back in vermont again

It’s difficult to believe it’s been six months, but here I am again and this time, no snow on the ground. Green grass, blue skies, and flowers blooming. 60 degrees right now with a projected high of 66.

I arrived Monday afternoon and we started right in with a lecture by David Jauss on how to know when you’re done with a piece of writing. Connie May Fowler, a new faculty member, read Monday evening from her new novel, How Clarissa Burden Learned To Fly. She read a scene that included the point of view of a fly. And yesterday a fascinating lecture by Doug Glover on symbols and image patterns–more on that later.

In fact, more on everything later. Off to another lecture…

mrs. somebody somebody

I just finished the third wonderful debut collection in as many months. Which I think is truly remarkable. As are the ten connected stories in Tracy Winn‘s Mrs. Somebody Somebody, published in 2009 by SMU Press with Random House recently publishing the paperback.

These stories are so different, as different as their narrators, that it’s easy to forget they’re related, that they all take place in Lowell, a mill town on its last legs. Coming across a character from another story felt like recognizing an old friend. I know her, I would look up from my book and want to tell someone. Or hey, I’ve seen that music box before.

From the girl who wanted to be Mrs. Somebody Somebody, Stella Lewis, in the first and title story:

“My hats were all over the bed–leftovers of my hopes for the party. I kept my back to her and heaved open the window to the morning, as if that would bring a fresh start.”

From Dr. Charlie Burroughs in “Blue Tango”:

“He drove his shovel into the ground, and turned the earth. Shoveled and turned, hoping the rhythm of the work could fill the hollows in him, and make him know he was home again. His anticipation of how it would be made it hard to see how it was, exactly.”

And from the delightful narrator of “Another Way to Make Cleopatra Cry,” eight-year-old Kaylene about her step-mother:

“She started reciting the poem of her purse. ‘You’ll find Avon lipstick named ‘Moonbeam Misbegotten.’ A half pack of Marlboros. Two gold hoop earrings.”

Stella Lewis, Dr. Charlie Burroughs, Delia Burroughs, June DeLisle, little Franklin Burroughs, Kaylene, the older Frankie Burroughs, Helen Burroughs, Izabel, and Frenchie Duras–It’s just as June DeLisle thinks in “Gumbo Limbo.”

“All sorts of lives ran right alongside the one she was living.”

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some saturday morning fun

A one-year subscription to Quick Fiction is $13.50.

with new pages!

#1: What’s in it for me?

#2: What’s happening?

#3: What’s in a cover?

A one-year subscription to Conjunctions is $18.00.

I’ve subscribed to One Story since 2004. Plus, I try to subscribe to 3-4 other literary journals. And I mix it up from year to year.

If we don’t subscribe to the journals where we want to see our writing, who will?

For lunch today or tomorrow, make a pb&j and spend your $ on a subscription to the journal of your choice.

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I’ve always wanted to like yoga. I tried Pilates–for two years. I wanted to be more connected to my body. Surely this would make me a better writer.

Today I’m going to CORE, a studio in the recently renovated and very cool White Provisions Building in Westside Atlanta. Outside its large rectangular windows, trains pass slowly. This will be the last 4 hours of a 24-hour pre-training course in the gyrotonic expansion system.

I stumbled onto gyrotonics by accident. Every January I try to visit a spa. In 2009, instead of choosing what I wanted to do while I was there, I asked the two women at the desk the name of the best trainer. Paul, they both said. I showed up the next morning, and Paul began talking as we walked past the machines and the free weights.

As I wrote in The View From Here, gyrotonics

makes sense to me. Most of the movements are circular and three-dimensional—like life. As founder Juliu Horvath said, “You will…find the unexplored parts of the body.” And I have, starting with my abs. Naturally it’s not for everyone, but I clicked with it. In late April, I discovered that the “wave” was a larger movement than I had understood. I was really supposed to roll far more and involve more of my body.
“Oh,” I said, “I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.”
“No,” Kayley said, “you’ve been doing it right. This is just a different level of right.”

The week before Thanksgiving, I had an appointment in Atlanta with a visiting Master Trainer. Bradley is tall and lean, and was wearing frayed gray sweatpants and a fitted t-shirt. He had been reading Truman Capote and, as I was arching and curling, he was talking about the long sentences in “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Then I swear this is what he said to me:

“I think you like doing the movements in gyrotonics because each movement seems to hold a story within it.”

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day dreams

Several years ago in a used bookstore in Columbus, Georgia, called “Beetlebinders” that now no longer exists, I found a very old book called Day Dreams.
It took me a minute to figure out that the formless white shape on the cover was a genie being released from a lamp. Reading is a lot like rubbing the lamp.
Day Dreams is an anthology of poems selected by Daphne Dale. One of my favorites (by an anonymous author) is titled “The Things in the Bottom Drawer.”

It was published in 1892. For Christmas that same year, Ralph Davis’ mother gave this book to him as a present.

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the old swing set

I was in my study on the phone wishing my father a happy day when I glanced out the window to see what my father thought, from my description, was a hawk on the roof of the old swing set, and I called to my son, home from college, who came in and took this photo.

