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O'Keeffe's Style: Integral to her Aesthetic

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.  Read More 
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Our Words Are Our Weapons

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.  Read More 
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Help a Free Press Stay Strong

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.  Read More 
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The Pleasure of Other Writers' Company

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.  Read More 
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Balancing Isolation and Involvement

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.  Read More 
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Returning and Remembering


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.  Read More 
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On writing: Beginning another draft of my memoir

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.  Read More 
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The Way Walking Inspires Writing


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 (1861).

I almost always return from a walk feeling a little lighter, mentally as well as bodily, and with a pocket full of scrawled notes.  Read More 
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How A Writer Used her Guilt About Not Writing

Four Tenths of an Acre is a book I wrote out of, well, guilt. After moving from the city to the country, I spent many afternoons gardening in the yard behind my house instead of working on the biography I was supposed to be writing.

This gardening memoir grew, ironically, out of all those afternoons of not writing.

It was a time when I saw everything through a gardener's green glasses. As I taught myself how to grow perennials, I took detailed notes in one garden notebook after another about planting, weeding, deadheading, watering, and all the rest. Before long I had filled many notebooks, and I realized I had the makings of a book.

I am gratified that more than 700 readers tossed their hats into the ring for a chance to win a copy of the book during the recent Goodreads Giveaway, and I've been busy during the past few weeks sending books out to the two dozen winners.  Read More 
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The Way I Became a Writer

 
Driving home yesterday from a class reunion at the girls' boarding school I described in Westover: Giving Girls A Place of Their Own, I felt a sense of gratitude. It was where, as a teenager, I was able to daydream about the life I wanted to live, and by graduation I wanted it to be a writing life.

I had taken an inspiring elective called Creative Writing during my junior year, and before long what I was writing--mostly descriptive nonfiction--was being published in the school's literary magazine, named The Lantern for the light of learning, and I was seeing my first bylines.

The heart of the school is still a large lofty room decorated in crimson called Red Hall. It looks out into a courtyard, which is enclosed by a beautiful old quadrangle, and where apple trees are hung with lanterns decorated with ribbons in the spring. Read More 
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