Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival just ended and the news has been full of reports by returning attendees. As usual they are bubbling over with enthusiasm for the most recent discovery. Sundance is in its 25th year which is quite an accomplishment and the festival in Utah has grown into a major source of revenue for that area. It is definitely a model for what cultural tourism is all about! But to focus on the economic success of Sundance is to miss the point. Sundance provides a remarkable service in this world of corporate domination of the arts, it gives aspiring filmmakers an opportunity to show the world — or at least the film world and those travelling to Salt Lake City each year, what they’ve got. Just go to their web site — Sundance.org — and click on the submissions page. All the info is there.

This year out of 2613 films submitted 202 were screened. Considering the odds of getting a shot in most fields of artistic endeavor those aren’t bad at all. In 25 years Sundance has screened over 3000 films many of which have either gone on to commercial success or provided an entry for the filmmakers into the larger film community. Robert Redford has a lot to be proud of.

But one of the most encouraging contributions Sundance has made to the world is that it has proven that independent artistic endeavors can be of exceptional quality and an economic success. And, that people want these films. That’s the big thing. In fact, the success of such films as Sex, Lies and Videotape, Fargo, and March of the Penguins have inspired the huge commercial studios to develop their own “independent” divisions. For some reason I find that very gratifying. The fact that a huge studio like Universal would chose to fund a small sub-company like Focus Films and give them $14 million to make a movie like Brokeback Mountain shows that the big machines are at least paying attention to the independents.

Naturally, as a writer and independent publisher, I pay attention to all this with great interest. Like all independent artists I hope this is a trend that continues, expands, grows and spreads into other disciplines. Indie music, as noted before, has grown wildly in popularity.

I’ve been thinking about the marketing aspect of independent books publishing. The internet has given us the best tool independents could ask for to promote work but trying to distinguish yourself on such a vast medium is the big challenge. And, no matter how much people love surfing the 'Net there is always the plain, simple fact that people love to go to a store and just browse looking for something to get their attention.

I think this is an interesting opportunity for the independent booksellers who have taken a beating by book selling monsters such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. If the independents can find a way to select quality books from the independent presses, it could be a mutually beneficial relationship but making those connections are the challenge facing both independent publishers and independent store owners.

I’ve been thinking about the number of best sellers I’ve read in the past couple of years that were perfectly dreadful — badly written, sentimental in content, and totally predictable. I know they are best sellers — I just wonder who the hell actually reads them. Or if they do. I believe people know the difference between hype and quality but, as in all artistic endeavors, it is a matter of making yourself known. Still, if Sundance can achieve what they have, there is hope in other fields, too.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Life in the Overlap

The spirit of national consolidation was extraordinary after 9/11, yet today the split is as bitter and rancourous as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime — from the mutual contempt between the parties to the smallness of the jeering, strident language used by political hacks. People are locked into rigidly polarized political categorizations...Conservatives stereotype liberals as naive, anti-American sentimentalists, and feckless, amoral parasites, while [liberals] stereotype [conservatives] as hard-hearted, racist, gun-toting, money-grubbing, me-first tycoons... It is very difficult to move the country forward when there are such deep schisms. - Camille Paglia, Interview Magazine, February 2006

I like Camille Paglia. I’m a little baffled by her continuing need to reinvent herself — in this article she identifies herself as a Democrat, I always thought she claimed to be Libertarian — but I’ve been impressed by a couple of her books and, because I have spent most of my life as an Independent and a moderate, I appreciate her viewpoint.

In the her current Culture Klatsch column in Interview she says the two words that sum up the world we are living in now are “overlapping realities”. Excellent observation. I try to avoid political discussions in this blog but politics impact culture and that is something even non-political people need to think about. We are getting lost in the blizzard of “realities” and losing touch with what is actually going on.

One of the saddest trends in our media driven culture is the confusion many people get mired in between the magic and the magician. Just because an individual may not live their life in a way that we approve of doesn’t mean that the words they say are any less true. This is the shameful behavior we have adopted as acceptable — whenever someone comes along who is intelligent and capable of making astute observations, rather than argue with the validity of their position, we criticize and trivialize them as individuals. Some of the greatest sages in our history have led less than admirable lives - Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin spring to mind. Generations have benefitted from their brilliance unfettered by worrying about whether they misbehaved in their less brilliant moments. It is a sad commentary on us as a culture and is resulting in a political system more driven by gossip than wisdom.

So what does an independent-thinking moderate do these days? It’s tough. Partisan bickering is disgraceful. In reading political blogs and discussion groups one gets the sense that given the choice between eliminating terrorists or the opposing party, lots of hacks would have a hard time making that decision. It is hard to know where to go for unbiased news reports — I wonder if there even are such things. I listen to talk radio a lot during the day as I work and shake my head at how some of these talk-jocks try to reinvent culture by telling us what we think.

Bill O’Reilly obviously comes to mind first. Sometimes I like O’Reilly, sometimes I agree with him. But if you get caught up in O’Reilly worship (from listening to his callers I’m convinced there is a movement out there — Make O’Reilly Our New Savior, or M.O.R.O.N.S.) and don’t pay attention to the issues he is ranting about, you might miss the fact that he is very, very skilled at whipping up a frenzy over non-issues to masquerade issues we should be concerned with. Which is the bigger problem facing our national security, leaks in the CIA/FBI operations or whether people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?

When I was in parochial school we were taught that moderation was a desirable trait. Honestly, I think there are a lot more of us out there than the extremists, it’s just that they are louder and more persistent. Trying to lead a moderate life in this era of political hysterics is like trying to keep squirrels out of your bird feeder — you have a life to lead, the squirrels don’t.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Joe Orlando and the Hovey House Writer’s Group

Writers, like all other artists, can benefit from the company of other writers and when a writer is a self-made success that is all the more inspiring. In this new era of Art-Against-The-Machine, it is particularly encouraging to meet someone who has not only chosen to write their book their way, publish it on their own, and be highly successful at it. Someone like Joe Orlando.

Joe is a Gloucester boy born and bred. He is a big, good-looking, easy going, affable man who is also a highly successful litigator. His career has been filled with cases in which he represented the little guy against the big guy, a dynamic he admits he likes very much. He is a perfect candidate to publish the way he has — small wonder that he is a success.

Joe met with the Hovey House Writer’s Group last night for a most pleasant evening of easy conversation, lots and lots of questions, and plenty of inspiration. He read passages from his book (which was made all the more wonderful by his Gloucester accent) and did his best to address all the issues presented.

He told us that he spent ten years working on The Fisherman’s Son and that the first draft was a complete disaster. The first person to read the book tried to be kind but he got the message and he revised and revised and revised. He told us that he works from 4 to 6 in the morning before having breakfast with his wife and children, working out, and then heading off to his law offices. An ambitious schedule which I much admire.

The Fisherman’s Son has done very well for a first novel published independently. It has sold well nationwide, mostly through online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is on the reading lists of a number of schools and was chosen as required reading by a college in New Jersey. “Along with Homer and D.H. Lawrence. Not bad, huh? Those guys were proud to be on a list with me,” he joked.

You can’t help but like Joe Orlando. It is obvious that he is a happy man who loves what he does — both as a litigator and as a novelist. He is wonderful to listen to, his enthusiasm for writing is contagious. He has a deep and inspiring respect for the power of the novel. We talked about people who say “oh, I never read fiction.”

“I can’t understand people like that,” Joe said. “The novel can tell the truth in a way that non-fiction never can.” The truth unhampered by the facts. His earliest inspiration was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book the influence of which can be detected in both his legal career and in his writing.

