Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing

Final Edit Before Deadline: How Many Ways Do I Procrastinate?

To be fair to myself, I am reading and editing my manuscript as often as I can squeeze it in. I am awfully busy right now establishing my presence on Facebook and. repairing my relationships with my favorite online merchants: Amazon; Zappos (recently sucked up by Amazon); CraigsList; eBay. I often don’t purchase anything but am capable of spending a day just “window shopping.”  For those of you who might be interested: eBay has a fine line and a large supply of both Brooks Brothers and Tommy Bahama men’s shirts.  Very reasonably priced.

Oh, and there’s this blog, certainly a worthwhile endeavor that keeps me writing, but clearly not readying a manuscript for a May 1 deadline. Writing about deadlines is so much more rewarding than actually meeting deadlines.

But to belabor the point, I have not been idle in my romp through my to-do list and I am reasonably certain I will make that deadline.  What I am not doing is allowing myself any margin of error. Yesterday, I re-read. the “Tips for Editing Your Manuscript” from the contest featured in last week’s blog.  After a small fit of indignation, I dutifully began working my way through the list.

The main offender, of course, is Facebook, which provides a kind of one-stop shopping for all of my sins.  I have gotten so lazy that I am doing one of those things I swore never to do. I am spending most of my time scrolling through and “sharing” other people’s posts.

Occasionally, I make a kamikaze run on a political thread and succeed in offending nearly every one. Take the recent brouhaha about Joe Biden.

I am especially enjoying, this time around on FB, the humor that has been inspired by items like “Windmills cause cancer” or “We don’t want wind power. If the wind stops blowing, you won’t be able to watch television” or the incredible blooper on Fox News about the three Mexican countries.

Last week I made the terrible mistake of combining my shopping with my tiny FB addiction, and I clicked on one of the ads for clothing. I looked at a pair of linen pants and by the time I returned to my FB feed (probably ten minutes) it was packed with ads from every company on the planetthat makes linen pants.

One day I scrolled down further in my feed than ever before, into a dark and mysterious land where I was puzzled and unnerved to find that I did not know one person whose posts I was reading.  Not one. Total strangers. Names not even familiar.

I am sure there is an algorithm that explains all those unknown people.  I’m not sure I want to know what it is.

The Internet is calling, but I’m thinking I might try to change the display on my first ever cell phone, the one I can’t quite figure out how to answer but have encased in a pink holder (or whatever it’s called).

As a last resort, there’s always that manuscript.

 

Posted in Art, News of the Day, Personal

Joseph Raffael, Early February 2017: Beauty Is Truth in Any Season

(Photograph I took of the sunlight shining through old casement windows into my living room, reflecting off the handle of an even older brass coal shuttle that belonged to my mother)

 

This essay was first published over two years ago and on a different website. I have updated the small personal history in the opening paragraph and have written a short note at the end. Otherwise, it  stands as written on a day not long after the presidential election of 2016.

fullsizeoutput_50cc

(Haiku Fish I – White, lithograph in colors,
from an edition of 32, signed and dated, 22.5” x 28.5” 1979)

 

The lithograph, “Haiku Fish,” stayed with me for years as I moved from place to place. It was always the first thing to go up on my living room wall.  Until a year ago, it held pride of place in my son’s home. In April of 2017, my first and almost certainly only grandchild turned two, I reclaimed the fish, and it now hangs in his room in my co-op.  “Haiku Fish” was a gift to me, many years ago, from the artist. Today it is a part of all our lives, a gift from the man my grandson calls “The Flower Guy.”

IMG_5856

 

It is Friday the 3rd of February 2017, just past 1:00 in the afternoon, and I am home from some time with good friends, looking ahead at a few hours that include a couple of phone calls and some uninterrupted reading.  I have two books in hand and will face only the problem of choosing between them.

Yesterday I had a whole day in front of me for reading, and I found myself nearly paralyzed by the old familiar depression.  I couldn’t sit still; I couldn’t concentrate. I was sleepy enough that I actually couldn’t hold my head up.  Eventually, early in the afternoon, I gave up and crawled into bed, fully clothed.  I slept away the rest of the day.

I have days like this, but they are days rather than weeks or months.

Today I woke up, climbed into a hot shower, dressed, and went out.

Yesterday, I made a change in my morning routine. The home page on my web browser is The New York Times, and it is an incredible bargain.  For $15/month, I have the Times in front of me, with its mostly even-handed coverage of events and its always thoughtful, varied, and wonderfully well-written opinions and editorials.  I have had it for several years and wouldn’t consider giving it up.

Nor am I giving it up now.  But yesterday it came into my mind that reading about what is happening in the world, and in the country, may or may not be causing my flirtation with depression, but it certainly can’t be helping, and so I traded information, ideas, and opinions for beauty. My home page is now the website of a friend from many years ago, Joseph Raffael, whose paintings are so exquisite that I have no words for them except “Go, and look.”  As of this morning, the first thing I see in the pre-dawn hours, when I succumb to the seductive voice of technology, is beauty.

We have lost our direction, misplaced our compasses, turned ourselves around, faces backward.  What to do with it all?

At the top of Joseph Raffael’s website is this quote, something I recall his saying in one way or another back in the 1970’s when I first knew him:

“My painting is and has been a kind of conversation with Mystery.”

Below that is this new painting.
large_JR17x3_DawnRose

 

 

(Dawn Rose, watercolor on paper,
17.50″ x 19.50″ 2017)

 

In the time since November 8,  I have been carving out a way through the wilderness, a way that does not involve sitting at home, focused on every detail of the bad news.  On November 9, I raged and wept and talked all day to friends who were also weeping and raging.  On January 20th, I came home at 1:00, found Leonard Cohen on YouTube, and cooked.  Today, I look at paintings. Today I will be at home in my silent house. Today I will read.

It is still Friday and I am just ending over an hour on the telephone with my cousin, Jane, to whom I introduced Joseph’s paintings over a year ago.  Today, we both went to his website and looked at every link, every canvas, every photograph. We read a long interview.  We remembered looking on the Internet at paintings with prayer flags and we searched until we found them.

large_JR11x8_TurningPoint

 

 

(Turning Point, watercolor, 550″ x 441″ 2010)

I kept discovering paintings I remembered from decades ago and pointing them out. It was a lovely hour, an hour well-spent.  I remarked at one point that “I could do this all day,” and then realized that I could also read the Times or get stuck on Facebook all day–and what a difference this time with beauty makes.  At the end of reading the Times, I feel depleted and discouraged.  At the end of the incredible, and incredibly addictive, waste of time that is Facebook, I feel exhausted, disgusted with myself, and most of all sad for the time lost.  At nearly seventy-one, I don’t have time to spare.

But today, it is 5:30. I got some reading done and then, without planning, I was handed this time with my cousin, sharing something beautiful.  And I do feel tired out from so much time on the telephone, but what I most feel is exhilarated, encouraged, enriched, and just plain happy.

I think suddenly of the title of one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

And I remember the words John Keats wrote in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,”

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

This has always been among my favorites.

efad8ed8-cf24-446e-bc85-099a061e100a_570

A NOTE:
Almost immediately after I published this essay, I realized I had not asked anyone for permission to use Joseph’s 
paintings, so I went onto his website and found that I could send him a message through Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York.

I did that, unsure if he would even remember me after many years.

He did remember, and I received this short response.

joseph_01

We are still in touch. His emails are longer,
his signature changed only to include Lannis.

jwl

Posted in Personal, Writing Fiction

Chapter Nineteen: Rewritten twice, still not good. Old Boyfriend perseveres, and I’m moving on. Chapter Twenty-Two: Complete.

This is the third draft of Chapter Nineteen. I might well come back to it later, but for now I am moving on–from the chapter, you understand. The Old Boyfriend and I moved on half a century ago.


Chapter Nineteen
The Ford and the Teacher
“I knew that I . . . came across as a school mistress.”

