Friday, February 27, 2009

Goodness Spacious!

Awhile back I mentioned that I would soon be reviewing a book by Stephanie Bennett Vogt called "Your Spacious Self: Clear Your Clutter and Discover Who You Are." After some serious procrastinating, I read the book. In my review, I explain the stalling:

Why had I agreed to review this thing? I just knew what the author was going to say. She was going to tell me I had to clean up my act and throw things away. My inner voices were already screaming, "No, no! I can't put my stuff away; I'm using it! Throw that away? No, no! I might need it sometime! Besides, I've had it since I was in sixth grade!"

I will fast forward tell you that I read the book, really liked it and reviewed it. It was as painless a treatment of the subject of de-cluttering as a clutterholic could wish for. Instead of feeling shamed and chastised by the book, I felt understood, nurtured and empowered. Vogt has a really interesting approach to this topic. If you'd like to read more, visit and find the complete review under the nonfiction listings.

This experience reminded me that I need to stay open to new ideas, fresh approaches to old problems, alternate possibilities for change in my attitudes. Right on the heels of these revelations came a note from my daughter, recommending an online article, which, as it turned out, was written in a similar vein. The article is called "The Power of 'Yes,'" written by a blogger "J.D." and can be found at Whether it be the power of saying "yes" or of visualizing positive outcomes, I do believe that when we adopt a positive attitude, we radiate it. And some of that radiance shines back into our lives.

Go for it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Writer's Alliance of Gainesville Hosts Lola Haskins


I went to my first poetry reading when I was a teenager, a long time ago.

I went to my second on Sunday. (What was my hurry?)

The first one was a reading in Hudson, NY, given by Dorothy Stickney, who, as I recall, was a close friend of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She read from Millay's works, and the poem that has stuck in my mind since that night lent its name to the evening's performance, "A Lovely Light."

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

Sometimes I feel as though I've adopted that philosophy in my own life. So surely I wasn't scarred by my first poetry reading.

It amazed me on Sunday to realize that my life has flown by without further exposure to performed poetry. Lola Haskins was wonderful, both in her recitation of works and in her remarks about the "cross fertilization" of the arts. Of particular interest to me was her story of teaching a course to medical students. As I understand it, her goal was to get them to think in new ways, to open up their creative receptors. She said she had them dance and paint and sing and they worked very hard at it. She had to stop them and say, "You aren't going to get an 'A' for studying hard in this course. You won't get an 'A' until you jump off the cliff." What a concept! What a creative woman, who regularly works with artists in many disciplines. I'm disappointed that I didn't stick around to pick up her book on writing, but expect to do that soon. Check out "Not Feathers Yet" if this intrigues you as much as it does me.

Meantime, I'll be thinking about jumping off some "cliffs." And maybe I won't wait another fifty years to attend another poetry reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Tale of WAG

I'm off this afternoon to attend the second meeting of Writer's Alliance of Gainesville, or "WAG," as it is already known. This meeting will be great - a presentation by local poet and teacher Lola Haskins, author of "Not Feathers Yet." I'm looking forward to it.

WAG is also launching the start of several writing "pods" - small genre-specific critique groups that will begin meeting soon at various spots around the area at the convenience of the pod members. I plan to join a pod. I need to join a pod. Critique, as painful as it sometimes can be, is the forge that tempers our writing. My natural tendency is to write in isolation, re-read several times, and decide I'm "done." Without feedback, however, I'm missing the opportunity of making my work better. Writing that is intended for the consumption of others ought to be "market-tested."

I'm approaching this part of WAG with mixed feelings. I've belonged to groups before, and actually had good experiences. But each time I venture forth anew, I wonder if I'm too much of a wimp to bare my soul in front of others, and wonder, too, if I can make a valuable contribution to the other writers' work through my feedback. The only way to find out is to jump in, so I will. I'll report back.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

History and Quotes

I've had some correspondence lately with Glenn Pearsall, who has just published his book "Echoes in These Mountains: Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community," a really interesting work about the history of the town just north of my home in the Adirondacks. Glenn selected fifty-five sites in Johnsburg, NY, about which to share both documented history and oral tradition. He writes, too, about the folks associated with them, as well as supplying a very generous number of photographs and the GPS coordinates so the reader can go find the sites, if he chooses. It's a great book about a small town that has been touched by some most notable people. See my complete review on and Amazon.

