Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.

Loving My Book Tour & the Open Road: Everyday Magic, Day 621

Hanging out with Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books in Wichita, and mutually admiring Katherine Towler’s great anthology GOD IN THE HOUSE: POETS TALK ABOUT FAITH

I drove through Matisse-type rain last night, waves of manna from heaven, thanks to Hurricane Isaac, happy and refreshed although it was late, I have a cold, and it was hard at times to see the road. There’s something so freeing and exhilarating about touring with a book 16 years in the writing and so central to my life that every nuance of this book tour is a gift. The rain, of course, is a gift on steroids for our drought land.

First bands of Hurricane Isaac

Since I’m enthralled by interesting skies, this trip was an especially auspicious time to drive: the bands of the hurricane reached the southeast edge of Wichita Friday morning, and I following them to Emporia, just on the western outskirts of slow-moving rain. All day, I saw vivid and panoramic layers of colors not local to these partsĀ  (stranger clouds, stopping in town on their way back across the continent to the ocean).

The readings — Thursday night in Wichita’s Bookmark Bookstore, and Friday

Pretty clouds in Emporia

night in Emporia in the heart of ESU’s campus — were also multi-layered and vivid. In Wichita, I stumbled into so many new and ancient connections that I could barely stop laughing. Gathering with Victoria, one of my best friends for 30 years; my/Ken’s cousins Dennis and Joy, who I love dearly; new friends and old acquaintances, there was a lot to talk about. I also met David, who went to P.S. 253 in Brooklyn, close to where I attended P.S. 252, and who is linked by one degree to me multiple directions (Goddard, Brooklyn, my yoga teacher training and the Lawrence Hari Krishna community, literature and more). In Emporia, I got to see some of my favorite poets in Kansas, Kevin and Bill, meet an exquisive group of Kevin’s creative writing students (who asked me some of the best questions I’ve been asked about writing), and eat seriously good Mexican food with much-admired writer Cheryl and her awesomely talented photographer husband Dave. I even bought new sandals at a great price, and as I do whenever I travel, I foraged through various thrift stores for treasure.

Of course, there’s also the reading itself. I get to share out loud words I’ve been crafting in the basement, porch, bedroom, and in over a dozen coffee shops over many years of writing, revision, doubt, despair about the publishing world, joy

The audience members in Emporia were much sharper than they appear in this photo

at how my characters were making themselves visible, and hope that I would one day get to read this book to audiences.

I tell audiences that yes, writing this book based on my own difficulty childhood was healing, but seriously complemented by years of therapy too. Reading it is a way to give back some of what I was given, and even get good views of the sky, shrimp fajitas and applause in return. What’s not to love?

From a Hidey Hole in Eighth Day Books: Everyday Magic, Days 246-247

I write this from a small triangularly shaped hidey hole in the attic of Eighth Day Books, a Christian Orthodox bookstore with one of the best selections of books on poetry, spirituality, religion, philosophy and memoir. I’m in Wichita after a sudden leap into the car with my guys who live at home to help my guy who lives at college. Turns out Daniel, in nearby Newton, needed a little help gathering field samples for his senior study, and since Forest and I were already planning a spring break jaunt to Wichita, we made an executive decision (influenced heavily by the incoming weekend of rain) to drive.

How does a Jewish girl get to hang in this core of the Wichita Lebanese Orthodox community, and in the sweet attic offices no less? My good friend Victoria works here, and over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know the store’s owner, Warren Farha, who (like so many independent bookstore owners) creates and holds the space for the miracle of interaction between humans and shelves of words that can change your life. There’s also a lot about the Orthodox that just feels kind of Jewish to me (except, of course, the whole Jesus part): the elaborate rituals, robes and hats, emphasis on food and community, and way people have of reaching out and wrapping their arms around you to pull you right in.

In any case, out the window behind me is the first blossoming Bradford pear I’ve seen this season and before me are piles of books with titles like Longing for God, The Broken Body, The Joy of Reading, The Nature Principle and Sung Prayers. Whoever you are and whatever you believe, I encourage you — if in Wichita — to visit this store where three levels of books, lots of hidey holes, fresh coffee and interesting people abound.