 

During the years of her marriage to Martin, Camilla thought often and fondly of her grandfather with his church that was packed every Sunday and his house full of books overflowing the shelves that had been built for them. Someone, probably the housekeeper, occasionally tried to put the extra books into tidy piles just in front of the shelves, but her grandfather had a cat who considered those stacks of books his personal challenge, and so the effort was abandoned. That clutter of books was always a comfort to Camilla. When her grandfather died, she had wanted badly to have the cat, who was white and handsome, but she was busy with the baby and, by the time she mentioned it to her parents, the cat was gone.  His name was Icarus, and he had sat in her lap for whole afternoons while she read or talked to her grandfather about books. It was her grandfather who had introduced her to reading and then had seen to it that she always had something to read.  He died a year after Bill was born. She didn’t think of him with any sort of regret nor did she make pointless comparisons between the old pastor and her Martin.  Still, she did think of him.

It must have been partly the memory of her grandfather that inspired her, one morning a few months after her mother’s death, to look into what would be required for her to become a schoolteacher. Looking back on it, she was ashamed to admit that she had not given a passing thought to Martin or to the obvious need to talk with him about a decision that could change both their lives. Normally careful of Martin’s feelings, she hadn’t considered at all what this would seem like from his perspective.  Of course, it would have appeared that she wanted to find a way back to the world she had inhabited before her marriage. She would have adamantly denied it at the time, but wouldn’t that have been at least part of what she wanted? If she had considered telling him, if she had let it even slip through her mind, she would have seen what was obvious–that the whole idea would be hurtful and an insult. No, Camilla dared not let her mind turn in her husband’s direction for fear she would comprehend all too well that by doing this she was saying—without the bother of actually saying it—that she was dissatisfied with her life and that she wanted more of somethingthat Martin wasn’t quite providing: more books; more people who wanted to talk about them; a little more money; some unnamed quality in the marriage. Whatever it was, she had sat down at her kitchen table with a tablet and a pencil and, with no worries about Martin weighing her down, had tried to decide where to begin.

As she considered her options, she saw how completely she had cut her ties to the old life. She had lost touch with Dora and Mrs. Randolph, the two people who defined that life and its promises–promises that had been well within reach. At this point, two things occurred, one on top of the other and without Camilla’s having to stir from the table. First, she discovered that she was sitting with her hands in tight fists in her lap. She didn’t know how long she had sat that way, but she took a deep breath and relaxed her hands so her palms were loose and open. Those fists suggested anger, of course. Camilla understood that, but she wasn’t prepared to think any further than that general acknowledgment. It was a coincidence, probably the purely physical response of sitting in the hard chair, bent over the table and more than a little anxious that she wouldn’t be able to find out what she needed. Whatever was causing those fists, Camilla was sure of one thing. It wasn’t anger. She was not angry. She was not angry about anything she might have lost, certainly not. She couldn’t be angry with Martin, who had done nothing more than love her, and obviously she wasn’t angry with her child. She couldn’t even imagine being angry with Bill. She wasn’t angry at all, and that was that. Because, somewhere down very deep, Camilla knew that anger was her dragon, just as pain was Martin’s. And, while Martin had defeated his dragon with her help and Delia’s, there would be no one to help her and she, and her life, would not have survived. And so, Camilla wasn’t angry.  Whatever happened had simply happened. There was no one to blame.

She had stopped going to the small schoolhouse when she was married, and pregnancy, then a baby, barred her altogether.  The years had passed with a terrible speed, and once she and Martin had moved, Camilla’s attention had turned to what was in front of her. Martin had found a piece of land he liked and could afford, and Camilla was caught up in the endless job of setting up housekeeping and raising her son.  And now it was obvious that Mrs. Randolph was the person who would know how one might go about becoming a teacher, and Camilla was sure she would also know where Dora was.  She felt a rush of excitement.  And in the few minutes required for all this to pour through the filters Camilla had set around her awareness on certain subjects, the second thing happened and cut right through her mostly unconscious decision to carry out her plan without consulting Martin.

He came in so quietly, closed the door so soundlessly, that Camilla didn’t know Martin was there until he pulled out a chair and sat down across the table. She was startled and, irrationally, she felt guilty. She had written nothing on her tablet except the two names—Mrs. R. and Dora—but she moved too quickly to put her hand over them and Martin was curious. “If that’s the start of a list for shopping, Mill, I am going to town in a while and I can pick up anything we need.”

“Thank you, but I think we have plenty of everything. Most likely we won’t have to bring in any groceries from town for at least another week.“  And then, by some instinct, Camilla had the good sense not to try to hide what she was doing.  “I wasn’t making a shopping list. I was scribbling down my ideas for finding out if I could ever go to school, or do anything else, to become a teacher.”

She laughed when she said, “So far I have written down two names: Mrs. Randolph—who was my English teacher—and Eudora Marker, a girl I was just starting to like. I think we were becoming friends.”

Martin was looking at her curiously, so she added, “And that’s as far as I got. I guess it should have been obvious that my old teacher might know something about how to become a teacher.”  When Martin didn’t respond, she went on, “I was thinking I might drive over there tomorrow early, leave Bill with my parents, and just take a run by the school. What do you think, Martin? Would you be able to do without the car?”

Camilla never did unravel the mystery of Martin’s face at that moment, but chances are she tried. Whatever was going through his mind, whatever he was feeling, what Martin said was, “Of course I can do without the car, and you must leave Bill here with me. You’ll spend a lot of time with Megan and William when you probably want to use it all at the school. It’s a pretty exciting idea, Mil, and I’ll do anything I can to help you with whatever you need to do.”

Camilla had no response to this short speech. What with one thing and another, there was an awful lot of silence in that conversation. Camilla was genuinely amazed, not so much by what Martin had said as by her own apparent blindness to the depth of simple goodness in this man.  It was just his nature. It was who he was. It wasn’t what he thought he should say or any kind of posture or performance. It was just Martin. If it were brought to his attention, he would have shrugged and been slightly confused that anyone would make a fuss about it.  As far as Martin was concerned, it was just the way you acted. Camilla hadn’t said a word yet, but he was watching her and he could sense she was about to tell him how wonderful he was. He really felt that he wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, so he cut right in before she had an opening,

“Alright, then, I am going to town to do the few things on my own list, then you can have the car as early tomorrow as you want to start, and with Bill staying here, you won’t have to eat up your time getting him ready to travel. And you’re sure you don’t want to add to the list?”

“I’m sure, Martin. Thank you for tomorrow. Bill staying here will make my day easier and possibly shorter. So you think I’m on the right track to consult Mrs. Randolph first?”

“Yes, I do.  It sounds like she’s so obvious to ask you could throw any other names that come to you right out the window.”

Camilla didn’t have the heart to tell Martin there were no other names, and early the next morning she left him and Bill sleeping soundly, tip-toed out to the car and headed down the road in search of her future.  As she drove, it occurred to her that she wasn’t even sure that Mrs. R was still there.  She was appalled that she had allowed two people who had been so important to just disappear.  Mrs. Randolph’s encouragement, and the confidence she had in Camilla, had been life-changing, and perhaps even more was the friendship with Eudora, her only relationship like that either before or since.  Before, she had her parents and her grandfather. After, there was Martin and then there was Bill. There was no time for friends. Mrs. Randolph had seen the need and made the arrangements for them.  Goodness, she could hardly wait to find Mrs. R and then to track down Dora.  How exciting. Life certainly did have its twists and turns and most of them recently had been because of this automobile. Without it, she would have had no way to even make the trip.

As usual, Camilla was distracted while she was driving and very nearly ran herself into a ditch.  She turned the wheel just ahead of disaster and tried to keep her attention on the road for the rest of the short drive.  It wasn’t long, however, until she nearly wrecked the car a second time. When she drove up to the schoolhouse, to what used to be a one-room frame building accommodating twenty or twenty-five children, she slammed on the brakes and almost threw herself over the steering wheel.  Was it actually possible that in seven years, it had been transformed into a large brick building, with two floors? And more than that, could it be true that for those same seven years, as she came to see her parents, she had never once driven past the school, never seen what was happening, never even tried to visit Mrs. Randolph or ask where Dora had gone?

