Monday, December 31, 2007

My "Best Books" in 2007

When I decided to put together this list I realized 2 things: 1.) only a couple of these books came out in 2007 and 2.) I spent a lot of time thinking and reading about God and the nature of good and evil this year. The truth is 2007 was a hard year for me. It started out with the death of my father and ended with half my neighborhood burning down. In between there was a lot of questionable stuff, too. But, as always, books are my refuge and my delight. So, forthwith and in no particular order, are the books I read in 2007 that still stay with me:

Writing by Marguerite Duras --- a tiny little book by a little French author with a huge spirit. It is a lovely book and memorable for many reasons not the least of which is her account of the citizens of a small French village who cared for a dying British pilot shot down at the end of World War II

Can God Intervene by Gary Stern --- Stern, a distinguished journalist and writer on religion surveys a number of religious readers from all demonimations, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Evangelical and more, on why natural disasters such as the 2005 tsunami and Hurrican Katrian happen. This is a wonderful study of how different perspectives on God shape cultures.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri --- I've read this book before but it took on new importance when it became the basis for an exhibition at the North Shore Arts Association this year and a book about it that I co-wrote and designed. Uplifting and inspiring even after 80+ years.

Snow and Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk --- I realize this is 2 books but I can't imagine reading one without the other. Snow, of course, won the Nobel Prize this year but Istanbul, though classified as non-fiction, is pure romance --- the story of one man's love for the city of his birth. Gorgeous.

Denial of Death by Ernest Becker --- this book won the Nobel Prize in 1973 but I didn't discover it until recently. it is more beautiful and more relevant today than ever. One of the few books I would say everyone needs to read.

Pictures in My Head by Gabriel Byrne --- this is a beautiful little book by one of my favorite actors that proves the man is more than just a talented (and beautiful) actor. It consists of a series of small essays written for his children about his life from growing up in Dublin to how he became an actor, to his ruminations on Ireland today. His story about the Irish "travellers" and the prejudice against them (he calls it "Irish apartheid") is outstanding.

The Seville Communion by Arturo Perez-Reverte --- I love Perez-Reverte. He is fun to read and he has invented a genre of intelligent, contemporary swashbuckling adventures that just dazzle me. I've read a lot of his work (and happily have more to read) but so far this one is my favorite not in the least because of its seductive hero, Father Lorenzo Quart, and the most hilarious band of bad guys I've ever encountered on the page.

Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin --- this is a really, really scary book. Martin, a former Jesuit priest and exorcist, details some of the exorcisims he has attended. It is just plain terrifying. I have no idea how I feel about things like this but I believe Martin's stories and I believe evil exists and the stories in this book have haunted me ever since I finished it.

The Joy of Priesthood by Stephen J. Rossetti, S.J. --- I realize this is an odd choice since it is really designed to be read by priests about their choice of vocation but I found it very encouraging and comforting, made moreso by the fact that I have met Father Rossetti. We live in confusing and difficult times and understanding the commitment to a life of Faith and service is challenging at times but in this book I found a great deal of reassurance that there continue to be those committed to a higher and more honorable way of life, despite their all too poignant humanity.

And, finally, I have to add Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Good triumphs, evil is vanquished, the hero completes his journey and this beautiful, funny, delightful series comes to a close. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for all the fun --- it was a gas! (Though I'm still pissed about Fred.)

So that's my list for 2007. I guess I should add my own book published this year, The Old Mermaid's Tale. It's doing fairly well and I am working on a new book. And the heap of books by my bed keeps growing.

Happy New Year and THANKS FOR READING!!!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

My Annual Kids-on-Kards Post

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is getting photo Christmas cards from family and friends with pictures of their children on them. Since I don't get to see most of these kids from year to year it is always great to have new pictures. So, again this year, I am posting a few of my favorite kids-on-kards. Click on the pictures if you want to see them enlarged.

The first is my newest little great-nephew, Jonathan, son of my brother Jack's daughter Amy. Jonathan is 6 months old and sure has inherited the Valentine blue eyes!
Then we have Patrick and Cal, my sister Lisa's two boys who came to visit me in June. This photo was taken at Halibut Point State Park here in Gloucester so that makes it extra special.

These three cuties are my sister Beth's children, C.J., Mia, and Thaddeus! Thad has started taking music lessons so this is him with his saxaphone. They live in Pittsburgh.

Also from Pittsburgh are my brother Matt's kids, Charlie, Lydia, and Abby. I'm not sure who the funny looking guy in red is but Lydia seems to like him.
And finally are two beautiful young women I haven't seen in a few years. These are my cousin Vickie's girls Allie and Chrissy. They live in Carlisle, PA and are lovely, intelligent and active young ladies.

