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Question of the Month: Pivot

by Susan Henderson on September 3, 2012

Tell me about your pivot from summer to fall, from vacation back to work.

Summer is almost over. I know this because there are acorns out where we’ve been barbecuing and because my kids are now very sensitive when I mention things like summer AP assignments and alarm clocks. It’s time to make the pivot from vacation to work, though I don’t feel quite ready for it. It’s been a good summer—nice to slow down and be with my family for larger chunks of the day, especially now that my kids are older and have a number of friends and activities to pull them away from home. So before I turn fully toward autumn, here’s one more look back at summer…

The beginning of my summer took a big shift when we learned my 16-year-old would be skipping his junior year and going directly into 12th grade in the fall. All of a sudden there were tests to take and colleges to visit. This was a real emotional letting-go for me. The window of time for my kids to be living at home already felt too short. But what I learned watching my son study for these tests and stroll through college campuses discussing theoretical math with professors is that he’s ready.

Once the college business was out of the way, there was plenty of downtime. The kids were busy with girlfriends and swimming and wandering through town with their friends. They took trains and subways on their own, searching out music stores, festivals, and pizza shops. They got busy with various projects—bottle rockets, a homemade Moog synthesizer, and pants made from duct tape. We visited the grandparents in Hawaii. And both boys went to camp—my 16-year-old to John’s Hopkins CTY camp for Number Theory…

…and my 15-year-old to Berklee College of Music for Guitar Sessions. Here is some of his ensemble work (click here if the embedded video doesn’t show: http://youtu.be/dMJdjMV8_D8):

The boys played a number of gigs—a Who tribute concert, a funk & reggae show, and a parade. I accompanied my oldest as a chaperone on his School of Rock AllStars tour, traveling to places like Webster Hall, Ryle’s Jazz Club, and the Gathering of the Vibes festival.

Meanwhile, my youngest went with a friend to the Dream Theater and Crimson ProjeKct concert, where he got to visit back stage with Adrian Belew and the oh-so-talented Julie Slick.

Mr. H had some great gigs, as well, and it all culminated over Labor Day weekend at our annual BBQ of Rock, where family and guests jammed all night. (As always, if you want to see the bazillions of photos I have of all these events, just friend me on Facebook.)

I’ve been taking summer at an easy pace—a little editing, a few appearances on conference panels, some visits to book clubs and libraries, a trip out to California for the Squaw Valley Alumni Reading Series. In general, though, I dropped work whenever my family asked me to, and I spent a lot of time reading for pleasure, including Wild, The Fault in Our Stars, Gilead, Await Your Reply, Tomato Red, Giovanni’s Room, and Great Expectations. Lots of family movie nights, too. Some favorites: Dr. Strangelove, Stormy Weather, Metropolis, Stand By Me, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Glory, Rear Window, Good Will Hunting, and The Last King of Scotland.

It’s felt good to slow down and put my writing aside for family. Soon, though, it will be time to get into work mode. How am I making the pivot? I’m starting with a big clean of my office—moving my desk, taking everything off the bulletin board, mopping, removing the clutter. When my boys go back to school, I’ll be anxious to get back to that first draft and take it to the next level.

So let’s hear from you. Tell me about your summer and what your plans are going ahead.

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Some thank you’s to those who linked here or talked about my book: Caffeinated College KidPaula BomerRomancing the WriterShine Your LightBirds and BloomsLiterary OlympiadPaperback Swap, Skype-an-Author SeriesBoekloverBook and Media Kristiansand, Reading Room, LeserommetHeather Lambie’s Self Editing, Barnes & Noble, KM BookmarksBokverdami, Drinking Diaries, and One World. A big thanks to NME (New Music Express, over 7 million users a month) for posting the book trailer for UP FROM THE BLUE. How cool is that? And finally, a thank you to Cath Rine, who took this photo at the airport in Oslo, Norway!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin Slick September 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I’ll be back later to comment more but right now I’m totally stunned by the sheer coincidence of our lives and how they continue to interact. The Berklee School of Music video in freeze frame above? That’s my brother’s son, Garrett – my nephew – standing there with the guitar in the white shorts and t-shirt. Holy moly.

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm

That is the craziest coincidence! Did you know 80 kids were selected from the camp to audition for scholarships and both mine and Garrett were among them? Then, out of those kids, something like 6 were given scholarships, and Garrett won the $14,000 one!

