At present, I’m coping with:
Lots of candlelight
This has been a difficult year for so many for lots of reasons. Refuge for me has come in continuing work on my second novel. This past summer I wrote a screenplay of the whole story to try to hone what it is I’m trying to say. That was useful. It also meant throwing away half the novel I’ve worked on for hour years and doing another major rewrite. This is the way it is with novel writing, at least for this novel writer.
Hope you’re finding your own way through this pandemic.
I have a lot of hope pinned on 2021 and can’t help but feel that the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter is a sign of some cosmic reset.
Stay as whole and healthy as you can out there.
And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I skipped my spring newsletter because it seemed irrelevant in the midst of a pandemic. I feel much the same now with racial injustice so much at the forefront. 2020 has been a cathartic year. It’s been hard and maybe, in some ways, the crucible of change we need.
My current state of mind is a bit like this painting I just finished:
Over the last months, I’ve turned more to poetry and short stories. Declaration by Tracy K. Smith is an erasure poem (the poet takes a pre-existing text and removes some or most of the original words). In this case, the Declaration of Independence is the source text. I also love The Emperor’s Deer by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Joyce Hinnefeld’s new collection of short stories called The Beauty of Our Youth is lovely.
We’ve all been home a lot over the last months. The idea of home is a preoccupation of mine. I wrote a little about it in Hawk and Handsaw Journal. It’s featured with stirring paintings by Maine artist Tessa O’Brien.
(©Tessa O’Brien, “Addition,” 42” x 42” Oil on panel, 2019)
(©Tessa O’Brien, “Green Room,” 14” x 14” Oil on Panel, 2019)
I’m filled with cathartic, unsettled, disturbing energy that I want to use to become a better, kinder human, more capable of supporting equality in the place I call home. That seems the only way forward.
Be well my friends,
For your solstice: Some Mary Oliver and a few pictures — xoxo
Sleeping In The Forest
I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
– Mary Oliver
With love from the dark and deep,
We’re transitioning into sweater and tea weather. Oh, happy day!
It’s a great time for walking through fields of wildflower:)
In word news, my friend Kate Racculia has a brand new book, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts. This book, which has already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher Weekly, is described by one reviewer as, “…so much fun it should be criminal. A mystery hidden in a game, hidden in a romp around Boston, with intrigue, a little romance, and a ghost? Perfection.” I can’t wait to read it! Kate will be talking about her book at the Bethlehem Public Library on October 30, from 6:30-8:00PM. I’m planning to be there. Hope to see you!
Also… on October 25-27, Book & Puppet Co. in Easton, PA is putting on the first Easton Book Festival! The festival is a new, annual indoor literary festival for adults and children, with readings, seminars, panel discussions, luncheons and dinners. Most programs are free of charge. Check out all of the panels and readings that showcase so many talented authors. If you’re interested, I’ll be doing both a reading and panel at these times.
My artist friend Sharon Ferguson told me about this art show at the ArtYard in Frenchtown, New Jersey.
It’s an exhibition featuring eleven of 88-year old Janet Ruttenberg’s recent ten-by-fifteen-foot canvases and watercolors celebrating Central Park’s famous Sheep Meadow. Her works have been exhibited only once before, in 2013, at the Museum of the City of New York. The show runs through December.
And finally, a little blending of art and words to describe my current state of mind. I have a finished novel on my desk, but as of last June, no agent to represent it. I’m about to embark on a new agent search with a freshly revised manuscript. Hopefully things will fall into place. And in the meantime, here are some quick doodles that capture some of my angst about trying to get another book published. I’m sure some of you creative beings out there can relate in your own ways. Writing, like any art, is hard work followed by a leap of faith with an open heart.
Until next time,
Good day my friends. I hope this newsletter finds you relaxing into the season of cold beer, hammocks, and water-love.
Summer = reading. At the top of my list is Tori Bond’s new collection of short stories, Familyism. Check out her lovely cover below. Tori’s book launch will be on June 29th from 6PM to10PM at Shanteel Yoga Sanctuary at 111 N. Branch St. in Sellersville, PA. It will be a night to remember.