This has been a very pleasant holiday season despite some losses. I've visited with people I don't get to see often enough and spent hours and hours on the phone with many more and it always reminds me that there is no reason I can't just pick up the phone and call more often. A good thing about the holidays is that they serve to remind me how rich my life is and how fortunate I am to have so many people to love. I hope you are having a wonderful week too and, if there is someone you are thinking about and haven't talked to in awhile, pick up the phone. You'll be glad that you did.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Goodbye, Vincent

Vincent Ferrini - June 24, 1913 - December 24, 2007

What can I say about Vincent Ferrini? He was a small man who was larger than life. From the time I moved to Gloucester I knew who he was and eventually was fortunate to know him. In 2002 while working on the program for the September 11 Tribute Remembrance I called Vincent and asked him if he would like to come and read one of his poems. He said he would. Though I had known him for years I had never seen him recite one of his own works. His passion and intensity was utterly thrilling. Such fire from such a small man! He was glorious to watch!

A few days later he called me and said he wanted to thank me for inviting him to perform. I was speechless --- he gave us the greatest gift imaginable and then he calls and thanks me for letting him do it? What a humble and amazing man.

Vincent was the conscience of Gloucester. His Letters (in poetic form) to the Editor in the Gloucester Daily Times called the city and its people to task and his personal kindness and generosity of spirit are legendary here. Vincent died on Christmas Eve and he will be very much missed. The Bard of Gloucester is gone now but that huge, firey spirit will linger --- I hope for a very long time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas --- Be Yourself

The other day after I wrote my Solstice blog I received a few emails from readers who all said the same thing "be yourself, do what works for you" and I thought that was a wonderful thing to bear in mind. Face it, the holidays are a huge marketing tool and loaded with emotional baggage. But they are also more than that --- they are a time and a space in which people can take a break from everyday life and give time to the things in their lives that are important but that they don't always have enough time for in daily life.

There are the people who treat the holidays in a traditional manner with lots of presents and decorating and partying and food and spending time with family and friends. That is wonderful if they love doing that and if they do it with joy. And there are those who say "bah, humbug" and grouch their way through the holidays grumbling and growling and just wishing it would all go away. And then there are those of us who have struggled with what's-this-all-about and are trying to find a way of honoring this time of the year without driving ourselves crazy and getting caught up in consumer insanity.

Well, I've finished my knitting projects and I hope they will keep the recipients warm and happy. I've sent out a few Christmas cards to those people I love but just don't get enough time with throughout the year. I've attended a few Christmas gatherings and called a few people I won't get to see but want to remember and now I am focusing on the few things I'll do to honor the next 48 hours.

One thing I've decided to do is take a treat to a couple older friends who won't be going far and are restricted in their diets. Because I try to keep carbs down I created a pumpkin mousse that is sugarless and very low in carbs. I plan to deliver it to those folks who can't have sugar either. It's easy to make --- and absolutely delicious:

Low-Carb/Sugarless Pumpkin Mousse
Cream together:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 can mashed pumpkin (100% pumpkin, not the pie mix)
Add 1 cup Splenda or other sugar substitute) and 1 tablespoon cinnamon
Stir in 1 tsp.vanilla
When this is well mixed fold in a container of sugar-free whipped cream.
Spoon into containers and chill thoroughly.

You can spoon this into tall goblets for a pretty dessert --- dust with nutmeg or you can butter a pie dish, sprinkle it with almond slices and spoon the mousse in and chill well for a pretty pie.

Christmas, I have decided, is a lot like life --- you can either do what others expect or you can meet it on your own terms. Which you choose is up to you. I feel like, even though I've lived most of my life on what I thought were my terms, my life was really more an uneasy compromise between what I felt was expected of me and what I really wanted to do. It is only in the last four years that I've worked harder at the latter. That's one of the gifts of getting older. I lead a life that looks strange to some people but which works (most of the time) for me.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Christ child who, according to Christian tradition, came into this world to give humankind hope and salvation. Christmas also falls at the time of the year that was once celebrated as Saturnalia by the Romans and of various Solstice celebrations that honored the darkest time of the year which heralded the annual time of snuggling in, hunkering down --- the great silence that precedes that time coming of rebirth. For some people now Christmas is all about Santa Clause and giving and sharing and celebrating with others. Whatever this time of year is for you may it be a source of peace, satisfaction, joy, love, and a sense that, as one thing ends another new and fresh thing is beginning. May you embrace that with absolute confidence that you are going to be fine and those you love will be too and that, though sometimes there is darkness, it is in that darkness that angels arrive heralding the coming of goodness and renewed life.

