Posted in Reviews

“The Diary of a Novice Investor” Delivers More Than Its Title or Its Cover Suggest

Mark Slauter’s Diary of a Novice Investor is a book about one man’s first serious attempts to manage a portfolio of investments. It offers detailed and practical suggestions for new investors who don’t  know where to begin. Slauter sets out his goals in the Preface:

“I wrote this book to provide insight to readers who are interested in investing, but have no previous exposure to the emotional roller coaster investing can create. I am not an analyst nor certified in any way as an investment advisor or financial planner, and I do not intend for anyone to use the information provided in this book as professional investment advice. Rather, my goal is to express my first-person experience learning about investing, and offer the read- er insight into the angst, frustration, elation, and thought-processes I experienced as a novice investor—and continue working through today.”

 This is going to be a book about a great deal more than investing.

Slauter’s Diary is also the account of a son’s painful experience with his elderly parents. It is not, like the investing, something new, but rather a story as old as humanity, described in an intense narrative that tells us that there is no “technique,” no adequate approach to  dementia and death.  Slauter and his sister discover, as we all do, that the decline of parents is not a problem to be solved but a process to be lived through with as much love and understanding as we can muster.

It is difficult to say which narrative is the most compelling, so intertwined are the two. Slauter’s mother becomes forgetful, then begins a slide into dementia. His father, determined to take care of her, has a difficult time letting go and, in the classic marker of so many aspects of aging, he fails a driver’s test. Unexpectedly, he dies. Slauter is left with a mother who is not able to manage her investments.

The responsibility falls to him. It is a job he has never done very well for himself.

A Prologue, called “The Set Up,” tells the story, in the rawest and most personal terms, of the events in his family that led up to his struggles with the stock market and the challenge he set himself of learning enough to not only maintain his parents’ investments but to improve them, and it begins:

“Problems can be elusive creatures. Even though you may recognize a problem as it’s happening, its genesis and evolution become clearer when you stare backward through the looking glass of time. In 2008, my sister, Mary, and I knew Mom and Dad were in real trouble . . .”

A family vacation gone wrong.  A glimpse into what was ahead.

Every chapter begins with one of Douglas Fuchs’ full-page illustrations and “You know you’re a Novice Investor when,” images and text both suggesting layers of meaning.

This first one remains my favorite.

 

What we have in hand is a book about middle-aged children and their aging parents, about self-discovery in the midst of sadness and struggle, and–oh, yes–a book about investing so thorough, such a good read, that it could be the primer for investors who will be delighted that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

The “Introduction”  plunges us into the world of stocks and portfolios, and pages and pages of numbers, a lot of numbers, charts, tables, columns filled with numbers.  I’m not a Numbers kind of girl. I’m a retired English teacher. I still sometimes count on my fingers.

Why didn’t he warn me about all these numbers?

Of the three hundred pages that comprise this book, it appears to me that far too many have charts and tables, estimates and projections all based on numbers.

But Slauter has a plan. He creates a “fantasy investment portfolio.” I had not the vaguest idea what that could be and, given my relationship with this sort of thing, I’m afraid you will have to read the book. But here’s what it says:

“The Diary of a Novice Investor emerged from a need to determine what my skill level was with investing and understand how well I could support Mom’s needs. I only knew one way how to figure these details out for her and avoid costly mistakes: I created a fantasy investment portfolio. Think of this approach as a variation on playing Monopoly where I can buy and sell Boardwalk or Park Place without using real money. Only in this instance, my game board is Wall Street.”

I have to trust the author on the use of this metaphor because I am also not a Board Game kind of girl. That said, it is a masterful piece of writing that captures you with the personal story then gives you a step-by-step path to becoming a successful investor.

Slauter keeps the reader with him every step of the way. At the end of each trial, when he has tried and failed and tried and failed again, he lays out not only his process, but a list of “Lessons Learned” and the results.

If you have never invested, or if you have dabbled in it but never been pressed to get serious, this is the book you need.  It can save you a great deal of time.

Diary of a Novice Investor is a rich read, whether you are in the market for advice about investing or not. It is funny, with the kind of self-deprecating humor that brings the reader into an immediate and comfortable relationship with a writer who laughs at himself for his mistakes then comes right back and dives in again, trying one approach after another until he begins to get the hang of it.

Mark Slauter once wrote a guest blog for me. The subject he chose was “Perseverance”!!

He is confronted with the terrible decline of the very people on whom we rely, with the sudden need to figure out how to manage money, and with his own fears and uncertainties all at the same time. It proves to be hard duty and it sparks not only a dive into investing but a season of introspection. In the most difficult circumstances, here is a man who takes advantage of the opportunity to learn and to move forward.  He is brutal in his honesty about himself:

The Diary of a Novice Investor (The Bullet Train to Wealth Left When?) tells the tale of my experiences in coming to terms with Mom’s declining health and my need to learn a higher degree of financial responsibility.”

We are invited into the author’s world, a world filled with the struggle to accept what is happening to his parents, with his flashes of humor and insights, and with his growing excitement with his portfolio:

“Holy crap! The market is off about 560 points in 2 days. The Federal Reserve intimated they will be reducing the bond buying if the economy continues to improve. Here’s the dilemma: I like what I have and don’t want to sell – emotion says hold, but the head says sell; think I’ll sell on those that are still up. Maybe this will afford me an opportunity to buy some of them back cheaper. Part of the problem is the flight mentality of investors… “Well, if others are selling then I’d better sell too!””Of course, this also means I’ll have to find other new stocks to invest in. With bond rates creeping up a little I would expect my bond fund to improve but it has continued to fall. If I sell the winners, I’m stuck with the losers.”

By this point, I’m beginning to like this guy.

”When my co-workers ask me why I bring my lunch every day, I say it saves me money so I can buy more wine. This is only a partial truth, so I’ll describe it another way. Let’s say it costs me $1 dollar per day to make my own lunch, which means I spend about $20 per month for lunch. Now, if I went out to lunch and spent $5 every day, that equals $80 per month, meaning I save $60 in expenses by bringing my own lunch! This means that I could now use this money to invest $720 a year — or buy several cases of wine. The cheapest 100 shares I bought with fantasy money was only $636, and at one point, the stock was up 116%!”

The book’s true genius lies in its easy melding of two narratives–the one, an age-old tale of parents at the end of their lives; the other, the story of Slauter’s determined pursuit of mastery in the world of investing. And, as he moves through both these experiences, we hear the voice of a man who is getting to know himself in some new and important ways.

And, finally, I can avoid it no longer. Here is the very first of the charts logging in the data on Slauter’s Portfolio. For the investors among the readers of this book, this looks like risk-taking and fun. For the rest of us, I include just two more illustrations.

Bravo, Mr. Slauter and Mr. Fuchs. Diary of a Novice Investor:The Bullet Train to Wealth Left When?? lays out a measured and tested plan that might just get you to the station in time to grab your ticket on that train and, in the meantime, it’s a heck of a good read.

 

 

 

 

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.”

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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

 

 

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

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(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.

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(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.

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

 

 

 

 

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(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.

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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.

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(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.

 

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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

 

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).
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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.

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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.

 

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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.