Writing about Gloucester was, for Joe, as natural as writing about legal battles but teaching himself the craft of writing was something that took time and work. One of the biggest challenges, he admitted, was writing romance. He said that he taught himself to do that by reading a lot of romance novels and, in doing that, he discovered that what made a romantic scene interesting was not the mechanics of what was happening but the interior experience of the participants. He read a passage from his book as an example of how he applied those lessons and it was clear he learned well.

The Hovey House Writer’s Group is very grateful to Joe for his charm and his generosity with his time and experience. He has another book due out in the spring, the second in what he told us will be a Gloucester Trilogy. We hope he will come back and spend another evening with us when that happens.

Also present last night was Marc Levy who, in collaboration with Carl Thomsen, wrote the text of the performance piece Silent Men Speaking which I have written about here before. Marc has agreed to be our guest at the next Hovey House Writer’s Group meeting. We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Dawning of the Age of Hysteria

The radio talk shows have been abuzz lately with vilification of the host of a television show called American Idol. I’ve never seen it, not being a TV watcher, but the outrage centers around the nasty, obnoxious, over-the-top sarcasm of the show’s host, Simon Something. Bill O’Reilly was ranting about it yesterday and, while a part of me was wondering if that wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I had to give him credit for making an issue of it. Sounds like Simon is a genuinely detestable character. One of the callers made the best point. He said that he wasn’t as upset about the fact that American Idol is on the air as he is by the fact that there is a market for it. Amen, brother.

High drama is IN. Drama Queens are the stars of the day and they know no gender. How did everyone get so hysterical? What ever happened to moral toughness, stiff upper lips, and, above all, just getting over it? Nobody gets over anything anymore.

One of the many wonderful things about having life-long friendships is that you have plenty of experience in getting-over-it. Through the decades, Sue, Debbie, Tom and I have done a LOT of that – snits happen, feelings get hurt, tempers flare, words are hurled. Thank God all of us were raised by mothers who taught us to make up and be friends again. Debbie is the only friend on this earth who can truthfully say to me "I’ve known you now for half a century, and..." She has straightened me out more than once and I’ve returned the favor. That’s what grown-ups do – they calm down, take a breath and then realize how ridiculous it all was.
At least that’s the way it used to be.

This has been a month for high drama. Maybe histrionics is the new winter sport. At least three friends have called recently to tell me about a falling out with someone and all the subsequent carrying on. "What is wrong with her?" Laura asked about a mutual acquaintance, "we disagreed about something. Big deal. You’d think I throttled her cat." Knowing the party involved I can only imagine the hysterics. A similar thing happened to me – I made the mistake of giving my opinion about a mutual acquaintance to a guy I was friends with. He disagreed and went off his rocker. Six months have passed and the drama is still going. He claims I lied. I gave my opinion, how can that be a lie? But to a genuine Drama Queen, any excuse for a case of the vapors will do.

What is this all about? Why are we so needful of all this nastiness? Is it some sort of adrenaline thing? I wonder about that. I think Thoreau’s observation that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation" is more true now than at any other time. Despite all our conveniences and labor-saving gizmos, stress is a constant in most people’s lives. Despite all our tools for enhanced communication we are more alienated then ever. I haven’t had to commute in years now but I remember spending hours on the freeway bumper-to-bumper with thousands of other cars mostly with lone drivers gritting their teeth, giving the finger, pounding the steering wheel, isolated in expensive metal cells going mad with frustration, loneliness, and aggravation. We have become a nation of un-hugged, unfulfilled drones who are so driven to acquire that we have lost the ability to connect. So we take our frustrations out on anyone who crosses us and, now, consider that entertainment as well.

I’ve been thinking about the recent fabrication about my evil gossiping while "drunk at a party". Thank God it is absurd enough to be laughable. Thirty years ago "drunk at a party" was doable – maybe even twenty, but so far this millennium – trust me, at fifty+, two drinks and I’m asleep. Mark who, being both a Gloucester fisherman and Irish, knows a thing or two about the "raisin’ o’ the wrist", always says no one can accuse his writing of being drunken ramblings because he is asleep long before he is dangerous. But the story is the kind of dramatic fabrication that a good Drama Queen can sink his/her teeth into and have a fine tantrum. Maybe I can write a TV show – American Gossip. I have a list of names of those who would make great "Simons".

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

“Independence began here...”

That’s the second half of the slogan of the Independent Publishers of New England - “New England Publishers Unite – Independence began here!” It is a good reminder for those of us in the arts that the last 80 years or so of corporation-dominated access to art is dying and it is time for artists to take back their power. Technology – that two-headed monster – gives us the power if we choose to take it.

I’m not sure where it began. Back in the Sixties when home movie cameras became affordable, a new breed of independent filmmakers sprang up. When I was at Penn State in the early Seventies aspiring filmmakers, screenwriters and actors banded together in student union study rooms to plan, write, rehearse, and talk. They scrounged dumpsters behind the VAB (Visual Arts Building) for discarded film and washed it in dormitory sinks. Everything was a problem – but only a problem to be overcome. And it worked. Fed-up with the power of the big and controlling studios like Paramount and MGM, these filmmakers bought their own equipment, wrote their own scripts, shot their own films and showed them in neighborhood rec halls and small arts cinemas. Today we have the Sundance Festival. It worked.

Musicians, sick of the controlling power of corporate rock, did the same thing. The creation of cassette recorders and eventually CD burners gave them the power to record and duplicate. They created their own distribution networks and the world of indie music grew and grew and grew. Today businesses like PureVolume.com attract tens of thousands of listeners from all over the world and sell indie CDs like crazy. We can learn a lot from the kids.

Podcasting and streaming video is growing in popularity as the next generation of what we once knew as television. The internet has placed the power of magazines and newspapers in the hands of anyone who wants to have their say.

And then there is publishing. I’ve talked before about the controlling power of the BNYPs (Big New York Publishers). Throughout literary history writers of distinction have published their own books. Thoreau and Walt Whitman would not be known today if they had relied on traditional printers of their era. But for the last five decades or so there has been a stigma attached to self-publishing because of the vanity presses that advertised in the backs of magazines “Become a Published Author Today!” For a set fee they would take your manuscript, whether it was your version of the next Great American Novel or Aunt Myrtle’s favorite pickle recipes, and typeset, print, bind, and deliver crates of books to your doorstep. Now it was up to you.

The problem was, of course, that vanity presses had no standards. Books were typeset exactly as they were written. For a fee you could have yours edited so that the “theirs” and the “theres” and the “they’res” were corrected but as for the quality of content - caveat emptor.

So independent publishing houses began. Small groups of people, with something to say and a desire to say it well with high standards and literary merit, began their own presses using computer technology to design and layout books and improved printing processes to produce them. As with all indie efforts marketing, promotion and distribution is the challenge.

Last night we had the second meeting of our Cape Ann Independent Publishers group. We still haven’t settled on a name but when we get together the excitement builds. Ideas fly, possibilities emerge, what one person doesn’t know the other does. Local authors/publishers Mary Ellen Lepionka of Atlantic Path Publishing, Susan Oleksiew of Level Best Books, Peter Anastas and Schuyler Hoffman of Back Shore Press and I, were joined by a new member, Mike Maranhas of Pink Granite Publishing. All of us left the meeting fired up with plans for the future.

If you are an independent publisher in this area interested in this group, drop me an email. If you love good books, stay tuned – we’re independent and we’re here.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Courting Magic

After the conversation with B.L. last week I took down my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and skimmed through the last half of it looking for clues to her theory. She may have a point – there are some mysterious and unexplained hints dropped so, well, who knows? I like the way Rowling writes. Her first two were okay but by The Prisoner of Azkaban she really hit her stride. She has created some wonderful characters – I’m thinking about starting a Luna Lovegood Fan Club. The thing about Luna that I love, in addition to her general daffiness and the fact that she reminds me of me at her age, is that, in this entirely fantastical and magical world, she comes off as being a bit over the top in that area. I think that is a remarkable feat for a writer to accomplish.

