A beach read night on the cross-country trail

Beach readn. “a book you can take on holiday, which is good enough to keep you engaged but not so serious it will spoil your holiday.” (See list)

Nirvana, right? Well, even in the depths of January, I discovered that beach read state can be achieved. On cross-country skis, of all things.

A couple weeks ago I attended an event called She Skis. It’s designed to get women outdoors and active in winter by offering a supportive, non-competitive environment for cross-country skiing. I’ve wanted to try it for the last few winters, but couldn’t fit it in the schedule until this month.

It was a glorious evening. Good skiing conditions, friendly folks, and refreshments afterward. But the best part was that the night was 100 percent expectation-free. My heart was as light on that trail as the snowflakes that blanketed it, as light as it is immersed in a good book with my toes dug in the sand.

That’s a rare state for me, a fact I only became aware of while watching the other women in my class. We’d ski a ways down the trail while the instructor watched, then regroup for his feedback. At every single stop, this one woman would ask questions. A lot of questions. What was the right angle for her pole? What was the etiquette when an oncoming skier approached? Nitty-gritty questions that frankly pretty much monopolized the instructor’s time and attention.

As I listened, it hit me: Most of the time, I am that woman. In any kind of class or audience setting, I’m nearly always the first to raise my hand. And raise it and raise it and raise it again.

That’s partly due to my reporter training. Asking questions reinforces new information. It’s how I learn, how I discern the important from the extraneous. But it’s also because I’m so invested in not only discovering the answer, but the right answer. Often I’m asking these questions in meetings with therapists and/or school officials involving my son. The stakes feel extraordinarily high. Others in the meeting have more experience at this than I do, with other kids. By asking questions I’m trying to get myself up to their speed. After all, I can’t do this over. He’s only going to be seven, eight, nine once. I feel like I’ve got to get it/fix it/make it right, right away.

Or else it’s a writing situation. I’m a first-time novelist. I want to do this author thing right, somehow secure my future. Once again, I’m tremendously invested in a particular outcome. But I have no agent, the standard guiding figure for an author, plus the publishing industry is in major turmoil. So at workshops, on blogs, at parties I ask questions, searching for anchors in the answers.

She Skis was an antidote. I was engaged, enjoying the evening, but I had no investment in the outcome. I didn’t care if I skied faster or better, what I looked like or what anyone else thought. I wasn’t worried that what happened that night would send consequences reverberating through my life years down the road. If the rest of my life is a deep, dense, literary novel, She Skis was a beach read, albeit in 20-degree weather. It was delightful. I’ll be going back for a sequel.

 - The letter B brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.



My local library has started a new category on its blog, #toread. Here’s mine:

Can't wait to dig in.

Can’t wait to dig in.

From the bottom up, here’s why these titles wound up with me:

Both The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan and A Land We Can Share (subtitled Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism) were chosen so I can help my son’s reading improve. Rules is also autism-related, an award-winning middle grade book written from the POV of a sister of a boy with autism. It might help with my daughter someday.

On Immunity is actually already read (my review here.) My community experienced an outbreak of pertussis last year, and more isolated cases of measles. As a staunchly pro-vaccination parent yet personally disinclined to invite conflict, I’ve been struggling with how vocal to be on this matter of public health. Reading Biss’ book (and recommending it) is a first step.

The Second Chance Key is part of my effort to read more self-pubbed authors. Jacque Burke is the wonderful ML (municipal liaison) of my NaNoWriMo area and this is her debut novel. The next two are also by authors with northern Michigan connections. Nuts to You is the latest by Newbery Medal winner Lynne Rae Perkins (President Obama also picked it up recently) and Field Notes for the Earthbound is a much-acclaimed, first full-length work by John Mauk, a former colleague at Northwestern Michigan College. I’m lucky to have all three of these signed by their authors.

Topping it all off is a coming-of-age classic that I’ve stopped and started a few times, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Maybe this will be the year.

What’s on your #toread list?

Squinting for signals

Jeans and shirts with collars.

A silent ceiling fan.

An orange swim suit.

As the new year gets fully underway this week, I fixate on what I’m interpreting as this trio of signals from my son, sent as 2014 waned. Like many autistic children, he is rigid about his routines. Also like many of his peers, he has sensory issues, primarily auditory (in other words, he holds his hands over his ears a lot, and wears his hood up nearly always.)

Put the rigidity and the sensitivity together and what we’ve seen is 1) a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of sweatpants and T-shirts, 2) a habit of running his bedroom ceiling fan every single night, winter or summer, and 3) insistence on wearing the same blue bathing suit for at least the last three years.

So a few months ago, when he came out wearing jeans one morning, it was a jolt. They were a good inch short on him, since we haven’t bought any in so long. He’s not adept with snaps or buttons (a chicken-and-egg situation, no question) but he persevered and got them on. He’s since chosen jeans on at least two other days, as well as collared shirts, including one that had hung in his closet untouched for more than a year.

Then, on more than one night in the last two months, he’s elected to leave his fan off at bedtime. I don’t know whether he likes the white noise or the breeze, but deciding he could do without it was even more stunning than the jeans.

The topper is the swim suit. He’s worn the same blue suit from Target since around 2011. We swim twice a week. The elastic is entirely gone. Where it once hit below his knee, it’s now mid-thigh. Still, he rejected any suggestion he wear his other, orange suit until these last two months, when, like the jeans, he pulled it out of his drawer on his own.

A while back I read Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, in which he discusses how hard it is to discern true signals in the noisy environment of 21st century Western society. Silver’s a sports-turned-political-turned-back-to sports prognosticator, but I found his ideas fit my parenting experience, too. With one typical child and one not, the development path of each amounts to noise for the other. And despite the statistics that show autism prevalence rising, my husband and I still feel like isolated blips, the first in both our families to face this diagnosis in particular and a developmental disorder in general. We’ve met fellow parents through a support group and our own forays, online and in person, but partly due to the spectrum nature of autism, there isn’t a specific set of signals to watch for. I remember a conversation with my brother a few years ago in which he raised this rhetorical question: How do you even know what’s important to pay attention to?

On the face of it, it sounds ridiculous to say that jeans, a ceiling fan and an orange bathing suit are worth paying attention to. But layering them, one on top of the other, in a relatively short time frame, shows definite deviation from pattern, aka routine. Since routine is so important to my son, deviation, especially self-selected, seems like it must signal something. Yet my own hopes and fears could be so much noise too, augmenting those isolated deviations into more than they’re worth, using the artificial device of the new year as an omen.

Signal or noise? I can only keep my antenna tuned. My new year’s resolution is to remain content and hopeful with either answer.

- The letter J brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.