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QUINTESSENCE

Some Things

 

Going into the Quintessence archives, I wanted to repost this essay from three years ago. It feels timeless to me, and appropriate to the season and events of history, both personal and within the world. As we gather at Thanksgiving tables, let us celebrate and cherish what matters here, in our hearts. I send all of you my very warmest blessings and love.

 

SIMPLE TRUTH

Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.

 

—from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine

 

The beauty of love is that it is capable of great patience and tremendous tenacity; it stretches, it attaches, it slowly builds like bone in the body. It has been a journey for me, this life. And in the becoming there is both loss and miracle. The ending of stories and the beginning of new forms of connection and partnership. We are always making family, even within family. Evolving into new ways of being, grafting new shapes onto the lives we lead. It is the simple truth that life is a cycle of ever-becoming. And while neither easy, nor perfect in process, this becoming is beautiful in its grace and sufficiency. All life carries within it the seed of joy. Presence grounded in the earth, the heavens, and the mystery of evolving purpose.

 

The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And it speaks its simple truth. Belong.

 

 

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ONLY WHEN IT IS PLAYED

 

MUSIC IS IN THE PIANO ONLY WHEN IT IS PLAYED

by Jack Gilbert

 

We are not one with this world. We are not

the complexity our body is, nor the summer air

idling in the big maple without purpose.

We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves

as it passes through. We are not the wood

any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage

between the two. We are certainly not the lake

nor the fish in it, but the something that is

pleased by them. We are the stillness when

a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices

of insects by the broken farmhouse. We are evident

when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part

of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists

only in the singing, and is not the singer.

God does not live among the church bells,

but is briefly resident there. We are occasional

like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed

with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold

on to the enterprise underway in our chest.

Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what

walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat

and giant sky, the sea stretching away.

He continues past the nunnery to the old villa

where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides

touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,

which is the difference between silence and windlessness.

 

This poem by Jack Gilbert is one I keep rolling over in my heart and mouth. Tasting the wisdom, the hard and gentle edges of the words. My mind skims the awareness between thoughts, grasping at meaning like a thread of golden light. This particular poem seems to fit the light gray rain today, the still skies. Autumn, perhaps the most melancholy of seasons. When the fabric between life and death feels thinnest, when what is yields to what will pass. I love the imagery Gilbert uses to describe a kind of living pulse, that essence of being that is temporal and shapeshifting and both in and not of the world lived in. As we walk under the old trees, let us look up at the changing leaves in their many colors, bear witness to how the leaves cling and fall. Look up into the vast open sky and feel the way in which we are none of this and yet nothing more. That we are as the wind walking and breathing and dreaming. We are the music in the piano, the bells in the chambers of the heart. Occasional like that.

 

 

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WHAT I WISH FOR MY BOOK ON ITS PUBLICATION DAY

 