I’ve never been able to imagine how writers can create an entire new world. Tolkein is, of course, the master. I’m not especially drawn to science fiction-fantasy though now and then I’ll get mesmerized by one of those strange worlds. I was completely lost in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Atlantis/Avalon books when I read them and some years back there was a series called The Lord of Cragsclaw that sucked me in. But by and large I like my magic woven into a life I can relate to.

I remember when I read the Mary Stewart Merlin books (Dumbledore is Merlin reincarnated – with a sense of humor) I was astonished at how she can create a world that was both so magical and so accessible at the same time. What a gift that is.

Recently I finished Isabel Allende’s memoir My Invented Country. I love Allende – she is one of the greatest writers of our age, in my opinion. This book is the story of her exile from Chile during the 1973 revolution and the gradual reintegration of Chile into her life. She talks a lot about writing in it and I loved those parts especially. I’ve always wondered how Allende and Garcia-Marquez and other South American writers have become so gifted at weaving magic into their writing but after reading her book I understand. Magic is a very real part of their lives and it is accepted as such. Ghosts dwell among humans with perfect equanimity in South America (as they do in Mexico, a thing I should know from having spent time there). When people tell the stories about family members and friends that people always do, magical explanations are perfectly logical (“...and as your Tante Costanza grew older she began to grow wings until one day she just flew away.”) Nobody cautions them not to mislead the children. Nobody fears that children will be warped by believing that their grandfather became a lion as he aged. Why should they? That’s life.

Magic is a good thing in my opinion. We need more magical occurrences in our lives. Science is all well and good but it has its limitations. We need magic to round out the starkness of life without it. Many Americans have a well-documented fear of appearing silly, naive, or foolish. We want to make sure people know we are serious people who have the facts. We know what is going on – you can’t fool us.

Alice Hoffman is a contemporary American writer who does a good job of weaving magic into her writing. I’ve learned a lot from her and have even tried a bit of it in my work. In My Last Romance when Ruby, in her thirties, falls madly in love with the much younger Johnny, it was fun to imagine and write about how magical her world became. And in The Old Mermaid’s Tale, creating the Christmas ball that Baptiste takes Clair to as a bribe for completing her grad school applications, was delicious. I felt like I couldn’t make it too magical because of the way it ended. But still, a few of my readers said they found it too unbelievable. Sigh. No room in their world for a contemporary Cinderella!

I am getting back to work on Triad, my second novel, which ends with a miracle. I’m trying to pour some extra portions of magic into it to lead logically to the conclusion it does. I think Allende would find it perfectly understandable at any rate.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Problem with Art..

I write a lot about all the great opportunities there are in this area for appreciating art. This little island of ours – barely 20 miles in circumference – is home to a disproportionate share of artists of diverse disciplines. We have two outstanding art associations -- North Shore and Rockport -- many galleries and studios, Gloucester Stage Company and West End Theater plus Theatre in the Pines, Cape Ann Symphony, the annual Rockport Chamber Music Festival, Cape Ann Historical Museum, Maritime Heritage Center, Sandy Bay Historical Museum, Music at Eden’s Edge, Dancers Courageous, the list seems never ending. We are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. It is why I chose to move here ten years ago and why I still love it.

For six years I served on the Board of Trustees of the North Shore Arts Association until I reached the maximum number of years I could do that and I recently was re-elected to the board of SEArts, the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. I love being a part of these organizations and am honored to give time to them. The Arts are a valuable part of this community -- economically, socially, and spiritually. A study by Americans for the Arts in 2002 demonstrated the impressive economic impact the arts have Cape Ann and numerous studies nationwide show that a strong arts presence is a powerful factor in attracting people and business to an area. But therein lies the problem.

On Saturday I attended a day long retreat for SEArts board members to talk about the direction our organization intends to take. It is an exciting but delicate operation. How do we as conscientious members of this rich arts culture grow as artists, increase business, attract new artists, as well as art appreciators to support our work without undermining the earthy, hard-working charm of this old seafaring town?

The fishing industry is facing enough challenges from government regulations, declining/changing fish populations, and just the relentless march of “progress”. These factors alone have impacted our working waterfront. In just ten years here I have seen the fishing boats disappear one by one and the pleasure boats moving in. The working waterfront with the state fish pier and the fish processing plants is struggling to stay alive – anyone could go on and on about that. Much of what attracted generations of painters, writers and other artists to Gloucester is slipping away and what comes in its place can be frightening.

Here is the vicious cycle of places such as this: 1.) the town is hard-working, authentic and affordable so the artists come because they can afford to live, work and have studio space there, 2.) the artists are productive and thrive, people from the rest of the country begin to take notice and come to take advantage of the arts bringing much needed revenue into the community, 3.) as the arts grow the community becomes increasingly attractive and people who once came just to enjoy the arts decide they want to live there, they begin moving in, 4.) as more new people come prices go up – housing is expensive, there are more demands on resources, the town increases taxes, it is no longer an affordable place to live, 5.) the working citizens of the town have a harder and harder time paying their bills, their children grow up and move away because they can’t afford to live there, the original citizens of the town begin to move away and the high cost of living becomes prohibitive to artists, they start moving out too, 6.) another bedroom community is born.

It’s an issue that many communities have faced, how can we promote the arts, support our fellow artists, and attract new markets while helping to preserve the original character of the town? That is the challenge we face now. It is a challenge those of us on the SEArts board are talking about. Please visit our web site and consider becoming a member.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Adventures in My Sewing Room

One of the pleasures of winter is the long dark evenings that can be spent in my sewing room. This is a tiny room off my kitchen with a window overlooking the cemetery (not that it counts on dark winter nights)containing two long utility tables, my sewing machine, my serger, an ironing board, many baskets filled with notions and a positive mountain of fabric. In my own defense let me add that all the fabric is cleaned, folded and stored in large zipper-loc plastic bags that are labeled with fiber, amounts and any other pertinent information.

Sister Claudia gets credit for this. Back in Home Ec many long years ago she advocated storing all the needed items for a project together - thread, zippers, buttons, interfacing, pattern. When I buy fabric that I know has a specific purpose I do as Sister Claudia says but that comprises about 10% of the overall stash. The other 90% falls into the what-cool-thing-can-I-do-with-this category.

I love fabric! I just love touching it and handling it and day dreaming about what it could become. And I love finding a piece of extremely unusual fabric that is beautiful but so unique that I have no idea what to do with it. But I will. My stash has a lot of pieces like that.

I like simple clothes in plain lines - drawstring pants, T-shirts, kimono jackets, the perfect shirt. I dream of the perfect shirt. About 20 years ago I bought Elsebeth Gynther’s Easy Style: Sewing the New Classics and it is the most used book about sewing I own. Elsebeth is from Denmark and her approach to sewing is to make very simple styles in very beautiful fabrics with lots of exquisite details - perfect top-stitching, elegant little slash pockets, interesting collars and necklines, etc. I have made nearly everything in Elsbeth’s book and those garments always wind up being the ones I never want to throw away.

David Page Coffin also wrote two excellent books on making the perfect shirt, Shirtmaking and Shirtmaking Techniques. In its pages he details how to draft a pattern just for you and how to add all the exquisite tailored details that make the difference between custom-made and RTW. If you can only afford 2 sewing books those are the 2 to own. In Coffin’s book there are photos of his closet and his wife’s closet both filled with the perfect shirts he has made for them in wonderful colors and fabrics. Which gave me an idea. What if I took the shirt pattern I drafted from his instructions and made a shirt or two from my unusual-but-gorgeous fabrics stash?

