Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Profound Weakness

I'm reading Betty Spackman's book A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch. Essentially, Spackman raises the question, "What is art?" And some of her answers, her visuals, are surprising. Maybe I will tell you more about that another day.

But today I wanted to do some show and tell... with a kind of art I call kidsch. That's my word for the art produced by my dear little kids. These are Sonia's photos. And I must admit, I have a profound weakness for what tumbles from her lively, wonder-full hands.

A Profound Weakness

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Say it Again

"He who began a good work in you will [bring it] to completion." (Phil 1:6)

Photograph by Gail Nadeau.
Phlox, handed down from her grandparents.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Divine Tenderness

Last Friday, I got the first real feedback on my manuscript, from the editors. In an instant, I remembered the stories of writers who had gone before me, who told me it would be like this. (Sure, some had it better... one friend had no revisions to speak of... and some had it worse... I think of Anne Lamott's discussion of the novel that almost wasn't.)

Anyway, I felt like going to sleep for a really long time.

I closed my eyes, so to speak, and was suddenly reminded of how I'd encouraged a small group that same morning, "He who began a good work in you will [bring it] to completion." (Philippians 1:6) Oh, I had not expected that to be my message. But here I was needing encouragement and these words were written all over my brain...

Just a small divine tenderness... but, there it was... a love letter sealed in the morning... to greet me at eventide.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Verby Pick-Up Duck—scud

So, here's a great verb I found with Bryson on the Appalachian Trail, in his book A Walk in the Woods...


Bryson was talking about clouds floating, scudding across, the sky. And I could just see those clouds slipping across the heavens. I could see the blue reaching out, like an earnest parent, to grab a bit of moving fluff...vainly trying to catch the clouds, hold them in place...ultimately unable to leash their misty spirit... capturing, here and there, just a smear where a cloud scudded, frolicked by.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hunting for Verbs

Excellent writing has many nuances. And, until last year, I thought I cradled a whole bunch of these beauties in my palm. A lot of very nice people even peered over my shoulder to say, "Ah, lovely collection of writing tools you've got there."

But then I started my first paid project that exceeded 5,000 words (by ten times, to be exact...yes, 200 pages of pure word after word, sentence after rising sentence).

That's when I realized I needed to change my ways. I needed to become a hunter— a verb hunter, that is. I mean, I just could not bear to subject readers to the same action words over and over again, like a never-ending merry-go-round of verbal monotony.

So, now... now, I am armed for verby pick-up duck. And, if you are a writer in search of great verbs, I invite you to join me.

Watch out, Annie Dillard...we are all over your cotton candy on the chubby cheeks of a carnival-going kid.

Photograph by Gail Nadeau.

The 1% Rule

Sometime, I'll tell you about the 1% Rule that bloggers discuss. It's a kind of business & marketing thing, about participation levels, which I'm still trying to grasp.

But, today, here's Pollan's thought from Second Nature. He's talking about physical life...

"Everything that lives is [at least] 95% water...tell me the watermelon is 99% water and you still haven't told me anything interesting— like what about the 1%? Because chances are that's where you're going to find the watermelon." (p.141)

The same could be said about the relevance of writers, bloggers... it's simple to say, "Here is life. See this news?" It's hard to grasp the fine art of scrubbing up that 1%... the place, the location, the center of What It All Really Means.

But, still, I reach for the scrub brush.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Low-Level Ecstasy

Bill Bryson, hiking the Appalachian Trail, made this observation...

"If there is one thing the AT teaches, it is low-level ecstasy..." In other words, being happy, giddy, ecstatic, with the simplest of pleasures...

Here's a simple pleasure I happened upon this past Sunday, after I reluctantly agreed to hike with my family.

We rounded a curve of path, only to find a sea of milkweed. Each milkweed leaf, it seemed, was a lightly-tethered boat bobbing in the air. A sudden breeze pulsed through...gathered like a wave... and, then... a spray of white butterflies dashed skyward from a dozen green prows.

I turned to look at my companion, my daughter, and her brown eyes were wide, shining.

To think I almost missed this for the illusion of high-level, more important things at home.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Maybe to you this is just a lovely photo of a few flowers on a keyboard...

To me, it seemed a little gutsy to let that vase play on the edge of the minor keys... where it could so easily slip...drench the ivories with liquid and lilacs (oh, lilacs, the sweet-scented flower that poets plant in verse, to signal death).

Sometimes I envy such small courageous acts... and wonder if they are the root, or the harbinger, of major courage beyond the drawing room.

Photograph by Gail Nadeau

Friday, August 18, 2006

Professional Permission

Okay. Back to James and Kooser.

You need only be a writer, not a poet, to appreciate this advice from Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual...

"...there are those who think poets [writers] are more sensitive than other people, more keenly aware of the world, but most of the poets I know are just as oblivious to what's happening around them as is the rest of the population. Henry James advised writers, 'Be one of those on whom nothing is lost.' That's what you need to teach yourself."

