April 6, 2017
My shadow while photographing the crocuses
Now that spring is here again, I'm reminded of the reciprocal relationship between writing and gardening, and I hope that getting out in the garden will give me more inspiration for my memoir!
I wrote this about words and gardens in my gardening memoir, Four Tenths of an Acre: Reflections on a Gardening Life
"Waiting is important both in the garden and while writing: a gardener waits for a border to bloom, the way a writer waits for memories or images or insights to come to mind. I remember the many times I had patted wet soil around a green spring, waited a few days for it to put forth leaflets, and then watched it double and triple in size within weeks. It made me understand that the power of photosynthesis was like the probability that the psyche's creative energy will provide ideas while writing."
For more of what I have to say about gardening, and about Four Tenths of an Acre
, view and listen to this video.
March 15, 2017
I took a drive to Brooklyn the other day to see the fascinating O'Keeffe style show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It had plenty of the artist's paintings and photographs of her, along with lots of her clothing.
As I left, the question on my mind was--did she dress for herself or for others?
I concluded that it was mainly to please herself. Long before her husband Alfred Stieglitz photographed her, and made her more aware of her image, she stitched and wore blouses, coats, and hats in an original way, with an eye to good design and for fine fabrics.
My other question was about the relationship between the aesthetics of dressing and the aesthetics when using pigment or words.
I decided that O'Keeffe's impulse to fill space in a beautiful way necessitated a simplified and handsome wardrobe. And using words with an awareness of balance and beauty demands getting dressed with the same awareness. My writing uniform consists of comfortable knits in solid colors, and when I go out adding the right necklace, a belt, or a scarf gives me the same feeling as constructing a solid paragraph or finding the perfect words.
February 18, 2017
With journalists under daily attack by the President of the United States, it's time for every writer to be alarmed. Will authors be next?
How can writers make the most impact? It's with our words. Words are our most powerful weapon. Words written for social media as well as letters to editors, especially to newspapers read by those who voted for Trump.
In a letter to the editor of the local Republican-American
, I was glad to be able to report to a misinformed reader that no one paid my way to the Women's March in Washington, D. C. and, furthermore, my handmade sign with the words, "protect the First Amendment," meant his free speech as well as mine.
It's our tendency as writers to become deeply absorbed in the essays, articles, and books we are working on. And it's the requirement of our demanding profession that we meet our deadlines.
It's a time to divert some of our precious writing time and attention to keep up with issues and gather information. We must explain the value of a free press in a democracy. We need to explain the difference between factual and fake news. We need to use our words on behalf of our beloved country.
January 10, 2017
The freedom of the press is so important in a democracy that it's mentioned in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Journalists, who gather the facts and publish what they find, keep politicians on their toes and enable whistle blowers to tell us what's going on. This will be more essential than ever during the Presidency of Donald Trump.
"We need the principled press to hold power to account," said Meryl Streep recently. No doubt her remarks were reactions to Trump's ongoing disparagement of the media, especially when it's critical of him.
Every one of us can help the press stay strong and independent by paying for online subscriptions instead of reading digital news stories for free. So subscribe soon to the best of the best, like The New York Times
and The Washington Post
, as well as your local newspaper.
There's no time to waste because the digital revolution has devastated print advertising, making readers like you more important than ever to newspapers' bottom lines.
December 21, 2016
In The Situation and the Story
, Vivian Gornick's wise and thoughtful meditation about her teaching of nonfiction--mostly in the form of essays and memoirs--she states that nothing is more vital in memoir than the power of an important insight.
Then "the strength and beauty of the writing lie in the power of concentration with which this insight is pursued, and made to become the writer's organizing principle. That principal at work is what makes a memoir literature rather than testament," she writes.
So how do we memoirists discover and develop our most revealing insights? I have found that, like other aspects of writing, it's a matter of patiently using our memories and refining our manuscripts until core revelations make themselves known.
As I work away on my memoir, I have come to understand that my drive has been to return to an early sense of paradise, not unlike the one I have found again as an earthly pleasure in my garden. And also experience as I enjoy a pot of red cyclamen on my desk on a December day.