Much more cautiously, she pulled the Ford into a vacant parking place—they were actually marked out and numbered, right on the pavement.  Camilla was nervous. Actually, Camilla was so badly frightened that her legs were trembling and she was finding it difficult to get her breath.  Determined to pull herself together, she approached the building, climbed the few stairs to the front entrance and pushed open the door. The inside was even more of a shock than the outside.  White walls were covered with student art—bright paintings of every color; hardwood floors gleamed; and she could hear, down the long hall, the quiet murmur of a good many more than twenty-five voices. She looked into a few classrooms and could hardly believe she was in the town where she grew up. She had taken in the radical changes, could see what the school had accomplished, and she was eager to talk to Mrs. Randolph. She found the school office and before she knew it she was inside, asking a bright-looking young woman to tell her where she might find Mrs. Randolph. Mrs. Randolph, Camilla explained, had been her teacher when she went to school there, not too long ago.

The young woman, whose name was Lois, looked genuinely sorry to disappoint, but she shook her head. She had remembered Camilla’s name, and used it in hopes it would soften the bad news.

“I am so very sorry, Mrs. Ainsworth.  Mrs. Randolph left when the plan for the new building was approved.”

This didn’t quite make sense to Camilla, and it was a minute before she responded, “That is a surprise, Lois. Mrs. Randolph dreamed of teaching in a building like this, where the students had plenty of room and there could be more teachers—a teacher for every subject. Goodness, I am puzzled by this news.”

“No need to be. Mrs. R loved the building plans, loved the drawings of the whole layout, loved the classrooms. None of that was a problem. She was very excited about the new possibilities for her classes.  No, it was because every other teacher was in favor of tearing down the old school and putting up this new school right where it was.  I hope I’m not being disrespectful to call her Mrs. R. It’s what we all called her.”

At this, Camilla had to laugh. “Not only don’t I think it’s disrespectful, but it was two of us in my class who called her that for the first time.  But I still don’t understand why she quit her job. That seems like a pretty serious thing to do.”

“It must have been. I think when her ideas were ignored entirely, she just felt she couldn’t stay.”

That day, on the first of many visits she would make to the school, she said goodbye to Lois, closed the office door behind her, and made a decision. She would talk to whoever took Mrs. Randolph’s position, hoping that person had at least gotten an address that she would be willing to share with a former student. Although she didn’t know it, Camilla would spend most of the rest of that day in the building.  She felt both envy and a desire to one day teach in just such a place.

She spotted a classroom with a sign for 10thgrade American Literature, taught by a Mrs. Watkins.  Somehow, although Mrs. R had always taught younger students, this felt right. Mrs. Watkins might even be Mrs. R’s replacement. If she wasn’t, this was still a small town and she would surely know the whereabouts of Mrs. Randolph and Eudora Marker and, for Camilla, just knowing where they were would be a comfort, even if the news was that they had moved across the country. She would feel she had made at least indirect contact and it would give her the courage she would need to do whatever came next.  Camilla was getting more determined and more hopeful.

She reached for the doorknob and turned it without making a sound. She could hear the rustle of clothes and papers and the murmur of student voices. The door was only open a crack and sound was too muffled for her to tell what they were saying. Occasionally, she caught a deeper voice, definitely a woman, most likely Mrs. Watkins, but Camilla couldn’t see whoever belonged to that voice.  She had relaxed a bit and was leaning on the wall, taking the opportunity to get her bearings while she waited for the class to be over.  Her eyes were almost closing when she was nearly jolted out of her skin by a familiar voice shouting her name.

“Camilla Whitfield, you left before we could discuss The Scarlet Letter! I don’t know how you managed it, but you are in luck today. Come in here right this minute, and no arguments.”

Camilla had by now opened the door and, before she could see a thing, she found herself enveloped by a warm body and two strong arms. She couldn’t remember ever being embraced with that kind of enthusiasm.  She suddenly realized that she felt happy.

`           “Dora? What on earth? Is this your class? You’re teaching here? Did you come when Mrs. R left? Oh, heavens, you are right in the middle of a discussion and here I am asking questions. I am so sorry. I’ll go back out and wait in the office until you have time.” Camilla was embarrassed and, as she usually did when she was embarrassed, she was talking much too fast and much too loud. She had begun her quest for information about teaching by making a fool of herself in front of a room full of students.

Meanwhile, Eudora had turned around to face the class and was saying something about The Scarlet Letter.

“Class, we have a visitor. She is an old friend and we were interrupted quite some time ago in the middle of a discussion of this very novel.  Mrs. Ainsworth—is that right? Camilla, meet my class. We are honored to have you.”

Camilla checked herself to be sure she actually felt the way she felt. It was like taking her pulse. She was no longer nervous, not a bit. As a matter of fact, she felt confident and completely at home in this unfamiliar school, facing a room full of young people every one of whom was a stranger. She was going to have to say something about a novel she read years ago. She barely remembered the story, let alone why it was so important. And then the strangest thing happened. She walked toward the front of the room, looked out at the sea of faces, smiled and said,

“Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, is possibly the best-known American novel. What do you think it is about? Take a minute or two to think before answering. Raise your hand if you have something to say.”

And that was that. She spent the rest of the day with Dora, joining discussions in her other classes, watching her friend teach. She was good. Camilla knew she could be good, too. She and Dora agreed to share a quick supper and go together to see Mrs. Randolph.

December 11 2018: A Note on Chapter Nineteen: No, I had not forgotten this, or any of the other chapters in this difficult novel. I will confess that, although I had not forgotten them, I had certainly set them aside and once again devoted my energies to writing about my friend, Joseph Raffael, and–for my sins–reading the NYTimes.

Posted in Art, Personal, Reviews

Joseph Raffael, 2016: Reflections and Memories, Moving Always Toward the Light

(Moving Toward the Light II, watercolor on paper, 87 1/2″ x 49″ 2015)

The description of Moving Toward the Light on Joseph Raffael’s website reads in part: “A major new book on the artist covering the past 17 years of his life and work in the South of France. Reproducing 88 works in rich color, the book has three illuminating essays: by Lanie Goodman on the artist’s life, by Betsy Dillard Stroud, a dialogue on the artist’s work artist-to-artist and by David Pagel, Art Critic for the L.A. Times, on the philosophy of beauty.”

When you open your copy of Moving Toward the Light, you will be opening the door into a world of beauty–the incomparable beauty of the paintings that Joseph Raffael has created over the last two decades, and the clear, clean beauty of the words of three fine writers on the life and the art and the thoughts of the man who painted them.

And that is how I began this review, two years ago. I have changed nothing in the text  but have added four more images of Joseph’s wife, Lannis.”

large (1)(Moving Toward the Light I watercolor on paper, 94 1/2″ x 45″ 2015)

This finely crafted and intelligent collection of some of Raffael’s best and loveliest paintings will delight you, will enchant you, will not only please you but will fill you with gratitude that something this exquisite exists in our troubled world. It is a splendid volume, about which I am going to offer an odd piece of advice: When you open your copy of Moving Toward the Light, be a little cautious. Stay awake. There are signs along the road; watch for them.

I have often felt that the galleries and museums that exhibit Joseph’s paintings, the galleries and museums where people stand, or sit–sometimes for hours–gazing at those paintings, should post warning signs, although I’ve never been quite sure what I would have them say. All those rooms, filled with all those paintings, many very large, hold you close with images that invite and intrigue–flowers; prayer flags waving over ponds filled with ancient fish; lush gardens; a wall of the artist’s studio; the Mediterranean seen through a window; seashells in a rock garden; a beloved wife. This is the stuff of pure happiness.

But once in a while, and then only if you are paying a particular kind of attention or are in a certain frame of mind–once in a great while–consoled by beauty; your perception shifted in some puzzling way by the intensity of this particular beauty; in any case, disarmed, unprepared–on a day like any other day, you are ambushed. Perhaps, if you are attending just at that moment, you will catch a glimpse of the shadow beneath the swimming fish or the evening darkness at the edge of the magnolia, and you might feel a chill. You might, just perhaps, feel an undefined sadness and reach up to touch tears on your face. You might break down and weep. I have seen it happen.