WHAT I WISH FOR MY NOVEL ON ITS PUBLICATION DAY
 
1.    Feel the wonder of your unique birthday.
2.    Enjoy my surprise when I see you on a shelf someday and there you are all bright and complete like you were always a book and not just an idea.
3.    Enjoy being carried out of a bookstore, jostling in a bag with new book friends and fresh bookmarks.
4.    Get to know the other books on the shelf at the bookstore and library. Who sits beside you? What have they got to say?
5.    Take a breath when that stack of library books you're in gets squeezed tight as you get carried home. That's love.
6.    Develop a hobby to pass the time in the To Be Read pile.
7.    Dream about yourself in film and on the television. Any fantasy picks for your actor portrayals?
8.    Be happy you've got reviews and don't be bothered by your critics.
9.    Love the moment someone drops you in the bath, falls asleep with you open on their lap, or closes the last page with a contented, if regretful sigh. You're living your best life.
10.  Be okay when you're left on the subway or the train or a bus. Accidents happen. It's exciting when someone new picks you up and takes you home.
11.  Have fun at the book clubs. It's all about *you* and there's nothing more fun than readers with wine.
12.  Get used to hearing yourself read out loud. [Sorry in advance for the stumbles and missed pronunciations.]
13.  Get in your sassy groove—you'll love ink signatures styled across your title page and someone saying, "Thank you!" as they take you home.
14.  Don't get too vain as your cover is endlessly admired. Your pages will get dog-eared.
15.  Try not to mind the coffee cup and tea mug stains. It means you're real, my tattered book friend.
16.  You will not stay lost under the sofa forever. There are brooms and dogs.
17.  Smile at the strangers from the book kiosk at the airport. You might be heading off to Dallas, or New York, or San Diego!
18.  Keep a positive attitude when you're traded in for someone else to buy. Nothing lasts forever. Get to know your new reader and used bookshop friends.
19.  Enjoy a library "hold." Pretend you're floating in space.
20.  Even a book as modest as you will kinda love the social media likes and retweets and faves. It's okay to enjoy the love.
21.  Be proud you put yourself together. Go out and meet the world. Have your say.
22.  Get used to a mess of margin notes, unusual bookmarks (napkins, paperclips, pencils) and the neon look of highlighted paragraphs and underlined sentences. It's all good.
23.  Fall in love with the voice of your audiobook reader—meet your alter ego!
24.  Be proud of your author. She's your biggest fan.
25.  Don't apologize for the hundreds of pages of drafts that got you into such fine shape. And try not to be bothered by that killer typo we all know is in there, lurking, waiting for someone to find.
26.  Refrain from rewriting yourself in your head every time you glance at a random page. No point.
27.  Take the review with a grain of salt and a tolerance for debate. Never read the comments.
28.  You'll look gorgeous in a holiday bow and wrapping. Preen a little.
29.  Treasure the contentment of simply keeping someone company.
30.  Celebrate your uniqueness! You're forever the story you are and a fabulous one-of-a-kind. Don't be bothered by comparisons or those shouty bestsellers.
31.  This book birthday celebration is all about you. Take it in. Smile, a lot.
32.  How about that whoosh! after a Buy Button purchase. That rocketing mail truck delivery. Who says books can't have fun.
33.  Admire your brand new face. Believe me when I say the creases and stains to come are beautiful too. Oh, a word of advice—try not to bend your spine the wrong way. It hurts.
34.  It's nice to be ordered, it means someone wants you. But if you get picked up and set down, don't cry. Readers and books are a match made in heaven. Your person is coming.
35.  Let them reread you—often and fondly. Nothing better than old friends.

 

 

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I Don't Know What It Is

 

In a little over a month, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, my fourth book and third novel, will be published. I am excited for the novel's release as this story feels exceptional and special. It has been several years for me between books, yet always the work of writing remains cyclic—the process of a project culminates in either a celebration of publication or a failed manuscript's wake and burial, then resumes quietly where it began, back at the beginning. Any number of years can accumulate like potholes, lean-tos, or wildflower fields between these beginnings and endings. In the experience accumulated in the years from my first published book, nearly twenty years ago, to SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER this September, I have learned that for me, the day of publication is a minor movement in the overall symphony.


 
Publication marks the moment we let our story out into the world. Publication represents the culmination of the draft and edit steps that have come before, plus the expertise and faith of industry professionals who believe that what you have to say has value and commercial worth. A book, a play, a poem: Writing shaped from a private inner artistic struggle to become an object of a stranger's consideration and pleasure. The greatest sense of accomplishment for me, however, lies not in publication but in completion of the final manuscript. The creative journey from its original idea through endless drafts to that last period. That final paragraph and final sentence. The knowledge that the work is done and as good as I can make it.
 
What lies ahead after publication? The measure of a creative work's success. Success is not the work. Success for an artist or writer is generally defined as the critical and/or sales impact of one's work in the world: a transactional value in the commercial markets of public domain. Michael Cunningham addressed the subject of success by saying, "I don't talk about success. I don't know what it is. Wait until I'm dead."
 
What happens to art in the market may be a matter of positive or negative timing, of circumstance, serendipity, or chance. A book may garner critical applause and tank in sales, another may leave not so much as a ripple in the critical world and yet gain great traction in sales and audience appeal. Sometimes the two things go hand in hand. But the author in truth has no control over these things and releasing the work into the world is therefore foremost a prayer that the book will find a path of good will. It is also a personal surrender of expectation. The work the author wrote, the painting the artist painted, is never the book or painting the public sees and receives. Every artist's private vision is translated by the understanding of others. Only the reader or the viewer knows what the work means to them.
 
