Friday, December 29, 2006
I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions but I do believe in taking time at year’s end to take stock and decide on what adjustments need to be made. Actually, I really like January and February for the very simple reason that not a lot happens in those months and it is a good time to nestle in and get stuff done. Right now, other than earning a living (who thought that up?) My priorities are 1.) finish The Old Mermaid’s Tale and get it out in the world 2.) get LiteraryGloucester.com and GloucesterWrites.com up and running, and 3.) get the Canal Street Diner/Old Mermaid Inn Cookbook pulled together.
I’ve also picked up two nice writing commissions that are high on my list of priorities. One is a magazine article on a local sculptor/woodcarver and the other is a magazine article and catalog text on an art exhibit at the North Shore Arts Association this fall. Not only are these wonderful projects but they are the kinds of assignments a writer such as I am relish. So my year is already pretty full. When I finish the last writing project it will be time to take out the manuscript for Triad and get to work on that.
And there is always this blog.
I’m lucky. I was thinking about that last night because Rebecca called and was talking about the catalog she is hard at work on for an art exhibition of the work of Hiram Powers. She called to ask if I had time to photograph a statue by Katherine Lane Weems this weekend. Of course I do. I will spend this weekend, as I did last weekend, at Walker Hancock’s beautiful retreat in the woods working on my book. Rebecca will be working on her catalog. Mark is writing an article for LiteraryGloucester.com on Andre Dubus. Betty Lou is photographing art for the NSAA exhibition project. Leslie is designing new silver pieces for the workshop she is teaching in metalworking next month. I am surrounded by interesting people!
I learned something interesting from the book I am currently in love with, Ohran Pamuk’s Istanbul. The Turkish language has a tense that is not translatable into other languages. It is a special tense understood only by other Turkish-speakers that is used to convey stories — stories that one has heard from another, legends, myths, fables, tales carried from place to place, presumably gossip. I think that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I wish we had such a gift because as our lives move forward and we tell about our pasts — “I remember one time when...” — our lives can become legendary and mythological and speaking of them in such a tense, it seems to me, would honor them in a way our language cannot.
I would love to write my blog in such a tense, “there was a year now past in which I wrote a book and so did my friend and I had magnificent friends who did wonderful things and in that year I had the gift of a magical cottage in the woods where a great sculptor once made an angel and it was in the lingering presence of that sculptor and his angel that I wrote a tale about a folklorist and the musician that she loved and saved from a bad life that he was too fine for ...” I think I would be a good Turk.
Happy New Year and Thanks, as always, for reading.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
I was thinking about that greenhouse last night because I spent most of the evening on the couch lost in Orhan Pamuk’s delicious Istanbul: Memories and the City. What a luscious book!
There is something marvelously seductive about ruined splendor and what was ever more splendid than the Ottoman Empire or more thoroughly ruined. Pamuk, who was born in 1952 in Istanbul, grew up in a city of ruin filled with palaces and mosques and minarets and lavish gardens full of figs, dates, lemons and mimosa run wild. As boys he and his brother explored the crumpling palaces of the last of the banished pashas that lined the Bosphorus like ancient princess in all their tattered finery lined up in a ballroom waiting for music long abandoned to begin. It is the sort of book so rich in imagery and loving recollection that you can lose yourself for chapter after chapter imagining you are with him.
Pamuk at 54 is a relatively young writer. Though he has many books to his credit, this is the first one I’ve read. I discovered him thanks to an essay by John Updike in his More Matters. Thank you, Mr. Updike. Pamuk, who has lived in Istanbul all his life writes with a passion for detail and the melancholy beauty of a great lover. His attention to detail reminds me of Proust but with less obsessive pedantry.
Actually, as I read, the writer I really thought of was Andrei Codrescu whose work I love. Istanbul begs comparison to Codrescu’s New Orleans, Mon Amour. Though New Orleans is a mere baby in comparison to Istanbul they are both cities that have been loved passionately and recorded meticulously.
What strikes me about Pamuk is that, like Codrescu, he is unabashedly romantic while maintaining a sense of humor and an appreciative sensibility that a place can be as much a lover and beloved as a person and, as such, cam compel you to live a certain way, think in a particular manner and mold your days to conform to the particular needs and offerings of the beloved. There is a sweet melancholy that shapes their days and their lives that they love.
I wonder if there are American men who could live such lives. I suspect there are but I suspect they keep it to themselves. Pamuk, a Turk, and Codrescu, a Rumanian, wear their mantle of besotted lover well and, like any man in love with a beautiful but sometimes difficult mistress, they have developed an amused resignation.