Peace, love, joy to all.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winter Solstice

Tonight is the longest night of the year which, of course, means that the days will now be getting longer. That is a thing I am always grateful for. I do like winter --- I like having the luxury of staying home because I work at home and not having to go out unless I want to or need to. In nice weather I always feel like I should go out whether I want to or not.

In a few days it will be Christmas and, again this year, I have not done much about making plans and am not sure how I feel about that. Part of me thinks I should want to do something special to celebrate but the truth is I don't really have anything I particularly want to do. For many years Christmas was always this big annual event that involved tons of presents and making travel plans and cabs and airports and figuring out how to transport packages and all kinds of carrying on. I think I made such a ruckus that I didn't have time to stop and think that I really wasn't much enjoying what I was doing. Then for a number of years I made the long drive back to Pennsylvania to be with my family though, in all honesty, it was 24 hours of driving and 5-7 days of annoying confusion just for the 2 or 3 hours of happiness that occurred during our annual family Christmas party. A few times I rebelled and made plans elsewhere with a lover or a some friends but that old home-for-the-holidays thing always got me in the end.

Toward the end of her life my Mother, who had at one time been the Queen of Christmas, got very blue around the holidays. She had 8 children but all of us had other attachments and she felt left out much of the time. I can remember Christmas Eves spent at home with her and my father (who couldn't have cared less) when she would be terribly blue and weepy over the fact that all her children (except me who didn't really count because I hadn't been thoughtful enough to supply her with some grandchildren) were busy with other plans. It wasn't fun.

After my mother died I spent a good many Christmases with my father. Often we would go to the house of another sibling and family but the truth was, other than a half hour of ho-ho-hos, a plate of turkey and a couple glasses of wine, he was ready for the couch and a long winter's nap. Dad was always a very solitary and reclusive person and I'm well aware that I inherited that from him. Since he died this past February this is my first Christmas parent-less and I have this weird, inexplicable feeling about it. I feel like I SHOULD want to be with family or with a lot of friends but the truth is I don't. The truth is I understand how Dad felt all those years --- yeah, yeah, Merry Christmas, is it time to go back home yet?

That doesn't mean that I want to ignore Christmas either. I've been busy
making gifts and finally finished my Gryffindor House Scarves for a few of the young'uns. And I made some beautiful hats, scarves, and gloves for special friends and family members. At left are the half-finger gloves I knit for one special person and I just love them. They are knit from Knit Picks' Andean Silk which is a warm, elegant blend of alpaca and silk. They feel just wonderful on. In fact, I liked them so much that I have started a second pair (right) also in Knit Picks yarn, this time their Gloss which is a very soft and lustrous blend of Merino Wool and Silk. I think it is the nicest yarn I have ever worked with and it is so fine I may just go ahead and knit full fingers for these.

Gloucester is slowly recovering from last Friday night's tragedy. The firemen are still vigilant and hosing down hot areas. The library is still closed and the Y just reopened today. Both suffered serious smoke damage. There is a candlelight vigil tonight in front of the remains of the synagogue. It is a sad time for many.

And the Lobster Trap Tree has been completed and is bigger and brighter than it has ever been. I'm sure I'll take a trip down there this weekend to have a look at it --- that always makes me happy.

So... it is a strange holiday season. I am planning on taking a break from work and spending as much time as I can on two writing projects that have been languishing --- writing is, of course, the great love in my life. Each Angel Burns needs a final polish before going out for the next set of test reads and there is another new bunch of characters nagging at me. They want to come to life and they do not care whether or not I like Christmas they just want me to pay attention to them. So I will.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Unaccountable Losses

Friday night it snowed here and the world turned white and pristine. Then came Friday night. They still aren't sure how the fire started. I know the apartment building well. It is right around the corner from where I live and just across the street from the fire station. It was an old historic building --- most of the buildings on Middle Street are old, historic buildings. A lot of people lived there.