Authors are expected by the publishing industry to play a role in the marketing and sales of their work. To hand-sell their published work at the expense of creating new work, more so if the publisher is a small press and resources are scarce. When we ask a writer or artist to promote their work, we ask them to market their private point of view, to hawk their inner creative, knowing the market is, finally, largely indifferent to these things. To that end, most writers self-promote with deep discomfort, and, rather badly. Our turf is the library group, the book club, the book panel. Despite notable exceptions, writers are not generally natural celebrities in the way, say, film stars are—willing promoters of the cult of the persona. For most writers and artists, the inner creative is fragile and unpredictable, and dies in harsh light. This vulnerability can destroy the walls between the process and the finished work, walls that protect the genesis of creativity from overt commercial motivation or critical concern. Pablo Picasso put it this way, "Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others."
 
The book publication date is a moment of great pride. It is the finish of an endurance race. When a book goes out into the world, my hope is always that others will appreciate what I created, resonate to its meter and melody. Pleasing a reader is forever the purest joy. That comment in the book signing line when a stranger confesses how moved they are by what you've written, and shares with you, like a friend, all the reasons why? That is the truest feeling of success.
 
As to that other success, I'm hopeful but I've learned to be wise. Who knows. Ed Ruscha perhaps said it best, "That's me, the twenty-five-year overnight sensation."

 

 

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

 

In conversation recently with Marjan Kamali, whose remarkable new novel, THE STATIONERY SHOP was published just this month to great acclaim, Marjan mentioned that part of what she loved about my new novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, were the distinctions between the truth and the stories the characters tell themselves.
 
Marjan's observation hits the nail on the head: We are our stories and we also are not. All of the characters in my novel are spinning stories out of their pasts. Some because the truth may be what has broken them, or remains impossible to bear; for others, because of the absence of a pathway to healing in the truth. The story is preferable to a more foreboding or nuanced reality.
 
We tell ourselves stories all the time, naturally and without thought. We deliberately construct more livable fictions for ourselves. We edit the memories of our experiences, build happier fantasies for the future. We create myths around things either too difficult, too improbable, or too tragic to live with. Our stories help us survive a dangerous or challenging present, or merely mute the pain and broken places in our lives in a more bearable way. Our myths unconsciously make us larger than life, so that like our heroes, we might rise to whatever monsters or Herculean challenges lie ahead. Stories are powerful ways of shifting borders and identities, and in truth, we may get into trouble when we lose sight of what is real.
 
What interested me in telling the story of the musical Stone family in SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER was the complicated nature of each character's relationship with the truth. For the Stone women, the remaking of the personal had become a way to cope with the unthinkable. Their chosen narratives born of wishful thinking or sheer ambition; a way to dodge an unbearable truth. What omissions, what lies, I wondered, had they felt must be told to protect one another? To move forward. And the origins of their stories—what dark elements of family lore or brute practicality play forward through the generations. Were there impulses of unacknowledged guilt or primitive self-protection? Even genuine ignorance?
 
For the reader threading apart the Stone family tales of omission, truth, and lies, the implications of secrecy—when truth is backed up against survival—raises profound questions. What stories born of misguided intention have nonetheless become a thing of beauty across the grain of old scars—a kind of patina over the past—and what untruths must yet be unraveled for each of these characters to heal and find happiness.
 
I hope as you read SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER you will ponder if perhaps all of our stories are a kind of music of the heart. A melody we weave, singly and together.

 

 

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How Close is Close, Character Twin Dynamics


 Marley and Andi Stone, the singer-songwriter country duo of my novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, are fraternal twins, as well as Geminis, born in June. Twinned twice, as it were. Why did I choose characters who were twins? To deepen the elements of connection and natural sibling competition. I wanted the main characters of my novel to be sisters, close in age, and bonded by both an unconventional childhood and their conjoined careers as family musicians.
 