I’ll be going back to Istanbul tonight with Pamuk — and whenever I can sneak a few moments to read. This book is a romance of the first order and I am so glad I found it. I’m a big fan of being in love and being in love with Istanbul is a passion of the grandest scale.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
What review of his book in National Fisherman?
When the book first came out we mailed out a lot of books to a lot of publications focusing on maritime trade pubs because we figured they would be the most likely to review a book by an unknown author from an unknown press but which happened to be about a maritime theme. Ever since then Mark has been checking the magazines he can get his hands on looking for something, anything. Steve, the captain who saw the article was surprised we didn’t know about it and went down to his boat to get the magazine for me. In the mean time I called Mark who had just received another shipment of books and was making deliveries to local bookstores that had run out. He was as surprised as I was.
The review, on page 5 of the January 2007 edition of National Fisherman, the most widely read commercial fishing trade pub in the business, was better than if one of us had written it. This is what it says:
New England Fisherman's Close Call Inspires Memoir of Life on the Coast
Gloucester, Massachusetts fisherman Mark Williams was setting back lobster traps alone aboard his boat, the Black Sheep, on a quiet September afternoon. when is leg became entangled in a trawl line, the weight of his traps threatened to drag him underwater. For 20 minutes, he hung onto the back of his boat , recalling vivid scenes many years past. From those crisp recollections and from Williams' appreciation for a second chance at life, came this memoir.
Williams has crafted a gut-wrenching, life-affirming and frankly amusing collection of fishing tales and stories of growing up on the New England seacoast. The 31 chapters of vivid narratives are presented from the perspective in the moments he spent clinging to the stern of his boat, beginning with the circumstances that led to the near-tragedy and coming full circle to end with his miraculous recovery. The chain of events that unfolds to reveal the unlikely survival of one man on the open sea is well worth the wait.
Stories of fishermen lost at sea are nothing new or novel to the people of Gloucester. The town's local monument to the 5000 citizens taken by the deep while working the waters is also commemoration of Gloucester's rich seafaring heritage. It was the voices of those thousands of fishermen that urged Williams to survive that September day.
F/V Black Sheep is at once electrifying, soothing and startling. At just under 20 bucks, this wild ride is the bargain of the year!
Electrifying! Gut-wrenching! A wild ride that is the bargain of the year! That’s heady stuff!
This news arrived two days before Christmas and Mark has been in hog-heaven ever since. I can’t blame him. National Fisherman might not be the New Yorker but it is a peer review which pretty much validates everything he has worked so hard to depict in his book. So, at least this year, Santa Claus arrived wearing a pair of bright yellow rubber Grundies. What a Merry Christmas that made it!
Thanks for reading.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The first three angels belong to my brother Matt and his wife Linda. They are, from left to right, Charlie, Abby, and Lydia.
These three angels belong to my sister Beth and her husband Cas. They are C.J., Mia, and Thad.
These are my sister Lisa and her husband, Doug's, sons --- the wonderful Bretz Boys who visited me this summer. Patrick and Cal are the most delightful angels.
And these two sweet little angels belong to another angel, my niece Emily, and her husband Joe. They are Drew and Claire.
I hope you have a lovely collection of angels of your own and, until next week, peace and joy and blessings --- however you choose to spend the day.
Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Solstice reminds me that we all need quiet times. We need times to pull into ourselves and take stock. To think about where we are, where we have been and where we plan to go. That is not a bad thing to do on the longest night of the year.
Yesterday someone told me about a tragic thing that happened to her. Someone she loved very much died quite unexpectedly and she was stunned and shocked as she left the hospital on, as she put it, the “worst day of my life”. As she was leaving, still too stunned to even think, a probably well-meaning doctor handed her a vial of sedatives and a prescription for anti-depressants. She was stunned that his first thought was to give her something to make her “feel better” — she didn’t want to feel better.
I marvel at her wisdom. We need to feel our feelings, to experience them to the fullest no matter how awful and rotten they may be. We live in an era where everyone wants to feel good all the time — be happy, be productive, don’t let it get to you. It’s everywhere — from prescription drug abuse to the abuse of more serious, illegal drugs. As I type that I wonder if “more serious” is the right term to use. Street drugs may be more dangerous, they are illegal after all, but the legal ones that you buy at the drug store with the approval and sanction of doctors, pharmacists and drug companies are probably far more serious because we are told they are okay, even good.