These paintings, that Joseph Raffael assures us, in Moving Toward the Light, know exactly what they’re up to, pull back the veil–or move it slightly aside–and, in that split second of our mindfulness, reveal something less comfortable, something more ambiguous, something a little disturbing. Something like life.

Next to the painting, Bali Pond VI, a  large watercolor on paper dated 1998, the book quotes Thich Nhat Hanh,

“N o  m u d,  n o  l o t u s.”

8b91185539a9t

The beauty that Joseph creates is not a perfect beauty. It is, instead, a beauty that is whole and complete, a beauty that leaves out nothing. It is an important distinction. He has been asked many times if he considers his work “realistic.” I have even read it described as “photographic” in its realism. Joseph’s answer is always “No.” He tells us, in this wonderful new book–and has been telling us for decades–that his paintings are about painting, and that painting is about color. He lifts a brush and puts down one drop of color; he follows it with a second, and a third, guided by that which the painting will become.

“I don’t paint flowers. I paint energy.”

Joseph Raffael paints life.

large_JR17x3_DawnRose

 

(Dawn Rose, watercolor on paper
171/2″ x 191/2″ 2017)

 

 

 

large_JR07x5_prayer(Prayer, watercolor on paper, 85.50″ x 55.50″ 2007)

 

And so I come, by this circuitous route, to the backstory of these reflections.

 

On 15 February 2017, Joseph and I had this exchange at the end of a thread of emails:
Joseph: “if you don’t already have my book ‘Moving Toward the Light’
i’d like very much that you receive a copy”
Dean: “I do not and I would love one.”
Joseph: “you’ll be receiving it in about ten days”
Dean:“How would you feel about my writing a review?”
Joseph: “you can write it whenever & whatever you want i’d be delighted”

From the start of our correspondence, Joseph signed his emails

I haunted the mailbox, I watched through my old casement windows for a UPS or FedEx truck, and I waited. While I waited, I explored Joseph’s website and cast my net wide for all the images I remembered, and there they were, not only on the website but all over the Internet:

Joseph Raffael, Fish;
Joseph Raffael, Water Lilies;
Pond; Flowers;
Joseph Raffael, Lannis.

Joseph Raffael, Lannis

The last time I saw him was in 1989 at a showing of his work at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Soho. The exhibit was called “Lannis in Sieste,” and around every corner, on every wall, were the paintings. I was stunned by the enormous watercolors of Lannis. There was a feeling of inevitability about them. Their tenderness broke my heart.

large_JR88x11

(Lannis in Sieste X”,watercolor on paper,
68.1/2″ x 44.1/2″ 1988)

Lannis in Sieste X, is five feet long and nearly four feet wide.

Try to imagine it.

It took the air out of the room that day in 1989. From the doorway of the gallery, I saw the colors and the woman. And it had me; I couldn’t leave it for long. I saw the pillows pushed back, the arms raised, the clear line of the fabric as it folds into slightly parted thighs.

Rich with color, almost consumed by its own hues, it is, like most of Joseph’s work, an incandescent mosaic of colors, one color laid down beside another, and another after that. Stand close and each tiny piece, each square inch of the whole, is a painting complete in itself. Walk away, turn, and the bits of color have resolved themselves into Lannis, lying on an unmade bed in a flowered dress whose pattern bleeds into the sheets underneath her. She looks entirely satisfied and comfortably seductive, as a woman can only be in the company of a man who loves her well enough to have earned her trust, who loves her well enough, perhaps, to have painted this portrait. A man for whom the surrender to paint and water is an act of love.

I think these are the most wonderfully sexual paintings I have ever seen; they are full of pleasure and laughter just beneath the surface. My cousin, Jane, sees in the paintings the likeness of a saint. I cannot  disagree. I have never quite understood why they make me sad.

resize-format=full_9f07975f6b892e7457aa3ca68d7228d9

 

 

 

(Le Printemps I, 1988,
watercolor on paper,
61″ × 44 3/4″)

 

 

(Lannis in the Garden, 1986,
30″ x 22-1/2 ”
watercolor on paper.   

large_JR88x10

(Lannis In Sieste XIII, 1988,
watercolor on paper, 66″ x 44″)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Ancient Longing,
watercolor with
acrylic border on paper,
52 ½” x 44″ 1985)

 

The beauty that Joseph creates is not a perfect beauty. It is, instead, a beauty that is whole and complete, a beauty that leaves out nothing. Joseph Raffael paints life. The paintings are enigmatic–yes, even the seashells, even the roses. They are mysteries–not to be solved, but to be embraced. They invite you to participate in their complexity. Only turn the pages of Moving Toward the Light. You will find yourself reaching for that embrace; you will find yourself hungry for complexity.

While I am waiting for my copy of Moving Toward the Light, I discover a video on YouTube in which Joseph, only his hands visible, opens the book. The video is called, simply,

“Moving Toward the Light. The Book.”

The hands that move with a kind of courtliness across this testament to his art are the same hands that linger expectantly over the outline of a leaf, brush held just off the paper, waiting for the painting to tell them where that whisper of blue belongs. If I didn’t know that Joseph Raffael is eighty-four years old, I would say these were the hands of a young man.maxresdefault

The sound of his voice, as he talks about his book, startles me. It is completely familiar, but I had forgotten the slight Brooklyn accent. Even after twenty-five years in France, it is there. Recollection snags on that voice, rough with the edge of New York, fine in the way I imagine must be the result of a life lived in conversation with paint and paper and the gods.

As he turns the pages, he often seems to be talking to himself. When he comes to Lannis, in photographs or in paintings, he sighs. He explains, with something like wonder in his voice,

“I painted this when Lannis was sick.”
It is a repeated point of reference, as is,
“Soon after we got here.”

“Color is what keeps the painting . . . moving.”
Perhaps one of the reasons for the unforgiving loveliness of Joseph Raffael’s paintings is that they are never at rest. They are always moving, and always moving toward something–something just ahead, glimpsed but not quite visible, something around the next bend, past that big cloud bank.

large_JR11x8_TurningPoint

 

(Turning Point
, watercolor on paper, 550″ x 441″ 2010)

 

 

Every painting I have ever seen is in motion. The prayer flags lift their ragged edges; petals drift from flowers; and, of course there are the fish, koi of every size and hue, which were my favorites right from the beginning.

large_JR04x18_lifestreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Streams,
watercolor on paper,
56″ x 391/4″ 20

 

 

 

 

larger

(Crescendo,
watercolor on paper,
 631/2 x 751/2″ 2013)

 

Even those paintings that evoke calm and stillness–I am thinking of the the water lilies that were among the first of Joseph’s paintings I ever saw–have some indescribable tremor at the center that reflects that balance between “the still point and the dance” that marks Joseph’s life as I imagine it to be.1003

 

(New Light,
watercolor on paper,
66 1/2 x 443/4″ 2010)

 

 

 

 

Like St. Benedict, Joseph Raffael has chosen stability of place in which constant change and movement of spirit are possible, has elected a firm ground in which everything is “alchemical,” as he says of the watercolors in which he works–engaged in a perpetual process of becoming something else, something other, something more, something gold.

Joseph is neither a monk nor an alchemist. And yet, in the Spring of 1986, he and Lannis moved from their home in California to the South of France. They moved there to make a life that was pared down, focused, simpler–a life about painting, a life about beauty. A life of intention. They have been there ever since, in a house by the sea, surrounded now by their gardens and prayer flags and ponds full of koi, sharing their days with their animals, lifting up to the gods–like the sweet incense of sacrifice–the full truth of beauty. Lifting up the radiance that is born every day through the relationship between this remarkable man, a few pots of paint, and a stoppered carafe of water.

The first time I watched the video,“Moving Toward the Light,” that carafe caught my eye, and I thought, “Even the container for the water is beautiful.Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.08.31 PM

 

Joseph believes that “watercolor has a mind of its own, it dries in ways I can never imagine and insists upon being itself.”

