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I'd rather have a bowl of soup

Updated: Jun 7, 2023



Two things have had great influence over me in the last couple of months. One was a small and innocuous inspiration incited by a quick peek at the Plum City Library events calendar. Sure, I once was a 5th grade teacher, so perhaps you think it logical that I would pay attention to such things, but normally these days, I don't. When I left teaching, I was in a space and place to say good bye and good riddance. However, now facing the conundrum of what to do with this gorgeous building we own in Plum City, I am trying to tune in and figure out what might just work in this cozy little part of the world. What is it that Plum City needs? (Yes, I am considering some sort of business venture in the space, but at this moment in time, I am unclear about what that may entail.)


Understanding that business is tough in small towns, I stand in awe of the little library that could and the librarian with enormous talent and "let's try it" attitude who is introducing some pretty great programming in her book-lined space. She's organized a cookbook club where folks borrow a book, recreate a recipe, then gather to taste and enjoy, kids are offered fun with Legos, a lovely lady, who spent time in Cuba comes to share language learning experiences in Spanish and English (no, it's not me), there are crafting classes, book clubs, movies for kids, and a summer reading program. In larger cities, programming like this is the norm, and library teams of workers make such fun happen, but here in little Plum Town, Jenna Beyer is bringing it on nearly single-handedly! We all really should take advantage of her talents and get to the library!


Yes, get to the library, I thought to myself! If I want to be a better writer, I should really start reading again. In all the years that I taught, I was a voracious reader, but mostly of children's literature. When I worked at Capitol Hill, where my gifted and talented students would devour books faster than they were published, I'd wish for some sort of speedier system so that during our book groups and conferencing times I could stay ahead of the kids. I was never able to outpace their consumption, but excitedly learned that I can speed read ebooks on my smart phone!


Back in 2009 or 2010, or whenever it was, when we began to use iPads in the classroom, I fell in love with e-reader apps. We could have books at our ready instantly. I downloaded Barnes and Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle and without a minute of thought, leapt away from the public library and into the arms of online booksellers. I started buying ebooks and I abandoned the library, because as a teacher who had children to catch up with, I needed popular books NOW and couldn't afford the long wait times for their ebooks to be available. On those old systems, Moby Dick was always available, but when Catching Fire came out after Hunger Games I would have waited years to get its ebook version from the public library.


That winter, right before my family trip to Mexico, I decided to download the e-reader apps to my smart phone and buy a few books for beach reading. What I learned those days on the beach blew my mind! I discovered that when text is chunked, enlarged and framed so that only a few lines fit when holding the phone horizontally, I can speed read! in fact, I can read a book in at least half the time on an e-reader as a physical paper book because of the features to enlarge and chunk text.


This changed my life (and how I taught reading!) I never really enjoyed the sense of entrapment when reading a physical paper book. You have to sit your body just so to hold the book, both hands are needed (unless a thin paperback that you could bend backwards) to position the pages, and then there's the physical act of turning the page, maybe even giving the finger a lick to help lift just one page at a time (I like to think that the pandemic and concern over the spread of germs has curbed this book-lovers habit). The worst part of physical book reading is how lost you can get, and how overwhelming it can be to skim, scan and reread after you find yourself daydreaming and lose your place on the page. None of these things are an issue when reading on a smartphone. The phone can be easily held with one had or propped up next to you hands free, it takes but a quick tap of the finger to turn the page, and should you get bonked on the head with an errant volleyball from the sand court next to your beach chair, your page and place of reading take but an easy scan to reacquaint yourself and find your lost position.


Now, fast forward to my new life... the one here, on the farm, where my hands are needed all day for this and that, and sitting is just not something I do very often, especially not for a thing as leisurely as reading. In this life reading seems extravagant and selfish. But, lately I feel its pull. I am being called to read and write because as my hands are busy with life's work, full chapters spontaneously unveil themselves floating across my brain waves not as the spoken word of a thinker, or punctuated don't forgets or fleeting thoughts, but as literary language in unhurried ribbons of prose laying out each carefully crafted piece of the story all the while begging to be recorded. For the last many months while deep into baking or planting or cleaning, I "hear" these stories, these chapters from my life all of them, silently unfold inside of me. I am prone to memoir, it seems. Each day, the unfolding of these stories builds and piles a great urge to write, but as I busy myself, a distance grows between the thread of prose and my fingers on the keys. By the time I sit to write, the chapters remain nothing but a vague outline of topics. I know it is through the act of reading, of hearing other's written work, that I will pay more attention to my stories, and instead of just watching them float through my days, I will give them agency. I somehow understand that their unveiling has meaning and an underlying message. I must write. But first, I must read.


To follow this vein, I found my way into the new Ellsworth library and got myself a card. I checked out the latest Pulitzer Prize memoir, Stay True by Hua Hsu, and instead of quick absorption into the life of Hsu, an Asian American with insight into the absurdities of American culture, all I could do was feel annoyed and remember how confining it is to hold a book. Not only do I have all the previous problems with paper book reading, but as I've officially become "old," I also need to wear reading glasses when stuck to a book! Oh, the bother.


This book-reading discomfort prompted me to meet Libby, the public library app that is a much-improved version of those available in the mid 20teens. Libby not only allows me easy access to ebooks but mountains of audiobooks as well! Wait! What? Talk about reading voraciously! In the last week alone, with the help of a nifty set of wireless earbuds, I have "read" in the form of audiobooks EIGHT memoirs! When I was teaching I needed specific books at a specific time, but now I am flexible, so lots of what I want to read is instantly available. If it's not, I simply add it to my audiobook wait list and read something else. Not only can I busy myself with daily farm tasks, but I get to read while I do it! AND, I can advance the speed of the recording and get through the books pretty durned fast!


Those stories of mine floating across my brain waves are in the proofing oven right now! Each time I read another memoir, my stories gain clarity, and for some weird reason, I am inspired to sit and write.


If you are interested in what has inspired me, here are a few of the greats from the last couple of days. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to dig in with a clever set of long-lasting wireless earbuds, a library card and Ms. Libby in your pocket. Try it. For all you luddites out there who claim you love the feel and smell of "real" books, I'm here to tell you, I'd rather chop onions or easily maneuver a hot steaming bowl of soup while reading any day! Hands free heaven!


  • Fieldwork by Iliana Regan

  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

  • In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


So that's the farm news this week. I'm reading like crazy, trying to decide if I should relaunch a restaurant or something else in its place, getting my ticker checked out at Mayo, admiring William and his love of baby ducks, baling hay and sorting metal into piles!


The farm store is weird and wonderful as always with Farm Mustard made from our mustard weeds (in bloom right now speckled around the small grain fields), Farm Tea from foraged herbs, Maple Sap Sipping Shrub for an old-timers cocktail, Rhubarb Sauce, sunflower seed birdseed, rye berries, straw bales, mountains of cookies, and a myriad of other goodies. People ask, "What do you sell?" My answer is, "You gotta see it for yourself. It's hard to explain." We're a unique farm boutique! Stop out whenever you need a little farm in your life.


Sending love,


Sarah



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