Monday, July 31, 2006

What’s Everybody Talking About?

“Did you talk to Dave?...Yeah...I don’t know.... what did he say?...what did he say?....I said what did he say?...he told you that?....yeah....yeah he told me....I don’t know.... you should call Greg...huh?...I said you should call Greg....he did.... what did he say?”

The preceding is a loose recreation of five minutes of conversation — at least one side of a conversation — being conducted via cell phone by a guy less than three feet away from me at the dock the other day as he unloaded food and other supplies from his SUV preparatory to taking a spin on his boat. I wasn’t eavesdropping, in fact I was doing my darndest to NOT hear him but the guy, who was probably thirty at most, was determined to give everyone in the area the pleasure of listening to him discuss Dave and Greg with his friend who was, presumably, mowing the lawn or some such noisy activity. I guessed that from the number of times he had to repeat himself.

There were a lot of people there but I think I was the only one who heard it because I was the only one not yakking on the phone. I was trying to read.

There was a woman on the other side of me equally engrossed as she rearranged the contents of her trunk. “I told you that would happen.... yes I did... I don’t care... no it doesn’t.... I told you not to tell him... well, of course... that’s what happened the last time... yes, it did... you just forgot... I’m not the one with a problem... well, you wanted to tell him...” on and on and on. Raymond Carver would love it.

What on earth is all this talk that is going on? It seems that no one these days is capable of driving, shopping, taking a walk, or lying on the beach without a cell phone glued to their ear. I don’t go to the beach anymore at peak times because I can’t handle all the one-sided conversations.

And the pitiful thing is — they’re all stupid! It would be different if the discussions were about anything worth listening to but it’s all just endless repetition between two people too busy to stand still and listen. I don’t get it. I remember years ago when I was working in downtown Boston and the very first cell phones were coming into vogue. I was walking down Milk St. behind a guy who was telling his buddy about everything he had to do to get a pair of tickets to an upcoming Red Sox game. It was fairly entertaining and it was very clear that the guy was having a wonderful time showing off both his Red Sox tickets and his cell phone. All of us on the sidewalk with him had a great time.

But the conversations now are just dumb. “I sez to him... he told me ... she talked to Annie who said...” blah-blah-blah all gossip, and boring gossip at that, about people I don’t know. Where’s the fun in that?

I understand the need for cell phones. I used to have one but gave it up when I realized I hadn’t used it for anything other than ordering Chinese food on my way home in months. I don’t cross the bridge often enough to worry about getting stranded somewhere. I think it is good for parents of kids old enough to be roaming around on their own and those who travel a lot but all this mindless conversation while shopping or laying on the beach is depressing. When do people have time to think???

Why are you laughing?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lobstermen are Hot

Mark Williams aboard the F/V Black Sheep
The New Yorker arrived in the mail yesterday and I settled down to read it last night and discovered a huge article by Alec Wilkinson about a Maine lobsterman named Ted Ames. It’s a terrific article about one of the toughest, scrappiest guys I’ve ever heard of. At 68 he is still lobstering and is also an expert on cod with a Masters degree in some marine environment discipline. This guy’s story is enough to make darn near anyone feel like a complete wimp.

Ted grew up in Vinalhaven, Maine and, after military service and college, returned to the area. On a nasty winter night he hit a patch of black ice and wound up breaking his neck and other body parts. He still managed to get to a neighbor’s house and knock on the door. Next thing he knew he was in a hospital being told he would never walk again. He didn’t believe it and refused to give in. Obviously, since he is lobstering still, he proved the doctors were wrong.

It’s quite a story! Read it if you get the chance.

Obviously I like lobstermen. And I know a few more things about that business than your average woman from the Allegheny Highlands ought to. What struck me about the article, other than its interesting subject, was that a lengthy article about a lobsterman should just happen to show up in The New Yorker of all places at this time. Not only is it coincidental to the publication of Mark’s book, but another Gloucester lobsterman, Peter Prybot has just released his book about lobstering. His is more of a picture book, filled with photos, and some interesting opinions about how lobsters behave.

As I’ve said before I’m intrigued by synchronicity. Jung’s concept of “coincidences” that are far from coincidental still baffle me but that doesn’t mean I don’t love thinking about them. What’s up with lobstermen? How did they suddenly get so hot?

Mark has been having a lot of fun since his book came out. People are coming up to him and he is selling as many books out of his truck as they are in the bookstores. (There is a slight supply problem — he can’t seem to get delivery as fast as he is going through them. I tell him this is a problem all writers should have.) He told me the other day “I have a groupie.” I told him that would happen. “Yeah,” he says, “but it’s a guy.” Oh. Well.... excuse me if I chuckle.

The guy apparently read the book and found God. He carries it around with him and tries to engage Mark in worshipful conversation every chance he gets. Most people aren’t quite THAT enamored. The guys want to talk about authentic experiences. The women make flattering remarks about the size of his arms. He seems to be coping with both. I wonder if Prybot has these problems.

Well, Americans have always had a fascination with the rugged individualist and, if I’ve learned anything from Mark, it is that there are few professions jam-packed full of rugged individualists than lobstering. That’s an encouraging thought. I’m glad people are fascinated by these guys. For one thing, it sells books but, more importantly to me, it means there is at least a glimmer of hope that the masses are not sinking into mindless, consumer-driven conformity.

I was down at the fish pier last night watching the guys fish for stripers. One guy landed a big one and everyone had to go over and check it out. That guy was thrilled — he and his family will get a few meals from the sea and he’ll get plenty of stories. I like thinking about that.