“Transmutation” is the language of alchemy, and it suggests change at depth; change at the cellular level; chemical change. Turning lead into gold. Movement. Magic.

Will we who love his paintings know it when it happens? Can we mark the small corner of one of those huge water lilies, or clock the exact moment in time as the paint dries on the fish and the flags? Can we say “There! There is where the magic happens!” Whenever and however it occurs, at some point in time the laying down of paint with a touch so delicate it almost seems not to happen becomes the magnolia tree seen and photographed in the early evening in a garden in France. A garden in the south of France, on the Mediterranean, on Cap d’Antibes. Joseph and Lannis Raffael’s garden, which they chose in 1986 as they walked away from years in California, from exhibitions of Joseph’s paintings in New York, as they walked toward the light.

jl_may20091

Joseph and Lannis Raffael have been home for over two decades. The gardens that Lannis planted are extravagantly overgrown. The paintings, with their unbearable colors, their light, their loveliness, their undertow of the sorrowful beauty of the whole world, continue to emerge under Joseph’s hand.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.39.55 PM

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.38.10 PM

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.38.10 PM (1)

 

 

(Life Streaming, watercolor on paper, 55 x 931/2″ 201

 

When the book arrived, although I had lived nothing but Joseph and his paintings for close to a month, nothing could have prepared me. I held it as if it were the gold of the Philosopher’s Stone. It is eleven inches square, one hundred and ninety-two pages long. For such a substantial volume, it is a remarkably comfortable fit in the hand. The pages are heavy stock, silky to the touch. They cast back the light from the antique lamps that belonged to my aunt. It is impossible not to slide your hand over every image. The art involved in putting it together is evident.

Before I even open it, I can see that Moving Toward the Light is a book lover’s book. There is water. There is Lannis. There are shells of every shape and size and hue. There are the prayer flags, of course, and the fish. There are flowers. There is that magnolia tree. There are two brilliant essays and an interview, to be read, discussed and savored over time. There is a full catalogue of the paintings. It is the definitive reference work for this important period in Joseph Raffael’s life as an artist. But for now, there are only the paintings. Even from the pages of a book, they issue an invitation it is impossible to refuse.

larger(Life Streaming,
watercolor on paper,
55″ x 931/2″ 2014)

Joseph says of the lifetime of beauty he has created, “The painting is most successful when the ‘me’ is mostly absent.” There are, in Moving Toward the Light, three small black and white photographs of Joseph as a young man, one of him as a boy, two photographs in color of him and Lannis.  The photograph of Joseph Raffael, on the book’s last page, is barely more than a silhouette, as he leans on the railing outside his studio looking at the endless Mediterranean that is his daily companion. “The painting is most successful when the ‘me’ is mostly absent.”

Joseph Raffael, born in February 1933, is eighty-four years old. Here is a shimmering record of what he has done with almost twenty of those years. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be Joseph Raffael and to hold this volume in your hand. When you open your copy of Moving Toward the Light, you will be opening a door into the world. Therecover-moving-toward-the-light-joseph-raffael are signs along the road; watch for them.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.40.23 PM

 

 

Posted in Art, Personal, Reviews

Joseph Raffael, 2018: Joseph and David Pagel Talk: Some Thoughts About “Talking Beauty”

TALKING BEAUTY: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN JOSEPH RAFFAEL AND DAVID PAGEL ABOUT ART, LOVE, DEATH AND CREATIVITY

fullsizeoutput_50c2

Joseph Raffael and David Pagel are among the small handful of people who would dare to call a collection of emails “a conversation . . . about art, love, death and creativity.” Yet that is precisely what they have done. Between February 2015 and the early spring of 2016, in an exchange of emails, David and Joseph carried on a richly layered conversation  on precisely those elusive subjects.

They could not be more different, these two. Joseph is eighty-five years old. David is at least a quarter century younger. The photographs of David show him with his wife and two young children at the Grand Canyon, or on a bike participating in a rugged event called the Mullholland Challenge, an annual competition that describes itself as

“an epic challenge with tons of climbing in the incredibly beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. This event is geared toward the adventurous cyclist who loves to climb.
106 miles with about 12,700 feet of climbing!”

Joseph and Lannis stand quietly in front of one of Joseph’s large paintings, two of life’s warriors who have walked away from the battle. They look a little worn, beautiful, and filled with the joy of the day and each other.

David and Joseph share in common a love of beauty, an acquaintance with great loss, and an urgent interest in ideas. Much of their conversation is about their children.

While they do not always agree, their dialogue is full of mutual respect and affection. They possess the wisdom of experience and the curiosity of those who are always beginners.  A light shines on their journey and illuminates the path for all of us.  I, for one, am enormously grateful.

I have known Joseph since the 1970’s, toward the end of his time in California and not long before he left for the South of France. We saw one another once after the move, in 1989, at an exhibition of his work at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York. After that, we lost touch until 2015.

I discovered David Pagel–his writing and our mutual appreciation of Joseph Raffael’s painting–only when Joseph sent me a copy of his book, Moving Toward the Light (2015), in which David’s essay figures prominently.  I subsequently reviewed the book, both the visual and the literary art.  The two men have never met.

I don’t expect I will see Joseph again in this life, nor will I ever meet David face-to-face.  And yet, here we all are, no more than a breath apart. Art, love, and death.

Perhaps the only thing as good as waiting for the arrival of a book from Joseph Raffael is being caught entirely by surprise by the arrival of a book by Joseph Raffael and David Pagel. These are beautiful volumes, a pleasure to the senses of sight and touch before they are opened.  On the publication of Talking Beauty, Joseph’s website reminded us of both.Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 8.32.01 AM (1)

The first thing I did after lifting Moving Toward the Light out of its box was to take a photograph of it catching the afternoon sun on the deep ledge of my old casement windows. I felt the clear light of grace fill my home.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.40.23 PM

I had prepared for this book, thought about it, longed for it, and when the postman put the box in my hands I knew it for what it was, finally here, and I stood for a long time just holding the box, stretching out those last minutes of anticipation

Talking Beauty announced itself in quite a different way. A phone call from my publisher informed me that a package had arrived for me at his office.  Although I knew about Talking Beauty=–Joseph had sent me part of the manuscript, with a request for editorial suggestions–I had not expected this gift. When John read the return address, I knew and asked him to open the box.fullsizeoutput_50c5

He took a photo of the book and sent it, appropriately, via email.

A friend drove me to Koehler Books at the beach to collect my treasure.

If you have stood in the presence of Joseph Raffael’s paintings, you have already heard much of his conversation about beauty–a conversation he has carried on, from New York and northern California and, for the last three decades, from Cap d’Antibes. It is, according to Joseph, a conversation whose language is  color and energy.13902673_10153782561553263_9140044180703641337_n

If you have read any of David Pagel’s writing, you know the meaning and the music that threads into the fabric of the language that belongs to this man of words.

 

“For me, beauty is the kind of thing for which there’s no one-size-fits-all definition . . . my surroundings . . . suddenly seem to be clearer and crisper and more immediate–as if the distance between me and them has disappeared and everything is where it belongs.”

fullsizeoutput_50c7

To which, the man of color and energy responds, “This is a subject that leaves me speechless.”

 

The pages turn. The conversation deepens.  What began as a philosophical exchange about the nature of beauty, jumps to the deep sharing between them of the more intimate search for the divine, the children, the long journey of Lannis Raffael into the realms of death, and back again,  And, in a section called “Devastation and Destruction and Instruction,” David concludes that

“Suffering and discovery go hand in hand, and loss and beauty are intimately linked.”

The loss of pets, the death of a son and the healing of a daughter. Joseph begins the next section, “Rachel and Matthew,” like a diver,

“Here goes. Rachel first, then Matthew” 

Fifty pages in, they communicate in the shorthand of intimacy.