Family, in all its strange, dark, quirky glory, is at the center of this collection of tightly woven, deliciously wrought stories…Bond knows the vagaries of the human heart and explores it with warmth and wit and savage intelligence.
—Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018
Regarding my own book news, I’m happy to report that after three years and a thousand hours or so, I’m finished with my second novel:)
I’ll just take a moment to say: “Ah….”
Earlier this week I learned that the agent I was working with has changed her business model and so is no longer the best advocate for my writing. I’ll be looking for a new agent to represent this book. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I find myself with the summer off — something that hasn’t been true since I was 13. So besides Tori’s book, I’m also reading my way through the stack below and adding more all the time.
In other word-related news, I recently helped lead a writing retreat about the geography of home and soul at the Highlights Foundation. It was a truly special time. Here’s the group of writers who attended, along with my fellow retreat leaders and super talented writers, Kate Racculia and Ruth Setton.
There are quite a few botanical gardens in southeast, Pennsylvania, but Chanticleer is my favorite. I love the thought, beauty, freedom and fun the garden embodies. Go visit if you can.
Also, my friend, Cleveland Wall, has put out an art call for postcards featuring poems, pictures, prose, etc. that express interpretations of Fierce Women. These postcards will be displayed at one of two mail art pop-up shows! You can mail your postcards (by August 13) directly to Cleveland and I’m happy to share her address upon request. The pop-up exhibits will be on August 13 and September 3 at the Ice House in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (56 River Street) from 6-7 PM.
Finally, don’t miss Chawne Kimber‘s quilt exhibit at the Grossman Gallery at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Chawne uses improvisational variations of common patchwork quilt forms to engage viewers in conversation about issues of identity, difference, and social justice. Her work is extraordinary.
Exhibition Reception, Friday, June 28, 5 – 8 p.m.
Artist’s talk, Tuesday, July 9, 7:30 p.m., Media Room 2, 248 North Third Street, Easton , “When the Cotton is High: Social Justice and Textiles.”
Have a lovely summer,
Good day on this fine Spring Equinox. I hope this letter finds you packing away that winter coat and fortifying yourself in sunlight.
Over the past months my husband and I have visited this empty grass field to look for hawks — they often fly here before dusk.
In order to see the birds, we must wait quietly for what can feel, at first, like a long time. For me, there’s some initial impatience since I’m not used to sitting still. But after awhile I surrender and find a kind of peace looking out into the grasses, having to wait for the wildness that may or may not show. It’s an outward opening to the world that feels opposite to my usual task-focused state of mind. Also I like having a chance to wear this large hat:)
I’m currently in love with a podcast called The Slow Down by poet Tracy K. Smith. These are five-minute bits about life plus a poem. It’s a wonderful daily meditation.
Speaking of meditation, I’m recently back from a one-week writing residency at the Weymouth Center for the Art and Humanities in North Carolina. They have the loveliest rooms.
While I was there, I met two writers also staying there: Marjorie Hudson, who has the most delightful collection of short stories called Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, and writer and teacher, Kevin Mcllvoy, who did a fantastic reading from his book, At the Gate of All Wonder. It is a special pleasure to talk shop with other writers and I enjoyed my time with them as much as the precious week I had to think deeply about my novel in progress.
In other news, I’m excited to be a small part of an upcoming writing retreat that begins on June 1 at Moravian College with a keynote address by Susan Straight: “Geography of Home and Soul”. The keynote is free and open to the public, so please come! The writer’s retreat follows from June 2 through 8th at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA and will be led by myself along with local writers Ruth Knafo Setton, and Kate Racculia. This retreat will be offered again, so if you didn’t get to apply this year, stay tuned for next.
My friend and artist Lauren Kindle took me to the Barnes Foundation to see the work of Berthe Morisot (1841–1895). My favorite pieces of hers have a sketch-like, unfinished quality, as though she wanted to capture life in flux. Here’s a quote of hers that I can relate to:
“. . . . Indefinitely prolonged idleness would be fatal to me from every point of view.”