Twin statistics are interesting. There are two-thirds more fraternal twins than identical, and in total, twins account for about 23% of births per thousand in the world. And while "identical" is a given for identical twins biologically-speaking, the range of "perceived likeness" is considerable for both groups. Fraternal twins can be quite similar, or as different as normal siblings might be. And identical twins can prove the fact, or it's contrary, for any "nature versus nurture" argument. What interested me about the dynamics between twins, not being one myself but growing up knowing several, was the complex subtlety of always being both close and too close. The tension between the dependency and comfort in having someone in your life who knows you almost as well as you know yourself, and the potential pyschic claustrophobia—the challenge to establish your own independence and uniqueness when there is literally double of everything "you" in your family life. Twins are often quite close as children, and then push apart in late-adolescence and in their twenties, sick of being "the twins" and seeking an independent identity. Most then return to the twin bond as life leads back toward supporting one another in their own special way. Twins often feel they are their own sibling bedrock within fluctuating family dynamics.
 
As Geminis, assuming you don't mind my throwing some astrology into the country music mix, the girls stepped out in full character: expressive, lively, adaptable, humorous, clever, sociable, curious, whimsical, independent, brainy, and charming. But also scattered, moody, shallow, inquisitive, opportunistic, selfish, fragile, inconsistent, and changeable. Marley is my songwriter, and Andi, my singer: two girls who feel as Keith Richards put it, "Music is a language that doesn't speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it's in the bones, it's in the bones." 
 
And actually, there is some truth to that as it pertains to twins in the music industry. A quick search yields some fascinating examples: Lorretta Lynn's two youngest daughters, the twins Peggy and Patsy Lynn performing as The Lynn Sisters; the Hager Brothers, twins Jim and Jon of Hee Haw fame, Robin and Maurice Gibbs of the Bee Gees; and the Russian Eurovision stars Anastasiya and Maria Andreyevna, to name just a handful. Twins seem to gravitate into musical careers from early childhood over other arts like dance, acting, and writing, or pursuits like politics, modeling, or television. Family bands are not unusual, but is there something in the fluidity between songwriting and vocal and instrument performance that particularly allows twins to express their common gifts and yet create distinct identities within their shared art? I envisioned the Stone sisters' band, The Andi Stone Tour, as a vehicle for setting these characters loose in a setting that would expose talents as well as artistic conflicts.
 
Oftentimes the myths and romance of twinning overshadow the realities. The allusion to "twin radar" for example—one sibling knowing without communicating what the other is thinking or needs; the "two halves make a whole" suggested codependence; even the belief that twin life is sprinkled with "extras" in whatever way one can think of—from the ability to pull pranks to an organ donor match. But what research and experiences with my twin friends taught me is that twins often struggle as they come-of-age—when they are less likely to be alike and more inclined to develop differences, naturally or deliberately. This natural need for self-assertion became the subtle narrative framework for my fictional singer-songwriter duo: Andi and Marley were growing up in the context of professional country music, bound by the constraints of continuously working together; and later as adults, by the complicating reality of one sister becoming more powerful, visible, and wealthy in their shared music life. How this imbalance affected Marley and Andi's personal lives would underscore how the sisters grapple with a sudden and devastating family tragedy.
 
It is my hope that when you read SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, you will believe that not only do Marley and Andi know the music is "in their bones," but they are—for forever and always—the Stone sisters.

 

 

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Family Dynamics, The Dark and The Light

David Salle, Playing, Dreaming, 2015  [oil, acrylic, crayon, and archival digital print on linen]

 

Tolstoy wrote in his novel Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." When we think of family dynamics and the poignant mix of affection and dysfunction present in lifelong relationship, we understand why novelists, poets, playwrights, and creatives in general mine the undercurrents of human unhappiness that sometimes transform into resilient joy. This was the case when I began my novel SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER. I knew the themes of the novel would be survival, forgiveness, redemption, secrecy, and the ties that bind. But I wasn't yet certain if the secrets of the Stone family would crumble or shore up the foundation of the love they felt for one another and their shared life in music.
 
