Order a copy of the magazine today
I’m thrilled to announce my essay “The Plastic Daisy” has been accepted for publication in the literary magazine, kerning | a space for words
A biannual compendium of writing that includes poetry, fiction, short stories, flash fiction, personal essays and creative non-fiction from women and gender diverse people.
Toad Hall Editions, the publisher, is comprised of three women who are book readers, book lovers, and book creators.
“We’ve launched Toad Hall Editions because we want to publish potent and thought-provoking work, and because we are committed to creating and deepening community. For us, this means dedicating more space to voices and stories that for too long have lived in the margins.”
The magazine will ship in June. Pre-order your copy today.
The in between phase of artistic seasons
Yesterday I read a blog post about the 4 Seasons of the Artist, by Cari Cole. She wrote how it’s important to understand the dynamic nature of the artistic process so you can know what energy and attention to bring to each phase. This morning, the words nudged me into consciousness.
There’s the gathering season, when creativity will seem low, but new information is assembled and emotions or experiences are processed. A time of roaming and observing. Season 2, she explains, is writing. The fountain is flowing and you have so many ideas you can hardly write them all down.
Which prompted a fond memory.
The day I sat at a table with my best friend outdoors in our garden, surrounded by a whitewashed concrete wall. We both had plates of spaghetti and we decided, in our 6-year-old wisdom, to throw noodles, one at a time, at the wall to see if they would stick. It was a delicious thrill, a moment of pure joy.
This past autumn, I entered the gathering phase. I’m headed into the writing season, but right now, there’s this liminal space. Instead of pasta, I’m flinging ideas at the wall to see what sticks. It’s officially open season on possibilities.
Will it make a mess? I’m sure.
Can I clean it up? Absolutely.
Will I get in trouble? Only if I don’t try.
Sometimes they do—use what you hear as a guide for the new year
The act of what I call “keeping a wall” began in 1974. The bed in my room was underneath the finished stairs, so I had this private nook where I would sleep, read, and write. One day I made an unintentional mark on the wall with a pencil and no matter how hard I rubbed, it wouldn’t erase.
After many days, the allure of transforming the errant mark into something of beauty overwhelmed my fear of punishment. This time, the pencil on the wall was deliberate.
The mark bloomed into a flower; the stem sprouted some leaves, and by the time I stopped, an entire garden had sprung up along the length of the mattress, which was now officially a flower bed.
Every day I added more. Word art, scribbles, quotes. The way the graphite interacted with the chalkiness of the flat paint and the contrast of dark grey lead on a soft pastel yellow background became an obsession.
Eventually the work became too big to hide, and I confessed to a grandmother who already knew what I was doing and with her blessing, I continued with giddy freedom. Over a few years, the nuggets of art and words I could not contain in my head covered the walls as high as I could reach.
I surrounded myself with hand drawn creations of all that mattered. Each one a piece to the puzzle of my life and how I did, or didn’t, fit. Every picture or message a reflection of who I was and who I wanted to be. The space expressed positive energy and became my sanctuary.
Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.”—Hal Borland
Over the years, every place I’ve lived, I’ve kept some version of the original wall. Spaces filled with eclectic ephemera. To the casual observer, the collection may appear as meaningless chaos, but that would be far from the truth. Every item I have placed there with purpose. Every thing has a story.
My current wall has an OBX (Outer Banks, NC) license plate, and it’s a reminder of a vacation we almost didn’t take in 2002. The day before departure, my doctor called and said I may or may not have Hodgkin’s disease and it would be several weeks before I could see a specialist or know for sure. After much debate, my husband and I went. We figured if the outcome was the worse case scenario, it might be awhile before another getaway could happen.
We camped on the Pamlico Sound and spent most of the week dancing around the “what if” conversation. We woke one night when our tent felt as if it was about to take flight. Rain pummeled the nylon walls. The radio was static and there was no cell signal.
We held hands in the dark and together weathered both Tropical Storm Arthur and the inner cyclone of our greatest fear. It was here I learned of a place within I hadn’t known existed. A place of strength and peace.
Next to the OBX plate is a printout of an excerpt from the book “We Are Called to Rise”. When I first read the paragraph, I was alone, yet out loud I said, “This.” The message resonates at my core. I transcribed the words and keep them in my line of sight. The gist of the passage: Even the littlest act of kindness is of great importance and it all matters.
Near the excerpt is a photocopy of an essay I wrote. It was the first time in my life my writing earned money. My husband woke me one Sunday in March of 2003 and presented me with a heavy newspaper. I flipped to the West Virginia Life section, where I knew it would appear. When I couldn’t find it inside, I felt ill and closed the paper. And then I saw it. It was on the cover. Above the fold. With a graphic. “You are what you drive, what does your car say about you?” By Bex Hall for the Sunday Gazette-Mail. My first published piece.
Above that relic is another—a pen and ink drawing I created in the fall of 1987. It is a lighthouse with pine trees, a scene that’s haunted me as long as I can remember. A few weeks after its completion, my dad calls to say his father, my grandpa, had ended his life that Christmas Eve. I packed the picture in my suitcase for the trip south to the funeral.
When I showed it to Dad, I expected a compliment, some approval, but he patted his pockets and found his checkbook. He flipped through the decorative blank checks and stopped on one in particular. It was eerily similar to the one I had created, only in color. It was of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Where he grew up. Where I’ve never been. Where Grandpa’s ashes were eventually spread.