St. John of the Cross talked about the “dark night of the soul” — sometimes those dark nights can last a really long time. But a dark night of the soul isn’t a bad thing yet we are so afraid of them. We are so afraid of going inside and beholding those dragons and doing battle with them. Drugs and all the other avoidances are our way of running and hiding from the dragons instead of facing them. For me the longest night of the year is a reminder of that, as Rilke put it, “perhaps all the dragons of our lives are really princesses waiting for us to see them”.
This has been an interesting December for me because I made the decision early on that I was just going to let Christmas be whatever it wanted to be and I would be what I want to be. When I catch myself making excuses to people about why I’m not going anywhere and not doing much decorating I try to catch myself and reassure myself that it is okay for me to make this choice. It is okay for me to go to a few parties, call a few friends to go out for lunch, in other words tdo the things I cherish, and then spend the rest of the time being quiet and still and alone with a few people I truly love — the characters in my book.
So, on this longest night of the year, I wish you stillness and quiet and the courage and peace to look deep into your soul, past the dragon, and see the princess there. I hear she is a true beauty.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The second time I met Margaret was at Betty Lou Schlemm’s house. BL had invited a number of people for lobsters and wine in her studio and, after dinner, people took turns standing up and telling jokes and stories and singing songs. And then someone said, “Margaret, tell us how you met John.” And Margaret stood up, wearing one of her wonderfully funky hats — and her soft, quiet voice she told the story.
She was a young sculptor living in Rome and working in the Vatican (photo at left, 1953). She was one of the sculptors, the only female sculptor, working on the last statue installed in St. Peter’s Cathedral of St. Louise de Marillac when the great American sculptor, Paul Manship, was in Rome visiting his friend sculptor Antonio Berti. Margaret was staying at the Grand Hotel in Rome when Paul brought his son John to meet her. She told us about how she walked down the staircase in the Grand to this handsome young man who was to become her husband for the next thirty-six years. The glow that radiated from her when she told the story was beautiful. I still get teary when I remember it. (Paul, Margaret and John Manship at The Quarry, 1963)
John and Margaret had a long and productive life together. Both of them created a substantial body of work and, through it all, their love grew and flowered and was an inspiration to all who knew them. John died in 2000 and Margaret has been without him these last six years.
I visited her a few times at the Quarry where she lived among the beautiful artwork that she and her husband and her father-in-law created. One of the most striking pieces to me was an arts and crafts liquor cabinet that Paul Manship had designed including a relief of Chiron, the last centaur, carved by Gaston Lachaise.
Finally, Margaret could no longer live alone and she was moved to a nursing home here in Gloucester. Margaret was born on Christmas Day and this year she will be 86. Today a group of her friends had a surprise birthday party for her at the nursing home and it was a wonderful event. She is old but her mind is as keen and bright as her eyes and she is as sweet and pleasant as always. After she cut the cake and we were all sitting around the table I reminded her of the evening she told us the story of how she met John and asked if she would tell the story again.
So she told us the story of a young girl who went to Rome and who worked in the Vatican. She stayed at the Grand Hotel for $8 a night and they loved her so much there that they let her keep her smocks and dresses there between visits. And there she met an artist and they took long walks through the Eternal City and they fell in love and spent the rest of his life together. And all of us listened and were so pleased to be a part of her life. Margaret (at left, today) lives on without John but her love for him is still a beautiful thing to see. She is an artist of great, great skill and a lover of even more skill. And we are all blessed to have had the opportunity to celebrate this day with her. Happy Birthday, dear Margaret, and many, many more.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Years went by. I lived in different states. Sometimes I went back to Pennsylvania for the holidays, sometimes I stayed where I was and celebrated with friends. I bought and made gifts. I cooked. I shopped and wrapped and baked and mailed and traveled. I gave it 100%, I really did. And then it happened the second time.
I was spending Christmas with my recently divorced sister and her children. On Christmas morning we were having breakfast and the kids were opening gifts and we were preparing to spend the day with my brother and his family and I got so sad. I didn’t want to be there. It had nothing to do with my family — I love them. I just wanted to be alone and quiet and spend the day quietly reading and listening to music that I liked and maybe open a bottle of wine. I didn’t want all this Christmas stuff.
That was five or six years ago and since then it hasn’t been easy for me to deal with Christmas and all its expectations. I go through the whole season just wishing it would go away. Except, at the same time, I don’t — I love this time of year. I love the music and the lights and the fragrance of Christmas in the air. I just don’t want to get into all of that. I want to watch — I’ll even go to a party or two. I just don’t want to be in the hubbub. I want to be quiet and alone and have time to just savor.