In this tapestry of words and color, there is the music of a kind of call and response of poetry.  Back and forth, they offer up not only their own creativity but the poetry and prose of Oliver Sacks and T.S. Eliot; Wallace Stevens and James Taylor; Rilke and Dante and Walt Whitman.  It is the kind of eager and unplanned quoting of favorite and remembered lines that two friends, both well-read and thoughtful, throw out in a conversation to make a point, reinforce an idea, or for the pleasure of a dance with the beauty and meaning they are seeking.

Joseph recalls something that Oliver Sacks wrote:

“I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done . . .

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty” (Oliver Sacks, “The Joy of Old Age,” NYTimes, July 6, 2013)”

JR: “I say, ‘Ditto'” And after a moment’s silence, he continues,
“Thank you, David, for moving along the path with me in this wonderful and mysterious journey.”

DP: “To that I say, ‘Double ditto.'”

To that, I say, “Thank you David. Thank you, Joseph.”

fullsizeoutput_50bb

(August, watercolor on paper, 36″ x 36″ 2018)

 

Posted in Art, Personal

Joseph Raffael, 1975-77: Meeting; Parting; Haiku Fish.

(Haiku Fish I – White, lithograph in colors, from an edition of 32, signed and dated, 22.5” x 28.5” 1979)

 

Below are two excerpts from a long essay, “The Elements: A Southerner in Northern California” (2018), in which I tell the story of meeting Joseph Raffael and of his gift of the lithograph, “Haiku Fish.” The original essay, written for a specific purpose, contained no images, but it seems impossible to write about Joseph very often without his paintings. I have included especially the koi, which continue to be my favorites.

MEETING

“On one of those afternoons in Northern California when the air is sharp and the light is high and fine, almost translucent, Reuben took me to have dinner at the home of his friend, Joseph Raffael. On our drive down from Sonoma County to San Geronimo, he told me only that Joseph was an artist and that they had known one another for a long time.  We had made our way slowly, taking the old Point Reyes-Petaluma Road into the San Geronimo Valley. I was aware of the distance we were travelling from the life we had left and of something not yet known growing closer.

And then we were there. As we drove onto the property, the pale gold of the early evening light danced on the roof of a tall green redwood building directly in front of us. I felt the wind pick up.  It was Joseph’s studio. Having grown accustomed to signs and symbols, I suppose I should have been prepared, although I don’t believe that anything could really have helped me. I was about to come face-to-face with a mystery that would change forever the way I saw the world around me. It was a mystery about light.

The canvas must have been five or six feet across and nearly as tall. I could see that it was raised and lowered by some peculiar system of pulleys and that a trough had been cut into the floor just the right size.  Relaxed on a stool in front of it, holding a paintbrush in one hand and periodically reaching up with the other to run his fingers through dark, paint-specked hair, was a tall, very handsome man whose concentration on what he was doing was absolute. The canvas had been lowered, and he was painting a section at the top. He obviously hadn’t heard us open the door, and Reuben touched my arm to let me know we were to be still. I could have stood, just as I was, indefinitely, because by then I had finally stopped looking around, had raised my eyes, and had seen the canvas. It was the half-finished painting of a pond, in which light played back and forth across the small waves, overlapping in half circles, behind the submerged bodies of large swimming fish. Even under water, even on the canvas, they were alive. They looked ancient. Probably koi. But the important thing for me was the light on that water.

There is no way to describe it except to say it was moving. No matter how long I looked, or how often I blinked, or turned away, then back, the surface of that pond was never still. I could hear the sound when a fish jumped. I could feel the breeze on the back of my neck. Light opened into more light, color into deeper color. It was a pond, filled with fish, on an afternoon in summer when the wind was up, perfect to the last detail, and yet it wasn’t a pond at all.  Many years later, Joseph Raffael wrote, “I don’t paint flowers. I paint energy.” From that first encounter with the art that was Joseph Raffael, when I look at the world, I always see the energy first.  Today Joseph tells me that, for him, what happened in that studio in San Geronimo, California, “wasn’t so much the light as it was a gentle, open, expansive air in which my soul could express itself, perhaps for the first time.” Perhaps the light is his gift to the rest of us. From the studio, the driveway ran uphill to the house, painted a dusty blue. Beyond the house, there was a path to Mount Tamalpais. In Northern California, there was always a path.” (The Elements, pp. 10-12)

34878cf2a55ef2c03cdc3c4be1248d38(Two Fish in Dark Bubbly Water,
watercolorwith brush and black
ink, over traces of graphite,on
off-white heavy woven paper,
21″x26″ 1977-78)

 

PARTING
HAIKU FISH

“By mid-morning, we were on the road, planning to make several stops on the way so that I could say last goodbyes to friends. I found the actual saying of those final words was too much for me, and so I didn’t. We reminisced, laughed over our best times, and they told me about their own days ahead—driving children to soccer practice; shopping for vegetables; getting to an afternoon lecture at one of the museums in the city; washing the dog. We embraced, perhaps for a few seconds longer than usual, and Reuben and I got on our way.  Our last stop was to see Joseph. He was working, but he took a break when we came in. He talked about the painting. It was a short visit, shorter than the others. Although he was happy to see us, it was clear that his mind was on the canvas.

We had walked about halfway to the car, when Joseph came running out of the studio with something rolled up in his hand. “It’s a lithograph of a fish. I know you like the fish best, and I thought you might like to have it.” He seemed almost shy in offering it. I said that, yes, I would, very much.” (The Elements, p. 17)

A Note:
During the time I knew Joseph and was falling in love with the water paintings and the koi, I was also aware of older paintings that were every bit as rich but in some ways very different.  I learned in time, and when I paid attention, that they were not so different after all. hydrangea_joseph_raffael_oil_on_canvas

(Hydrangea, oil on canvas,
66″x108″1976)

 

 

(Lizard, oil on canvas, 85″ x 85″ 1971)blackfoot_joseph_raffael_oil_on_canvas2401_0

 

 

 

(Blackfoot,  Oil on canvas,
80″ x 61″ 1970)

 

For most of the time since I left California, “Haiku Fish” has travelled with me, usually the first thing mounted on my living room wall. Then it hung in my son’s house for a few years.  Recently it has moved again, to my three-year-old grandson’s room in my co-op. He watches Joseph’s video, “Moving Toward the Light” and recognized right away that “Blackfoot,” “Hydrangea,” and “Lizard” were painted by the man he has always called “The Flower Guy.”  He is very proud of that fish.

IMG_5856

Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing Fiction

On Writing #7:I Hate Chapter Nineteen and am feeling none too charitable toward my high school boyfriend.

First, about the boyfriend. He actually was my high school boyfriend. Our subsequent relationship is to let twenty or so years go by until something puts us back in touch and we exchange a flurry of emails, have long phone conversations, and generally wonder why we let twenty years go by. As we are both now seventy-two years old, I have pointed out that we most likely don’t have another twenty-two going forward.  For months we have had our usual talks that combine rehashing old memories with catching each other up on what we’ve been doing since we turned fifty–which was our last contact. We have exchanged photos of our grandchildren. I sent him a copy of a photograph of my father and the essay I wrote about it.  He knew and liked Daddy.  And somehow, I am sending him the current manuscript  (still called The Wife) and he is reading it out loud to me over the phone. This week he was having some back pain and couldn’t sit for long, so he read two chapters and I began reading at Chapter Nineteen.

I hate Chapter Nineteen.

I’ve lost control. The Wife, which began as an attempt to write a short story, doesn’t show any signs of being a short story. It is fast approaching a length at which I can’t even call it a novella (a genre I’ve never really believed in, anyway). It seems to be nearly a hundred pages of a novel that is driven by two strong and fully developed main characters, and at least two others who have great potential.  Nothing wrong with that. I like character-driven novels, and they are generally what I tend to write.  So far, so good. Until I got to Chapter Nineteen that, now I consider it, is the point at which I attempted to let the plot carry me. The only problem is there doesn’t appear to be any plot.

