Thursday, February 25, 2010


Going up to the knob field–the view from my office window: early February 2010.

I have returned from my travels a bit unsettled. Disconcerted. Homesick–but for what home? I need to find my sea legs again, my place in my house, my family, my world. Is this a seismic shift at midlife or the effects of too much estrogen in my system after reconnecting with my daughter, my mother and dear women friends from my past and present over the past few weeks? Of thinking about my own past, visiting the places where I have lived, and hearing painful recountings of the makings of memoir in workshops? Is this what happens when we go out into the world on our own, in our own company, and then return again to our familiar? When I did the same last June and came back again here, to our new world, "I was happy to see the barn, happy to enter it," to quote Carolyn Chute from her novel, The Beans of Egypt, Maine.

This time upon return I felt like an alien, even in my own house. Perhaps it was just a shock to my system after being "on" and in the world for several weeks–more like what I perceive to be my authentic self who is not just a wife and a parent. Coming back to a place where I sought refuge for several months in my self-imposed wintry seclusion which soon became an odd form of agoraphobia, and then, just as easily, from which I had escaped. Then learning another beloved animal (the third mammal and pet in a year) had "escaped" on their own, just yesterday–had I, also, flown the coop? The pain of loss, of causing sorrow to others–both animal and human. Guilt and regret and aching sentiment: words I too often live by, that haunt me.

Returning to more snow and cold in Kentucky did not help. I was not happy to see the wintry, desolate landscape. We have had a real winter here for many months and after a while the trailers and the sorrow can compound themselves. [So what exactly was I expecting? Spring and red buds a month ahead of schedule? A chorus of neighbors singing "Oh, Happy Day!" on the roadside as I drove down the road towards our farm? Am I that powerful to effect change?]

Just a note to also say that I will be blogging again, I'm just not sure when. In the meantime, if you've ordered a copy of The Pantry and haven't yet received it, please be assured that you will, very soon.

Now the sun is peaking out, the morning flurries have melted, and the prospect of a "to do" list and picking up my children at school beckons me out of my lair. Ah, routine: there is always some comfort in what must be done.

Best wishes and salutations,


Sunday, February 14, 2010

News from the Front: Woodstock Writer's Festival

Many of you might know that I am currently at the first Woodstock Writer's Festival. I'm not here as a published writer peddling The Pantry (although I've done that, discreetly, here and there), but as one interested, as I have been for a very long time and on several topics, in writing a memoir (or two or three–heck, I even have enough material for a variety of angles and doorways). I have written and sold many personal essays in magazines over the past twenty years but nothing as ambitious as a book–and one, unlike The Pantry, that actually doesn't have lovely photographs in it. You know, a grown-up book. The kind that authors write. Not that I haven't written a book. Yet there are moments, as Laura Shaine Cunningham, who wrote Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in The Country, which I have loved for many years, noted today, "there are even authors in the world who still want to be published." I get that.

I came here expecting great things but I did not expect continued greatness–like speaker after speaker, panel after panel, workshop after workshop kind of greatness. I also didn't expect to be so emotional. As workshop participants and even published writers talking about their books each told their story or mined the depths in an exercise, you realize the extent of the human condition, how we are all here in this place, together, doing our own things, bringing our own histories along with us. Perhaps that is the secret of memoir: we all want to share something or to leave a part of ourselves, of who we are, in the world. Perhaps that is why I blog. We don't have to be salacious or shocking, just to tell our truths, whatever they are. 

Perhaps it is a love of food and how it has brought form and texture to our lives, as with Ruth Reichl, former Gourmet editor and author of Tender at the Bone and other books about how food has been both a presence and a subject in her life. Or the intrepid Susan Orlean, who seeks out those who are passionate about something (like barbed wire collecting as she mentioned in her talk) and then learns what makes them tick, as with The Orchid Thief. While that book is more narrative nonfiction than memoir, and was later greatly altered in the movie Adaptation, her impressions are there on the page, too, as with this classic line: "I hate hiking in swamps with convicts carrying machetes." Isn't that line enough to make you want to read the book?

There have been many moments of lucid thought and 'ah-ha' type of revelations in the past two days–readings from aspiring memoirists, a moving musical performance by a woman who tragically lost a son and is now writing about it, as well as singing through it. Tonight the grand finale will be Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia blog, book and movie fame (imagine!) and who recently wrote Cleaving

I would have driven here for three consecutive nights of Susan Orlean, Ruth Reichl and Julie Powell alone but to sit through an hysterically honest and funny hour with festival organizer and author, Martha Frankel, who wrote the memoir Hats & Eyeglasses, has also has made it worth the price of admission. [Martha's active Facebook presence was not only how I heard about the festival in the first place but has made me rethink Facebook as a marketing tool and forum directly with readers, as much as a place to interact with existing friends and other writers. Her irreverence and candor is so refreshing on the subject of Facebook and other things. For some reason I could have spent the afternoon yabbering about social media–or maybe just talking with her about anything. She's that kind of person.] 