Last night I was talking to my neighbor. She is a wonderful person who loves everything that is traditional about Christmas — buying tons of gifts and wrapping them beautifully and baking and having people over and going to EVERYTHING. She asked what I was doing for Christmas and I said I wasn’t planning much. Her eyes got big and wide and she said, “Oh come to our house! I don’t want you to be alone. That would be terrible.” No, I told her. I don’t want to make plans. I want some space. My life is so crowded with things that need to be done all the time — I want a few days of quiet with low expectations. I want to work on my book.
But she couldn’t believe that. And I understand and I appreciate her caring and her concern. But I don’t want one more thing in my life that I HAVE to do. I have to do enough. I want a Christmas of not-having anything to do.
I talked to Mark yesterday. He says he doesn’t want to go to his family’s Christmas celebrations this year. He is working on a new book. He has some other writer projects he’s preoccupied with. He wants to stay quiet. I understand. I completely understand.
I’ve never minded being a person who was different from the crowd. It’s something I’m good at but I feel like us oddballs are hard for others to bear. I don’t know why I had those Christmas revelations except that maybe it was my soul telling me that I was different and this was not my way. And I’m fine with that. And I’m fine with others having Christmas their way. May we all have a holiday that nurtures our hearts and souls in whatever way is best for us.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, December 15, 2006
I chose those because you can tell in reading them that the kids who wrote them did actually try to come up with an analogy. I think that a lot of writers do and think that just because they have thought of an analogy that works, they should use it. They are wrong about that. If an analogy or a metaphor doesn’t flow with the overall rhythm of the work it can do more harm than good.
Gertrude Stein cautioned the young Ernest Hemingway that a writer should never use adverbs until he learned how to use them well. Hemingway learned that lesson well and, even in his most mature work, you are unlikely to find many adverbs. This is something I aspire to (she said humbly) because I know I get carried away with adverbs and am always chagrined when I come across a particularly glaring one. Of course J.K. Rawling, mistress of the craziest adverbs in literature, has managed to be quite a smashing success despite her rampant use of perfectly dreadful adverbs (she said sychophantically) which proves that if you have a good enough story the rules don’t apply and/or that eleven year olds don’t care about the rules when they read.
The thing about metaphors and analogies is that they are like perfume — when applied well they create a lovely ambiance but when overdone or done badly can ruin the entire mood. James Lee Burke uses terrific metaphors that can make me laugh out loud because they are so absolutely perfect for the sort of mood is setting. On the other hand Lawrence Durell has written some of the most beautiful, enchanting metaphors I’ve ever encountered. They flow so naturally from his pen that you barely notice them until you also notice that you have a picture in your mind of absolute beauty. I recently got out his Alexandria Quartet and began reading it again. I know I read it in college but when a writer is as good as he is you have to read them and read them to try to absorb some of their skill.
I think the ability to create analogies and metaphors is something that comes more naturally to some people than to others. In psychology there is a test called Miller’s Analogies which evaluates a person’s ability to discriminate between a set of options as to what is the most nearly accurate analogy. I’ve taken the test several times and do well on it but I know a lot of people who don’t. When I was editing Mark’s book F/V Black Sheep I was impressed by his ability to create pretty hilarious analogies — it was one of the things that convinced me he was a better than average writer.
So, like adverbs, metaphors must be used carefully until they can be used well. Otherwise your prose will turn out like a tuna noodle casserole only one where the cook grabbed a can of applesauce instead of mushroom soup and the whole thing tastes really gross.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
First of all, let me say that Manchester-by-the-Sea only became Manchester-by-the-Sea a few years ago. It used to be just plain old Manchester but, I guess the locals were afraid it would get confused with Manchester, New Hampshire which is not by the sea and should probably change its name to Manchester- by-the-Airport. Beverly, which is the next town past Manchester-b-t-S is considering changing its name to Beverly-by-the-Depot, since its train depot is a large feature of the town. This, of course, presents a dilemma for Gloucester. So, I guess we’ll consider the old stereotype and change our name to Gloucester-by-the-Smell though that might be inaccurate because, since the decline of the fishing industry, there aren’t as many fish to smell. Maybe Gloucester-by-the-Way.... well, who knows.