So the fire started and it grew and grew and before long the building was engulfed in flames. All but one person made it out alive. All of them lost everything. The firemen were there immediately but they were no match for the fire that soared up the central air shaft of the old building and took everything in its path. And it spread.
Photo of the fire by Jay Albert
See more of Jay's photographs of the fire here.
Next door is another historic building which was originally built as the First Parish Church --- a Unitarian Church, one of the oldest in the country. It is two blocks from the home of Judith Sargeant Murray, now a museum, and three blocks from the existing Unitarian-Universalist Church which is the oldest in America. Their first cemetery is in my backyard. I can see the tombstones and ancient vaults as I write this. A hundred years ago the First Parish Church was sold to the local Jewish community and served them all these many years as Temple Ahavat Achim. Over the years I have attended lectures, book readings and concerts there. It was a beautiful place.

So the fire spread and the Temple was next. Firemen came from seven local communities, they worked through the night. Directly behind the Temple is the Sawyer Free Library which I love dearly. Saving it became a huge priority.

Fires are a thing I know more about than I want to. Many years ago I was in a fire that I try not to think about but which, when something like this happens, comes back in vivid detail. It was about the same time of year --- I had been addressing Christmas cards just hours earlier. I worked there and was the only one on duty that afternoon. I had walked down to the basement to see if the dryer was working --- we had been having problems with it. There was a pan on the stove which had a low-hanging cupboard over it. It went up in seconds. By the time I came back upstairs the whole kitchen was on fire. I prefer not to talk about the rest.

Fire is vicious. It is voracious and relentless and horrible. It does horrible things. The apartment building and all those people's homes were lost. So was the Temple where my dear friend Clare, creator of Modern Art Cats, worked as office manager. Had it not been for the half foot of snow on the roofs of surrounding buildings it would have been much worse. The library and the YMCA across the street were saved but will have smoke and water damage to contend with for weeks to come.

The next day the UU Church held a morning service for the members of the Temple. A time to grieve. In the midst of the ceremony, Clare reported to me, the doors open and in came a half dozen firemen still in their fire-battle dress. In their arms they carried what they had managed to salvage from the fire --- some sacred vestments and other treasured objects, part of the Torah. Everyone wept. Clare said that the very fact that these brave and noble men were gracious enough in the midst of such horror to try to save part of their revered treasures meant more to the congregation than words could say.

And so there will be time to grieve and then there will be time to reassess and begin the process of rebuilding. The Action Shelter on Main Street and the Action Office are accepting donations for the residents of the Lorraine Apartments. Checks can be sent to Action. The UU Church will share space with the Temple for awhile and they will find other office space. Life will go on.

The firemen were amazing --- bold, brave, strong, a credit to us all. Words cannot describe how blessed we are to have them. People are coming together to help those left homeless. The generosity and love of the community is at its best in times like these. That is the blessing in the midst of the horror.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Gift Ideas

We got quite a bit of snow dumped on us last night and today is bright and beautiful.
(Photo above by Captain Joe of Captain Joe & Sons Lobster Co. --- lobsters make great Christmas gifts, too.)
I am sitting here working on some web sites and I thought, because I am lucky enough to work with some fabulously creative people, it might be a good idea to talk about some great gift ideas while we still have time.
1.) Les Bartlett's Photography (above) is not only gorgeous it is a stunning gift for anyone on your list who loves Cape Ann. Les has a current exhibit at the the Cape Ann Historical Museum and prints of his work are available through them or through his online store. You can also purchase DVDs of his images of Cape Ann --- an ideal gift for folks who can't be here as much as they wish they could, or those who live here and can't get enough of beautiful Cape Ann.

2.) Clare Higgin's Modern Art Cats (left) are just wonderful. Clare loves cats and she loves art and she has created original designs of cats in the style of great works of modern art. Her designs are available on everything from t-shirts topillows, magnets, and tote bags and more. Visit her web site or Cafe Press for more designs.

3.) Leslie Wind's Jewelry (right) is individually hand-crafted by a master goldsmith who has been creating the most unique custom designs for thirty years. Leslie lives in a little pink house out the tip of Cape Ann across the street from dramatic Folly Cove. Each of her pieces is exquisite and unbelievably affordable. Visit her web site or her shop for something you will treasure forever.

4.) Karen Halzel loves t-shirts! Her Definition Tees (left) are adorable and very clever. Her Soxy Lady tee was popular during the playoffs this year and she has other funky, clever, cute designs which make excellent gifts for those who want a bit of whimsy.

5.) Elaine Martino is a digital artist of astonishing skill. She can take old family photographs and turn them into works of art. And she is an absolute magician with damaged, torn, moldy, stained, etc. family treasures. She can take a collection of photos and turn them into a collage or pick one image out of a crowd and turn it into a stunning portrait. Visit her new web site.

6.) And, of course, you can always give a book--- a really yummy, delicious, romantic book which is sexy and romantic and exciting and.... well .... I promise you'll like them: My Books.