I just made one of his shirts in a thick, soft rose-colored cotton chamois and I have been wearing it constantly. So I decided to make it again only this time in a violet-gray Thai silk that has been hanging around for years. I made it with a stand-up collar and big pockets and it is great. So onward through the stash.

There used to be a great remnants store over in Danvers called Winmill Fabrics. It’s gone now but a good portion of its stock is in my sewing room — most acquired because it was intriguingly unusual. So the other day I pulled out a piece that has been a great mystery to me for years. It is 3 yards x 54" of a knit with a little stretch, probably some sort of polyester, but the finish is beyond belief — softer than anything I have ever touched with a muted, glowing suede-y look but not as heavy as the expensive faux-suedes. The color is a deep, dusky plum and I have considered dresses, trousers, jackets — never finding the right use for it.

As of last night it is almost finished as a Perfect Shirt. I made a deep vent in the back, two plain pockets, turnback cuffs, and a classic collar with stand. The fabric is so beautiful it needs no embellishment. All it needs is buttons and buttonholes and I have some gorgeous dark gray and plum abalone buttons for it. I can’t wait to wear it.

Hmmmmmmmmm, what next?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fiction/Nonfiction - Blurring the Line

I am a fiction writer for the most part, at least in my books, so the issue of writing factual nonfiction doesn’t much concern me. However all the recent flap over James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces has gotten me thinking about the responsibilities of a writer to his/her readers when writing nonfiction. I haven’t read Frey’s book and won’t. I’m not particularly interested in the my-screwed-up-life genre. But I’ve read a few of the op-ed pieces and news stories on this issue and it is worth thinking about.

First of all, I want to say that in these exposé-happy times, when everyone thinks they are Woodward and Bernstein, it is just plain stupid to publish a book as nonfiction that the author knows perfectly well contains a considerable amount of bullshit. Did he think no one would call him on it? On the other hand, maybe he’s just very clever at marketing. After all, he’s gotten more publicity for this book and sold more copies than he probably would have on its own merits. That’s another matter altogether.

But, when it comes to the nonfiction memoir genre how much truth does a writer owe his readers? Stories that start out in childhood present an interesting situation, for instance. If a writer writes about things from childhood, he recalls them with a child’s mind. Children see “reality” from an entirely different perspective than adults do and their recollection of dates and times are frequently faulty. A writer friend shared a piece he was working on with me in which he recalled in detail the day President Kennedy was shot. In his narrative he said, “I was five and...” he proceeded to paint a beautifully written and sad portrait of a family in shock and mourning – a day that would effect his life for years to come.

"It’s good," I told him, "but you and I are the same age. That would make you thirteen when Kennedy died. Thirteen year olds see things much differently than five year olds do." No one was more shocked than he was to realize how old he was then – but it was a far more innocent time. Still writing with the memories of a child affords much more leeway than the memories of adults.

Maybe nonfiction writers should take a few lessons from fiction writers. It is true that fiction writers can be more inventive but we have to adhere to certain rules of credibility. For one thing we have to be true to the nature of our characters. You cannot take a character who has been quiet, gentle and unassuming and turn her into a sassy flirt without some powerful triggering incident. Secondly, we have to abide by the rules of nature (unless you are Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or some other South American writer) and not bend time or weather or the essential order of the natural world to fit your story. And third, the natural arc of the story has to be credible. Once that seed of scepticism is planted in a reader’s mind it is hard to overcome.

I am not sure I would ever undertake a nonfiction memoir work. For one thing I’ve used up a lot of my life’s experiences in two novels and a collection of short stories and they are – I hope – far more interesting than my actual life has been. Writers write to entertain, to inform, to stimulate thinking, to offer new perspectives – all of these things are important but the nonfiction writer needs to respect his audience’s intelligence. Once you’ve lost credibility with your reader the book is pretty much over for them.

I remember when I read John Krakauer’s brilliant Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. I found myself wondering why in God’s name anyone would want to climb that mountain – but by the end of the book I understood it. It made no sense to me but I understood. I guess holding to the truth is ultimately more interesting to me – maybe not as dramatic but certainly more thought-provoking. If that is good enough for the novelist, it should be for the memoirist as well.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dinner with Rebecca and Betty Lou

It was Betty Lou’s birthday last week so Rebecca and I took her out for pizza and beer last night - that’s BL’s favorite kind of dinner. We would have taken her anywhere for anything but BL is a pizza and beer kinda’gal - even at 72. Of all the things I have done in my life, having BL as a friend for eight years now is way high up on the list. We don’t always agree on everything but she is someone I respect – for her generosity and her intelligence and her amazing talent.

I knew about BL a long time before I met her. Before I ever moved to Gloucester I purchased Painting with Light by Betty Lou Schlemm and it is one of the finest books on watercolor available. Once I lived here I would see her name in the paper from time to time but it wasn’t until I volunteered to work at the Gloucester City Hall Sculpture Show in 1998 that I actually met her. I had been told that there would be two volunteers working at the desk and when a tall, pretty woman with a wild mass of curly dark hair showed up and introduced herself as Betty Lou Schlemm I was about speechless.

For months we spent four hours on Sunday afternoons welcoming the many visitors to that beautiful exhibition. It was then that I met Rebecca Reynolds as well. Along with Daniel Altshuler, she was the co-curator of that exhibition. I’m still unclear how it all happened but somehow I got drawn into their fascinating circle and we have all stayed friends since. We’ve worked on two exhibitions since then – The Manship Retrospective in 1999, and the George Aarons Exhibition in 2003. Rebecca and I collaborated on the exhibition books and BL and I have also worked together on Legacy: The Artistic Families of the North Shore Arts Association in 2001 and Remembrance: A Tribute in 2002. BL convinced me to begin painting again after years of not touching a brush and I was a member of her watercolor workshops for six years. My life has been immeasurably enriched by these two ladies.

So last night we met for dinner which was great and talk which was sublime. The conversation always varies when we are together but it is always delicious. I brought up the Edge question about Dangerous Ideas that I wrote about in yesterday’s blog and we were off. I’m not sure how it happened but somehow the issue of moral imperative, what is the duty of a moral person when confronted with a painful situation, transformed into a discussion of the latest Harry Potter book. BL has a very intriguing theory as to why Snape killed Dumbledor which she explained while Rebecca sat with her fingers in her ears – she hasn’t gotten to the end of the book yet.

I love Harry Potter – it is the classic hero’s journey. As much as Joseph Campbell loved Star Wars, I think he would have adored Harry Potter. When the hero embarks upon his journey, it is with the unpleasant understanding that he will lose everything – all his touchpoints will be stripped away – before he finds his core and triumphs. All three of us – BL, Rebecca, and I – believe we are on that path. It isn’t easy and sometimes it is frightening but it is a journey, once begun, that you cannot step away from. Jesus said we must lose ourselves to find ourselves. It’s been that way from Jason and his Argonauts to Luke Skywalker, from Sir Gawain to Harry. David Copperfield begins his story by wondering if he will be the hero of his own life – and so it is for us all.

I am blessed. I have good travelling companions on this path. BL is taking a break from painting and teaching for awhile until she feels ready to begin again in a new direction, Rebecca has left her job at the MFA, Boston to finish her doctoral dissertation on Anna Hyatt Huntington and is setting out on a new phase of her life as an art historian and curator. I have left the corporate world and earn my living as a graphic artist while I devote my energies to writing. All of us are unsure of the future but know one thing – we have one another. And that is a very wonderful thing.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dangerous Ideas

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on expanding Hovey House Writer’s Group since I seem to have inherited it. I’m not sure how Leslie does these things. But it has been an interesting and mind-expanding enterprise. My original intention was to a.) seek out local authors who would be willing to speak and b.) attract more members who are serious and committed writers. This has introduced me to an exciting realm of ideas and adventures in reading that may not be conducive to furthering my goals for the group but certainly are enlightening.