So anyway, the former Jimmy Severino of talk radio fame is moving here and, gosh, won’t that be exciting? Actually, probably not. But there’s always that possibility that you will see him buying dog food in Crosby’s some day or having an almond-crusted, fried brie in one of the local eateries. I’ve seen John Updike in a nearby Chinese restaurant a couple of times. He’s managed to live in Beverly Farms for years now without causing too much of a traffic jam. And John Updike, at least in my book, is genuinely worth at least a moderate fuss. I always want to thank him for Seek My Face. I took a summer workshop with Lee Krasner when I was in school and his book brought the memory of her back so vividly to me.
I honestly don’t get the fuss about celebrities. There are a few I’d like to wind up sitting beside on an airplane — mostly writers — but my feeling is that they are, for the most part, people who have done something either very, very well or very, very noticeably and that is to their credit (or not in some cases) but it doesn’t mean they are magical (other than Stephan King — he might be). Mostly I either admire their success and am open to any clue they want to pass along, at least in the case of writers, or don’t know who they are. Not being a television watcher, I miss a lot that way.
I’ve listened to Severin on and off while I work. He cracks me up sometimes. His political views seem to rely on a high degree of extremism — he either wants to flay them alive (Bill Clinton) or suck their toes (Mitt Romney). He flip-flops but that isn’t unusual in shock-jocks, it’s all part of the act. I have to confess I’m dead tired of his ladies-man act. That was entertaining a decade or more ago but there’s little more tiresome than a middle aged, goofy-looking, married father going on and on about the physical charms of women a third of his age. But I think there are a lot of folks who like it — mostly other middle-aged, goofy-looking, married fathers who wish they get away with it. Yesterday, Severin was ranting about the impossibility of Barak Obama succeeding in higher politics because his middle name is “Hussein” — not something he chose. Well, gee, Jimmy Severino, what would your solution be?
But I have to knock it off because we are now sort of neighbors. So, neighbors, lock up your young wives and daughters, Jay Severin is in the ‘hood. That howling we used to think was coyotes back in those woods, well, it’s the big, bad wolf. All you fit, attractive, young ladies are in luck — it’s J-man-by-the-Sea time.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
When my book first arrived I sent copies to a few review services and this one was among the ones recommended by my online publishers group. It is located in England but since all their review media is online that doesn’t matter. The reviewer, Carrie White, writes erotica but reviews romance and other genres. This is what she had to say about my book:
My Last Romance is a short story anthology of eight romantic tales that speak of dishonesty, forbidden love and passion. Speaking of lives and emotions that most of us can relate to, this collection will touch your soul for many months to come.
Kathleen Valentine writes with an honesty and flair that is both refreshing and poignant at the same time. The characters face a multitude of emotions and desires that mirrors the intensity of their own personal difficulties in life. But, that is not all. To be loved so deeply is something we all yearn for and this book surely helps you to believe that this is possible for every person to attain no matter how old they happen to be.
Nothing I've read in the romance genre this year can possibly come close to this anthology for its breathtaking exploratory into the human psyche.
Whew! Heady stuff. What I have to keep reminding myself is that this woman doesn’t know me or know anyone who does know me so she doesn’t have to be nice to me. She is writing about MY writing and that is all. I honestly don’t know what to say. I’ve read and re-read it — you’d think I’d have it memorized by now.
I guess the phrase that thrills me is “breathtaking exploratory into the human psyche”. I never thought about that. Well, I guess when you are writing you try as much as possible to get inside your character’s head — otherwise what is the point of a story? But it is still stunning to realize that someone else caught that. Especially someone I haven’t obsessed about to like I have most of my friends.
A few years back a literary agent who loved my writing but couldn’t sell my book compared my style to Katherine Ann Porter’s. That’s quite a compliment since she is a writer of astonishing skill. So last night, deep in the delirium of my review, I went rummaging through my various short story collections looking for something by Porter. I found her “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” in one of them and sat down to read it.
I love stories well told. I aspire to write well and so, when I sink into a story like Porter’s and get lost I realize that there are writers and then there are the Katherine Ann Porters of this world who can just write the pants off of anyone. It gives me something to aspire to.
So I thank you, Ms Carrie White in London, for your gracious words! It made the hours spent fretting over every word and nuance all the more worthwhile.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I blogged last year about the fact that I find the Christmas holidays difficult. When I was a kid they were always great fun and for years as an adult I very much enjoyed them but about 15 years ago I began to become aware of the “forced enjoyment” aspect of a lot of what I was participating in. There were the holidays spent with family that were fun for about an hour and then major stress the rest of the time. There is the commercialism that seems to get worse and worse every year. The strange part about that is that I get the sense that many people feel that way and just don’t know how to get out of that loop.
