Good sleep is a questionable endeavor these days. It is understandable, given the pandemic, with the lockdowns and quarantines, and its associated fears and anxieties. Drinking is up, exercise is down, and anger and frustration are often at the forefront of my brain. Add to that the raw polarization of our society today, and it is altogether far too wearying, but not in a way that helps sleep.
It is, quite honestly, hard to fight it all. There is a reason that Monday seems like Tuesday, which seems like last Thursday, or Sunday. I can’t — and don’t care to — remember what happened then.
One recent night, during a bout of insomnia, I was hit with a stark thought. Actually, it was really more of a command:
“Get your mind working again.”
I thought about this for an hour or so, mulling the contours of the phrase. I know what “get your mind working” literally means, but the path wasn’t evident to me. I have things to do, projects that I’m working on, and I’m struggling to get them done. It’s all the other crap that’s getting in the way, making those things more difficult to accomplish.
A day later, in a little bit of serendipity, I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times. It was an interesting read, but I was struck immediately by what he said when asked about how he’s working through isolation:
Last September, I had the good fortune to have the best office in the world: the Alvord Desert.[1. Over on our blog, you can see “One Last Jaunt through Oregon,” a travelogue of our awesome September trip. My office in each of the places we went was wonderful.] Each morning, I got up, made a cup of coffee, and set out my desk and chair with a stack of proofs. There, with an expansive view of the desert playa and Steens Mountain, I worked on a book, the result of an unexpected project that had come together earlier in the year.
The book was not mine, but that of a friend. And, as I worked on the project through the fall and winter, I realized that this was not a one-off event, but possibly the beginning of a new chapter in my life. To that end, I have created a publishing company, Red Notebook Press, and am about to publish its first book.
That book, Aging: An Apprenticeship, is, at its simplest, an anthology of thoughtful, touching, and sometimes funny essays on life as we get older, written by many well-known—and should-be-well-known—authors. Compiled and edited by my friend Nan Narboe, it is a unique book, an important one, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.
“Nan Narboe’s thoughtfully selected essays offer an intimate and lyrical account of aging through the decades. Authors Judy Blume, Andrew McCarthy, Gloria Steinem and others draw from their own experiences, describing a specific decade’s losses and gains to form a complex and unflinching portrait of the years from nearing fifty to ninety and beyond.”
Aging is now complete, and will be published on April 4. There were a few hiccups along the way (the biggest being the nightmare that is building an ebook), but I can tell you that nothing beat the joy at seeing the first copies in Nan’s hands, or finally getting the book visible on Amazon.
I have been in publishing my entire life, but it has been in the world of periodicals. And, while I have never tried to create a book, book publishing is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for years. In fact, part of the happenstance that led me to this project was that I was already knee-deep in research on another potential book publishing project when I ran into Nan. I had done enough investigation about print-on-demand services, creating ebooks, and marketing channels that I knew I could help Nan with two things: guide her book to completion, and create a printed book that looked professionally done. I can honestly say that I have done just that.
As I noted a year ago, 2016 was a year to explore my new world with Susan, and to determine the path forward for my life. I expected to read and write quite a bit, possibly with an eye towards beginning a book of my own, but in the end, I did very little writing. When Nan and I spoke about publishing her book in June, I was in a place of deep dissatisfaction, mostly about my lack of writing, but also because I felt that I had not gotten any sense of where I was headed. I was enjoying our travels, but I felt more like a tourist than someone searching for a new purpose.
Aging was the perfect antidote. In the process of ramping up production on the book, I remembered how much fun it is to manage a big project, work with good people, play with page layout, edit and proof (yes![2. One of the true joys of the project was getting to use the Chicago Manual of Style once again — their website is amazing, and well worth the subscription, if you’re an editor.]), and produce something of true worth.
About Red Notebook
I called my imprint Red Notebook Press for a very specific reason, one that is dear to me. I’m not ready to say much more than this: the red notebook was one of the last gifts to me from Lee. It was an amazing document that has changed the way I think about death and how we prepare for it. I will write about it one day, possibly even as a book, but when I thought about the types of books I would like to publish, Red Notebook Press was the only name I ever considered using.
I’ve been asked by more than a few friends about what I hope to publish at Red Notebook. I’m not particularly interested in publishing fiction, poetry or general-purpose nonfiction. I would like to help authors publish thoughtful, literate texts about living well, especially as we get older; explorations of how we choose to die, and how we can help people die on their own terms; and how to live within the world of grief, with peace and grace. Right now, I don’t have any concrete plans, but I think of one of Susan’s great sayings: “Don’t get attached to outcomes; just remain open to the possibilities.” For me, Aging is a perfect example of that philosophy. I am hopeful that, if there are to be other books, they will unfold as they need to happen.
Over the past few weeks, I have been wrapping up this project. Nan has a good publicist and we’re hopeful that we’ll get a review or two from press outlets to help get the word out.[3. Not to get all marketing on y’all, but anything you can do to help put the book out there would be appreciated. I truly believe this is an important book, but it is also one of hundreds of thousands of books published in the U.S. each year, and it is easy for it to get lost. If you have any ideas, get in touch with me at rlepage(at)me.com.] In the meantime, I am preparing to head back out on the road for the foreseeable future; our house is packed up and in storage, and we’re readying our new trailer for four to six months through the Southwest and beyond. While I’m out, I’ll be working on books for that other project I referred to above. Again, I’m being a bit vague about this for various reasons, but I have created a second imprint for a different topic, and hope to have news about that later this year.[4.I should also have an online presence for Red Notebook Press in the next month or so, at rednotebook.press.]
So, that’s what I did during my summer (and fall and winter) vacation. I’m extremely proud of what Nan has created, as much as I am at being able to help her realize her vision, and I look forward to the things that this year will bring.
January 2016 marks a big change for me: I am jobless for the first time in more than a decade, but I am not looking for work. Instead, I am preparing for a voyage of uncertain exploration, and I’m unbelievably excited about it all.
The short story is this: last fall, Susan and I purchased a small travel trailer,[1. A 17-foot, very cozy fiberglass trailer made by Casita. We love it.] and our hope is to spend much of this year wandering throughout America (and possibly parts of Canada). My goal for our travels is simple: to photograph the beauty that surrounds us, and to write about some of the things that have been rolling around in my head for the past few years.