So if it is snowing where you are, stay home and shop online. Or curl up with a book. Did I mention I have some good ones for you?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Jane and Clare and I get together for movie nights now and then. Clare has a big-screen television and I bring the DVD and we always have a wonderful time watching and taking breaks to discuss the film. One night recently Clare and I were watching a film set in Venice, Jane was away, and we got talking about the many beautiful movies made in Venice in recent years --- Venice is the world's oldest movie production set anyway --- and we decided to have our own Venice film festival. We were watching Casanova with Heath Ledger and Jeremy irons (who is absolutely hilarious when he does comedy) and I mentioned that I love the movie Dangerous Beauty which is about a young Venetian girl learning to become a courtesan. It stars Catherine McCormack who I think is one of the most watchable young actresses I've ever seen.

So we got this idea that we would have a "putanesca" night. I would whip up a batch of putanesca, the famous sauce allegedly originated in the bordellos of Naples, and watch Dangerous Beauty. Clare was unfamiliar with that sauce so I was telling her about its succulent but strong flavors of tuna and anchovies, tomatoes and onions, capers and black olives and lots and lots of garlic. Yum. A good batch gives a girl the strength to keep working all night long --- or so they say.

Yesterday Jane returned and, while we were yakking on the phone, I told her about the planned putanesca party. She thought it was a great idea. We decided to go out for dinner and she said to meet her at the Causeway because, now that the tourists are gone, we can get a table at a reasonable hour.

The Causeway is the best restaurant in town for fish and seafood but in the summer you can forget about getting a table there. Whenever I go in I always check out the Specials board on the wall. Last night the first item on the board was "Swordfish Putanesca". My jaw dropped. In all my years of going there I never saw that before. Naturally I ordered it. It was superb. First of all swordfish is, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of the ocean. I will take it over lobster or scallops any day (oysters run a close second). They served a large, thick, juicy, perfectly grilled swordfish steak smothered in garlic, tomatoes, onions, capers, and black olives. It was heaven. Jane and i remarked all through dinner on what a strange coincidence it was that it should be on the menu after we had just talked about putanesca earlier in the day.

Later I got to thinking about the fact that there have been a lot of strange coincidences in my life lately. Gordon recommends a book to me and a few days later I watch a documentary that turns out to be about that book. The documentary is, coincidentally, narrated by Gabriel Byrne (Okay, I am aware that I have mentioned him in four blogs lately --- I'm obsessed. I'll get over it) who wrote the book, Pictures in My Head, which I am listening to as an audio book. In the book he tells a wonderful story about the Irish "travelers" who were the subject of another book I just finished reading, The Nature of Water and Air by Regina McBride. He also mentions that he loves the English romanticists, especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights which I have also blogged about lately. Well, at least I know why I find him fascinating. He also tells a delicious story about a night spent in Venice with Richard Burton.

The thing is coincidences happen every day but sometimes a pattern begins to emerge and I believe when that happens something is beginning. Last night at dinner Jane was talking about Rilke and I thought of his passage in Letters to A Young Poet where he writes "you must think that something is happening to you
that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall." I think Jung was right --- that there are energetic patterns in the universe and when one begins to form for you it is wise to pay attention. Something is happening to you --- something is beginning.

I have decided that I want to take the week off between Christmas and New Years and just stay here and write. I want to polish up Each Angel Burns (the title of that comes from Rilke too) and get to work on my next novel. I have an outline started and I think it will be a contemporary Gothic with much romanticism and, well, who knows? Maybe a dish or two of putanesca. I think I'm on to something here.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Dusting of Snow

The Folly Cove Fiber Freaks, a.k.a. Maureen and Leslie, posted a blog about the weather yesterday. Maureen, who grew up inland where weather is confined to the sky and what winds up on the ground, wrote about her awareness of weather now that she lives across the street from Folly Cove with its rocks and waves and constant interaction with the sky. It was a lovely posting.

I don't think that it is possible to live on an island like Gloucester and remain oblivious to weather --- it is such a constant part of our lives. Though it is not even officially winter yet we are having wintery weather lately of the sort that I love. In the morning the whole world looks as though it was dusted with confectioners sugar. And by noon it is pretty much gone. I love that --- it can do that all winter in my opinion.