A few years back I stopped making my annual trek back to Pennsylvania to be with my family. Don’t get me wrong — I like them and I like their kids but they are very different than I am and a week of being with them makes me realize what an oddball I’ve become— and I’m okay with that! Christmas decorations are something I enjoy though.
My neighbors next door with the fabulous tree have wrapped colored lights around it and that is fun. I’ll have to get a picture to post here.
Actually, I may designate this Christmas as another writer’s retreat time. I got so much work done on my novel over Thanksgiving but have not been able to accomplish anything since. Maybe I need to stock the larders, turn off the phone, disconnect email and spend a few days over Christmas hard at work. I had hoped to have the gallies ready by now — I’m not even close! And the phone is ringing now and I have to get to work. So enjoy the lobster trap tree and whatever parts of the season you like best.
Ultimately that is what it is all about, designing a holiday season that works for you and the ones closest to you. Have fun!
Thanks for reading.
Friday, December 08, 2006
There are a lot of eighteenth and nineteenth century houses along that street one of which houses the Sargent-Murray Museum, another is the annex of the Sawyer Free Library. And there are the churches — Episcopal, Congregational, the first UU Church in America and a Gothic revival Temple. It is an architectural history buffs dream.
Sometime back the city of Gloucester got the idea to have a Christmas Walk along Middle Street and the idea grew. Many of the historic homes are decorated in period tradition and the businesses along the street — which includes the YMCA, the North Shore Health Project and City Hall— all open their doors and offer holiday treats to visitors. The churches open up and offer treats and concerts including bellringers, a horse drawn wagon is available to take revelers on a ride through the area. What fun! It is a great beginning to the Christmas season. There are endless concerts and City Hall opens for the day as well.
Going in to City Hall is an experience in Gloucester history to me. You can climb the stairs and read the names stenciled on the walls of the thousands of Gloucester fisherman who died at sea. In the auditorium where kids used to play basketball and there was once an amazing collection of sculpture, there are WPA murals on the wall. Gloucester has one of the largest collections of WPA murals in the country.
We’ll be there in the auditorium. By “we” I mean Gloucester Writes, a group of independent writers who are coming together that day to meet the public and hopefully sign and sell books. I’m excited about this.
Since the beginning of the arts, artists have known two things 1.) artists are annoyingly independent and 2.) we need one another to succeed. In the early days artists formed guilds, and then associations of various kinds. Our little islands is the home of a particularly interesting art collaborative, the Folly Cove Designers. A group of independent artisans living in the Folly Cove area — where my friend Leslie Wind lives now — came together to sell their wares and established a design tradition that is distinctive, unique and highly collectible. It’s a great idea.
So, Gloucester Writes seems like an equally good concept. There are so many writers here, many of us starting our own presses, that I thought getting together to promote our books by meeting people and sign copies might be a worthwhile effort. Saturday at the Middle Street Walk will be our first effort in this direction. There will be four authors present, Larry Ingersoll, Mike Maranhas, Mark and me. We will have books from four or five other writers available at our table. This is kind of an exciting adventure. We’ll get to watch a couple concerts and share space with other groups including the Girl Scouts having their bake sale. Come by and buy some cupcakes and a book or two. Happy Holidays!
Books make great gifts. Thanks for reading.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Something terrible happened yesterday. I realized that America’s august position as the great power in the world — both physical and moral — is severely compromised. We’re still powerful, but our power is somehow tainted. That makes me terribly sad.
For a long time I have been bemoaning the decline of so much that I once regarded as sublime — art, literature, civility, goodness, kindness. The “junkification”, if you will, of America has been stuck in my craw for a very long time. Junk food, junk entertainment, junk relationships, junk behavior, junk art — it’s everywhere and it’s gone from popular to normal and that is terrible. Even children have become junk to people so obsessed with their own passing fancies that they can’t put them aside for the sake of the kids. It’s a hard thing to understand. Now we have a junk war on our hands and it has created a junk economy where value is momentary and disposable.
Last night I was reading John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction. It is a brilliant book that was widely derided when it made its debut in the mid-seventies — the decade that began to edify junk. In his book, Gardner makes a case for art, and art criticism, as being inherently moral. He says “true art is moral: it seeks to improve life, not to debase it. It seeks to hold off, at least for a little while, the twilight of the gods and of us.” Those words can bring tears to my eyes. And reading them I realize that we are in danger of losing something more important than credibility these days, we are in danger of losing our moral core.