“The day grew light, then dark again–
In all its rich hours, what happened?”
Jane Hirshfield, “Apple”


I’ve never read Ulysses. I’ve wanted to. There it is on my to-be-read shelf. But the time has just never been right.

However, there’s nothing like a passionate Irish voice to spur me forward. In this case, that of Frank Delaney. He loves this book.

ReJOYCE! To mark Bloomsday, in other words, to commemorate James Joyce’s mighty novel, Ulysses, we’re launching a podcast. Every week, here on the website, you’ll find a five-minute mini-essay from me designed to take you through the novel that’s on every list of the greatest books ever written. And as Ulysses runs to some 375,000 words, and I mean to go through it sentence by sentence if I have to, in order to convey the full brilliance of this novel – and the enjoyment to be had from it…

This morning, in 5 minutes and 30 seconds, episode 1. And just like that, I’ve read the first paragraph.

Happy Bloomsday!

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more of this world

Nine stories make up New Orleans’ writer Barb Johnson’s wonderful debut collection of linked stories, More of This World or Maybe Another. In the first and title story, Delia is the narrator and we meet her boyfriend Calvin and his sister Charlene, who goes by the name of Chuck. Regarding place, often used to link stories, we’re not yet sure where we are, but from the top of the water tower, Delia describes what she sees:

“In the other direction, night is rolled out as far as Delia can see. There’s swamp out there, she knows, and the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond that, there could be anything. More of this world or maybe another.” (17)

In the second story, “Keeping Her Difficult Balance,” the first sentence uses the word place and before the first paragraph is over, place is established, not only for this story but also for the preceding one (and it will turn out, for the collection as well): “this bayou, which is right smack in the middle of New Orleans…Not at all like the one from her childhood in the boonies of East Jesus.” On the next page, the boonies are given a name: “…Gremillion, where she and Calvin grew up.” Two of my favorite quotes come from this story:

“This, Delia decides, is how artists are, how she herself wants to be. Everything isn’t necessarily logical or practical. Life can be this way or that way or some other way altogether when you’re an artist.” (33)

“She’s discovered that, to make Calvin fit into the picture, she’s been shaving away at pieces of herself. The piece that loves to read, for instance…And Delia has realized that she shaved away the part of herself that deep down thinks real, true love probably has more attraction to it than what she feels for Calvin…But she wonders if her crankiness with Calvin might be from having to listen to the shaved pieces of herself shouting at her: WakeUpWakeUpWakeUp.” (35)

The nine stories in More of This World or Maybe Another are linked by character, by time, and by place. Delia is mentioned or implied in every story (although there are three other narrators). Other characters reoccur. The stories appear in chronological order, with at least one character in each story being recognizably older, giving the reader a sense of time passing, of a real world. Every story takes place either in New Orleans or in Gremillion, where Delia grew up. These three methods of linking the stories add to the layered and rich feel of the collection. Recognizing characters we know from other stories and watching them grow up is a way of giving the reader of each story an additional delight—the delight of recognition in a larger world.

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four poems

I have a folder where I put poems I’ve printed or been given or copied out of books. Maybe someday I’ll put them in a notebook so I’ll think to look in it more often. Three poems were mentioned in connection with the manuscripts we discussed in my March Sirenland workshop. I was not familiar with any of them. A fourth one I discovered on the same page as the third one. Here are a few lines from each:

1) “After great pain a formal feeling comes” by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow–
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

2) “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone” by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

3) “A Third Body” by Robert Bly (1926-)

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not-talking.

4) “A Story About the Body” by Robert Haas (1941-)

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony,
had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost
sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her
work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used

When I was working on my novel, I would start by reading a poem or two. I think I’m going to go back to that for a while–light a candle, read a poem, get to work….

Do any of you read poetry before writing? Do you have a favorite poem you read over and over?

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framing the past

The summer I was thirteen I flew by myself to Vermont for seven weeks of camp. Somebody in our cabin had brought a record player, and it was there in the woods that I first heard the music of James Taylor and Carole King. After I got back home, I bought their albums. I still have them–although they now hang on a wall.

On Thursday night in Atlanta I heard Carole King and James Taylor live as part of their Troubadour Reunion. This round stage that rotates slowly was created specifically for the tour, with small tables for two around it–an attempt at recreating within an arena the nightclub atmosphere that King and Taylor played to in Los Angeles at the Troubadour.

The concert started a little late, around 8:15, but they were on stage almost 3 hours–until after 11–with only a 15 minute intermission. They played So Far Away, Smackwater Jack, Sweet Baby James, Country Road, Fire and Rain, Natural Woman, Up on the Roof, You’ve Got a Friend, I Feel the Earth Move….

from the first half

I’ve seen James Taylor in concert many times, and he was as wonderfully mellow as ever. I’d never seen Carole King before. She didn’t seem quite as comfortable, but the audience loved her. She’s small and wore stiletto-heeled boots the first half. She sang, played the piano and the guitar, and jumped around all over the stage. She sounds the same as ever–and Tapestry came out almost 40 years ago.

from the second half

There was something about seeing the two of them together that really took me back, that made me realize just how long ago (and far away) that cabin in Vermont was.