But about Chapter Nineteen. It is dull. It is wooden. It goes into great detail about things like the hallway in a new school building. The dialogue is unconvincing. People don’t talk that way. What scant plot it manages is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring.  As I read the chapter out loud to my high school boyfriend who appears to be enjoying watching my chaos at a safe distance (we have been at a safe distance since high school graduation in 1963), I was so appalled that I stopped at several places to exclaim some version of, “This is really terrible.”  And so it is.

I believe this chapter, and possibly parts of  a few others, can be salvaged. But it will not be an easy fix.

The alternative to fixing it is abandoning it, and I’m not ready to do that yet.  So, instead of slipping away from Thanksgiving festivities to discover where Camilla and Martin will go from here, I will be avoiding for as long as possible facing the unwelcome task of a substantial rewrite of at least one chapter.

Maybe I’ll try designing the cover instead.

 

Posted in Personal, Reviews, Writing Fiction

Editing With Pizza and Salmon

Before you start reading this blog, ask yourself one serious question:
Have you ever seen anything that looks better than that slice of “California Dreaming” pizza from Cogan’s in Norfolk, VA??
As I am laboring away at this story, “The Wife,”–which is feeling less and less like a story and more and more like the very bad start of a novel–I have taken a break to open a Patreon account (patreon.com).
There is a good deal of figuring out the site, which always feels like wasting time to me, although I will confess to a thrill of accomplishment when I actually do master any small detail.
And there is a good deal of writing. You know the kind of thing–biographical details that somehow make you sound charming, witty, serious, and a tiny bit eccentric, nothing excessive.  What’s wanted is just enough to enhance your charm and your  seriousness with a soupçon of spice, nothing to make you seem like a whack-job.
However that might be, the writing–in fact any writing–provides the deeply desired sense of Doing Something Important.  Doing my work.
What follows describes an absolutely delicious editing experience I had a couple of years ago.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Author
Rachael Steil is the author of Running In Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It (Koehler Books 2016).
41QgYQner5L

I know Rachael because her mother knows a good friend of mine in Michigan, and my friend asked me to talk to Rachael about a book she was writing.  And that is how it all started.

For over three months, from early February to sometime in May of 2016, Rachael and I edited her manuscript.  When I first read it, Running in Silence weighed in at approximately 100,000 well-crafted, sometimes lyrical words. By the time I finally met her in person, Rachael had cut it down to a more manageable 80,000.  I remember that almost the first thing she said to me was, “I’ve cut 20,000 words!”

Running in Silence is a memoir, powerful and personal, the story of one young athlete’s war with the siren songs of binge eating and starvation as they play out on the running tracks of high schools and colleges coast to coast in this country.

On her first trip from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Norfolk, Virginia, I took Rachael out to meet John Koehler, founder and guiding spirit of Koehler Books, the Virginia Beach publishing company that had released my first book almost a year earlier.  John took us to lunch and gave Rachael the benefit of his experience  from many years in the worlds of publishing and marketing.  He was clear: “Memoirs don’t sell. You have to turn this into a self-help book. You need a good editor. I suggest Dean.” Although she was clearly charmed by John and grateful for all his advice, I saw the look of near-desperation on Rachael’s face as she absorbed his words about a self-help book.

When she climbed into her rental car the next morning, headed for the airport, I told her to think everything over and call me if she had any questions.  We parted on good terms, having enjoyed a couple of very pleasant days together talking about writing in general and our own writing in particular.  She had made a connection with my cat, Isaac.

It was about a month later that Rachael called and asked me if I would edit her book, and that was the beginning of an editing and writing partnership, and a solid friendship, that was more and certainly different than either of us expected.

THE CONVERSATION
Rachael
—“I don’t know how I feel about turning my memoir into a self-help book.”

Dean—“I know exactly how Ifeel about it, Rachael. I won’t have anything to do with turning your manuscript into anything other than what it is. We have to figure out a way to impose a self-help apparatus of some kind onto it, almost like a frame.  But no violence to that text. I won’t do it.”

We were both relieved, I think, and we were soon to discover that we had set ourselves a formidable task.

THE MONEY
I charged Rachael by the hour and considerably below the going rate for professional editing, because I had absolutely no idea how long this would take.  I sent her regular invoices, I think monthly, so she could keep track of exactly where we were.

THE WORK SCHEDULE
**Rachael recently sent me this series of photographs from the four days she spent with me doing a final editing of her book.  I think they pretty well say  it all.

editor

virginia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A NORMAL WEEK
Sunday Rachael sends a chapter or two.

Monday Rachael and I do the first reading, out loud, over the phone, and we stop when we hear that “sour note,” continue to read the sentence or short section over and over and over, often going backwards and reading a paragraph or two before it, hoping to identify the problem in context. When we find the sentence that is out of tune, we take the time to rewrite if it can be done quickly and easily.

Mon-Wed Rachael integrates all the corrections we made or discussed in our reading; I go through the manuscript and, using Track Changes, make more suggestions.

Wednesday, as early as I can,  I send my corrected version to Rachael and she reads it over and either integrates my suggestions or marks them for questions.

Thurs We discuss the chapters as they now exist, Rachael again making changes as we go through.

Friday We read the chapters aloud again and Rachael takes them home over the weekend to write the changes into the text and file these chapters away for the time being.

This describes the rhythm of most of our weeks.  Once Rachael flew in to stay for four days of editing.  We turned off our phones, locked the doors, and read aloud and edited.  Our only contact with the outside world was the guy who delivered the pizza.  The next morning, I introduced Rachael to the thrill of cold pizza for breakfast.

 

California-dreamin-e1486494743701-600x600

 

 

Somewhere in there I cooked salmon and vegetables.

THE SELF-HELP BOOK
I started looking at self-help books online, not liking them any more than I ever had, but this was a mission.  We ultimately came up with a very simple formula.  At the end of each chapter we wrote questions for thought and short assignments for journals. Our goal was to engage the reader in as active a way as possible.  I began to take some delight in this entirely new area of creative thought. For example, and I’m proud of the sheer corniness of it—in this book about eating disorders and running, I labeled the two sets of questions “Mile Markers” and “Food for Thought.” I got us started, but Rachael soon picked up the rhythm and took over.  By the time the book went to Koehler Books’ editor and to press, she had fleshed out all the chapter challenges and had attached a Glossary and an exhaustive worksheet at the very end.  It is an amazing achievement. And the whole experience has led Rachael down some unexpected paths.

THE MISSION
Rachael Steil has become a spokesperson for her cause. She travels to high schools and colleges, speaks to students, teachers, coaches, and counselors, raising awareness of eating disorders among serious student athletes, especially runners.

I believe she will back me up when I say that she never saw herself doing any of this, starting with that self-help book we were both so determined not to write.

Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing Fiction

A Story Continued. First draft title: “The Wife,” Chapter Two

Chapter Two
“I Supposed Mr. Ainsworth Had Taken a Room”
Camilla Considers

For a good long while, several months at least, I saw almost nothing of our boarder, Mr. Martin Ainsworth.  His days were entirely taken up either by long sessions when Father provided detailed instructions on what needed doing and how it should be done or by the work itself.  Judging from a few pretty spectacular changes around the place and from Father’s increasingly happy mood, I concluded that Mr. Ainsworth learned quickly and there was more work than instruction.

Although Father was by far the best educated and the most successful–with a profession, a wife, a daughter, and a home– somehow their relationship was always one between equals.  I never heard Father speak to Mr. Ainsworth with anything other than genuine respect and liking.  And Mr. Ainsworth, for his part, clearly did not feel inferior or beholden to Father.  He soon was a comfortable member of the household.  His plan for taking his meals alone in his room was abandoned at Mother’s insistence, and we all sat down together as if we had been doing it forever.

I was aware, almost from the day he arrived, of his attention. In the beginning, it was so understated that I might not have noticed it had we not been such a small group, and even then I wasn’t sure all at once. But thinking back, and whether I was aware of it or not, I feel sure that Martin’s attention explains the discomfort I felt in the beginning. It was something new. I wasn’t accustomed to it.  Often, Mother and I would excuse ourselves to take the dishes out to the kitchen, get them washed and put away, make a pot of coffee, and generally get the house into order for the next morning. By the time we had finished with all that, frequently the men had either gotten into one of their discussions–the two of them could talk for hours about nearly anything–or they would have already gone off to bed.