I honestly believe that the powers that be thought they could make improvements in Iraq through this war but never stopped to think how to accomplish that. So here we are — stuck in a lost situation that is ruinous on so many levels not the least of which is that our young people are there. As someone better than I am said, how do you ask the last soldier in a lost war to die?
I never think of myself as a particularly political person. I am interested in art and writing and knitting and trying to live a quiet, decent, satisfying life of creating my own art and supporting the art of others. I don’t watch television and haven’t in many years. I believe in ultimate goodness and that if I do a good thing that good thing puts out ripples into the world that will ultimately come back to me. I believe that time spent reading, writing, creating, helping, and appreciating is time well spent but these days those values are beginning to seem awfully naive.
At the end of the Baker Commission Report there was a statement to the effect that we, each of us, has to decide where this war will end. I was a little astonished by that because it is true. That is true of all of life — we each have to decide in every moment. We have to take back our minds and our wills from those who would junkify our lives and our morals and our national identity. We have to believe that to edify is moral and to debase is immoral and that morality has value.
We have to decide — one by one, minute by minute. Twilight isn’t far off.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
At times like this I have a tendency to dream a lot, strange, atmospheric disturbing dreams. Dreams in which I am in a terrified panic over some impending tragedy and then I wake to recall that the tragedy that had me hysterical in the dream was something like burning the mincemeat pie or not being able to find my green velvet jacket. Oh, the horror.
But last night an interesting thing happened. I was having a dream in which all these people were trying to get me to finish things for them — one wanted a knitting project finished, another wanted me to help her with her web site, one and on. But, in the background of all this commotion I could see the surf along Good Harbor Beach and the waves were high and beautiful. There was this one area where the waves were rolling and rolling, cresting up and the most luminous of aquamarine in color with a border of white foam, curling over and crashing, always in different patterns as though it was dancing. I kept watching those waves. People were yelling at me and trying to get my attention but I couldn’t stop looking at those waves. It was beautiful.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching waves, particularly watching the way sunlight plays with waves. The water reflects the blues of the sky and then, when the water rises up and up and up and the sun filters through it, that deep blue becomes translucent and the light through the wave glows the most luscious shade of aquamarine – a perfect word really. “Aqua” — water, “marine” — sea. Seawater. But that lovely, light shimmering flash of pale blue-green that we call aquamarine is only briefly visible in those moments right before the wave crests and rolls over and foams up in a froth of whiteness. And then it returns to the deep blue of the rest of the water. It is fleeting but it is gorgeous.
It is a good reminder, too. That little glimmer of astonishing beauty may be momentary but it is also recurring and just as lovely every time you stop to watch it. And it is worth making tome for.
I love dreams like that. I’ve had them before and it always reassures me that, even though life gets hectic and demanding, there is a tiny core of perfect peace and perfect beauty just waiting for me, offering a brief respite from whatever craziness I’ve gotten myself into.
Some years back I was going through a tough time — changing a job and a relationship at the same time. Not happy. But I had this dream. I was on a ship sailing somewhere and everything was a glowing golden yellow color with purple islands floating in the distance. And a pod of humpback whales were playing in the waves and you could hear them singing, that wonderful, mysterious song that humpbacks have. It reminded me that while I was going through my own personal drama, somewhere out at sea there were whales singing. That is a thing worth remembering.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, December 04, 2006
It won’t last and I like that, too. The truth is that the only way I really like snow is outside of my window when I don’t have to be anywhere and can just stay inside and be warm and look at it. I’m not a big fan of going out in it. There is something reassuring to me about those days when it is all white outside and I have had the forethought to stock up on necessities — cream for my coffee, apples for my oatmeal, honey for tea — and then can just stay inside and work. My project seem endless right now but that is not a bad thing.
This weekend I spent a lot of time working on plans for LiteraryGloucester.com and GloucesterWrites.com — my two new web sites that I hope will help to advance Gloucester’s reputation as aa literary mecca in addition to being an art mecca. LiteraryGloucester.com will be more of an information and tribute site devoted to the wonderful writers of the past who lived and/or worked in this area. My wonderful friend, the wonderful writer, Peter Anastas, suggests that the writers of the present contribute essays on writers of the past who influenced them. He was much influenced by the great poet Charles Olson and has offered an essay on him to get the site started.