Blogs and interactive web sites have advanced the use of the internet in ways message boards and discussion groups aren’t quite up to. The creation of online communities of authorized users who write regularly to introduce ideas and discussion points without veering off into distracting minutia, personal issues, and assorted minor ramblings is ideal for those of us who are more interested in ideas than in chitchat. Certainly there is a place for chitchat, but each deserves a forum of its own.

So anyway, as I have worked my way through some truly remarkable interactive communities, I have discovered The Edge. The Edge is a community of scientist, philosophers, educators, artists, deep thinkers and more. Among their offerings is an annual question which their members are invited to answer. The question for 2006 is “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” and I have spent several days now reading the answers submitted thus far. It is fascinating.

One of the most haunting essays that I have come across is by Paul Bloom, the Yale psychologist and author of Descarte’s Baby whose idea is “There Are No Souls”. This is a concept I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering in my life and, after, decades of vacillation, I have chosen to believe that there is a soul that precedes and survives our physical life. I am still uncertain how all of this takes place but I take it on Faith that there is a mind greater than mine that has this worked out.

But Bloom’s essay ends with a killer — considering that 90% of the people in the world believe in the existence of the soul and believe that it survives their physical life and goes on into an afterlife, what would happen to humankind if the existence of the soul was proved to be false? How would people behave if they didn’t believe in an afterlife and in divine justice/retribution? Would our legal systems and our moral value systems have validity in a world in which we are all just high-functioning animals who are supremely clever and inventive but have no purpose beyond the life we happen to be in? It gives me chills just to think about it. How good can we be trusted to be all on our own?

History has, of course, proven that societies form in order to support and protect the collective from the dangers of unscrupulous, savage forces that would harm the young and the weak for their own gratification. Over centuries we have seen how these societies evolve and, nearly always, at the core of the societal structure is the notion that there is a life beyond the one we are in and there is a fundamental “goodness” (usually called God by one name or another) that most individual souls will rejoin. The lawlessness of the “bad guys” who would violate these standards is held at bay by the belief within the society that they are right and the bad guys are wrong.

The internet has brought an opportunity to observe this. With the advantages of anonymity and the absence of legal restrictions (at least in its first decade or so) it was interesting to see the proliferation of bad behavior enacted by individuals who would present themselves as good, moral citizens in the real world and claim they were “just having fun” in the wild west of the internet.

Which begs the question, how good are we as people really? My mother used to say that “class” was how you behaved when nobody was looking. In a way she was saying the same thing that Bloom is asking, if all restriction is removed how good are we? Now that’s a dangerous question.

Footnote: Interestingly enough Mike Barnicle is talking about anonymous internet behavior on WTKK right now (11:00am - Tuesday).

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Brrrrrrrrrr --- Good Weather for Warm Scarves

We have one very cold day going on here but the waves have been just glorious! I was out for a few hours this morning taking photos of the waves and the spray coming off of them and was very glad I had a warm scarf! Since Christmas I have confined my knitting to simple projects and have finished three scarves which I'm pretty pleased with. If you are headed out to a place like Good Harbor Beach or Thacher Island (left), you would do well to have a warm scarf to wrap up in!

I posted a picture of my Barbie Rose Scarf (right) a week or two ago but I
have finished it and it is very warm and snuggly. The yarn is a lovely, soft wool from HandpaintedYarns.com. This is their Super-Bulky Kettle-Dyed 100% Pure Wool in the scrumptious color that they call Barbie Rose. The pattern couldn't be easier - I cast on 24 stitches on size 15 needles and worked in garter stitch (all knit) adding one stitch at the end of a row and then decreasing one at the end of the next row. I repeated this until I ran out of yarn (four skeins) and added a deep fringe made from their Novelty Boucle Bulky Pure Wool also in Barbie Rose. This is a long, super warm and snuggle scarf and the color is just luscious.

The second scarf (left) is one I talked about making some time back. It is all knit in Traveling Vine Pattern - a popular pattern from most knitting stitch books. I used KnitPicks.com Andean Silk in Cornflower which is a blend of fine alpaca and silk. This yarn is so luxurious and delicious to touch and to wear -- it really is a treat to work with. I just cast on 77 stitches, worked an inch in garter stitch and then worked in pattern until I ran out of yard (5 skeins) and added a deep fringe. Once I learned the pattern it went fast but be sure to use markers or you can get very, very confused!!!

And the third scarf (right) is pretty funky - not the sort of thing I usually make but it is for my college-age niec
e Tasha and I wanted something fun for her! The yarn I used is Bernat's Boa in five coordinating colors - Emu, Partridge, Love Bird, Dodo Bird, and Parrot. I decided to use a carry-along yarn to give it a bit more body. I used a Dusty Rose colored Z-yarn in a lightweight acrylic I bought at WEBS a long time ago.

Holding the two yarns together I cast 30 stitches on size 15 needles and used the same technique as for the Barbie Rose scarf - garter stitch alternating adding one stitch or decreasing one stitch at the end of alternating rows. I changed colors whenever I felt like it. I just love making these simple but beautiful scarves.

I really love the way scarves and shawls knit on the bias flow and wrap around you. They seem to be extra snuggly.

So that's it from me today --- stay warm and make something warm for someone you love while you're at it!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fairies and Other Magic

I was sorting through some of the pictures I've taken in the last few weeks and decided, since I won't have time to write here for a few days, that I'd just post some of my favorite photos in recent weeks. I can never get enough of beautiful Gloucester! Enjoy! All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.


Left: This was taken on Thanksgiving at Eastern Point Lighthouse. I love that wind-battered tree against the snowy sky. The sun spots always look like fairies to me. I have no idea what magical thing that little red and blue thing at the bottom is!




Right
: Taken the same day at Eastern Point Light. The clouds were just glorious and another outstanding tree.




Left: Also on Thanksgiving but this time out on the back shore. The sun sparkling on the water and the the bare tree branches against the sky were just gorgeous. And, as you can see, a little fairy managed to sneak into the photo toward the bottom!


Right:
More fairies!






Left: That is one extremely peculiar looking little fairy on this picture!!!




Right: Eastern Point Light a couple weeks later taken just at sunset.



Left: This was a couple days before the Solstice along the back shore.


Right: I especially love the way the light glows pink on the snow of this picture taken by the Paint Factory.


Left: And finally yet another photo of the Man at the Wheel! He sure gets to see some pretty sunsets!!!


So I hope everyone who visits here has a happy and productive weekend. I'll be at the needleworkers group tomorrow and then at Carl Thomsen's performance in the evening. Take care, stay warm, and have fun.



Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stuff IV

Ahhhhhh, the holidays are over and it is time to get involved in all the wonderful things this area has to offer. To wit:

The Rockport Community House Needleworker's Group will meet on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006 from 10am to 2:00pm. All are invited to attend. Please bring your current project to work on, a treat to share, and $5 for the Community House. If you are a knitter or crocheter who is stumped on a project or if you want to learn those skills, please feel free to join us and we'll help you get started or get back on track. Contact Gwen Stephenson for more info.
• Carl Thomsen's Silent Men Speaking returns for a final Gloucester performance at the West End Theater on Saturday evening, Jan. 14, 2006 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20, reservations are recommended. For more information on this outstanding performance, please see their web site at: www.SilentMenSpeaking.com
SEArts is beginning the 2006 season with new officers and new board members. They will be holding a retreat for board members on Jan. 21st at Hovey House to discuss plans for the upcoming year. To find out more about what SEArts can do for you visit their web site.
Cape Ann Independent Publishers has another meeting scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 24th at 7:00. This meeting is for anyone involved in small or micro-press publishing interested in learning more and sharing ideas and resources. Among the publishers currently involved in the group are Atlantic Path Publishing (Mary Ellen Lepionka), Back Shore Press (Peter Anastas & Schuyler Hoffman ), Level Best Books (Susan Oleksiw), and Parlez-Moi Press (Kathleen Valentine). We will be discussing techniques and ideas for marketing, promotion and distribution and the role of small press organizations such as the Independent Publishers of New England. For more information and directions please email us.
The Hovey House Writer's Group is pleased to welcome Gloucester attorney Joseph Orlando to our next meeting. Orlando, whose novel The Fisherman's Son is now required reading in some pre-law college courses, is about a landmark case in which a young attorney prosecutes a medical liability case against powerful maritime owners. Orlando will talk about how he came to write the book and about his experiences publishing it. To have your name added to the Hovey House Writer's Group's mailing list please send an email.
Behind the Badge, Volume III by Gloucester policemen Larry Ingersoll and Mark Foote is now available. It can be purchased in local bookstores and autographed copies can be obtained at the police station. See their web site at: www.GPDBehindTheBadge.com. In addition, Larry will be a guest speaker at a future Hovey House Writer's Night.
The Wellspring House Committee for a Just Society invites you to our 5th annual legislative breakfast, Federal Housing Cuts Leave Families Out in the Cold. Find out why we lack enough affordable housing and what you can do to reverse the trend. Present will be: Sheila Crowley, Executive Director, National Low-Income Housing Coalition; Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey; Nancy Schwoyer, Executive Director, Wellspring House, Inc.; Stephanie Brown, Executive Director, Homes for Families; and a Wellspring program participant. Friday February 3, 7:30-9:30 a.m., 28 Emerson Avenue, Gloucester (if no school in Gloucester, the snow date, March 10, will be in effect). A light breakfast will be served. For more information contact Nancy Goodman, (978) 281-3558 x306 or email: ngoodman@wellspringhouse.org
Level Best Books is now accepting submissions for Seasmoke, their 2006 anthology of crime fiction. This is the fourth in this very successful series. For information and submission guidelines, please see their web site: Submission Guidelines.
• If you or anyone you know is dealing with bi-polar / manic-depressive disorder, there is a new blog you should check out. The very wonderful Knitting Curmudgeon Marilyn has been struggling with this disorder for a long time and she has bravely started a new blog called, with her typical dry humor, Swing Time. In it she is chronicling her life coping with manic-depression. I highly recommend it to anyone who may be coping with this problem.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

So, Anyway, Back to Writing

The novelist who transforms truth–immutable, uncompromising, and displeasing as it is–to extract from it an exceptional and delightful plot, must necessarily manipulate events without an exaggerated respect for probability, molding them to his will, dressing and arranging them so as to attract, excite and affect the reader. - Guy de Maupassant, 1888

After all the emotional intensity of the last few weeks – the holidays and the post-holiday burn-out and the rest of life needing to be dealt with, it is good to get back to my real life. And, more importantly, my writing life. I have been thinking about the story I want to write for the next Level Best Books anthology and that is a good thing. There is a convention among writers that you write 10 words for every one that appears on the page but you probably think a hundred before you get to writing those 10.

I have been in the company of some very good writers these days thanks to a wonderful new book, The Art of the Short Story: 52 Great Authos, Their Best Short Fiction, and Their Insights on Writing, editted by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn. I picked it up at the library (how can anyone not LOVE the Sawyer Free Library?) but I think this is going to be one of those I have to buy.

Reading writers write about writing is like warm honey on my soul because I virtually always know what they are talking about, can completely identify, even if I can’t articulate it as they can. This book is delicious because each chapter consists of a short biography complete with photo (I realize in looking through it how many faces I have never seen before) followed by a short story or two and then an essay or interview with the author on some aspect of writing. Some of the stories I have read many times before, some are new to me. All are welcome.

Last night I re-read Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace which I have probably not read since high school. The story, quite simply, is about Mathilde, a beautiful but poor young woman who is married to a respectable, middle-class man who loves her but simply cannot give her all she longs for. He manages to wangle an invitation to a ball thinking this will please her but it just creates more problems. She needs an appropriate gown, then she needs jewels - finally she borrows a diamond necklace from her rich friend. The ball is wonderful and she has the time of her life but at the end of the evening, in her haste to leave lest her new admirers discover she has no fur to wrap up in, she runs through the streets and loses the necklace. Her husband is able to replace it but at great, great sacrifice – they must reduce their circumstances even more, give up their help. She must work hard and live in a hovel until they can pay off the debt of the diamond necklace.

When Mathilde re-encounters her wealthy friend a few years later her friend is shocked at how haggard and ill-kempt she is and Mathilde confesses the whole story only to discover the original necklace was a cheap paste one and all her work and sacrifice was unnecessary. It is, quite simply, a cautionary tale about the foolishness of vanity and, after I read it, I thought how in de Maupassant’s time it was probably quite shocking.

I loved the quote (above) from his essay because it is something I often think about when I write. A thing happens and the writer begins to think about it–not the specific details of the thing but what brought it about, what the meaning of the thing was and what other consequences it might have yielded. And as the writer’s mind entertains these notions the story begins to reveal itself.

Today life is quite different than when de Maupassant wrote The Necklace but still, there are those events, simple though they may seem, in life that contain a kernel of something larger. It is the writer’s job to show up at the page and let the larger truth come out.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Old Friends, Endless Memories

Sue called last night. She read my blog about her and Tom and Debbie and didn’t know that Tom and his wife separated. She called to ask about it. We spent over an hour on the phone and, as always, we wound up laughing until our sides hurt – you can do that with someone you’ve shared memories with for over forty years.

I got a long email from Tom yesterday. He has two buddies from the Navy that he has been close to for 35 years. They had gotten together for the wedding of one of their sons and Tom sent pictures and a long letter about what a great time they had. It was a pleasure to read – even though I don’t know his friends I’ve been hearing about them for over three decades – it was great to hear they are doing well.

Sue is the only person I know who loves to sew and loves to collect fabric as much as I do. We can talk for an hour about that alone. She tells me about the latest rural adventures of living in a 150 year old farmhouse in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest and catches me up on what her son Eric and husband Jim are doing.

I was with her the night she met Jim back in 1979. Her first marriage hadn’t worked out and she moved back home, I graduated from college and was living there as well. I lived in a great little house with high ceilings, hardwood floors and a baby grand piano in the living room that came with the house. Tom lived four doors down the street, Debbie lived three blocks away. Tom and Debbie and her brother Pat and I got together every Sunday night to play pinochle and drink beer. On Saturday nights Sue and I went to dances at a couple of local dance halls and it was on one such night at The Crossing in Kersey, Pennsylvania that Sue found Jim. I remember it well. The band was a decent Bob Seger wannabee outfit and I was dancing with a guy named Rick who was a logger – lots of the guys who hung out there were loggers. Sue came up holding the hand of a burly, bearded guy wearing a Lynard Skynard t-shirt and said, “Look what I found.” Great! Maybe she’d get to use The Dress!

Let me tell you about The Dress. There was a ladies dress shop in my hometown called Bermans. Both Sue and I worked there in high school and I worked there over the holidays through college. Mr. Berman was a good guy – he liked Sue and me and we learned a lot about fabric, fashion, and alterations from him. He taught me to dress windows. By the mid 1970s Mr. Berman sold the shop and retired. The new owners had a clearance sale and Sue got me out of bed at 7 one Saturday morning to go look at wedding dresses with her. There were dozens of them going for $50 each and Sue had found one she loved she wanted my opinion.

“What do you want a wedding dress for,” I asked, “you don’t even have a boyfriend.” That’s not the point, she told me.

The Dress was fabulous – an Oleg Cassini confection in heavy cream satin absolutely covered in re-embroidered Alencon lace that had originally been $800 — in 1976, mind you.

“It’s gorgeous,” I agreed with her, “but it’s a size 8 and you’re not.” That’s not the point, she told me.

She bought it and we spent the entire summer taking that dress apart and remaking it to fit her somewhat more voluptuous figure. We removed all the lace and spread it out on sheets on my living room floor before remaking the dress. It was an extraordinary lesson in garment construction to do that. Tom often wandered down to check on our progress. At last it was finished and Sue looked beautiful in it.

For the next few years every time a guy so much as bought her a drink she tried on The Dress to make sure it still fit. Then she met Jim.

By the time they got married I was living in Houston. When she called to tell me they had set the date I was so happy for her. “You’ll finally get to wear The Dress,” I said. Well, no, she said.

What???

She was pregnant with their son Eric and by the date of the wedding The Dress would be way too tight. Oh well.

Last night while we were talking I asked about The Dress. “Oh, I still have it,” she told me. “I cut it up and made a jacket out of it but I saved everything – it’s in my cedar chest in the bedroom.”

Well, that’s good. “Yeah,” she said. “I saved it with Eric’s teddy bears and the Lynard Synard t-shirt Jim was wearing the night we met.”

Ah, memories.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Malicious Intent: Evil Happens II

I wrote a blog about a month ago about the cyber-stalking/harassment that I have been dealing with for the past year. Since then the harassment, at least on this blog, has stopped* – which is all I really wanted – and I was hopeful that I could just let the rest of it go. However, something new has come to light and I’ve decided to talk about it here simply to illustrate what can happen -- what unintended consequences can occur -- when evil people with malicious intent perpetrate their destructive behavior.

I have always been aware of the defamatory nature of the message board I refer to as Nativecesspool because of its vile content. I have never been a member of it, never posted on it, and largely avoided it other than to save the threads for the purposes of documentation. My thinking has been that anyone who knows me knows what vile nastiness is encouraged on that board, and anyone who doesn’t know me will have to make their own decisions.

However, one of the vilest of the posters on that board – hiding behind a veil of anonymity as committed cowards always do – copied some 25 pages of their filth into the body of an email that was then sent to the general email address of an organization that I am actively involved with. Included was a message naming me as someone who was passing myself off as the “head” of the organization and that I "needed to be stopped". Now, what makes this action particularly despicable is that the person did this not knowing where that email would go.

The email is received by a lovely, sweet woman who makes sure anything important is taken care of. She is a kind, gentle mother and grandmother who knows nothing about the ugliness of internet trolls. When she received the email, a couple weeks before Christmas, she was utterly and completely shocked by it. She had never read the sorts of things that were copied into it nor seen photos like the ones included (the "c-word" is one of their favorite names for me). She said she started crying when she read it and, because she didn’t know what to do, printed it out, and locked it in the bottom drawer of her desk. She told me she couldn’t sleep for a week thinking about how awful it was, and she was afraid to tell anyone about it. She thought I didn't know about this board and was afraid to hurt my feelings.

She waited until after Christmas – she said she didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holidays – and then, after much agonizing, she shared it with a Director of the organization, a woman who is a good friend of mine. The Director read it and, she too, had no idea how to react but didn’t want to hurt me, also thinking I knew nothing about this message board. She was particularly upset because, in the pages and pages of text included, there were outrageously ugly comments made about several people within the community she knows well. One of those named, in a malicious and slanderous association to me, is a wonderful dancer who is a friend of hers. She said she was “nauseated” by what she read and that it made her “question her faith in human decency”.

Yesterday, she decided to tell me about it. When I told her that I not only knew all about that board but had been documenting the entire situation for several months she was relieved but horrified that this was being done to me. We talked about and I told her that I would leave it to her discretion to decide if she wanted to show the email to anyone else. When she told me the email address of the sender – clearthinking@mail.com – I recognized it immediately.

The reason I am writing about this is because I want people to know how harmful evil people can be to those who are totally innocent. Whatever my imagined crimes against this person are is one thing – that’s not the point – the point is because of an intrinsically hateful nature this person inflicted a great deal of pain and heartache on two lovely women who did nothing to deserve it -- and that is more reprehensible than anything that has been done to me.

I have spoken with both of these ladies and told them the whole story. They know who the criminals are and what I have been doing about it. I hope they are able to forget about it and about the ugliness they have been exposed to because of it. The tragic thing about those who would do evil is that, in their rage to maliciously wound, they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

Again, let me repeat CYBER-STALKING AND HARASSMENT IS A CRIME. The people who practice it are criminals. They do not care who they harm – they are terrorists. If you know of people who abuse the internet to cause harm, please, at the very least, do not engage with them. Help stop this kind of terrorism. Report them if you can, document them when it is possible, and do nothing to encourage them.

* Since I wrote this blog the IPs of the two most persistent harassers have been blocked. In the month of January the IP belonging to "WER" / Scott has made 191 visits to this blog and has attempted to log on 29 times since being banned. The IP belonging to "vrwc" / Eric has made 166 visits to this blog and has attempted to log on over 30 times. They continue to post vile commentary in their cesspool on a regular basis.

Previous Posts for Reference:
• Evil Happens
• "Hate-Fans"


Thanks for reading.

I am closing this post to Comments as I have no desire to add fuel to anyone's fire. My comments are offered as public information only. If anyone wants to give me their opinions/observations on this they are cordially invited to email their comments to: inquiry@parlezmoipress.com. Thanks for understanding.

Creative Cross-Training

Yesterday I was at my friend Jane’s house. Going to Jane’s house is a treat on many levels, it is an old sea captain’s home built in 1845 high on a hill overlooking Gloucester’s outer harbor. From her living room window you can see both Ten Pound Island Light and Eastern Point Light. Jane runs the house as a bed and breakfast and it is spectacular – from its majestic setting to its antique-filled interior, Jane’s Hovey House is a work of art. People come literally from all over the world to stay at Hovey House and Jane’s fabulous cooking is very much among its attractions.

While we were chatting Jane said she has in idea for a blog and she wants me to help her get it started. Great! I have become a solid advocate of blogging done well as a means of both creative expression and business marketing. We are going to get her blog up and running soon.

In sports many athletes practice cross-training to expand their capacities and increase endurance. It is a highly effective way of enhancing abilities. I think the same thing is true with creativity. People like Jane, who are multi-faceted creatives, expand their creativity exponentially by undertaking a new discipline. I am eager to see what she does with her new blog. One thing I know for sure, it will be fabulous.

Leslie Wind is a skilled goldsmith. I’ve gone on and on about her jewelry before – especially her recent line of shawl pins. I wish people could watch Leslie at work. She is a slender woman but when she fires up her blow torch and begins hammering silver and gold on her anvil her strength is impressive. A couple years ago Leslie decided to try acting. She joined Nan Webber’s wonderful Theatre in the Pines and, for her debut performance, played one of the sisters in Nunsense. Since then she has been in other productions and has recently joined a chorus to take up singing. She never ceases to amaze me.

My friend Larry Ingersoll is a Gloucester cop. A few years back he, with fellow GPD policeman Mark Foote, began writing a history of the Gloucester Police Department, Behind the Badge. They have just published the third volume in the series. Now Larry tells me he is thinking about a series of short stories based on cases he has worked on.

For some time now Mark Williams has been saying he wants to try writing fiction. His first book, F/V Black Sheep, is nearing production – he has the first set of gallies – and his second book about his life as a commercial diver, Code Flag Alpha, is under revision. Last night he told me he has started work on a screenplay. As he outlined the concept for me it was clear he has been giving this a lot of thought. His characters are already well-developed and he has done a lot of work on dialogue.

“It’s all about dialogue,” he told me. “No matter how interesting the special effects and all that stuff are, if it’s short on plot and lacking good dialogue you just lose interest.”

Just yesterday morning I had re-read a few of my favorite chapters from his book in galley form. That is always a whole different experience from reading it as a manuscript. And I was impressed, as I was from the beginning with his book, with his natural ability to convey how people talk. His short story in Windchill, Imprisoned in Maine, is a long dialogue that always makes me laugh. But his ability to write about his emotions, such as in his chapter A Garand Afternoon, knock my socks off. He is growing as a writer by continually challenging himself.

And I am trying to do murder again. As a novelist my stories tend to be voluptuous and descriptive with lots of character development and traditional romance but it is time to write another story for the Level Best Book anthology and so I have to think about crime. I have a flare for murder so I concentrate on that. I’m onto something good here -- I think I’ll kill a woman this time. It will make a nice change.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Blessed Creativity

Talking about the plight of those in rural areas yesterday got me thinking about how the world is changing and what a blessing that is going to be for some. Human creativity and ingenuity is a magnificent thing. Thanks to endless creativity a lot of people are continually coming up with the most wonderful notions and, thanks to the internet, they are finding ways to put them into action.

One of the things that is most exciting about the work I do – as a print and web designer – is that I get to work with some amazing people. When I first started my design business I knew that I wanted to keep my prices such that regular folks could use my services if they wanted to start a business of their own. Over the years this has been a blessing for me as it has brought me lots of business and contact with some of the most interesting people you could ask for – many of whom I’ve never actually met in person.

This week I put up a web site for a woman who is local and a friend who had a great idea. She is a lovely painter who paints the most exquisite still-lifes. What she has begun doing is creating custom still-life paintings for people using treasured objects that they own – Aunt Myrtle’s ginger jar on Granny Jackson’s lace tablecloth next to a bouquet from Uncle Herb’s garden. You get the idea. Check it out at Trudy Allen, Artist.

But there are a lot of people who live in rural and remote areas who have found the internet to be a valuable tool for finding a market for their great ideas. Ebay, of course, is an outstanding example. I personally know at least four people who live in remote areas of Maine, Pennsylvania, and Texas who are supporting themselves by scouting flea markets and yard sales in their area and selling treasures on eBay. Fabric and yarn junkie that I am, I have contributed mightily to the economic success of people who live near textile mill outlet stores in North Carolina and Georgia! Occasionally I have exchanged emails with these people and have been told fascinating stories. I once bought a lot of gorgeous silk velvet scraps for a quilted kimono jacket from a woman who told me that her daughter was a couturier who made custom evening gowns for select clients. All her fabrics were imported and then hand-embellished by needleworkers in rural areas. The woman said for years she watched the scraps from these lavish fabrics go into dumpsters until she got the idea to start selling them in eBay. She developed quite a nice business for herself from the scraps of her daughters’ enterprise.

One of the most wonderful stories of this sort involves the popularity of “Tibet Silk” – a type of shimmering, intense, variegated silk yarn sold online at sites such as Patternworks. The yarn is expensive but exquisite. The story is that women working in sari shops in Nepal and Tibet would gather up the silk scraps at the end of the day and take them home to spin them into astonishing, bright yarns to knit with. Some enterprising person got the idea of selling the yarns in America and an industry was born. There are a lot of stories like this. I have a friend who is coordinating a business between Welsh sheep farmers and Nepalese spinners and knitters to make designer sweaters. It is just remarkable.

A lot of artists and craftsmen who live in rural areas have found a whole new market for their work on the internet. It is just amazing. I need another business enterprise like I need – as my mother used to say – a hole in the head but I have this idea for a natural skin care product. I swim several times a week and my skin was taking a beating so I researched and developed an after-swim massage oil made of a combination of natural oils with jojoba and shea butter. It has worked wonders on my skin and I have given it to some fellow swimmers and they want to know where they can get more. If anyone out there wants details, I’ll give you the formula and the supply source. The rest is up to you!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

West Virginia

Like much of the nation I have been watching with aching heart what has happened in West Virginia this past week. It is such a sad, sad, sad story and, at the same time, such an ancient one. Men need to feed their families and so they go into the ground -- miles into the ground – to work in order to make a living. It is hard for me to understand the courage it takes to do that. It is courage that I doubt I have. But this has been going on for over a hundred years and, while the practice of mining is more evolved than it was a hundred years ago, when something goes wrong that doesn’t seem to help.

There is a temptation to compare it to fishing. Whether you go into a mine or out on the ocean in a boat to make your living, the risk is comparable. If all goes well, all goes well but when something goes wrong... The only difference I can see is that going out on a boat is something I can understand doing and have done many times with great joy. I don’t know who would choose to go two miles into the earth and find pleasure in it.

The big question, of course, is why do they do it? And they answer is because they don’t see another choice. It’s that simple. I grew up and spent most of the first 28 years of my life in a rural Pennsylvania factory town. In the neighborhood I grew up in most of the fathers worked in factories. My father had his own construction business but we were fairly unique in that neighborhood. Factories are a better choice than mines but I know that if the mines were the only choice, most of those fathers would have gone into the mine. You do what you have to do.

It is hard for people who live in urban areas to understand what it is like in much of rural America, especially in Appalachia. In the Sixties and Seventies, the decades that bred many of the men who died in West Virginia this week, the way people lived bore little resemblance to life in urban and suburban areas. People were bound into their communities by family and tradition but also by a wariness of the larger world. To leave, to go elsewhere to find a better way of life, was a risk that many found hard to imagine. And leaving family and the friends you have known all your life hurts. So people stay to be among those they love and they make compromises, they work in factories and mills and mines. It is an honorable choice and, as long as nothing goes wrong, it can be a decent living.

When I was first out of college in the Seventies I worked for two social service agencies. Most of my client were from the rural Appalachian poor. It was painful work and I saw a lot that would make no sense in the world I live in now. There is poverty here, of course, and there is the concurrent abuse and alcoholism, too, but here people have options. There are clinics and shelters and food pantries and legal protections. If a person wants to escape the poverty and the limitations there are means to do it. But deep in the hill countries of places like West Virginia it is a different story. Just the sheer physical act of getting from a bad situation to somewhere that offers food and a warm bed let alone medical care takes tremendous effort and planning. Sometimes the nearest social service agency is a hundred miles away. Believe me, there is no poverty in America’s cities that can begin to compare with the poverty in remote rural areas. So people do the best thing they can do, they take jobs that most of us have a hard time imagining. They do it because it is all they have if they want to stay among the people they have known all their lives.

When I was growing up I had three friends that I am still close with today. We knew each other from childhood, went to school together, talked about our futures together. Let’s call them Sue, Debbie and Tom. When we graduated from high school, Debbie and Tom and I went off to Penn State. Sue got married. A decade later Sue was divorced and working in a factory, Debbie had quit college to get married but was back home divorced with two kids and working as a bartender, Tom had left college for personal reasons and was back home working in a factory. I finished college and moved to Houston a few years later.

Today we are all in our fifties and I still talk to all of them regularly. Sue has remarried and lives in a very small, very rural town and has a son. Her husband works in a paper mill and she makes ornaments and dolls to sell in tourist shops. Debbie remarried, too, but he was killed in a car wreck and she is working in a tool and die shop. Her kids are grown - one lives near her and works in a factory the other moved to California. Tom started a small business of his own and is doing okay with that. He and his wife have recently separated, he tells me they fought about money all the time. All three of them, Sue, Debbie, and Tom, are close to their parents, their siblings, and the friends who have stayed there too. I am here. I have no regrets.

The point I am trying to make is that people lead lives that are incomprehensible to others - even the people who love them. I don’t think one choice is necessarily better than the other but any choice involves sacrifice. I cannot for the life of me understand how those men went into those mines every day – but I absolutely know why they did. May God rest their souls and bring their families peace.

Thanks for reading.

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