So, with one thing and another, Mr. Martin Ainsworth and I exchanged very few words and hardly even saw each other except at the dinner table.  His presence in the house changed almost nothing in my daily life. Nonetheless, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, a man’s constant awareness of you whenever you are in the same room exerts a pull, no matter how subtle, that is nearly irresistible. These are lessons we learn only with hindsight.

But the day came–and I knew that it would–when Martin and I found ourselves alone.  Mother and Father had made one of their rare trips to town together. Our small Post Office had secured a display of photographs of some of the fancy vehicles used in the cities to deliver the mail.  Once Father heard about it, he just couldn’t stay away and Mother felt up to joining him, a treat for them both. Although they always denied it,  I have wondered over the years whether they had planned this.

I was sitting comfortably at the kitchen table, pages of schoolwork spread out in front of me, when Martin came in. It was early for him to have stopped working, and he surprised me.

“Oh, Miss Camilla, I’m sorry if I made you jump.  I have run out of the nails to finish the fencing around back, and I guess I missed your parents. They could easily have picked up what I need.”

“Yes, Mr. Ainsworth, they left almost an hour ago.”

“Well, the fence will just have to wait a day or two, and I can start on something else in the morning. That’ll work just fine, and I’ve got a couple of jobs in mind.”

“I know Father is very grateful to you for all the help, Mr. Ainsworth. And I think he is also grateful to have the company of another man around the place.”

“I’m the one should be grateful, Miss Camilla. This place, the work, the way you all have welcomed me, it’s just about saved me.”

I remember the conversation between us was awkward at first. It felt odd to even be in the same room with him with no one else there–not improper or anything, just unusual. I honestly couldn’t think of another thing to say, so I looked down at my papers and started shuffling them around, like I was about to get back to working on them.

“I hope it’s alright for me to say, but if that’s any kind of arithmetic, anything with numbers, and you ever need help, I’d be glad to offer it. It’s the one thing I did just about better than anyone in school, and a good thing since you need to know something about numbers to work on machines.”

I laughed, “I might take you up on that, Mr. Ainsworth, because arithmetic is the one thing I did just about worse than anyone else.”

There was silence again, not quite as awkward as before, then we started at the same time.

“Miss Camilla, would you mind if I sat down here at the table for a spell?”    “Can you explain how numbers are important for working on machines? Did you just mean you have to take measurements?”

This time we both laughed and, as he started to describe some of the machines around our place, and how knowing numbers let him use them in new ways, Martin pulled back the chair next to mine and sat down. Even at the time, I noticed how smoothly he managed it, and yet he didn’t seem conniving. I didn’t feel he was tricking me. And I noticed, too, that when he was talking about work he was doing, he talked more easily and seemed more relaxed. His voice even sounded different.

After a few minutes of numbers and machines, most of which I didn’t understand, Martin all of a sudden just stopped talking and sat looking at his hands. I completely forgot the proprieties and just blurted out, “Mr. Ainsworth, is anything wrong?”

“I expect so, Miss Camilla. I expect there is. I don’t even know what I think I’m doing sitting here at this table. I don’t think William and Megan would like it one bit. And they especially wouldn’t like what has been in my head from the minute I walked in and saw you.”

“Mr. Ainsworth, now I think would be a good time to stop. I’d like you to leave me to get back to my schoolwork.”

I remember how sad Martin looked as he stood up from the chair, and I didn’t want to let him go without saying something.

“Mr. Ainsworth, thank you for explaining about the machines and the arithmetic. It gave me some new ways of seeing things. But now you should go out.”

He left without any fuss, and I sat without doing much of anything until Mother and Father came home and I got up to help with dinner.

I must say that Mr. Martin Ainsworth impressed me when he appeared at dinner, the same as always, greeting Mother and describing to Father the nails he needed and the way he intended to use them.

There was one change, though, and I wonder if my parents noticed. Without appearing the least bit nervous or embarrassed in front of Mother and Father, he turned to me, and said, just as if he said it exactly like this every day, “Good evening, Camilla, I hope your day was worthwhile.”

Posted in News of the Day, Personal

SLUTS

Melania Trump

Michelle Obama

Laura Bush

 

Marilyn Monroe

Janis Joplin

Zelda Fitzgerald

 

                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been drawn to Melania Trump since the first mention of her in the press. In spite of myself, I paid attention to those early stories of languages she did or did not speak, degrees she had or had not earned, the childhood poverty, the modeling career, America, New York, Donald Trump.

I vividly recall the provocative black and white photographs of the teenage model. There was a spread of them somewhere, beautiful and unnerving.  Even behind the strained bravado of a young girl trying hard to look sure of herself, to look older, one could see the heartbreaking vulnerability.  I couldn’t look at them for long at a time.

45d31edab5fe73afd8b7ed57238fcee5

 

The first time I ever ran across the term “slut-shaming” was in reference to the public comments–many by reputable journalists–that Melania dressed like a prostitute and had screwed her way out of her village, into fashionable Manhattan parties, and finally into Donald Trump’s bed and into the White House. We were about to have a whore as First Lady.

In our national language, the slut seems to come in two styles–stupid and crazy–and a great deal of ink has been devoted to illustrating Melania’s lack of intelligence. “Dumber than a bag of rocks,” seems to be the consensus. This has made it relatively easy not only to attack her perceived excess sexuality but also seemingly every project she has tried to launch as First Lady. I was horrified at the vicious ridicule heaped on her for the “Be Best” campaign.

The incurable provincialism of Americans is never more evident than in our apparent belief that anyone who speaks with an accent is stupid.

My usual sources of news, analysis, and opinion, The New York Times and The New Yorker, both of which I now read online, are full this week of the death of John McCain.  One focus of all this coverage is yet another example of the petty, vindictive behavior of the President of the United States.  It happens so often, in such appalling ways, that it hardly even deserves a comment.

Buried somewhere in one of the articles in the Times was a reference to Barbara Bush’s funeral and to the fact that Melania Trump attended without her husband (who was, several articles report, on the golf course). The reference was to an “iconic” photograph of four former presidents and their spouses posing with Melania Trump who was there representing the President. The media have thoroughly explored possible reasons for Mr. Trump’s absence, all to some extent believable, but the impression the photograph made on me has nothing at all to do with whether Trump’s absence was legitimate.

It has to do with the image of two beautiful women, only one of whom is alone, both of whom have been judged for their looks–Melania Trump for her whorishness, Michelle Obama for her blackness.  There, too, is Hillary Clinton, criticized for not looking sexy enough. Is there such a thing as wonk-shaming?

Women in the public eye leave themselves open to the worst sort of intrusions into their lives, and even the compliments have an edge.

Janis Joplin, every man’s punching bag, died when she fell off a toilet with a needle in her arm.fullsizeoutput_4948

 

 

Zelda Fitzgerald was committed to an “insane asylum” by her writer husband when she started to write and paint. She died in the fire that burned the asylum to the ground. Their degradation as women was paraded across every front page in the world. I actually read that Joplin had semen in her vagina, and that Zelda Fitzgerald was a drooling madwoman before she died.  She took her clothes off in the corridors of the madhouse. There is no way of knowing if those things were true. But they were written down.

After many decades,  I still occasionally try to watch a film clip, or even look at a photograph, of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John Kennedy.  Her breathy, little-girl’s voice is much like the President ‘s wife’s. I think about the expensive, tasteful clothes that are Mrs. Kennedy’s trademark. Marilyn Monroe wears an expensive, slutty, gold designer dress that reveals everything.  She is singing for applause, or love, or kindness. Singing for her supper.fullsizeoutput_4944

Malraux et les Kennedy

 

Joplin recorded a song with these lyrics, “Get it while you can. Don’t you turn your back on love. No, no, no.”

I only want to say that sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

Melania Trump has announced that, in the fall, she will travel to Africa to visit some of the places her husband called “shit-hole countries.”800

The President will not accompany her.