New England has such a rich literary heritage. Just within a few miles of here such greats as Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau and, of course, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the books that shaped my young life. I have been thinking about this a lot as I lay out plans for LiteraryGloucester. My writing — the way I write — was much influenced by Hawthorne so I suppose he will be the first author that I write about. He lived in Salem which is only 20 miles down the road from Gloucester. I think that counts.
The more I talk with people about GloucesterWrites.com, the more interesting it is becoming as a project. There are so many writers here and, not surprisingly, many of them publish independently. Independence is big in this part of the world. GloucesterWrites is a venue for writers to promote and sell their work without giving up their independence. We are having our first sales event on Saturday at the Historic Middle Street Walk by having a table of our books available in City Hall — right under the famous names wall where the names of the Gloucester fishermen lost at sea are inscribed. Those were some independent folks, too. I am working on plans to have similar events at other arts festivals in the future. Marblehead and Newburyport have lovely arts festivals that I think we could be a part of.
So it is a quiet day with snow still on the ground. It will be gone by the time I have to go out this afternoon. But for now there is snow and there is coffee ready to be poured an oatmeal bubbling and I have plenty of work and warm socks.
What more could a person want?
Thanks for reading.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Gloucester and Cape Ann are known internationally for the artists who live and work here but the area has a lesser known, though equally distinguished, literary history. A recently formed writer’s collaborative, Gloucester Writes, intends to promote the work of area writers both through their new web site at www.GloucesterWrites.com< and through events.
On Saturday, December 9, 2006, Gloucester Writes will participate in the annual Historic Middle Street Walk, with a table in City Hall where a variety of books by local writers will be sold by the authors, some of whom will be available to custom autograph books. Sales of the books will benefit seARTS, the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. This is an opportunity for the public to see the quality of books offered by both independent and traditional presses and to talk to the authors about their books.
Please join us in the main lobby of City Hall to examine these books, meet the authors, and purchase custom autographed Christmas presents for others or for yourself. The event is 11am to 4pm during the Historic Middle Street Walk on Saturday, December 9, 2006.
Friday, December 01, 2006
One of the hardest things to teach beginning writers, and to learn yourself, is the art of showing. It is also the most useful — especially if you write from a first-person narrator. There is something inherent in first-person narration that makes telling an easy trap to fall into. Probably because a first-person narrator tempts us into thinking we are relating a story the way we would tell our friend about a recent trip to the Bahamas we took. That’s not how it works.
There are three ways (probably more) to write from the first person narrator perspective. There is the personal which is what all of us are accustomed to — it is how we write letters, how we write our diaries and reports of activities and projects and blogs. Usually it is told with some level of detail and in a sequential manner. It is as interesting to read as the thing we are writing about or as we are to an individual. “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” is probably far more fascinating to your mother than it is to the average reader — particularly one who doesn’t know you.
The second first person narration is for the writing of a memoir. This is considerably more challenging because, while you are writing from your own perspective, you have to make an effort to engage the reader. Memoirs come in all varieties — dramatic, pathos-laden, humorous, etc. Writing a memoir requires an astonishing amount of self-revelation and not necessarily of the My-name-is-Kathleen-and-I-am-a-closet-novelist variety. It’s a hard thing to accept but very few people read a memoir because they think the writer sounds like an interesting person (the exception to this being celebrities), they read memoirs because the experiences the writer is writing about are of interest to them. A first-person narrator in a memoir has to tell their story but tell it in such a way that the events are more the focus than the person experiencing them.
When Mark was writing F/V Black Sheep, his first person memoir of his life as a Gloucester fisherman, he had a big challenge with this because the narrative shifted — sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, sometimes frightening. When I first started working with him I was amazed at the way he could tell a story without injecting his opinions into it on one page and then easily shift to what was going on in his head and gut on the next page. He told me, “I keep trying to look at it as if I’m the guy reading it and see how it sounds.” That’s a real writer for you.
But the first-person narrator in a work of fiction is the challenge because you have to get outside yourself and into the person telling the story. And then, having accomplished that, you have to let the narrator blend into the background in places and simply narrate the action without personal involvement. It isn’t easy. I’ve always admired novelists who can tell a story from multiple points of view. Faulkner was the master. I think I want to try that sometime but not for awhile.
So I am learning a lot revisiting my old friends on the bookshelf. It is time well spent. Now is a good time to do that as I polish up the last draft of The Old Mermaid’s Tale. An opportunity to practice what I preach.
Thanks for reading.