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Elizabeth Crane September 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

My plan for fall is: see Susan Henderson! Aside from that, mostly I’m just looking forward to an actual change of seasons for the first time in three years. In any case, I feel like we’ll still be in transition for another couple of months, not being settled into our own home but being in a new city… am trying to get a writing routine going, doing ok with that, but Ben and I were just saying yesterday that even though it’s been a month, we still kind of feel like we’re just hanging out. And I work at home, both writing and teaching, so transitions are always a little weird, but I am hoping that sweaters and layers and my new fall raincoat and rainboots will make me feel all fallish.

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Yay! That’s the best plan! I can’t even tell you how happy I am that you’re in New York and that you can get a lot of use out of those rain boots soon and then layer up for the snow… it’s supposed to be a great year for snow!

BTW, Betsy has a new and AWESOME blog here: http://elizabethcrane.tumblr.com/

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Billy Bones September 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Mr. Lincoln will be spending his time on a new book unlike anything he has written before. It incorporates time travel and sure has him scratching his head.

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Ooh, very excited about this!

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Cath Rine :-) September 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Wishing you a beautiful and fun autumn!
Much love!

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Autumn is my favorite season so I’m already happy just thinking about it. xo

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Cathrine September 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm

🙂 lets share beautiful colorful photos with each other.
Autumn once gave me back to myself. I was walking and all of a sudden I saw the amazing trees ! I pictures aliens saying “This place is sooo cool, they have RED trees.” I wanted to point them out to everyone. And when I see the amazing patterns in a leaf 🙂 I know that all is well 🙂 … we are loved and cared for and taken care of. Nada is random. Did you swim with that gorgeous turtle as well ?
We have a turtle 😉 his name is Yoda ;-))

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm

My husband took the boys scuba diving and I stayed with his mother, running errands. Was so thrilled by the photos, though! And I’m glad you and Yoda have each other!

I find autumn so exhilarating. I love the crisp air, the earthy smells, the shorter and darker days, and football. And my second favorite season is winter so I know there’s more good to come… cozy fires, breakfasts and dinners in total darkness, the great shapes of tree limbs no longer hidden by the leaves.

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Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) September 3, 2012 at 6:59 pm

My pivot is rain.
It finally rained this weekend after so many months of bitter drought and fire scares. Nature finally breathes and I realize I had held my breath as well for so long. Some level of energy is starting to unfurl again, to reach out from the dirt it had been trampled to by excessive temperatures. It feels good to be alive after all (even if life still feels a little uncertain).
I am not sure what creation this will bring about (although I have 2 publications coming up – poems, one of which is a found poem too) but at least I have found some curiosity.
Water is a marvelous thing. Even tears are pretty wondrous in their own way.

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Your comments are always like poetry. In fact I wonder if you just break this into stanzas, if it might be nearly there.

P.S. Rain is my favorite weather so I’m always glad to hear others appreciate it!

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Jordan Rosenfeld September 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I live in California where it’s less a pivot and more of a long slow bending with backwards and forward steps. When all the rest of the world is in full Fall, we get Indian Summer, a sudden scramble back into heat that usually lasts through Halloween (last two Halloweens I didn’t even have to wear a sweater to take my child trick or treating).

But I love the sharp tang to the air that’s already starting, that pushes me down the embankment toward my writing. I miss my pre-schooler, but I love the silence.

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Susan Henderson September 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Here, little girls dress up as princesses for Halloween and then have to wear a parka over top of their costumes.

I love your way with words and I know the feeling–missing the kids but loving the silence. Can’t wait to see what you do with your free hours!

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billie hinton September 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hi, Susan, I think my pivot was remembering that it’s the first of the month and therefore you’d have a new blog post up here at Litpark! 🙂

Fall is my favorite season and it’s been a long, hot, difficult in a number of ways summer, so I am especially poised to leap into the new season. A few things that are helping: acorns falling, the twin fawns helping eat the ripening wild muscadines, which are my favorites and this year we have a HUGE crop coming in, the gradual shift of the thermometer to lower highs during the days and happier horses. And although not my favorite sign of summer’s end, the huge dive-bombing horse flies that show up for a brief but potent few weeks. Picture horses galloping up the hill, swinging their rears to my face, and standing there waiting so I can smack the huge horseflies that are attached and biting!

My daughter captured some lovely photos of the fawns and I’ve put them up at camera-obscura: http://camera-obscura-billie.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-november-hill-twins.html

Meanwhile, son is studying for the SAT, is involved with a teen friend’s theatre company (they just did a wonderful rendition of Romeo and Juliet, son played the Prince) and are working on As You Like It. He’s heading to Grace Llewellyn’s Not Back To School Camp for two weeks in VT soon. He’s also heavily involved in Ethics Bowl at the local university where he wants to study physics – recently I dropped him off on campus and had one of those pivotal parent moments – he stepped out of the car, I checked for traffic before pulling away from the curb, and when I looked back to check on him, he was immersed in the flow of college students to the degree that I could barely pick him out of the crowd. I realized in that moment how close he is to being out in the world.