I was wrestling with dynamics of light and dark. As the painter David Salle wrote, "The subject exists inside of its shadows. That's part of the way we see the subject. It's not about dragging something out into the light, some glaring gaze. It's about something being developed or caressed by shadows, or revealed within shadows, or just falling onto shadow." Standing before Salle's painting Playing, Dreaming, 2015 on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston a few years back, I understood family dynamics are similarly marked by positive and negative space interactions. My novel could not solely circumscribe complex characters and their long-held secrets but must explore the effect of one upon the other—changes in fortune and changes within, and their subtleties.
 
We have the shadow and we have the light.
 
When plot is taken down a notch, and the narrative becomes voice-driven and language-heavy, the literal and the figurative meet. What is harsh, ugly, or mysterious in the human experience may be illuminated by language. I thought about the power of secrets to drive narrative—the most common of plot points—and about the finer point I wanted to make about human happiness. I made a decision to place the Stone family secrets in the wings, slightly off-stage in the narrative. Yes, we know there is something there, but our priority is getting to know the Stone family­—Marley, Andi, and their mother Donna—rather than reading ahead to tease out plot points. We root for our heroines as they seek their way out of the shadows. And when we finally understand what the family has been dealing with, the revelation is the more profound for our connection to the characters and theirs to one another.
 
The way families connect, as the work of both Tolstoy and Salle observe, that is, despite and through difficulty, underscores a profound human truth. We are each our own unique mix of light and dark. And how we harmonize those aspects (or don't) render what is always a nuanced happiness. Writing family dynamics, the dark elements are where we find a mark in history, a leavening, a moral, the proverbial fork in the road. The Stone women exist, fully and richly, inside their secrets. And we love our characters all the more for what is revealed within those shadows. 

 

 

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The Music in Narrative

 

Alone he is a solo for piano that never comes to an end,

a small plane that keeps flying away from the earth.

He is the last line of a poem that continues off the page

and down to a river to drag there in the cool flow,

 

questioning the still pools with its silver hook.

 

––from "Going Out for Cigarettes," Billy Collins
 
This is the first post in a series of personal "notes from the author" as we head toward the publication of my newest novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, from Black Opal Books in September of this year. In my books I have frequently written about artists and the drive to produce creative work. A confluence of passion and obsession, and at times sacrifice, that cuts deep to the bone and may be as ruinous as it is successful. In previous novels I have written about sculptors (Loose Threads), and classical cellists and photographers (Exposures). In the process of writing each book I learned something about our fierce and brilliant, if fragile, humanity. In my new novel I delve into the performance world of country music, telling the story of the Stone twins, Andi and Marley Stone, and their rise from the singing kid stars on collapsible fairground stages across the west to complex seasoned performers taking the stage at the Country Music Awards.

 

In researching this book, I delved into the professional and technical aspects of songwriting and vocal performance, the thrill and disappointments of a life on stage, and the ways music like a balm may bring healing to the human heart. I held an image in my mind of an out-of-luck family living on the road; of an eccentric and erratic single mother hellbent to survive. Donna Stone lived on caffeine, her wits, and sheer ambition. She relentlessly promoted the musical talent of her girls –– yet Donna would stop at nothing to protect her daughters from harm. This idea grew to become a story of the bond between sisters, a mother's fierce love, and the dark power of secrets.

 

A story of love and what might break it.

 

In my novel, writing and composing country music lyrics anchor the life of one sister in particular. The synergy––even the synesthesia between words and music––and the transformational power of lyric vocals was very much on my mind as I developed the characters of Andi and Marley Stone. 

 

A few months back, as some of you may have read, I spoke with New York Times bestselling novelist Caroline Leavitt –– This is You, Cruel Beautiful World –– on her blog about SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, exploring the interconnected power of music and writing. [Link: carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/Burgess]  Here is what I wrote about music and writing:
 
Debussy was said to have painted music, Sibelius heard compositions as a symphony of color. As I worked on my country music novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, I realized I was beginning to hear unspoken words within the music, not just the music of words. Language has always possessed musicality—and naturally and effortlessly transforms into the lyric, the song—but for me it was a unique experience to think about songwriting, melody, and a novel's narrative all from the point of view of a musician. What story does a line of notes tell when there are as yet no lyrics, when the song says nothing at all?
 
