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:)
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:
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,
My dear friends, I hope you’re having a joyful holiday season. Late dawns and early sunsets invite glorious candlelight. Winter is a good time to rest, and even hibernate some. Darkness brings people together. It doesn’t get much cozier than mulled wine by the fire with friends and family.
The talented poet, BJ Ward, taught a creative nonfiction class I took this fall. Check out his poem called, Christmas Eve: In Defense of the Overly Exuberant Lawn Decorations Around Washington, New Jersey🙂
In other news, I’m headed to the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities for a one-week writers-in-residency stay. The main character of my new novel is a furniture maker and so I’ve been spending time reading up on the craft and hanging out with my friend Bob in his shop trying to learn a little more about making stuff out of wood.
My friend Barbara Bjerring has an art studio (called Deeply Flawed) right across the road from my house. I visited her there recently and had camomile tea in one of her handmade mugs. About making art she says, “The artwork comes from an interest in the existence of two simultaneous realities; what we choose to show of ourselves, that which is safe, and what we obscure, that which is dangerous.” More of her ceramics, prints, and fiber art are here.
Another of my neighbors in town is the gifted artist and art teacher Sharon Ferguson. She did these chalk drawings on a blackboard. I’m completely in awe.
My series of narrative paper quilts is coming together and will be shown from March 2 – May 11, 2018 at Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA. This project is inspired by six women who, like me, are both artists and scientists. At its heart, the quilt series is about identity gained through breaking barriers. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the art quilts in the series:
This newsletter comes out four times a year on solstices and equinoxes. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do that here.
Warm wishes to you and yours,
“So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted;
But yet a union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.”
Thinking about a summer party? I’m endlessly fascinated by what’s in my 1951 copy of “The American Household Encyclopedia.” In case you’re thinking about hosting a buffet supper, perhaps this direction on table setting will be helpful:
In other news, I continue work on my narrative paper quilt series. Right now I’m making nine blocks inspired by my talented and kind friend, Armen Elliot. She uses her camera as a kind of magnifying glass to look closely at what interests her. Most of her photos are about relationships. She works with people and families “to create something for them.” To read her interview and/or to learn more about the paper quilt project, click here.
This is one of Armen’s photos:
If you haven’t heard, my first novel came out on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. I’ve done many talks about it since its debut and I’ve enjoyed myself (even though at first I was very scared to stand up in front of people and read from my novel like an actual writer!). In case you’re interested, I’ve written about the experience of learning to own my new writer identity here.
In celebration of my book’s release and because three is my lucky number, I’ll be giving away three copies. All you have to do to enter a chance to win is share this newsletter with one other person and then let me know you’re interested in a copy of the book by sending me an email. I’ll select three winners on June 30:)
And, as a special treat, here are two paintings by my friend Elizabeth Snelling. She paints her surroundings, family, friends, animals and plants. She says “If I can achieve an authentic portrait of domestic life, now and then, I’m happy.” She told me she uses lots of beakers in her still life work because her grandfather was a chemist and when he died she took many of his old, German hand-blown laboratory glass for her own.
I really love her masterful use of pattern. For more of her art and about her, see this.
I leave you with a poem about Fireflies by MARILYN KALLET
beautiful and quiet all around you.”
Celebrate this quiet time between holidays by lighting some candles, taking a walk in the woods, looking at the stars or whatever you do to find stillness. That or plan something revolutionary.
Some primal winter words from “Closing The Circle,” by Jim Dale Huot-Vickery:
“Let the snow and ice and darkness, the winds and shadows, the deer bleats and wolf howls, the grunts and snorts and bawls, the fox barks and raven calls, the countless crystals and brilliant moons, the dreams and loves and enduring life: let the winter sing sing — You took me — let it sing on and on, beneath the beautiful stars.”
And see this correspondence in poems between gardeners and poets Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “It is our hope that some of the pleasure and anxiety of tending these gardens — which is to say, tending to ourselves, our relationships, our earth — comes through in these poems,” says Ross. “There’s bounty, yes. But there’s loss and sorrow too: like a garden, like a life.”
This winter I’m at work on a little art project. It’s a narrative paper quilt.
This is a hand sewn work based on women who, like me, are into art and math/science/nature. I’m interested in their experiences to better understand my own.
I’m working with an uneven nine-block quilting pattern. This is my first experiment with quilting, which I see as a deeply personal art form created by women to reflect collective experiences, imagery, and ideas. I’ve chosen to work with paper because I love paper, but also because it’s a flexible medium that serves new and mature ideas equally well. The work is fragmented, patchworked, patterned, and layered. Each quilt block is inspired by the women featured in the project. Here’s one part of a nine-block square:
The women inspiring my paper quilt include:
I’ve interviewed all of these women over the last six months. (I’ve imaged conversations with Louise Jefferson and Mary Vaux Walcott since they are no longer alive). Most of these interviews are ready to read on my website, and the rest will be posted soon. In the next issues of this newsletter, I’ll be showcasing some of the women featured in this project, as well as their work in arts and sciences. So stay tuned!
In other news, maybe you’ve heard my first novel is debuting on April 22, 2017 (on Earth Day). Here’s a picture of the cover:)
If you’d like to read a little about it, please see this. My book will be available for pre-order beginning February 23, 2017. If you pre-order, please send me an email through my website with your mailing address and I’ll send you a small thank you gift:)
And finally, on a related note, I’ll be teaching a fiction workshop at this conference in February 2017. If you’re local to eastern, Pennsylvania, please consider attending even if you don’t think of yourself a writer, yet. This conference promises to be full of creative and compelling ideas for most anyone.
Thanks for reading!