The drought of March.
In like a lion, out like a lamb. Oh, March, you unpredictable transition month. If February is the pause between inhale and exhale, March might be the incubator for an early adolescent growth spurt – fits and starts, a mix of rain, snow (for some), sun, and the first dusting of yellow pollen. From bare trees at the beginning of the month to an ocean of green buds at the end, March marches us from one season to the next, though rarely in an orderly, dignified progression.
Here in Memphis we are on the cusp between zones 7 and 8 for plant hardiness – something I remember only because my mother said, every March when there were a few pretty days in a row and I wanted to buy plants for the garden, “we’re on the edge between two zones, and the risk of freeze doesn’t pass until April 15.” So it looks like spring – daffodils, iris, cherry trees and dogwoods all abloom – but we still have a little ways to go. The last of the bare trees now have at least a hint of pale green. The newly filtered light is becoming softer, the way it does when the tree canopy starts to fill in.
Here in our house, the transition month has been a mix of rest, preparation, and fresh starts: a cold, rainy day lying in bed, binge-watching Jessica Jones (Bernard’s new favorite show); a warm, sunny day making large cyanotype prints (large meaning a full sheet of Rives BFK); handing my teenage son the keys to my car (more on this one day soon); watching months of plans start to take shape in my work-work; finalizing a couple of new business ideas; and, of course, a bit of cooking and reading.
Here are a few reports, including the usual reading recommendations:
Might like you better if you wrote me a letter.
“If you don’t write her a note, then you won’t get a Christmas present from her next year. She keeps score, and thank-you notes are her currency,” my mother said, talking about a particular relative who was very generous and generally fond of me – but who did, in fact, keep score. I was in college, or maybe my early 20s, old enough that I heard this bit of motherly advice differently from when I’d been a child and she hovered over the note-writing process.
I both loved and despised writing notes. I loved the stuff – pen and paper – but agonized in the writing. More specifically, I agonized over starting to write whatever note or letter was to be written, struggling to get the first words down and then finish the job.
What I sometimes (maybe often) did instead, then, was to send art by mail, with a short note (or not) on the reverse. In my 20s and early 30s, when AOL was still the email standard and text messaging an unheard of means of correspondence, I went through fits and starts (the March of my life, perhaps) sending cards, notes, and letters to friends both near and far-flung around the globe. I love having written and sent notes; I just don’t always love starting to write them.
Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter were all card-making occasions, and I sent 100 or more on each of these holidays, every year for several years. I made a box of full-sized sheets of cyanotype stationery, hand-stamped colored card stock, and in the process discovered that at least half the joy in preparing a note – for me, at least – was in creating the stationery itself.
But I still struggled, sometimes, to get started with the actual writing. And then I found a fantastic book at a yard sale: Lilian Eichler Watson’s Standard Book of Letter Writing. Published in 1948 and now long out of print, this handy volume is charmingly antiquated and yet surprisingly relevant (to me, anyway) because it offers a way to get started in the task at hand.
One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that hand-written notes are, if anything, more important now than before. The impact of a hand-penned letter, in this age of phone screen addiction, is not to be underestimated. If you don’t believe me, then try sending one and see the result for yourself. Or encourage your teenage (or young adult) child to try it, and watch for the look of delight when he or she receives a text message (this is how it works) acknowledging receipt of that hand-crafted gift, received by mail or left at a doorstep.
Still don’t know where to start? Here, I’ll help you: one business I’ve been working on for the past few months is a tiny little online stationery and paper goods enterprise (yes, it’s a re-launch of the store that had my artwork) that will open officially (meaning I’ll be actively promoting it) in early April. One of the products in the store is a note-writing kit – several of them, actually – with a short primer card that offers encouragement and examples to help the note-writer get started.
Because, in my work of writing personal notes, I noticed that I often needed an up-to-date resource to help me get started. So I wondered, “what if?” and then I played around with an idea. And that’s how I got started.
What’s for Dinner?
If you’ve followed here for a while, then you know we eat a great many eggs, and that we most often buy them from our friends Cris and Sandy (Renaissance Farms) at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market. March was good egg-laying season, so eggs were featured at our dinner table more often than usual. March also gave us St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday this year, and our block had a little block party to celebrate, so we made some good Irish food. Because once upon a time, a long long long time ago, my people (on both sides of my family) came to the U.S. from Ireland; but mostly because my Dutch husband has an affinity for Irish food, drink, and people.