Be one of those on whom nothing is lost. This is good advice—kind of a professional permission to act like a two-year-old.

Thank you, Kooser. Thank you, James.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Listening Ears

I was going to give you some perfectly good writing advice today...from Henry James and Ted Kooser. But I had to ditch it in favor of this...

I took my kids to swim this morning. This is good. They get wet and learn a life skill. I stay dry and write about life thrills.

While I was taking pen to paper, a whiny little girl walked by. She was really annoying... totally interrupted all my deep and world-changing thoughts.

Her mother picked up on this unacceptable state of whiny events and told the child, "You need to turn your listening ears on." The child stopped short, slowly rubbed each ear, then listened to her mother's point of view on things. Peace was restored to the pool universe.

I closed my eyes and got this ear-focused fantasy... there were wives and husbands flipping their ears on, kids and parents, the President of Syria and Mr. Bush, a couple of pro-abortionists and anti-abortionists (go ahead, now, you fill in the blank on people who could use to hear each other_______). Everybody was rotating their ear dials...

I don't know. It worked for me.

Public Conversations Project

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Learning to Walk

When I first left a life of fields and forests, dirt roads and mailmen who arrived only by jeep...this is how I felt.

For years, the crowd of buildings, the insistent car horns, and faces everywhere—so many faces—pushed me to the ground. I fumbled past sidewalks, tripped over myself trying to find a way to stand.

Even after all these years of urban life, there are still days when my heart tangles up in longing for a great elusive country peace.

"Learning to Walk" woodcut by Rebecca Brame

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Burning Word

I like what Judith Kunst, author of The Burning Word, has to say about sculpting hope through words...

In discussing the book of Lamentations, she notes,

"Each line begins with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This structure becomes a kind of container for pain that the heart and mind cannot by themselves hold. By focusing on language...the writer of Lamentations taps into an inventive energy that helps him survive despair." (p.54)

Maybe this explains why my sister closed her door to write fat books as child.

And maybe, in some way, it explains why I have just written a plump little book of my own... even though "the rains are over and gone."

  • media moment on my plump little book
  • Monday, August 14, 2006

    Vision Revision

    New Hampshire was all I thought it would be. And less. And more.

    Before we took off, I had visions of walking craggy beaches, of rescuing starfish flung into tidepools. But this vision folded into an alternate reality... we sat to gaze at blurry stars, projected in a planetarium. (I did manage to catch a quick, beach-like nap, though! Shhhhh... don't tell my daughters.)

    We also hiked through hushed woodlands, to where we could cling to a cliff and gaze down at a wide creek. The water looked like tea that had been steeped overlong. At another point, we waded through a sea of ferns. I have never seen so many ferns, like dancers in green lace, drifting arm in arm across a forest floor.

    I'm happy to report, however, that we didn't go to Santa Land. Not to worry. We saw Santa at a KFC in Concord. He was a little thin from summer's heat, clad in jeans and a green tee shirt. His wizened face sported a foot and a half long beard, which had clearly missed the last salon bleaching appointment. He was eating mashed potatoes.

    Over the few days, I held hands with my kids, kissed the tops of their heads, looked them full in the eyes— all this, despite that my visions were revised.

    What visions are bowing before you... today, this week, this year... trying to bend into an alternate reality? Asking you to trust the possibilities of a different path?

    Photo by Gail Nadeau.

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Urban Angel

    I leave it to this compassionate, mischief-eyed angel to watch over you until Monday the 14th of August.

    As for me, it's a car ride to New Hampshire... with peeled apples for the kids, maybe a little bickering, and a lot of gazing at the passing firs and maples.

    When we finally disembark the Volvo, it's off to a wedding... then maybe on to a rocky beach to pluck starfish and breathe salt air... or, if my kids get their way, maybe it will be something very important like Santa Land.

    So, 'til Monday.

    To see more of Gail Nadeau's work, go to


    Blogession. A derivative of "confession" and "obsession."

    I confess that I started this blog because a publishing person I trust quite a lot said I should. "We ask all our authors to start blogs," she said.

    I'm an author. I trust her. So, I was pretty compliant. I started blogging.

    Truth is, blogging has already turned out to be like having kids because your mother-in-law raises her eyebrows every Sunday... with that "well, anything yet?" look on her face.

    Here's what I mean. You may conceive a blog for reasons outside of blog obsession— you know, because somebody tells you it's the "thing to do." But, then you rock it and sing to it and kiss it on the forehead... and soon you find that it wakes you up with cries and giggles and the pitter patter of little feet. Life will never be the same. (Okay, so I'm being a little dramatic here, but you get the idea.)