Saturday was our monthly needleworker's meeting. These days we are meeting in the home of one of our members. She lives on a hill overlooking the ocean and Thacher Island with its twin stone tower lighthouses sits on the horizon. She has a deck hung with bird feeders and the we sit in her beautiful living room and watch the birds and the waves and we knit and crochet and talk and share delicious treats and enjoy one another's company. Friday night there had been a snowfall but Saturday dawned bright and sunny. I chose a chair that allowed me to sit with the sunlight streaming through the window on my back and shoulders. it was heaven.

As the day warmed the snow on the roof began to melt and pour steadily onto the deck. A bunch of pigeons decided this was a perfect opportunity to have nice showers and they spent twenty minutes under the pouring water stretching out their wings, preening and twisting and turning, and bathing themselves in all manner of contortions. It was wonderful to watch. That house is home to six cats and the cats sit inside the windows watching the birds --- heaven only knows what is going on in their little cat brains.

There were a lot of chickadees, too, this week. They fly up with their feathers all puffed out for warmth, snatch one seed and fly off to feast on it in private before returning for another. Last month a red-tailed hawk paid a visit and, in an attempt to snatch a juicy pigeon for his lunch, he crashed into one of the big plate glass windows making a terrible racket. He flew off somewhat stunned but was back before long.

While we were there, talking, knitting, sharing ideas and opinions, and watching the endless beauty of the ocean, the flash of the lighthouses, the constant entertainment of the birds, I thought how fortunate we were to have that experience and to share it, too. On my way home at the end of the day I went by the harbor. I am keeping a watch out for the seals returning and I have seen quite a few of them so far this year. The swans were out. Six of them, floating serenely by. There are a lot of cormorants this year and the cute little bufflehead ducks are everywhere.

I know not everyone is in a place where they can live in constant awareness of the natural world and that is too bad. Because these beauties have an effect that is both humbling and enriching. I realize that no matter what may be going on in my life at any particular moment, the world still turns --- sunlight turns ice to water in which pigeons bathe and preen, waves pound against the rocks and carry the seals up on to them where they can lie in the sunlight and dream, whales sing their songs far out at sea. Life goes on and all is well.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Flight from Death

This is the time of year when I tend to go to the library and get a lot of DVDs and audio books to accompany my constant, manic knitting in an effort to get stuff made for Christmas. One of the DVDs I watched this weekend was a documentary I had been hearing about titled Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality. It is a beautifully filmed piece created by two young filmmakers who have been rewarded for their efforts with numerous awards. It is also narrated by the soft, elegant, Irish-inlected voice of Gabriel Byrne who could make anything sound significant and inspiring.

The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book Denial of Death by Dr. Ernest Becker. This book has been called one of the few truly significant books of the Twentieth Century. It is in the pile of books by my bed that I am saving for when I have "time". I am embarrassed to say I haven't read more than a few selected chapters --- enough to know it is a book to be given full attention. The documentary has now whetted my appetite and I'm moving it farther up on the pile. Honest I am.

There is so much to say about the ideas presented in the film. Though most of us would say, if asked, that we don't spend much time thinking about death, what Becker says is that the awareness of our own mortality underscores everything we do and reminders of its immanence affects our behavior throughout our lives. It is our desire to live beyond our death that drives us to have children, build buildings, create art, write books, plant gardens, etc. etc. etc. That much most of us know. But it is also an awareness of our own impermanence that causes us to behave as we do, both on a personal level and on societal, cultural and political levels. It is inherent in our humanness that we want to endure and survive in ways that have nothing to do with the existence (or non-existence) of an afterlife. We want to live on here, on this earth, in this world regardless of what may happen in the next life.

There is an interview with philosopher Sam Keen who has long been one of my favorite inspirations. I read his books Fire in the Belly and The Passionate Life years ago and sort of fell in love with him. He talks brilliantly, beautifully about intensity about living with passion and fierce attention to the things we love. In many ways he gave me permission to do a lot of the things I do know. Like write this blog. Keen, who is a fine looking man in my opinion, is now over 70 and has taken up the trapeze at this time in his life. He says, with his characteristic self-effacing chuckle that despite having written 14 books, Princeton and Harvard, both of which he has advanced degrees from, never paid attention to him until he became a septuagenarian trapeze artist. But, in the interview, he says that death seems like an outrage at this time in his life, a thing he did not sign on for, and the trapeze, silly though it may seem, is his defense against going "gently into that good night". He also quotes Jean-Paul Sartre that, "All the questions have been answered, except how to live."

In the film there is a good deal of attention spent on some behavioral experiments that I found particularly interesting. Through various experiments, behaviorists found that, when people are put in the position of unconscious awareness of their own mortality they become more violent and punitive toward those the define as being unlike themselves and more accepting and attached to those they define as being like themselves. One example shown was an experiment done with judges who set bail for women arrested for prostitution. On average they set bail at $50 but, when they were influenced by the death reminders, the increased the bails on average to $450.