And speaking of years, Carole King is now 68 and I now have a new vision of what it means to be 68. James Taylor is a mere 62. And together they can rock the house down.

It’s not too late to see them in concert. Here are the remaining dates for the Troubadour Reunion. And look for them on The Today Show on June 18th.

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How We Spend Our Days: Lucia Orth

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Lucia Orth:

While at work on edits of my first novel, I visited a French woman, a writer I know from our years in Manila. She has published novels, children’s books, and had a screenplay produced.
We sat in her beautiful garden.
Editing is endless, it’s like pulling weeds, I said.
Corinne said, Ah, I love the edit, it is the finish – like putting on perfume.
Corinne, chic and greyhound lean, riding dressage when she isn’t writing, must be a careful writer, I thought. She puts her words down and only needs a slight touch of a perfumed hand to set her piece in order. Whereas I plunge in, having only a vague idea of where the writing might lead, and what is left at the end is the result of chopping, pruning, and weed pulling.

This morning about 7:00 I look out our second floor windows. The sun reflects on the pond and glimmers the willow and maple trees, the stone paved walks are lined with catmint, salvia, yarrow, lavender, Siberian iris. Our driveway winds about an eighth of a mile down and beyond it and our orchard and acres of native prairie I can see the western hills of Lawrence, Kansas, about 7 miles away, and what I know is the edge of the university there.
But my attention is also drawn by what needs fixing or doing – the tire swing rope is splitting and needs to be replaced, the floating dock needs another coat of linseed oil, tiger eye sumac needs to be dug and moved, fences need checking — a neighbor wants to board her horse here over the summer.
My time spent in the rhythm of work outdoors, especially in summer when I’m not teaching at Haskell Indian Nations University (in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies department), is when I do much of the thinking about, or subconscious dancing around with, the writing. Ideas, problems, fixes, characters are all also at work, or at play.

This weekend is our anniversary, another of those Memorial Day Weekend weddings, ours after both graduating from law school, and during the time we’ve been together we’ve lived in England, Manila, Washington D.C., Beijing, and Trento, spent summers in Istanbul, and again returned to Lawrence. Berkeley of the Midwest, they told us it’s called, when we were considering a move here with our three children. Maybe. But now we’ve lived here in Lawrence longer than anywhere else, on these 90 acres, with these fields and woods, these flowers and orchards and gardens.

The novel I’m working on now is set in part right here – in 1898 young men from Lawrence signed up, volunteering to fight in the Philippine-American War, often called our first Viet Nam, in what became a needless, senseless war of imperialism. They walked the downtown streets, studied law at the university, left from our train station, had a send-off at the same historic Congregational church I spend some Sundays in, and where I helped lead the process to make the church the only one in town that openly, on our signs and in the service, welcomes our LGBT community.

So, say one of these young men in 1898, about 23, from a privileged family, had never felt he quite fit in here and wanted a way to leave his family and leave the town. Everyone says this war will be over before you know it – it seems the perfect way to freedom and his own life. He can travel, afterwards. He will go to Constantinople and on to Europe. His best friend since he was a boy is a worker at the local barbwire factory, and he signs up, too. So does a young black stoneworker. One dies. The other two find themselves on the serving end of cruelty and atrocities to the Filipino people.

This is the story that pulls me deeper into the town, its history, its geography, its place.
I know the soil – friable, crumbly, perfect. Our wooded hill to the south is said to be, by geologists, the most southwestern place where the glaciers ended. This morning, a blue heron again sits in the locust tree across the water, waiting, I believe, for the first light of morning to warm it. Then it glides down and walks the pond’s edge looking for the frogs that sing half the night.
Last night the frogs were joined in their music by a few whip-poor-wills, an endangered species in some places, whose cry at dusk and on into the night is charming until it repeats itself about 200 times in a row. A group of whip-poor-wills, I have heard, is called a seek.

Now I remember. During the night, I heard their calls, in my half dreaming, as Whip? – or Whirl? Whip? (work) Or Whirl? (dance). A choice. I think of the Sufi men we saw dancing in Istanbul, whirling, a constant whirling in their dance of faith, their work of faith. To work, or to dance? On the best writing days they become the same.


1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • Ransom, by David Malouf. Based on one event in the Iliad – the day King Priam goes to Achilles to ransom the body of  his son Hector. Malouf fictionalizes this account, adding the point of view of a wagon driver, who alone survives the war.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Not advice, but for me, reading poetry before I begin writing tends to ground me, helps keep the focus on words, rhythm, and strangeness.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • When I was growing up, my grandfather owned the only bookstore in Hannibal, Missouri. I was a voracious reader then, and this might be the reason I tend to read many books, fiction and nonfiction, concurrently, and also why I hold on to so many books I like.

By Lucia Orth:

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