—Berthe Morisot, 1871
I think Berthe’s self portrait captures her spirit:
Locally, my friend Ellyn Siftar will have a solo exhibit at Moravian College on March 22 from 6-8PM. She describes her exhibit as “a culmination of a 9 month research project into the work of philosopher Robert S. Corrington who suggests there are sacred folds within nature which contain and emit the semiotic material valuable for the process of psychic selving.” The objects Ellyn has created for her show “reflect a wrestling with personal memory and a cathartic shedding of the past by manipulating and ordering memories in ways that are life-giving and full of promise.” Ellyn’s a lovely, thoughtful person and seeing her work in person will no doubt be an enriching experience. I can’t wait!
Enjoy the full moon tonight and wishing you and yours sunshine and flowers,
Greetings on this winter solstice:) Wishing you much candlelight, mulled wine, hot chocolate and hibernation.
I’ve finished teaching my first semester of geology at Moravian College, a new job for me at age 46. It turns out I love teaching, which is a pleasant surprise:)
November marked the end of my work with Lehigh Gap Nature Center where I’ve been leading a native plant project for the last five years. I’m pleased to say that the book I wrote as part of the project has been surprisingly popular among people interested in native plants. This is in no small part due to the fantastic illustrations by Tom Maxfield and the graphic design by his wife, Keri. Beginning with a single Facebook post, the book (which has a digital version) reached more than 17,000 people and was shared more than 700 times all over the United States.
Now, if only my creative writing could get so much attention!
A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see the poet laureate, Tracy Smith, speak at Warren County Community College. She read from her memoir, Ordinary Light, as well as from her poetry. The grace and humor of her words left me feeling bigger inside, broadened by her spirit. Read more about her here.
I’ve given up saying when I might be finished with my second novel. But I can say it’s getting better. Insightful critique from other writer friends has been invaluable. It’s impossible to write a book alone and I’m fortunate to be part of a community of writers who help each other.
The Baum Art School in Allentown, PA recently featured the work of Jane Conneen, an artist from Bath, PA, who’s known for her botanical drawings and miniature hand-colored etchings. Some of her work is no bigger than a postage stamp. This is one of her larger works:
Fields and wildflowers served as a basis for many of her paintings. At the age of 76, she decided to go back to school to learn bookbinding and created more than thirty specialty miniature books late in her life:)
As someone also inspired by the botanical, here’s my recent paintings of witch hazel :
In winter there’s more time for hanging out with family and friends. Time for thinking about life in deeper ways. And time for more cheese. Here’s my son in his new Christmas light-up sweater:)
‘This too shall pass.’ Good moments and bad are temporary constructs. Autumn reminds me more than any season of the promise of change.
In late August, over one weekend, I was hired to teach a geology class at Moravian College. I signed my contract on the following Monday and held class an hour later. I haven’t taught geology since I was a grad student some twenty+ years ago and even though I’ve worked in the field and have practical experience, the decision to teach was not a comfortable one. I work as hard as I can to prepare for lecture each day, literally just a chapter ahead of my students. I’m a planner who likes to be prepared weeks in advance. This time I don’t get that option and so I must adjust and do what I can. It’s good for me — this forced change from how I prefer things. I’ve taken a leap of faith and found that I like teaching. I’ve also fallen in love with geology again. My students often stay after class to ask questions and talk more. I think that’s a good sign.
My new job is keeping me busier than ever, but I find time to work on my second novel from 5:00-7:00AM every morning because that feeds my soul in essential ways l’d be foolish to neglect.
Speaking of novels, my talented friend, Jenn Rossmann, has her first novel, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, coming out on November 14. I had the pleasure of reading a couple early drafts of this extraordinary book about a family and neighborhood in Silicon Valley just after the Dotcom bubble burst, when everyone must try to figure out what will come next. At the center of the book is Chad, a 14-year-old black adoptee; Chad’s got to navigate a year of personal “disruption” while his white parents and their neighbors are reeling and anxious.
Jenn is a fiction writer and an engineer. Her short stories have garnered multiple Pushcart nominations. Check out her website here, and for those in the Lehigh Valley, she’ll be reading at the Easton Barnes & Noble on Sunday Nov. 18 at 3 pm. If you love words, don’t miss it.
On a recent trip to the Whitney Museum in NYC, I saw work by Mary Corse. She uses light as a subject for her art.