One of the original videographers on the documentary was from Newburyport, just up the road apiece here. He died on Flight 11 on September 11, 2001 while the film was being made. His death, and the other deaths of that day, have served as a brutal cultural shift in this country and is the basis for some of the most interesting theories proposed in the film. We, as a society, are much more aware of death these days than we were on September 10, 2001 and it is effecting all of us and our nation as a whole. Violence is on the rise, partisan politics has become ridiculously extreme, and the demonization of all that is "other" has led to a kind of vicious, attack-dog mentality to those who don't live lives we consider acceptable. This is something I have been aware of for several years now and, after seeing this film, have a better understanding of.

So, as the film and Becker's book pointed out, our only defenses against all this is awareness and a personal commitment to live passionately and well. A noble goal, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Beautiful Surprise

One of the amazing things about the internet is that people you would have no chance of having contact with otherwise, can reach each other on the internet. Today someone sent me something so wonderful it just takes my breath away. Over in Malaysia (MALAYSIA!) there is a digital artist named Esther Kirby. I never heard of Ms. Kirby before this morning. Esther Kirby read my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale and, as she said on her post, she was so inspired by it that she made a digital painting and posted it to, Google's site for artists and photographers. Look at this:
In The Old Mermaid's Tale, Clair has long red hair and she has several dreams in which she is mermaid. Esther Kirby created that painting from her interpretation of Clair's dreams. Isn't it beautiful? In the story Clair, as she is getting used to having a tail, swirls and swirls with her red hair floating around her. I think Ms. Kirby has done an amazing job of capturing a beautiful red-haired mermaid swirling around.

I can't begin to say how flattered and amazed I am that she would do such a thing! I don't know what is more astonishing --- her gorgeous illustration or the fact that a woman living in Malaysia would have gotten a copy of my novel. That just astonishes me.

According to her FLICKR profile she is new to digital art but her other illustrations, including interpretations of Vargas Girls which I have long been a fan of, are just lovely. Her husband is a photographer and his photographs of Malaysian temples are just gorgeous. Ironically, they remind me of one of the last chapters in the book when Clair's advisor returns from India bringing some temple statues with her and tells Clair a myth about how temple priestesses once rescued wounded men --- much like mermaids rescue drowning mariners.

So, I am thrilled and happy by Esther Kirby's beautiful work and her very flattering gift. I wish her many happy years as an artist and I'd love to know how a woman in Malaysia came across my book.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Projects in My Head

Yesterday after I posted my blog in which I mentioned actor Gabriel Byrne, I got an email from a reader who said she was surprised that, bibliophile that I am, I did not know about the book he wrote titled Pictures in My Head. So I went to Amazon and looked it up. It got great reviews so I ordered a copy. Reviewers praised his use of language and his descriptive powers as he wrote about his life growing up in Ireland, as a young seminarian in Wales, etc. I am looking forward to reading it.

And I loved the title because I had been thinking earlier about the pictures in my head only none of them are memories --- they are all projects that I envision and then struggle to make happen. Some of them are artistic, some domestic but most of them are, well, knitting. I have been looking at all the wonderful blogs written by these young, fabulous knitters who do such beautiful work. Most of them show their interpretation of patterns and designs created by others --- the Lady Eleanor Shawl, the Forest Path Stole, all the great socks patterns that are coming out. The problem is, as a person who has almost never followed a pattern in her life, these are inspiring but defeating in a way too. I've never been good at following directions, either in a mechanical sense or in a practical sense. I always have to give everything my own spin. Sigh.

Last night I got out a bunch of knitting WIPs that have been languishing for awhile and I tried to figure out why I wasn't finishing them. Partly, I just never have enough time but also because I often get hung up when the picture in my head is at odds with the yarn on my needles. This is very much the case with my Lady Eleanor. It's 95% done. All I have to do is block it and add the fringe but for some reason I don't want to. I thought that I didn't like the edges so I decided to create a more finished look by knitting I-cord around the perimeter but, even though it looks nice, that isn't the issue. For some reason I don't really like it. I like the colors and the design, I just feel strange when I put it on. And I wonder if it isn't the case that I am have so doggone many shawls now that another shawl might not be what I need.

