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.
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:
(I’m grateful for support of this project from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.)
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,
Today is the official first day of autumn! The arc of the sun begins to shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies are already migrating.
To mark the season, here are words from the venerable Mary Oliver:
Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness
Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
who would cry out
to the petals on the ground
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do
if the love one claims to have for the world
So let us go on
though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.
— MARY OLIVER, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “Swan: Poems and Prose Poems”
My friend and creative co-conspirator, Lauren Kindle, is working on a wonderful new project this fall called ‘Intentional Loitering.’ A sample of her recent work is shown above. She’s forgoing her to-do list for a bit in an effort to encourage “curious and shy” new ideas for her paintings. You can read her recent blog about it here. The author George Saunders talks about something similar in this podcast.
Along the lines of art projects, I received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts to show my paper quilt project at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA, in spring 2018. (Yay!)
As is always true, the writing (in this case of the grant application) helped me hone what I’m really doing with this project. I’ve retitled it “Seams” and you can read about my new vision here.
One of the women inspiring the project is Jenn Rossmann, a professor of Mechanical Engineering and a gifted writer. For your reading pleasure, here’s a recent short story by Jenn.
And I’m working on my second novel. I use a Pinterest board as a visual for the writing. Thought you might be interested in checking it out here.
I leave you with this recent picture of a monarch in our yard. A few are still around before they migrate south to the overwintering grounds they have never been to before. They’ll find them, somehow.
Here’s to wonder and mystery.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. The photo of the monarch butterfly above was taken by my talented husband, David. Here we are together:
“So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted;
But yet a union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.”
And our flowers are in glorious bloom.
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.”
Day and night are equal in length. It’s a pivotal moment, that will tip the balance of light and dark.
So even though it still looks like this outside in my part of Pennsylvania:
Soon, very soon, there will be this:
That heart-quickening feeling of a first warm spring day is captured here by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. If you’re in a more melancholy mood this spring, see this beauty from Amy Gerstler.
I’m continuing to work on a series of narrative paper quilts made of thread, paper, and watercolor. These nine art quilts are based on nine women who, like me, are into art and math/science.
I wanted a way for other people to interact and be a part of my quilt project so I’m making two separate pieces that relate to identity and I’m inviting the public to help complete them by offering answers to two prompts.
I’ve included a picture of one of the pieces below — a tree. The other will have elements of wind in it. These will be on display at Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA beginning in late April. I have one prompt related to each piece. Selected answers to the prompts will be quilted into these two pieces later, as leaves for the tree below and flower petals for the wind-related piece. I’ve already added a few responses (as leaves) to the tree (see detail, below).
I welcome your answers to the prompts, either as a comment to the newsletter or as an email.
For the tree:
Describe yourself in three words.
For the wind:
I would like to be more ________.
All answers will remain anonymous on the quilt:)
One of the women inspiring the series of nine paper quilts is Chawne Kimber. She’s a brilliant mathematician and internationally-renowned quilter. She’s changing the world with her art. See an example of her stunning work above and more here. And finally, after eight years in the making, my novel debuts on Earth Day, April 22, 2017! In April and May, I’ll be traveling around with my book talking about how one might pursue a creative life even if you’re not “that kind” of person. Because since I’ve worked most of my life as an environmental scientist, that’s how it was for me. Come to one of these events and if you show up you get a small prize to celebrate spring:)
“Something in the air this morning makes me feel like flying.”
Thanks for reading! xoxo
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:
- Jenn Rossmann (Engineer and Fiction Writer)
- Chawne Kimber (Mathematician and Quilter)
- Armen Elliot (Photographer and Investigator)
- Anita Collins (Geneticist and Artist)
- Lauren Rosenthal (Artist and Environmentalist)
- Mary Shafer (Weather Expert and Writer/Artist)
- Louise E. Jefferson (Cartographer and Artist) (1908-2002)
- Mary Vaux Walcott (Naturalist and Botanical Painter) (1860-1940)
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!