So too have been the writer's workshops on mining the depths and suggestions for starting a memoir with writers like Abigail Thomas, Laura Shaine Cunningham and Susan Richards. While these workshops weren't the small gatherings I had expected in terms of writing exercises and critiques for all, I nonetheless gathered much. I was also glad to meet fellow native Akronite, Melissa Holbrook Pierson at long last, author of one of my favorite memoirs, The Place You Love is Gone. I've also met so many interesting people, other writers, and have bought more books (I will buy others later or go to the library, too). I am also so very grateful, on this Valentine's Day, that I am blessed with a husband who, while he might not know how to turn on a computer and read this missive, is guarding the fort and caring for our boys as "Mommy's On the Computer Again" mixes and mingles up north.

My one regret? That I did not stand in line to give Ruth Reichl a copy of The Pantry (call me gutless) or at least a dozen eggs from my Kentucky hens (I have some in the trunk of my car, well-insulated), especially after reading her lovely brief blog (she understands the essence of things) on her Woodstock experience last night. But on the first night I did have Susan Orlean sign some of her books for me while I wasn't wearing any underwear–but that's another story and perhaps best put in a memoir. Or not. There is actually a part of me, at the end of this festival, that questions whether I have the chops for memoir and if so, what context? What doorways?

[Over at Cupcake Chronicles, our book group blog (and I will very soon be actually seeing the Cupcakes in New Hampshire!), I have excerpted from a book out this past month, called Devotion, by Dani Shapiro. She read from it today in an excellent panel of authors (there was another one yesterday with four other memoirists) that included Shalom Auslander, John Bowers (from Eastern Tennessee) and Marion Winik. I was moved to tears by this passage, as I have often been this weekend. It's been like group therapy for writers–not to mention, for once, that I haven't taken a single photograph.]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happy Trails To You, Until We Meet Again!

Dear Friends,

Just a note to say that I'm packing to head on up to the New England for two weeks and I may, or may not, post here during that time. Like Mary Poppins, I'm watching for the right weather window to depart–and yes, we gladly support our Interstate Highway System–and also tying up loose ends so that I can hit the road for two weeks!

Like the crazed mother that I am, yesterday I spent the afternoon making 16 pans of meatloaf, several meals of "Poor Man's Steak" (I will post both recipes "one day"), and Swedish meatballs with my Old Order Mennonite friend Anna. This weekend I might add some casseroles and some more soup, just for kicks. [Let me just say that this was the most fun I've had in the kitchen in a long time and there is something to be said for "once a month cooking" or "freezer cooking" and the food clubs that people have to make a lot of food in advance. It was so easy with Anna's help and in three hours we had enough meals for three weeks and the kitchen cleaned, floor washed and food on the table for everyone's dinner. The last time I did this was when I was pregnant with our second child–part of a nesting instinct, I'm certain.] Now our husbands, and my children, will be well-fed while we're away and good food goes far when Momma's out of town. I suspect it will also make up, hopefully a lot, for my two-week absence.

Anna is coming with me, as far as Pennsylvania, where she will spend two glorious weeks visiting with her sisters, a son and some grandchildren, while I head up, after a visit with friends in Wyeth country, to the Woodstock Writer's Festival and on into New England. There I will spend some time with our daughter, my mother, and some very dear old friends, including the Cupcakes! Can you say "I am so excited that I'm completely freaking out!"?

Of course, the hardest part of any journey for me is the packing and the organizational frenzy that proceeds it. I hate packing but once I'm packed and away I feel this tremendous unburdening. [Knowing my husband is home tending the fires and our children is also a huge thing, too: and I know they are excited to have Mom away for a bit so they can do "Dad stuff".] Driving one's own car is always good in terms of "stuff factor" and ease of mobility–and control of itinerary–but whether you fly, drive or sail, you still have to pack! I am the kind of person who invariably has another "to do" list added to the one already on her desk before any trip: in other words, more stuff seems to happen just before I plan to leave. But "good stuff," writing stuff, job-related things. So I'm tending to those, too.

In the meantime, I am watching the skies and hoping for smooth sailing when I depart mid-week. I still haven't finished my archives project here–and even made a major gaff on old Flickr photos where I deleted some that had fed to older blog posts so there are huge visual gaps here and there–but I invite your perusal of old blogs from the past four, almost five, years now.

Thank you, as always, for reading and I hope you'll come back, hear?

My very best wishes,