Daughter is taking honors biology at the local university (we homeschool, but she has taken advantage of this terrific resource last year and now this year), getting ready for foxhunting season with her horses.

Somehow I’m going to have to find the time, once they get settled into things, to do my own clearing and cleaning and then, hopefully, finding the balance between writing, riding, and getting all my daily chores done. Somehow in the autumn this seems most do-able than any other time of year.

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Susan Henderson September 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Billie, Just hearing about your life is a bit of magic for me. Those pictures are gorgeous, and I love the rich and passionate activities your kids are involved in. I had a similar bittersweet (more sweet than bitter) moment with my oldest, who also blended right in on a college campus, and I whispered to myself, He’s ready.

I’m glad you stopped by Billie. You bring such a great and different perspective to this place.

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Sheri Reho September 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

It’s always difficult for me to choose between spring and fall as my favorite season, but fall is certainly high on my list. We’ve had such wacky weather the past few years that it seems there hasn’t been a fall with truly splendid colors in my area for quite a while, so it never fully seems like fall to me.

As for my pivot, it is when the phone calls and emails start to gear up for my school year volunteering, which just happened this past week. I read to preschoolers at a Head Start school and tutor K-2nd graders at an elementary school. Now that I’m retired, this time of year reminds me of being a kid, when the gear-up for the school year was such an exciting time for me (I was one of those kids who loved school).

At the other end of my life, I love my summers, but “going back to school” is still exciting. It is an honor and a privilege to help children learn and grow, whether it is to instill a love of books and reading in those who haven’t yet begun their formal education, or to help those who have understand concepts with which they are struggling. The only downside to these “jobs” is watching them leave at the end of the school year and knowing I’ll probably never see them again…but as long as I know I have done my job well, I can’t possibly be sad.

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Susan Henderson September 8, 2012 at 12:42 am

I’m a big fan of both spring and fall. Really, the only season I’m not nuts about is summer, though I like my kids being home and all their friends hanging out at our house.

Your story of the work you do touches me so much. How lucky for both you and the kids that you are reading to them at school! If you bring that kind of heart to your work, I have no doubt that, even if you never see them again, you’ve planted a seed that they’ll carry with them wherever they go.

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Sheri Reho September 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Thanks, Susan. I sure hope so!

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Ric Marion September 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

There is something about autumn that makes your life speed up. Getting ready for winter, storing those last nuts away to bring out in the depths of winter cold, hurrying to get it all done by first snowfall. And, one usually has more time, no picnics, or boat rides, or watering the flowers, or spending inordinate hours mowing and trimming the verge.
With the kids gone, first day of school is no longer a sacred holiday hereabouts. Well, I’ve got one starting grad school, but I figure he’s capable of handling it without parental involvement.
Still, September brings a sense of urgency to our endeavors. My business changes gears and there are a few more hours in the day, a few more days in the week. Time to pause and reflect; yet, a quickening pulse to hurry and get things done.
End of the month brings our 8th Annual Wine Tasting trip to the Traverse City area. Five couples, one big house, lots of food and wine and great good friends. We are so lucky to have four couples we can share a house with for four days with no one getting hurt feelings, or growling or snapping, just there to enjoy each other. (and, of course, the wine.)
A few early maples have already turned and the green in many trees is not as vibrant. The bright orange of the ragweed is even dulling. 42 degrees here yesterday morning. It is coming, Be Ready.

Susan, sounds like you’ve got your plate full. Enjoy them while you can – one day soon they disappear into the wide world we prepared them for.

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Susan Henderson September 11, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Ric, I always love hearing your stories. Have I ever told you that you sometimes remind me of Frederick Mouse? http://sparks.astate.edu/Book%20images/from%20old%20SPARKS/little%20mice%20collection/Frederick.jpg He’s a philosophical little mouse grounded deeply in nature, and my kids used to beg me to read about him again and again. My youngest is playing guitar and singing up in his room right now, and it’s so true what you’re saying, one minute they’re here and the next they’re starting grad school and don’t need your help with it at all. I’m determined to be in the moment, not to hurry it but also not to be fearful of this moment moving into the next. Easier said than done. Maybe wine tasting would help!

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