November 14, 2016
Writers work alone but, like others, they occasionally want colleagues with whom to talk about the writing life. Luckily, we writers often end up writing about what we do, so if another writer isn't around with whom with whom have a cup of coffee, we can read each others' books about writing.
After finishing Lynn Freed's honest and insightful Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home
, I know what she means when she describes a distinct writerly voice developing "through a sort of slow, blind groping after something simmering along the nerves," before it becomes an author's way with words as characteristic as an artist's unique brushstroke or a musician's chord.
While searching for more books about writing, I sometimes peruse the ones that have meant a lot to me, like A Writer's Diary
by Virginia Woolf, The Situation and the Story
by Vivian Gornick, and Still Writing
by Dani Shapiro.
As I write this, I wonder about your favorites.
October 22, 2016
Last week I dipped into my biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, Portrait of an Artist
, for the first time in three decades because psychoanalyst Gail Saltz
asked me to talk about the painter in her "Psychobiography" series of extraordinary people at the 92 Street Y
in New York.
One of Dr. Saltz's interests is the relationship between creativity and mental illness, so we talked a little about O'Keeffe's debilitating depression in her forties, when she stopped painting for two years. She wanted to paint in New Mexico during the summer months, while her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, wanted her by his side. It was this conflict between intimacy and independence that almost destroyed O'Keeffe.
Our discussion at the Y reminded me that inner conflicts can also inspire creativity, and O'Keeffe recovered to paint marvelous levitating skulls and summer flowers in Southwestern skies. And it also made me reflect about the ways writers must blend the isolation necessary for writing with involvement with others. My way
is to try to balance morning writing hours with afternoon and evening hours for other kinds of living, an equilibrium that, when it works, feels just right.
October 9, 2016
Recently turning again to the beginning of my memoir, the part called "Providence," I felt a compulsion to return for a few days to the place I was born and grew up. It felt necessary once more to walk the city's old streets and to see its historic buildings. I had to be a girl reporter again, and gather more details about the place of my girlhood, in my desire to delve deeper and deeper into the past.
When I worked for The Providence Journal
after college, the small New England city was struggling to get on its feet. Now there is a new vibrancy as department stores have become artists' lofts, and a bank building has turned into an art library and a dormitory for artists-to-be studying at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Much is different, but the essence of Providence is the same. As I worked at the Providence Public Library and the Rhode Island Historical Society--located in the old library where I fell in love with children's books--I did discover more and remember much more.
Now that I've returned home, I'm ready to settle down and write.
September 5, 2016
Any manuscript goes through a number of revisions until it is done, when a writer has a sixth sense that it is finally finished, jelled, and that adding even another word or two to a paragraph would be perilous.
Until that moment, a writer goes through many patient steps--preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration--which are circular and overlapping, not linear at all, another writer has pointed out.
When I was a schoolgirl and the goldenrod began to bloom in August, it was always a startling reminder that the ease of summer vacation was almost over, and another school year was about to start.
The goldenrod is blossoming again in early September, and I am beginning another draft of my memoir. Most of the story is down on paper, so it's time to circle back to elaborate with more curlicues and explanation points (metaphorically speaking).
I feel as if I were a schoolgirl again, creating an intriguing challenge for myself.
August 5, 2016
One of the ways I shake words loose is to go for a walk. By myself. With a pen and pad in my pocket. Along a country road taking me under trees, around bends, beside brooks, up and down hills, and alongside green fields.
The rhythm of putting one foot in front of another has a way of loosening thoughts from the depths of the mind. It's a matter of slowing the mind down to the pace of footsteps and distracting it from a to-do list.
Now in high summer the white Queen Anne's lace and blue Bachelor buttons are abundantly blooming in patches of sun along the roads, but every month in New England brings different blossoms and foliage.
Walking and thinking is an ancient practice. It was originally noted by a Greek philosopher, then written down in Latin as solivitur ambulando,
meaning "it will be solved by walking." Many American writers have walked and written about its benefits, notably Henry David Thoreau in Walking
I almost always return from a walk feeling a little lighter, mentally as well as bodily, and with a pocket full of scrawled notes.