So I got this bright idea to turn it into a cocoon, much like the one I made in black cashmere/silk that I wear all the time. I have plenty of the wool/silk yarn left to knit an edging and cuffs. So that may be my next project. I have three other lacy bed-jacket type projects started and I want to get back on them as soon as the Christmas projects are all finished up.

Also, my latest order from KnitPicks arrived which included a ball of the Merino Wool they call Merino Style in Fog. I wanted it to knit the inside pockets of my gorgeous Fog Alpaca vest so that is what I did last night. I got them knit up in a few hours and I have the vest on now. It is so warm and cozy on these sub-freezing mornings that I am already entertaining dreams of another one.

I've decided that it is just fine to have all these knitting pictures in my head as long as I am willing to go carefully and not be afraid to revise and rip out as I go along. The purple cashmere cloche hat I am working on may hold the world's record for rip outs but every time I do that I get closer to making my oicture come alive and that is really the point. My friend Leslie says there are two kinds of knitters --- Project Knitters who just want to get something done and Process Knitters who love the process of creating something and are willing to devote time to make it the way they want it. I like that. I know I am a Process Knitter and I wonder if that can be said of the rest of my life too. I hope so.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 03, 2007

First Snow

Snow fell last night and this morning the roads and sidewalks and the old cemetery behind my house were all white. It’s pretty much all gone now --- just drizzly rain at the moment --- but there is something lovely about that first snowfall. Especially because I work at home and don’t have to go out in it.

It’s actually sort of funny to even refer to this as snow. Over the weekend I watched Smilla’s
Sense of Snow which is one of my favorite movies and worth watching just for the scenery filmed in Greenland (a misnomer if ever there was one!) I’ve watched that movie half a dozen times. Julia Ormond is lovely and has the most gorgeous wardrobe I’ve ever seen in this movie --- well, to my taste anyway. It has an outstanding cast including Richard Harris, Robert Loggia, Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Wilkinson, Jim Broadbent and the ever-luscious Gabriel Byrne who does more for black turtleneck sweaters than seems allowable. The scene where he and Julia Ormond are snuggled up the-morning-after and she is teaching him words in Inuit just melts me. She says a basically unpronouncable word and then tells him it means “a shipwrecked person” and he says “you’re not shipwrecked” and --- whew --- snow doesn’t stand a chance.

So, even as I type this the snow is disappearing and rain is falling. It is a cold, dreary December day and I have a lot of work ahead of me which I am grateful for. I have hot coffee and warm toast and Thomas Tallis on the CD and am wearing a newly-finished handknit lace sweater in a deep ruby red that is warm and cozy.

I have a love/hate relationship with December. I love the weather in November and December because here it is usually cold and clear with gorgeous late afternoon sunlight and the color of the ocean is almost surreal. But I also am prone to Christmas blues and that is a thing that mystifies me. When I was young Christmas was a very big deal but as I entered my teens I started having problems with it that I’ve never really understood. For years I coped with it by becoming over-zealous --- going nuts with presents and decorating and all that stuff. I’d fly home to Pennsylvania or spend the holidays woth a group of friends somewhere else. It always winded up being exhausting.

Then a few years ago I stopped doing that and focused on doing lovely things --- going to concerts, planning lunches with friends, attending lots of parties. But often I found myself pushing myself to participate in those things and I don’t know why. Last year I avoided the entire season by packing up my stuff and relocating to Walker Hancock’s beautiful old studio in the woods behind Lanesville. I built a fire in the woodstove, made tea and soup, I spent endless hours working on the manuscript of The Old Mermaid’s Tale, I walked in the woods and threw stones in the quarry and was a complete hermit. It was great.

But this year I want to stay here and just face the holidays on my own. I’m knitting presents for a few people that I will send off well in advance. And I am going to a couple parties. But mostly I just want to watch movies and write and read and be quiet and accept that it is just fine to not go crazy with stuff and activities and all the things that so many people think are the point of the holidays. I’m at the point where I can honestly say I’m just too old for all that carrying-on.

This has been a strange year. Losing my father in February meant half the year was somethig of a blur. I know I am still not over the sadness of that. For a lot of years I drove back to Pennsylvania just to be with him for a few days. To cook and talk and read and watch old movies together. We always watched To Kill A Mockingbird, Mogambo, and The Quiet Man. I can never see those movies without thinking of him. He chose my name after Maureen O’Hara’s character in The Quiet Man.

So the first snow has come and pretty much gone while I wrote these words. I miss my father. I want to be quiet and alone in my lovely, December world and write. I have a right, at this point in my life, to meet the holidays on my own terms. I am not shipwrecked.

Thanks for reading.