Her works look deceptively simple. Yet they are transformed by walking past them since she uses materials that respond to subtle changes in light. Walking from one end of a canvas to another, one thing becomes another, as though Mary Corse intended all along to stop you so you can reconsider assumptions. Her exhibit at the Whitney Museum, A Survey of Light, is on display until November 25.
Wishing you a lovely season of shifting light.
Until next time,
Happy summer:) I hope you’re thinking about being lazy.
And picking berries of all kinds.
In the spirit of summer here’s a snippet of a poem by Billy Collins, called Fishing on the Susquehanna in July:
… (for the rest, look here.)
In case you’re looking for a children’s book, consider those by my friend Lisa Papp. She’s both a writer and illustrator. Her most recent book, Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, is the 2017 Children’s Choice Book of the Year and has been translated into 22 languages. It’s also incredibly adorable and sweet.
I’m still working on my second novel.
Which brings to mind the book on writing by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird. In the book, she tells the story of her little brother as a child having to do this book report on birds. He doesn’t know how to start and puts it off too long and their dad (also a writer) finally tells him, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. You’ve got to write it bird by bird.’ And so I think this to myself — Bird by Bird, Word by Word — when I glimpse into the far, blank distance that is novel writing.
Since any piece of finished writing is worth celebrating, I’m especially pleased to be able to say that beginning on July 1, my first creative non-fiction piece, The Poker Player, will be published in Pithead Chapel. It’s the best thing I’ve written to date. I hope you’ll check it out when July rolls around:)
Robert Papp, husband of the above mentioned Lisa, is an award-winning artist too. You may know his long running Cook’s Illustrated Covers, like this one.
He enjoys painting life’s simpler things too. Check out his masterful artwork here.
The Papps live in Quaktertown, Pennsylvania and so I must also mention my recent visit to Steve Tobin’s studio, also in Quakertown. The scope of his work is what’s most impressive. Much of his art draws inspiration from nature. His sculptures have been described as “monuments to the meeting of science and art.” Here he is with some of his large works:
Even his junkpile is beautiful:
One a final note: my grandmother, Catherine Makin, passed away earlier this month. She loved her family and flowers. This picture was taken by my Aunt Lu and is a testament to my grandparents 75 years of marriage.
May we all have many sunsets with those we love.
Until next time,
March was in like a lion this year and still roaring. I’m hoping we we’ll see much more of the lamb soon! In case you need photographic evidence of spring, this was taken just yesterday:
When it warms up and you’re ready for a walk, local friends might want to take a stroll on the Karl Stirner Arts Trail in Easton. There are many art works to see along the trail and among those is a wall poem, called Funeral, by the talented poet Beth Seetch.
Beth also had the brillant idea to do other wall poems in Easton by different poets. I love that these wall poems give people access to beautiful language and ideas right on the street.
Years ago I read an essay by Pennsylvania writer, Curtis Smith, that prompted me to contact him to tell him how much I love his writing. Lovepain is his fourth novel and twelfth book and it’s just come out. It’s been described as “an examination of a marriage torn apart by addiction and what happens to those left behind to pick up the pieces.”
In other news, I’ll be reading a creative nonfiction essay I wrote called Poker Player (about the death of my estranged father.) The reading will be at 7PM on April 26 at the Warren County Community College as part of their 2018 ARS POETICA release reading.
(Noticing a theme of darkness and death? That wasn’t intentional. But it is timely since now, in the spirit of the equinox, we can turn to light and life.)
Through April 16 there’s a fantastic show at the Bethlehem City Rotunda Gallery by my friend, the gifted artist and illustrator Tom Maxfield. His show, called Dreams and Visions, is a collection of imagined ecologies and future landscapes. Here are a couple images from the show, which includes more than 20 works.
Over the last few months I’ve read all three memoirs by the sculptor and writer, Anne Truitt. She’s a wise and eloquent writer. Last month, I went with my son to see an exhibit of her work at the National Gallery of Art, on display until July 8. I felt her art deeply when I saw it in person, so much more so than pictures allow.
The paper quilt project I’ve been working on for more than a year, called Seams, is now on exhibit at Nurture Nature Center, through May 2. Here are a couple photos by Armen Elliott from the lovely opening of the show.
We’ll see sun shine soon — I know it!
Happy spring to you and yours.