I'll bet Glenn does what my husband and I do in the spring. Before the trees fully leaf out and obscure the landscape, we drive around the back roads and take note of the old cellar holes with toppled chimneys, silent testimonials to another era. We wonder who lived, worked and died there, how and when. We note the day lily sprouts heroically poking through the dead leaves for yet another season, and lilac buds swelling on bushes that faithfully stand sentinal beside the house. If only they could talk and tell the tales!

Since writing his book, Glenn says, he keeps stumbling across quotes about writing, and he shared a couple of great ones with me:

Jeff Mallet, creator of the cartoon "Frazz" says: "Writing well meant never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there!'"

And the following zinger is attributed to Samuel Johnson: "Your manuscript is both good and original. Unfortunately, the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good."


On that note, I'm going back to edit the article I'm working on.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reading and Writing

If you check in on this blog with any regularity, you already know that I write here only sporadically, and lately have been slacking off big-time. I apologize--with an explanation/excuse.

I've been reading.

As writers, we are told frequently that we should read good literature to better understand our craft and find worthy models, and that certainly is true. My recent reading has included a number of books submitted to me for review--some really good, some not so good. And some well-written, but mechanically flawed. I'm finding that all of them help me in some respect. The really good ones teach and inspire me; the not-so-good ones heighten my awareness of the rookie mistakes that always want to worm their way into my work. (I can see them so easily in the work of others; maybe I'll become better about spotting them in my own.)

And those mechanically-flawed ones! As the self-proclaimed Queen of Typos, I'm not throwing stones here, but I feel compelled to say that we, as writers, have to remember how much errors detract from the positive impact of our work. I used to bristle at the idea that an editor at a publishing house might "whimsically" reject a query or manuscript just because of simple errors, but I have come to understand how that can be. We need to methodically inspect our work, then enlist the aid of others known to be meticulous in such matters, to go over the work again and again. And again.

My recent reads, in addition to Eric Norcross's "The Violin Diary" mentioned earlier, include "Sassy Pat Knitting: A Memoir" by Pat Richards; "Echoes in These Mountains: Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community" by Glenn Pearsall; "The Moose with Loose Poops," (don't ask!) by Charlotte Cowan, M.D. Most of these appear at

I'm currently working my way through "Journeys: An Anthology of Short Stories" a collection of prize-winning stories published by The Creative Writer's Notebook, and "Your Spacious Self: Clear Your Clutter and Discover Who You Are," by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. I'm also reading some short stories submitted for the current Creative Writer's Notebook contest.

So that's my excuse, and some thoughts prompted by all the reading. Share with us here what you are writing or reading.

My best,
P.S. I've just gone over this thing and fixed about six errors. Let me know if you see more!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thank you, Monica Wood

There's nothing quite as bad as anticipating a writing deadline with a blank computer screen and an equally blank mind.

As editor of a quarterly magazine for the John Thurman Historical Society, I struggle to put together four issues a year, combining stories from members, from archives, and from ideas I get in the middle of the night. Once in a while, when I'm really lucky, a story drops right in my lap.

I usually try to have themes picked out for at least two issues ahead, but this past December I suddenly realized that I had no plan for the March issue. Nothing. My mind was blank and I was paralyzed. I did a bit of hand-wringing, but not much else.

Then a faded old diary appeared in my mailbox, and the sender offered collateral material. As I started messing with it, I realized that there was even more related material in our archives, stories that would add new dimension to the found material. And now I find myself with too much material, and the pleasant problem of having to figure out what to use and what to cut or hold back for another issue.

I never would be in this position if I hadn't just STARTED.

I had allowed my lack of a plan to stall my motor, and sitting in the garage wasn't getting me anywhere. It wasn't until I just began working that I got my engine running again--sort of like rolling a car down a grade to jumpstart it. It reminded me of a quote by Ray Blount, Jr., found in Monica Wood's "The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing." Blount says, "I think writer's block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible." I believe that is true, for me, at least.

But Wood reminds, "Nobody has to see that first draft but you. You can eat it when you're done. You can make it into origami animals and decorate a table. You can dunk it in hot water, stir it up, mash it back into pulp. You can build a fire, line a birdcage, stuff a pillow.

"You can't do any of this, however, until you write the thing."

I should have that tattooed on my forehead! Thank you, Monica Wood.

Happy writing, all--