When words do partner with a melody there is a dance between meaning and feeling. We understand words, however we feel music. What becomes important? What is said, or left unsaid? Conveyed through language or simply through the notes of the song? 
 
I determined to make a deliberate effort in my narrative to infuse in the landscape, scenes, and in dialog, echoes of the musical performances of my country music duo, Marley and Andi Stone. I felt the twin sisters' music was as much a character in their story as the lake in the novel, or Donna, their mother. That for some characters, what they seek speaks their piece in the world.  Marley leaves heartbreak at the keyboard, finds hope in an inspired melody. Andi defines a world for herself by singing it into being. Donna pushes back a hard and disappointing life listening to the jubilation in the notes and verses of others. I considered the novel's narrative as a musical composition between all the parts of the story and an original melody took root in the pages, from the opening note to the last.
 
Many writers read their work aloud in draft to catch a lagging clause or repetitive word, dull sections, or run-on sentences. I read this entire novel aloud, by scene and section, and in a series of chapters at a time. Multiple times. Listening to the narrative was quite literal for me. I paced my small study as I read, attuned to the music in the words. The lake country as well as country music defined the Stone girls and I listened for that thread on every page. My hope is that when you read this novel, it will sing for you too.

 

I'm so looking forward to sharing this novel with you. Until then, here's to that "last line of a poem that continues off the page." 

 

May the music of your own words carry you through. 

 


 

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Last Year's Words

"Solitude" by David Lorenz Winston

 

For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

 

- T. S. Eliot, "Little Giddings," THE FOUR QUARTETS

 

This quote from T.S. Eliot is my way of marking the end of the old year and welcoming in the new. In three beautiful sentences, Eliot expresses the truth about why we must change with the passage of time. Not only leave a part of ourselves behind in the history of the year ended, but define a new perspective for ourselves going forward. Or at least try to, else find ourselves mired in the past, chewing over the husks of old experiences, the things shelved and ended. Perhaps that is the wisdom Eliot wishes to impart: Be fresh. Live forward. The past has put its flame out. In ending, embrace a beginning.

 

Endings are concrete. Beginnings are powerful. Most of us feel the New Year is a time for breaking old patterns and for making fresh resolutions: to set new and better goals for ourselves. Perhaps this sense of opportunity is why we take pen to paper and reflect on what the old year wrought. What we wish to keep going forward, and what is essential to release and finish. There are burning bowl ceremonies and resolution lists, pledges and secret vows, pages tossed in the fire, so intense is our desire to begin anew. A new language, a new voice. We seek a different context and expression for ourselves.

  

What do we need? Confidence and well being light the fires of personal energy. Brianna Wiest wrote a very cognizant essay for Thought Catalog on this topic, "Next Year Let Go of the People Who Aren't Ready to Love You." [ https://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2018/12/next-year-let-go-of-the-people-who-arent-ready-to-love-you/ ] Follow the link and read for yourself what Brianna has to say. It's a short essay, to the point. Brianna writes, What you give time to is what will define your existence. She adds, "...the foremost thing you can do for your life and yourself and everyone you know is to protect your energy more fiercely than anything else." And what is good energy but positive mindset and confidence? A fresh language and a strong voice rising from within; rising stronger from what has come before. We learn by living. We become happier by acting on what we learn. Show up for you.

 

In the past I have shared here the resolutions or changes I seek to embrace in a given New Year. Everything from changing specific habits to expressing grand hopes for the world. But this year my thoughts are simple:

 

To move toward freedom of spirit and joy

To live in an attitude of gratitude

To limit the things that dim my optimism and embrace the things that fill my heart

 

Happy New Year. Please enjoy this beautiful image by David Lorenz Winston beside Eliot's poetry. You deserve the beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Notes in the Margins: Recipes and Love

A cookbook story. Every family has a beloved cookbook. A family collection of recipes that over time has become a much loved, stained, dog-eared treasure. Ours is Fannie Farmer, the 1980 edition. My daughter's late father taught himself to cook from it (with handwritten annotated notes in pencil throughout, such as "Never make this!"), and he taught our girl to cook with it. