the one(s) they’re reading aside to dive into it. Goodness, the reading list just keeps getting deeper. Yep, I’m letting this beauty cut in line. As Gabriel Zaid lamented in 2003, there are just So Many Books. There’s no way to keep up. So, I don’t try. Our reading time is limited, so I do with mine whatever I like without guilt or remorse. And this is yet another reason I chose not to be an academic. My reading life is quirky and ranges widely in genres, authors, and subjects. I bounce between multiple books at a time unless one completely captures me and demands I forsake all others until we part at the end. Reading good books makes me happy, exposes me to new ideas, and keeps my creative imagination burning brightly with inspiration.
Note to self #1002: Read more. Plan less. Follow where curiosity leads even in the unlikeliest of places (such as in uninspiring cinder-block bookstores at the edge of things).
That’s all for now.
“So, dear Reader, what did we learn? You and I?
After all that heat, and grief and bluster.
To carry gold between our teeth.
To be schooled by sobriety and grief.
To let ashes touch our wingtips.
To go to the Underworld when we must,
to party like its Olympus when we must.
To not mistake a human for a goddess
—or not entirely—
or hide too much of ourselves in shadow.
~Martin Shaw, The Night Wages
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