    Anyway, that's why I posted Urban Angel (above). Because, I'll miss shaking the sleep out of my eyes over breakfast and blogging. I'll miss you, even though I only know who some of you are.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Urban Bride

    Mourning the Indoor Playground

    When I was a child, each day beckoned us into the woods... where bronze pine needles cushioned our troubles... and the smell of pitch cleared our sorrows. The crow and the jay led us with chatter, shutting out the sounds of each day's grief. We lived in the shadows of spruce and maple. Watched silver fish dart in the creek.

    I mourn that my own little children prefer an indoor playground... the comfort of a paisley couch cushion... the smell of old wood floors drifting amidst their joys. La Boheme or the Four Seasons or the Buena Vista Social club chatter around their play. They live in the shadows of a Tudor, with a lead-glass window. Watch the turning of a page or the waltz of dolls.

    Oh, that the country was filling their blood, their imaginations, as it still fills mine. But, they surge into life with an urban gene pool.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    What do I Love?

    In writing and in art, I love the incongruous, the unpredictable, the startling, the oddly redemptive.

    I hike through thickets, poke in streams, scan the open glens—hoping to find the elusive seedling in stone...a creative expression that dares to perch on or emerge from a surprising place.

    Yes, I search for Juliek's violin singing in the endless night...or even just the curly-headed child, who is just now clutching her dress...doing a curtsey in vinyl frog boots and tipping her daddy's cowboy hat, "Good-day."

    In writing and in art, what do you love?

  • Juliek's violin
  • Monday, August 07, 2006

    Adage Affirmation

    This may just prove the old adage: if you're bored it's because you're boring.

    Check out how a little red goes a long way. Even if you feel like life is just a treadmill.

  • Click here to see a treadmill transformation
  • Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Who Am I?

    Today, I interviewed the author of Reconciliation Blues (Fall 2006). He offered wisdom for writers. "Have a mission statement, a sense of your call."

    I asked him, "Do you have a mission statement?"

    "I see myself as a bridge builder," he said. "Someone who connects people and communities—racially, culturally, generationally."

    So, after I settled the phone back in its cradle, I asked myself this question... as a writer, who am I?

    I am a shameless eave to duck under in rain...the face on a NYC sidewalk that says, "Sure, ask me for directions."...the hand that prepares your supper with a mandolin and fresh-snipped sage...a grain of pollen that makes you sneeze...careful fingers that retrieve and untangle the ball of string that your naughty cat dragged all over the house...the clown at a circus, with a red nose and boxers, who comes out mostly at half-time...and, I am the child who sits motionless, under the oak-leaf table, watching her grandmother drop plump garnet cherries into the merciless pitter.

    So, tell me. In your profession, who are you?

    Reconciliation Blues

    Blog "The Other Place"

    I've been thinking that being in the blogosphere feels a little like being in seventh grade. Worrying about one's clothes and teeth, one's walk and talk, one's popularity (those comment button stat numbers are just like a stroll through the cafeteria... he's a zero; she's a fifteen).

    Without the numbers, one could be free to take a table without stares. Open a notebook (electronic, albeit), and begin.

    Here's the power of a notebook from Mary Oliver's Blue Pastures...

    "Some of the phrases and ideas written down in the notebooks never make the leap into finished prose or poems. They do not elaborate themselves in my unconscious thoughts, apparently, nor does my conscious mind pluck at them. This does not necessarily mean that they are of a casual or fleeting order of things; it could be that they are seeds broadcast on a chilly day—their time has not yet come.

    Now, to use a blog to gather such seeds. Would that not be sweet deliverance?

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Blog Heaven

    I'm doing a lot of thinking about blogging—which will not surprise my fellow blog addicts!

    And, I want to hear from you...Your stories of Blog Heaven and Blog "The Other Place." Your fears and questions. Your insights and anecdotes. Don't worry about who you are, veteran or newbie. Let's just recline in this great big cyberfield and tell our stories. It's summer, after all. The season where stories bloom over leisure and lemonade.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Ursa Observation

    I am reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. He's talking about his pre-trip black bear fears. So, Bryson has coward in his blood too—though decidedly more warranted than my West Nile paranoias.

    How many lazy days did my sister and I play alone in the creek? (Bears need to drink... oh.) How many nights did we wander beneath an Ursa Major sky?... Blissfully ignorant of Bryson's observation, "All bears are agile, cunning, immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want."

    Urban life has its advantages, I concede.

    Creek Coward

    Went to Stone Barns—a nearby organic farm, open to the public.

    Near the path, there runs a creek. Slow, green, deep. A little rush of water dashes into an underground pipe that carries it away, to the pasture.

    I stood there a long time, eyes closed, open. I remembered our creek. The one that carried me away from trouble and towards adventure. I remembered how I had to slide down a minor cliff to get there. Or tumble past a forest gulley, on the other side. (Of course, a creek has more than one entrance.)

    How did I grow to be a creek coward? Near the path there runs a creek. Slow, green, deep. And all I can think of is mosquitoes and West Nile, mud and leeches, slippery rocks. And, I am content to watch it dash away into the pasture... just a bystander to its meanderings.