Buy The New Yorker and read about Ted Ames — and, if you haven’t, buy Mark’s book. These guys are characters — and lobstermen. The world needs more of ‘em.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Glimpses of a Quiet Life

Maybe because I grew up Catholic in a very Catholic town, I have always had a fascination with monks and nuns. To me, both as a child and even today, there is something very brave and romantic about them particularly the ones who choose cloistered lives. For one thing, I find the monasteries and convents in which they live endlessly fascinating. There is something about that combination of stark simplicity and ornate artwork that is very alluring.

I received a book, Brothers and Sisters: Glimpses of the Cloistered Life by photographer Frank Monaco with a forward by one of my very favorite writers Ron Hansen. I love Hansen and I’m fascinated by the mystique and the aesthetics of Catholic monasticism. It is a wonderful book, full of wonderful photography. Monaco obtained permission from several cloistered orders to go and live among them for awhile to take the photographs. What an interesting experience that must have been.

There is such beauty here. I don’t understand it but then beauty is not to be understood, is it? One of the cover
photos shows a nun standing on the sill of huge, arched and window scrubbing the window clean. At her feet is the sepulchral monument of some ancient lady. It is a beautiful photograph filled with stillness and the two guiding principles of the Benedictines — Pray and Work.

What surprised me most in the narrative in this book is how many cloistered monasteries there still are. I know the Benedictine monastery in my home town at one time housed over 100 nuns and now is home to less than a quarter of that. Most of the photographed places in this book seem to be in Europe but the photos capture both the simplicity and devotion of their lives as we as the joy and humor. There is a story retold in the book that I’ve heard before about a meeting between one of the Popes and the Dali Lama. Curious eavesdroppers pressed their ears to the door hoping to garner great pearls of wisdom, but all they heard was laughter.

Humans live in a material, sensory, absolute world but the religious among us live in proximity to another world that many claim does not exist. Those who have made the choice to leave as much of the world as they can and live daily in communion with that other world are intriguing to people like me because, despite my faith, there are those times when I wonder if that world exists, and what it is like. In my novel Triad, which I hope to get back to work on this winter, Father Peter Black is a priest who lived in proximity to that world for years and then, one day, it was gone and his life now is a struggle to regain the sweetness he once knew.

Faith is tough. It is wonderful and precious when it is with you but there are times when it is very difficult to stay connected to. But for me, like it is for many, the best times are the times working alone on some quiet project. Some nights when the wind is blowing in the trees and the world is quiet, I putter in my sewing room and feel the sweetness that is so beautifully depicted in these photographs.

My favorite photograph in the book shows a plain, rough wooden room with statues and holy cards and, in the foreground, a monk in his rough habit bent over an old Singer sewing machine. I love that photograph — for me it embodies the mystique and the allure of the life lived in faith.

We live in a busy world but I have chosen a way of life that may seem boring to a lot of people. I love the freedom to have quiet times and to avoid cities and traffic and chaos. But even in my quiet world I can appreciate the deeper simplicity of these lives. There is great strength in silence and contemplation. Ora et labora. It’s not a bad way to live.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Silence = Consent

Years ago I worked in a small advertising agency — 15 people — where we worked in pretty close proximity. There was one guy, a thirty-something sales guy, who took great pride in being a smart-mouth. He liked nothing better than to make a genuinely offensive, obnoxious comments and then just stand there, grinning a stupid grin waiting to see who would object.

The prevailing attitude in the agency was, “He’s an idiot, ignore him” which most of us did. I was the new kid in town so didn’t think it was my place. But this happened pretty often and everyone was made genuinely uncomfortable by it. When he wasn’t around we’d talk about what a nitwit he was but week after week he pulled his stupid stunts. Finally, a new person started — a very tiny, perky and young woman who also happened to be very, very cute. Cute lets you get away with a lot too. After she had heard this guy’s smart remarks a couple times, she began responding with disapproval — “What a nasty thing to say!” or “You should be ashamed of yourself.” At first the guy just laughed but gradually a few other people started agreeing with her and, in a few weeks, her open disapproval did what years of ignoring him hadn’t done — he quit doing it.

I’ve been thinking about this because of all the stuff I’ve been through in the last few years with a small group of internet trolls. In the past their nasty behavior went uncommented on but lately people have been speaking up and saying, “Grow up”. It has been gratifying to see. Things are changing.

When I was growing up “ignore them” was a popular piece of parental wisdom. I don’t think it was a very good one. As time went by the smart-mouths got away with more and more and eventually grew up to be like the guy in the ad agency or the internet trolls — nasty people with nasty mouths who get away with what they do because they can. I have a friend who used to say that a lot of people get away with unacceptable behavior simply because no one tells them that they can’t act that way and more and more I am finding this to be true.

One of the problems with being a nice person is that sometimes our niceness becomes a substitute for responsible behavior. Sometimes we have to say, “hey, that’s not right.” It isn’t always an easy thing to do but it has to be done. We don’t like conflict. We don’t like confrontation. We don’t want to caused trouble. An all of that is understandable but when it happens over and over the people behaving unacceptably think “well, I got away with it that time”. This begins a pattern in which our “niceness” plays a role. Silence equals consent.

When I talk to other participants in the message board where the nastiness was going on I often heard the same thing, “yeah, it’s not right but I sure don’t want them mad at me, just ignore them.” Three years of ignoring hasn’t worked. Nasty people are Nazis who are committed to a path of behavior, convinced they have the right to pursue it and ruthless toward anyone who stands in their way. When no one steps up to say “that is not acceptable” they go farther and farther and farther. As Victor Frankel pointed out, “Evil happens when good people do nothing.”

So what I’m saying is we have to believe more in goodness than in niceness. It is fine to be nice but it is moral and ethical to speak up for the good. This isn’t always easy. I’m facing a challenge about this in another part of my life and I don’t want to be the one to open my mouth but it looks like I may have to be. That’s another thing I’m learning — sometimes it is simply the awareness that something has to be done that puts you in charge of doing it.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Am I So Nervous?

Okay, I’m out of excuses — I need to send My Last Romance and other passions off to press AND I JUST CAN’T DO IT! I’m a nervous wreck. Why?

I wrote the eight stories that make up this book over a period of years and, though a few friends read them, they mostly lived in my desk. A couple years ago when Skye Alexander was working on Riptide: Crime Stories by New England Writers she invited me to submit a short story. “It can be about any kind of crime,” she said. I thought of Asa, which ultimately was printed in Riptide and is now in this collection. It was my first printed piece of fiction. I waited for the sky to fall but it didn’t.

Asa is told from the perspective of a woman in her 80s looking back on her still passionate love for her dead husband. They were married when she was barely 16 and he 20. He was killed in a hunting accident a few years later and she spent the rest of her life mourning him and involved in an extremely passionate and entirely imaginary affair with him. Since the story has already been printed I guess I’m not giving anything away when I mention the aside that she was the one who shot him. Small detail. He was a philanderer and she couldn’t stand the thought of sharing him so she found the perfect way to keep him all to herself — at least in her fantasies.

But as people read the story and talked to me about it, the thing they mentioned over and over was how much they enjoyed hearing a woman in her 80s talking about passion. That go me thinking about some of the other stories I had written which dealt with people at various stages in life dealing with passion — for the first time, for the hundredth time, and possibly for the last time.

Being over 50 and writing about passion is tricky stuff. A lot of people find that distasteful. I remember the comment of a teenaged friend who had just watched the move “Something’s Gotta Give” with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in a passionate affair. “It was about two old people trying to figure out how to have sex,” my young friend said. “It was kind of gross.” Si-i-i-i-ighhh. The conceits of the young.

So I pulled out my fat file of short stories and culled through them for the ones with passion as their theme. I knew that a book of short stories was a long shot in the world of publishing — if Alice Munro isn’t getting hers published, what chance do I stand. But, of course, that is the beauty of modern publishing. Small presses are making a dent in the publishing world — a thing I know since I own one. The way I look at it, if I publish this book and five people buy it that’s five people who wouldn’t read the stories if they stay in my desk. Right?

I picked out the ones I loved. The ages of the lovers vary widely. Guy, the principle character in Waiting for Lindy, is over 50 and hopelessly in love with 40-something Lindy. The lovers in Damian are young. The married couples in Danse Avec Moi and Treat Yourself to the Best could be any age. My favorite lovers, Ruby and Silvio from the title story My Last Romance, are 60 and 73 respectively and they both still smoke.

So why am I scared to send this off to press? I’m not that many years from 60 myself. Maybe it frightens me to have people know that a woman my age (horrors!) Wrote this stuff. Well, I’ll get it out there — I will! I promise..... tomorrow.....

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 21, 2006

First Anniversary

It might seem that it takes a lot of audacity, or arrogance, to be a committed blogger - but then it takes a lot of audacity and arrogance to be a writer of any sort. You have to be of the opinion that you have something to say that someone, somewhere might want to read. But then that’s what being a writer is about. Is it audacity, arrogance, self-indulgence, or the belief that each of us comes to the world with something to accomplish and having one’s say is a part of that?

That was how I began this blog a year ago tomorrow. Reading back over them I think that a year of blogging has taught me just how true those words are. For a year now I have spent at least four mornings a week at this strange business and I think it has been a year of growth for me.

My stats counter tells me that this blog averages 1677 unique visitors a month, not counting robots and spiders. That also does not count the number of people who read the blog through a site feed — that number is almost double. During the winter readership is a good deal higher — over 100 readers a day compared to 88 this month. This is wonderful for me to read though I do wonder what I have to say that compels people to come back every day.

I love looking at my stats program and seeing where readers come from! The bulk, of course, come from the U.S., Canada and Australia. I also have quite a few visitors from Germany and France. But according to AWStats, they also come from Kenya, Hong Kong, Brazil, Turkey and India. This astonishes me — and makes me happy, too.

The most committed blog visitors are those who come to see that’s new in the knitting posts. They always get the highest number of hits. Knitters are the nicest, most committed cyber-citizens you could ask for. I’m so happy that so many people participated in the Mermaid KAL and that people still come every day to print-ot pages from it. Some people stumble here doing searches for any number of things I’ve babbled on about. Some come back after that.

I have learned two things this year — there are wonderful people who will validate my belief that we all have something to say and a perfect right to say it, and there are always the soul-killers who would silence you just because they have nothing else to do. I hope this blog has devoted more posts to the former than the latter. This post will be my 250th post and, of all of those, only four have dealt with the harassment that is on-going. I have gathered those four articles into one place and put a link to it on the first page of this blog.

This has been a fascinating thing for me because, even though my three harassers never give up, I have been dumbfounded by the number of people who have sent emails and posted comments to support me. When you think about it, three miserably unhappy people out of the thousands who have visited here isn’t much. And, in a way, they have encouraged readers to come here just to see what they are carrying-on about. I have learned this — there are people who would hurt you. There are people who will call you names and try to do you harm just because you have the audacity to bravely have your say. But there are far, far more people who will support you and say “Don’t let the ^&*%$#@s get you down.” I am grateful for that.

So tomorrow it is a year that I have been a blogger. If anything the gift of blogging is this: that all day long, as I go about my day, my awareness is heightened because I need something to blog about tomorrow. And this expands my world.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Selling Those Books

When we first started talking about his book, F/V Black Sheep, Mark and I discussed the many options in publishing available today. My first opinion was that he should go the NY route — trying to find a New York Publisher and going through the whole endless submission process. He, on the other hand, was thinking of going with one of the popular internet publishers like Xlibris or iUniverse. He had talked to a few of them and thought that was the way to go.

Ultimately, after getting involved with groups like IPNE (Independent Publishers of New England) and Cape Ann Publishers, we settled on the idea of a small, independent press — Silver Perch Press. There are pros and cons to this. Naturally, the publishing ideal is to get a contract with one of the big publisher that pays a decent advance and provides you with an editor, a publicist, etc. If you are lucky enough to get good ones everything is great. If you are not that lucky it is another story. I have heard authors talk about both experiences.

If you have a good designer, editor, publicist, etc. you are golden. They do all the work, you just show up for the book signings and collect the benefits. If you do not the experience can be more difficult than doing it yourself — not only does it take literally years for your book to get to market but, once it is there, you have little say in how it is marketed. Authors like Anita Diamant and John Grisham have been through this and are successful now because they took control of the situation and did their own marketing.

So, ultimately, Mark chose the small press route. It left him in control of the final product but also with a big challenge ahead. He has a good attitude about it. He says he doesn’t expect it to take off fast, that this will be a long, slow process and will take a lot of work. So far I’m impressed with what he has done.

Yesterday we made some revisions to the book that will, hopefully, be the last ones. Enough people have read the book and given feedback that we now feel confident we don’t need more changes. I cleaned up the typos and inconsistencies readers have pointed out and he took care of the few text changes. The third box of books is being printed now.

I have to say I’ve been impressed with how diligent he has been at marketing! I drove down Main Street yesterday and his book was in the window of both of the local independent book stores. He has two signings planned — one at The Bookstore on Main Street and one at his favorite little coffee shop where we spent a lot of hours working on the book.

And he’s being creative in his marketing. He contacted a couple of local establishments that are mentioned in the book and was able to place books in them, too. He has sold books in coffeeshops, restaurants, at the guesthouse, in his favorite bar and other places where people know him. Right now this is all grass roots but it is a good start and, because he’s doing it on his own, he’s walking away with a good chunk of the profits. That encourages him, too.

We are talking about the press releases that should go out soon and then sending out review copies. The book is available on a national scale through and Barnes & We’ve had enquiries from a couple book festivals — one on the west coast. I am learning a lot watching him. My book is weeks away from delivery and then I’ll have tog et busy, too.

I love this independent publishing stuff. It’s exciting and a whole new publishing world. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Wish I’d Had My Camera!

How many times do you say that? And it’s always true. We have been sweltering under a heat wave here for the last several days. It didn’t get to me until yesterday but yesterday was a bit much. Not a breath of air anywhere.

I had a meeting to attend at Jane’s house and, when I got there, everyone was sitting on the front lawn — as fine a place as there is to be on a hot evening. Jane’s house is Hovey House, the lovely old villa overlooking Gloucester Harbor where we hold our Writer’s group meetings but last night was an Essex Ship Building Museum meeting. (Below left: the Mayflower II and the Thomas E. Lannon pass Ten Pound Island, photographed from Hovey House.)

So we’re all sitting on the lawn, sipping iced tea and sweating (except Jane who looked perfect as always) when a little breeze begins to blow. And blow. And blow! Within minutes the temperature dropped a good 15 degrees, a huge black cloud rose up out of the bushes behind the house and covered the sky and the surface of the water in the harbor below was amazing. The surface rippled and the ripples grew and grew and grew spreading out across the harbor, past Ten Pound Island and Dogbar Breakwater and out into the ocean. All of us stopped talking and watched in utter amazement. Tom Ellis pulled out his cell and punched in the number of the person who was captaining his boat last night. He owns the Thomas E. Lannon and it was out for their evening sail. “Watch the sails,” he said.

Within minutes we could see the Lannon coming around Eastern Point and then past Ten Pound Island with all sails down. The Lannon is a beautiful thing to see on any night, under any conditions.

And so the little squall passed. No rain and within minutes the black cloud had disappeared and we were back to a beautiful but significantly cooler evening. We all appreciated it.

That’s one of the wonders to me of life here — weather is volatile and always interesting. You never know what any day will bring. Sitting on Jane’s hill watching it over the ocean is a particular treat.

I’ve been thinking about all the photographs I’ve taken in my life. There are boxes and boxes of them in one closet and now I have the bag of slides that my father took which need to be sorted scanned and catalogued. I think we are coming to a time in history when the past couple centuries of recording our experiences are catching up with us. Betty Lou has talked lately of all the aging painters she knows whose houses are filled with the paintings they have made through their lives. Some of them were very gifted painters and their work is beautiful and worth saving but they don’t know what to do with it. B.L. and I have been talking about making an online gallery where people could display their paintings for others to see and perhaps sell them too. Art sales are down a bit this year.

And then there are all those photographs and diaries and letters and journals and memory books. Making memory books has become a popular activity in recent years. People make beautiful things filled with art and photographs and wonderful decorations. A whole scrapbooking industry has grown up around it making pretty papers, pens and trims.

We are a species that likes to record our world. We have a need to interpret and express our interaction with it. We long to communicate our experience of the world. We write and paint and photograph — and blog. Where will all these communiques end up? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we need a more existential approach to our recording — we do it because it helps us appreciate our world and offer that to others but then let it go — like the Tibetan monks who make elaborate sand-paintings and then let the wind carry them away. Pretty colors in the wind.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Staying Up Late, Reading

I’m foggy this morning — I stayed up too late last night reading but I couldn’t help it. I got a really great book for my birthday. Actually this was a record year for birthday celebration. Two parties — one on Friday afternoon at a friend’s house and last night in a restaurant with a bunch of friends. But the book I want to talk about came in the mail from my sister Lisa’s friend Kim — the one who visited here a couple weeks ago.

The book is from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America and is titled St. Marys — my home town in Pennsylvania. It is written by one Dennis McGeehan whom I remember as being a couple years ahead of me in high school. His sister Franny graduated with me. It is a book of photographs culled from the local historical society’s collection with written commentary. In the acknowledgments he thanks our friend Ray for his “encyclopedic knowledge of St. Mary’s history”. I’m hoping that if Ray checks in here today he’ll write a few words about a mystery I found in the book. On one of the early pages it says, “St. Mary’s began as a German Catholic communal experiment.” That fascinated me and I wished I knew more about that. What was a communal experiment and how did it work?

But the book had me awash in nostalgia for several hours last night. There on its pages were the first 18 years of my life — the three churches in town all of which I attended at one time or another, the two stores where I had my first two real jobs, Kantar’s and Berman’s. I worked at Berman’s for years and just loved it there. Mr. Berman was a character of the first order who taught me a lot about fabric and garment construction — probably more than Sister Claudia did in Home Ec — and gave me my first “artsy” job decorating his windows. There is mention made of his radio commercials which were always hilarious — he starred in them and enthusiastically babbled about whatever was new in the store, always ending with “so come on down to Berman’s”. He was a hoot.

There is so much in this book — well, it’s the photographs really. Photos of the early logging and sawmill industry, of the railroad that was such a constant part of our lives. When Lisa was here a few weeks ago she mentioned the pleasure of waking up at night in the cottage and hearing a train in the distance. When I was going up I used to wake every night around 2 in the morning to listen to the train that came through our town, softly blowing its horn in the night, and then promptly fall back to sleep.

There are wonderful photographs of various business establishments that were a big part of my young life — Gorman’s soda shop and the Mullendean Hotel where Aunt Mary Rita used to take me to lunch. One of my favorite photos is a long shot of Market Street, the haunt of nearly every Friday and Saturday night of my early twenties. It was lined with bars and we would start out at Diamond Dick’s, move on to the Marquette, try to make it into the Hootenanny before it closed and wind up at Nip’s restaurant at the end of the street for a bowl of the most god-awful chili in the world before getting home at dawn. I have so many memories of that street — not the least of which is smooching with Ray while waiting to get into the Hootenanny one night (bet he forgot!)

It’s a wonderful thing to receive a gift like this — the first eighteen years of my life in one book. I am very grateful to Kim, and to Franny’s brother for writing it. This was a particularly lovely birthday and it ended on a particularly lovely note. And now I need to go get more coffee if I am going to stay awake today.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I am taking the day off today. It is my birthday and I plan to spend the entire day being useless. See you tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Summer Knitting

I haven't written much about knitting lately mostly because I haven't spent much time knitting which is too bad. But there werre other things I needed to attend to so that is good. The nice thing about knitting in the summer is that you can do it outside. Having a gathering with friends in a park to sit and knit is as pleasant an activity as you could ask for. Also, summer is a good time to knit with lighter fibers. My personal favorite is, of course, silk.

I've added some interesting new silks to my stash lately courtesy of eBay. I just recently purchased two substantial hanks of a lovely silk eyelash yarn (left) that are interesting. There is a lot of yardage in each hank --- 700 yards and it is handpainted so it has that wonderful variagated look that handpainted yarns have. The colors are called Strawberry and Mango. Sounds luscious. I'm not sure what I will do with them but they seem perfect to be used as a carry-along with something else.

My other eBay score is a large lot of Tussah and recycled silk. (below). The tan one is reclaimed from a Donna Karan sweater according to the eBay vendor. It looks very nice with the other two which came in a Misty Blue and a Peach. Working with silk making shawls is very pleasant because the silk gives good stitch definition and does not stretch as much as some fibers do. I find it best to work on wooden needles with silk because it does tend to be slippery.
There is a tremendous amount of the tan silk so maybe the blue and peach will just make a nice edging. Who knows? Half the fun is in the experimentation.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Haitian Rayon/Silk I purchased and this is turning out to be a lot of fun to work with. The colors are just lovely and it goes fast. At left is the color called gemstone and I am making a long scarf that is, at present 18" wide and 72" long. I kept the pattern simple --- a wave pattern, because the yarn is colorful and slubby. I am a little over halfway through the cone so think I might try adding a knitted-on lace border around the perimeter. I just love working with this fiber. I am working on size 9 straight wooden needles and it is going very fast.

The other Haitian Silk (at right) is the color called Monet. I started out to make a triangle shawl --- a variation on my Mermaid Shawl --- but now think I may take it apart and make a light summer cardigan. I am working in the Frost Flowers Pattern but think it might be too colorful for that so will probably try something simpler --- maybe a diamond design. Or just plain garter stitch with a garter lace edging would be good. I think it will look wonderful with a white teeshirt and jeans.

Sp that's it from here. Plenty to do. I think I am going to run out of summer before I run out of knitting projects. Also finishing Mark's book has brought several wonderful new writing/editting projects my way and I need to make more money in order to buy more yarn. You know.... in case I run out.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Acquisition vs. Accomplishment

Well, it has happened — didn’t take long either — but, as predicted, now that Mark’s book is out, the Hate-Fans are foaming at the mouth. Normally I wouldn’t know that but this time, because it has become well-known that I refuse to acknowledge their hate-board by even looking at it, I got an email. It was from someone posing as an aspiring artist full of chummy local color asking all kinds of flattering questions and ending with a highly concerned admonition that he had just happened across this board and wanted me to consider taking legal action because of the hate against me being fomented there --- it came from an IP that is on my banned list. What followed was a list of their standard, puerile, bitter complaints about me. It was typical.

I still refuse to go to their site but the posts in the letter were all I needed to know. It begins with a post from “Glochick” warning Mark to run from our working relationship and loaded with advice on how “real” editors operate. From there on out it is the usual character assassination, childish insults, bitter whining, and other assorted jealousy that has always filled these assaults. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d enjoy it if they ever came up with anything fresh or original but I’m afraid that is asking too much. Bear in mind these two people have spent close to three years now indulging in hating me and the best they’ve yet to come up with is that I am fat, bleach my hair (I admit it— I love being a blonde!) and a lot of absurd speculation about my sexual practices and my involvement in the arts. In three years they have not grown as hate-mongerers at all.

When Mark’s book was about to be delivered and I had agreed to help him with publicity and promotion, I anticipated this. After all the original assault that I wrote about in Hate-Fans came promptly on the heels of the party in the Fall of 2004 when I acted as publisher for Lila Monell’s exquisite little book of poetry. It’s interesting to note how the recurrences of hate-attacks exactly matches my involvement in artistic endeavors. And the one direct assault, that I wrote about in Evil Happens, was directed at an arts organization whose board I have served on and that I also do publicity for. Funny how that happens.

In the beginning I was as disturbed as anyone would be on the receiving end of hate-assaults but, after being told about many other writers, artists, performers, etc. who have been through similar situations I realize this is just part of the process.

What makes my situation interesting is that the people causing all the ruckus are people you would think would be so happy with their lives they wouldn’t have time for hate-crime. I don’t know either of them—wouldn’t recognize them if I encountered them in the street. But I’m told both are very affluent, have big houses and lots of stuff, and have lives that would seem to be enviable. Enviable if you didn’t know how many hours of their lives they devote to hating someone they don’t know and who has no interest in them. A friend said that you can tell what is at the core of anyone’s issues by what they focus on when they attack you. Both of these people, these affluent supposedly-successful people, focus relentlessly on my involvement in the arts and how that calls attention to me. In other words accomplishment and the attention that comes with it.

Well, I didn’t expect better of them. I may have to turn off Comments for awhile if they start flaming here which they have always done in the past. Otherwise it is the same-old, same-old — I’m fat and I bleach my hair
but I chap their butts to madness. He-he.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

To Kill A Mockingbird Revisited

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of audio books. I listen to them at home while I work, knit, sew, cook... this past weekend I had a lot of work piled up that I needed to spend time on and I had an audio book of Harper Lee’s amazing To Kill A Mockingbird to listen to. I have seen the movie with Atticus Finch played, definitively by Gregory Peck, and read the book years ago. But it was time to listen to it again. I’m glad I did.

This time I realized something I hadn’t caught on to before. This is not about a good man’s fight against evil, as I had always thought. There are lots of good people in the book — Heck Tate, the sheriff, the venerable Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, the housekeeper, the mysterious Boo Radley, etc. Even the judge in the trial, who has no choice but to sentence Tom Robinson to prison, is a good man. He tried his best to even the odds for Tom by assigning Atticus as his court-appointed attorney. I never caught all the degrees of subtlety that Miss Lee wove into her book before.

This is a story about good vs. stupidity. That is a point that cannot be emphasized strongly enough. It is a book about people who know they are living in the middle of injustice but have limited means with which to do battle with that. And yet they keep trying. More than anything it is a book that says injustice is ubiquitous and frequently accepted but fighting the good fight is still one’s moral obligation. Early in the story Scout, Atticus’s scrappy 10 year old daughter gets into a fight in school because another kid calls her a “nigger-lover”. Even though she doesn’t fully understand what is bad about that, she knows it was intended as an insult. Atticus tells her, “It is never an insult to be called names by ignorant and low people who don’t know any better.” That hit me hard particularly because we are living in an era when name calling and insult flinging has become the weapon-of-choice of extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.

Random character assassination is the weapon of the ignorant and the low. It is a weapon that is used without any intelligence whatsoever, just the hate-driven need to do damage. We are living in a time when there is so much rage in people’s lives that lashing out, trying to do harm, is all around us. Like the people of Maycomb, surrounded by the uneducated, prejudiced country people who cling to their oppression of blacks as their only source of personal superiority, those of us with a more moderate approach to life, are surrounded by the extremists who want to do damage in order to feel they have some power in this world.

The analogy of Atticus shooting the mad dog hit me powerfully this time too. Most especially because his children were appalled at the idea of the sheriff asking him to take the gun. When, in point of fact, he was the only one who stood a chance of making that shot. It wasn’t his choice to shoot that gun but it had to be done and he was the man to do it. Defending Tom Robinson wasn’t his choice either. It put his children and himself at great risk — but he was the only one who could do it.

So, despite its age, this is still a book for our times. It tells us that people are often mean, low, and ignorant but that doesn’t give us leave to join them. If we have the intellect to see the ignorance then we have the duty to do what we can about it. Atticus tells his children that anytime a white man takes advantage of a black man it is to his shame. He says that to take advantage of a disempowered person is a sign of low moral character.

And more than anything, Atticus tells Jem, his son, that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because their song is so beautiful. I took that literally when I first read the book but I didn’t catch the allusion at the end when Heck Tate overlooks what Boo Radley did to save Jem and Scout’s lives. There is goodness in the world, too, and we have to keep that balance. In the middle of the ignorance and darkness, the mockingbird still sings.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Art Collectors

Saturday night was the first of the two annual art auctions at the North Shore Arts Association here in Gloucester. It was somewhat quieter than in years past, about half as many attendees as before, but they were serious bidders and the art went quickly. Big name art went a little higher than in years past but the rest went a little lower. Still, it was a good night, few paintings were passed, and everyone seemed to be pleased.

I’ve been working at these art auctions for five years now and am quite interested in the people who show up year after year, auction after auction, and walk out with a couple precious items each year. I’ve heard the same story so many times, “Our house is packed, we have no more wall space, I don’t know where we are going to put this.” But they will be back at the next auction — I hope.

I think art collectors are interesting people. Over the years I’ve formed some opinions on the ones who show up regularly. There are the dealers, of course. They come to try to get a great deal on a known artist or in hopes of discovering someone new. They will take the work back to their galleries and hope to bring in a good profit. And then there are the serious collectors — usually they know what they want before the auction begins. If they don’t get the ones they want, they don’t stick around. They’re usually pretty well educated as to which artists are the most collectible though they always have an eye for the promising new-comer.

But the third group of bidders are the ones I love. They bid on whatever they see that they just love. I think there is a sweetness and a beauty in that. They appreciate the work these artists do, they are willing to spend their money to support the art association, the artists, and ... art

What is it about these paintings that draw people in? I guess that is the oldest question in the world when it comes to art — who knows what people see when they stand in front of a painting and get lost. But it is a beautiful thing. And I think there is a little bit of magic in there too. One of the reasons I never thought I had much future as an artist was because I never have felt particularly drawn to any subject to paint it. When I painted a lot while taking lessons with Betty Lou I always had a hard time deciding what I wanted to paint and rarely found any joy in beginning a painting. I would listen to Betty Lou talk about “being there in the day” and “capturing the light” and, while I understood those concepts intellectually, they never really meant much to me. Once I started laying down the paint it was better. I loved watching the way the pigments inter-related and worked together. The aesthetics of color was what I loved. When I write, I lose the world but that has rarely happened when I paint.

So I am fascinated by how others paint — what subjects they chose and how they capture and interpret that. That is why I wonder what the people who come to these auctions and leave with one or two precious acquisition experience. Clearly there is a communion that takes place there between the artist who made the work and the person who beholds it. When someone says that their house is full of art I think they must be people with deep souls who have room inside themselves for a wide spectrum of experiences filtered through the paintings they collect, cherish and live with.

We had a good night Saturday. The photos of the event are online at NSAA Auction I 2006. I look forward to the next auction on August 5. I’m sure I’ll see familiar faces and I’ll be very happy about that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Humor — It’s A Guy Thing

As anyone who edits a book for a writer knows, writers are absurdly possessive of their work. Being both a writer and an editor this is a thing I know from both directions. I pity anyone who tries to edit me. When you are working on something the natural thing to do is to pass it out to friends and people you trust to get feedback. This can be a tricky business because, on the one hand, if they really are your friends, they want to be supportive but, on the other hand, if there is any resentment there, this may be an opportunity to let you have it. I’ve experienced both.

One thing I’ve learned though, is that men are a very different from women. Duh. This is not a universal truism. I appreciate it when women readers comment favorably on passages that go into detail about the mechanics of a situation, or how something works, or on the rougher, rawer parts of a story. And I absolutely love it when a male reader tells me he loved the romantic parts. When I was first working on my short story “My Last Romance”, I gave the manuscript to a female friend to read she liked it and gave me good feedback. A few weeks later I saw her husband and he told me she let him read it and he just loved it. He said he read it three times and still thinks about it. This stunned me because it is a very romantic story and I honestly didn’t think it would appeal to men.

However, where men and women seem to differ greatly is when it comes to humor. I do not understand male humor — not at all. When I was little I just had my two brothers, Jack and Wayne. My sisters didn’t come along until a good deal later. Jack and Wayne and I used to watch the same cartoons and television programs and read the same comic books and things that would send them into gales of laughter were totally lost on me. To this day Wayne can watch old episodes of F Troop and howl with laughter. I do not get it. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Three Stooges. I don’t think they are funny, I never did think they were funny and I probably never will. Most of the guys I know, even now in their fifties still split a gut at old Stooges episodes. When I was working at Enron there was a group of guys (who all seemed to be from Pittsburgh for some reason) who had a veritable Cult of the Stooges. It’s a guy thing.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because now that Mark’s book is out and people are reading it and giving feedback I must humbly confess that I was wrong about a few things. As editor there were several parts of the book I didn’t like, thought were stupid, and wanted to take out. Mark refused. We bickered but, it’s his book (his damn book, on some days) and he prevailed. The parts I thought were dumb stayed in. Now that folks are reading the book I am getting another lesson in how male humor is different from female humor.

I won’t go into detail but the first place where I am seeing this is in a chapter called “Rats: The Art of The Off-hand Rifle Shot”. It is a pretty hilarious chapter about a summer he spent as the official rat-killer for a fish-packing plant when he was 12. It’s a funny chapter but toward the end it veers off into slapstick comedy with a bunch of “wise guys” shooting up the men’s room in the plant. I thought it went overboard but I didn’t object too strenuously. But the part that I hated the most was toward the end of the book when he has a sequence about being nearly run over by a container ship from a country called Moronia and the “Morons” on board. I thought the whole thing was utterly stupid and I begged him to cut it. He refused.

Guess which part the guys I have talked to so far love? Yup. The Morons.

So, I have a plea for guys like John Grey with all their Mars-Venus bull-pucky. Don’t try to explain men’s romantic style for us, give us a clue about their humor. It makes no sense to me and, to paraphrase an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “Kissin don’t last, laughin’ do.”

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Curious Characters

As anyone who reads here regularly knows, I grew up in a rural area in a relatively small town. Actually, it’s a small city now but the atmosphere during my childhood was definitely small town. As my friend Ray used to say, we had a disproportionate share of village idiots.

Now, this is a good thing if you are a writer. Much of the popularity of Southern literature awes its appeal to the characters that populate those stories — whether good, bad or both — they are always unique and interesting. Curious characters are something that any writer does well to pay attention to and collect. Luckily Gloucester is another treasure trove of these. There is so much about them to love — the way they talk, their habits of dress and mannerisms, how they spend their time and, most importantly, how they interact — or don’t interact — with the rest of the world.

I have been thinking about this especially because I just gobbled up Ron Hansen’s delicious little book Isn’t It Romantic: An Entertainment. I love Ron Hansen. My love began years ago when I read Desperadoes and has continued through Atticus, Hitler’s Niece, and the exquisitely beautiful Mariette in Ecstasy which I have rhapsodized about before. Hansen watches people and mentally records every detail and they pour out in his books.

Isn’t It Romantic is quite a change of pace from his previous books but, oh, so delightful. The story, in short, is about a French couple, Natalie and Pierre, who wind up in a Seldom, Nebraska amid a cast of utterly hilarious characters intent on keeping them there fo a variety of reasons. Seldom was founded by a lost and cranky French trapper and so the town has an annual Revels to celebrate their founder and they decide this gift from Paris, a real French couple, should be their king and queen. And then there is the fact that Pierre is the heir to a French winery and the Seldom’s inept mechanic is an amateur vintner of surprising skill and a variety of romantic complications.

I have to tell you, I haven’t laughed out loud while reading a book in a long time. I was out at the beach last night reading and giggling to the point that two women came over to see what I was reading and wrote down the name of the book. Part of the humor is the hilarious attempts of Pierre to speak English and of the towns grande dame to speak French. But more than that it is the characters of the town. Let me tell you, any or all of them could have come from my home town. And, of course, there is the clash of cultures. My fingers hesitate as I type “cultures” because that is far removed from what this well-bred young French couple finds in Seldom. Nothing in their past has prepared them for the kind of guys who attend parties wearing beer can holder hats and teeshirts that read “Instant Idiot — Just Add Alcohol” and the kind of parties where the cuisine includes Cheez Whiz and Hostess Snowballs.

The thing about these characters is that you can’t help but love them — they are who they are — whatever the hell that is. As I was reading I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time many years ago when I accompanied a boyfriend to his family’s reunion held at a camping ground out in the woods near Moosehead Lake in Maine. That is not a thing any guy in his right mind would take a woman he is serious about to. If his intentions are serious, wait until after the knot is tied. It’s an instant relationship assassin, a weekend like that. Too much alcohol, Hamburger Helper and sugar. Not enough gray matter. But lots of characters!

And, speaking of characters: Peg, if you are reading this, I talked to Matt last night. He says “hi”!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rebecca's Gift

I have written before about my friend Rebecca and her magical studio in the woods that was once the studio of sculptor Walker Hancock. Every time I visit her I come away awash in feelings of creative bliss and pleasure. Ever since Mark’s book was printed and we were notified it was on its way here to Gloucester, I have been thinking about what comes next in my life. I spent two years working on Mark’s book and, though I did my own writing in that time, I never gave it the complete, focused, devotion I gave to his book. That is too bad.

I was complaining about this to Rebecca recently and she made me an incredible offer. She was going away for a few days and the studio would be empty. Did I want to come stay for a few days to see if I could get some work done. What a wonderful treat! It is hard for me to give myself time just for myself. I’m always wrapped up in other people’s project. Part of this is necessary in order to earn a living but a good deal of it is done because I firmly believe that we artists and writers are obliged to help and support one another. Sometimes, though, I forget about my obligations to my own work.

I started working on The Old Mermaid’s Tale twelve years ago. In that time it has gone through many revisions and long periods of neglect. It has spent years in the hands of different literary agents who loved it but then never did anything with it. I know that the prevailing wisdom in these cases is just move on — start the next book. I did, but I could never give myself to it completely because I felt an obligation to my characters and their story.

In between agents and revisions, I wrote short stories. I sold a few of them (“Killing Julie Morris” was just bought by Level Best Books for their next anthology). But the longer, more romantic ones, though much praised by my writing groups, never found the right market. I began assembling them into a collection but every agent I queried said the same thing, short story collections don’t sell — Alice Munro can’t even get her collections sold. So I moved on to a second novel.

But the world of publishing has changed dramatically in the past ten years. According to statistics less than 5% of the books published by the major publishers earn back their initial investment. Publishers, like many other corporations, have become such monsters that they are like dinosaurs, unable to consume enough to support themselves. Today they rely on movie sales, DVDs, computer games, and those horrid little “gift books” to keep them profitable. The era of the small publisher is upon us. It was for this reason that I began Parlez-Moi Press three years ago. At the time I envisioned it as an e-publisher but as printing technology has changed, so has my vision for Parlez-Moi Press. After the work I did on Lila’s book of poetry and Mark’s book I realized I could do the same thing for my own books. The problem was finding the time to make that happen.

And that brings us to Rebecca’s gift. What a wonderful experience this has been. No internet connection, no telephone ringing — just a few days to spend alone with the characters I love.

The first day I managed to work through all the revisions to My Last Romance and other passions, get the format finalized and am now nearly ready to go to press. The second day I spent 12 hours working on The Old Mermaid’s Tale. It is my goal to trim it by 20% and I am nearly there. I took time out for a few walks and to cook but otherwise I sat at the table in that grand old studio with my laptop and the wind blowing through the leaves and absolute, wonderful silence. It was wonderful. At night, when I lay in bed looking out at the stars shining on the quarry, I thought about the amazing forces that exist in this world that can give us creations like the characters in my stories or the angels that Hancock formed here. Now, it is time to leave and go back home and that is fine, too. I haven’t seen the ocean in three days though I can smell it here and hear the boats out on Ipswich Bay. Today was productive. I worked on the cover and am over halfway through the text. I have a lot to do but I am so much farther along than I ever could have imagined. What a blessing. What a gift.

So, as I pack up my computer and get ready to go back to my life I give my deepest thanks to Rebecca for her gift and to the spirit of Walker Hancock for his. I have done good work here. It is magic.

Thanks for reading.