- Fried egg, avocado, onion, and cilantro, on warm corn tortillas
- Cheese soufflé
- Triscuits, sharp Irish cheddar, Wickles pickles, Thin Mints (yes, this was really a dinner)
- Bangers & mash
- Home-made corned beef hash topped with a fried egg and served over some spring greens (goes particularly well with some chilled Fleurie – as Sam Sifton once suggested (can’t find that post, but it was a good one))
- Roast chicken, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, little gem salad
- Egg salad sandwiches
Some Reading Recommendations: March edition
- Fever Dream(an interesting novella about the anxieties of motherhood that a group of us, men and women together, happened to be reading at the same time and then happened to meet at someone’s house to eat dinner and discuss it – though we are definitely NOT a book club)
- The Book Thief (review here points out that this is not a “children’s book” but rather a lovely book for everyone; I’m re-reading for the April meeting of the group that, again, is definitely NOT a book club)
- Good to Great and the Social Sectors (a supplement to Jim Collins’s Good to Great, given to me a couple of years ago by Pat Lawler at Youth Villages; this short monograph is essential for anyone working in nonprofits. I re-read it before sharing with my leadership team at work and was reminded how relevant it is.)
…on Photography (ish)
- Bill Cunningham Left Behind a Secret Memoir: “It’s a really beautiful story about a young, artistic man finding his way in the city, in a particular kind of bohemian world that doesn’t quite exist anymore.”
- Documenting the Dynamic Black Community of 1940s Seattle: “When my father… was given a Kodak camera as a preteen, he fell in love with photography… From then on, he always had a camera. It was like a universal key that opened doors and gave him license to go anywhere.”
- Sally Mann’s Haunted South: “She sees light as the great lover lavishing caresses on the land, or the great obliterator that overwhelms the earth’s solidity, or the great designer reconfiguring common notions about what should hold our attention.”
- Tim Berners-Lee: The web can be weaponised – and we can’t count on big tech to stop it: “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.”
- A Bright Light Dimmed in the Shadows of Homelessness: “You never know – you never know anybody’s story.”
- The Boy Who Lived on Edges: “… David Foster Wallace, who took his own life in 2008, wrote a passage in Infinite Jest that captures the agony experienced by someone who’s in enough despair to consider suicide. Wallace said that no one leaps to his death from a burning building by choice. The person jumps because the flames are worse, ‘a terror way beyond falling.'”
- What’s the point of a risk-free life? Deborah Levy on starting again at 50: “I was not Simone de Beauvoir, after all. No, I had got off the train at a different stop (marriage) and stepped on to a different platform (children). She was my muse but I was certainly not hers.”
- Half-century of US civil rights gains have stalled or reversed, report finds: “This, my friend, is the election hacking no one wants to talk about because it would force us to deal with systemic racism in America, and study after study shows us that the political landscape would look very different without voter suppression.”
- 36 Hours in Memphis: “In the actual studio, an unglamorous work room where more recent acts like U2 and Bonnie Raitt have recorded, guides invite tour-goers to pose holding the original Shure 55 microphone used by Elvis and other legends.”
- How Memphis Gave Up on Dr. King’s Dream: “It was Dr. King who said: “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” What have we done with Dr. King’s sacrifice? Too little.”
…And, on that last note…
- Restoring the American Dream: What Would it Take to Dramatically Increase Mobility from Poverty? “Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves and others to help us make sense of the world around us and to help us understand cause and effect. The Partnership identified three prominent and damaging narratives about poverty and mobility: people in poverty have no one to blame but themselves; people in poverty are helpless victims; and the rare, spectacular “rags-to -riches” stories prove that the American dream is still achievable.”
Last, but not least: The kids are all right; really, they are.
Seven or eight years ago a nerdy marketing friend and I were corresponding about generational attributes and demographics, as I tried to decipher what motivated people of different age groups to give blood. My colleague shared some then-newly published Yankelovich data about how the newest generation, born around the turn of the century, was starting to take shape.
This newest generation was, in its earliest years, showing strong similarities to the Silent Generation, that service-oriented cohort born just after World War I. These children, growing up in a post-911 world, seemed to have a passion for truth and justice in a global sense, different from the self-absorption that seemed to define the Millennials.
While Millennials might be getting credit for the brewing storm of protest and demonstration, it is the generation after Millennials – teenagers and young adults just not reaching legal drinking age – leading the pack. Like the Silent Generation, perhaps, this new crew may also become known for standing up to rigid ideology and fundamentalism in favor of the greater good. One can hope, anyway. And this new wave has at its fingertips the power of technology. Which is why it is possibly true that today’s teenagers might be smarter and better than we think.
That’s a wrap, March. Let’s see what April brings.