Below the lighthouse picture is a signed, limited edition art print of Switzer Bridge surrounded by trees in autumn glory. It’s a covered bridge no longer used by vehicles but open to foot traffic in Stamping Ground, Kentucky. I bought the print at a nearby bookshop the same day my husband, who’s from that tiny town, took me there, in autumn, to show me a small piece of where he had spent his youth. It’s also where he professed his love. The drawing reminds me of the beginning of our 21 year marriage.
Beside that print is an index card and on it is a hand drawn copy of the cover art from a Dan Fogelberg album. Its music was the soundtrack of my tumultuous life at age 17 and the phoenix rising from a heart, the perfect representation of the next chapter in my life.
I water colored the sketch at age 57 as a reminder I chose a new life once and survived. And I can do it again. I’m not too old, and it’s not too late.
These things are among a hodgepodge of sticky notes, print-outs, and clippings. There are goals and dreams and quotes I will write on my heart. Author’s names and book titles to be read. A list of accomplishments I use to shush the inner critic. An upside down, dried rose from my father’s funeral nine years ago.
If only what hangs on this wall could talk — what do the items I keep say?
When I look at the OBX plate, I hear a reminder I can find strength in a dark storm, tap inner courage to fight battles, and have the grace to understand survival is a team effort.
When I read the excerpt about how kindness is important and how it all matters, I hear the tuning fork of my soul vibrate a pure tone.
I hear the wall say I can create work that connects with others. That I value the wisdom of those who have come before me. My dreams and goals exist. And best of all, I am loved.
As this year ends, I’ll not make any resolutions. Instead, I will listen to what’s on my wall. It’s a living, fluid reflection of who I am, what I think, and where I want to be. And unlike a resolution, it won’t disappear by the end of January.
Happy New Year, every one.
Even if it was late to the party
The stormy weather prevented this month’s full moon sighting and the icy temperatures hampered any kind of walk. There were many months this past year we had interference: a school night, cloudy weather, a really late appearance. To see the moon together and work around those times, we used FaceTime or we woke at 4 a.m. Or we tent camped.
But mostly we spent time together while we waited on the moon. This was another one of those times.
On Saturday afternoon, we play Go Fish with a deck short of two cards and we make up rules as we go along. I print scorecards for Yahtzee® and fill all tasks but one—the five of a kind. We tire of rolling, do the math, and declare a winner.
With regular cards, we play war, and I explain the difference between Jacks and Jokers. How an Ace can be both high or low and it’s usually up to the dealer to say. I teach her how to “Cut thin to win” or tap the deck to leave it as is. She practices shuffling which results in 52 card pickup.
She finds last year’s leftover Christmas cards and uses one to write a letter to Santa. She dictates and I do the penmanship. When I sign off at the end with xox under her name, she asks why. I tell her it means love and affection. The X means a kiss and the O, a hug and she directs me to add one more O, to be fair.
She remembers a decorative holiday box I had a few weeks ago and finds it to use for the letter. She then needs an accompanying gift, which she plucks from the tree, an ornament I’m okay with going to the North Pole.
She wants to make art and I explain I haven’t felt up to painting in a long time, but I remember I’m giving her watercolor pencils next week, so I ask if she’s ever used them before. She hasn’t, so I get mine out and show her how they work. As we’re coloring, she reminds me I said I haven’t felt like doing art to which I respond, true, but here I am. “You must have a positive influence on me,” and she smiles.
We watch holiday movies and check the moon’s location in the Skyview app. Once it’s over the horizon, we search the cloud covered sky. No moon. It’s below freezing and windy. We plan to wake at four, but even then the sky is blank.
I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.”—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Before bed, we use Neutrogena® makeup remover wipes on our faces. I comment how the smell reminds me of something I can’t remember from my childhood, but it makes me feel comfort today. Ellie says the smell reminds her of the day she was born and how happy she was. I ask her if she’s still happy all these eight years later and her soft face beams when she quips, “Of course, silly.”
Once in bed, we read “How to be a Moonflower” by Katie Daisy and talk about planting a lunar garden next Spring. We study the animals that only come out at night and memorize the word ‘nocturnal’ and she announces she is this in order to stay up longer. I turn on KidsSongs Sleepyheads by Nancy Cassidy and we watch the flicker of the lighted snow filled lantern dance on the ceiling.
At first light we don warm clothes and go in search of deer in the woods. We tiptoe over twigs and use library voices. We find patches of flattened blonde switchgrass in the field behind the tree line and we make up stories about the family who slept in these beds. We listen for hoof steps or rustles, but hear only geese honks. We track their path as they fly in a V over the treetops in a sky made of tattered lace. And still no moon.
She goes home in the rain on Sunday and this morning, Monday the 20th, at 6:00, there it is, the mostly full moon. We FaceTime and she sees it here, but it’s not visible at her house. She shows me her room and the cat and the holiday shirt she’s wearing to school for a party. Her dad hollers from another room and it’s time for her to go.
Right after we say our usual I-love-you-I-love-you-too goodbyes, I’m about to tap the red End button but pause when I hear her pipe up, “Mimi, ex oh, ex oh.”
Ex oh, ex oh, to you too, Ellie.
And XOXO to you.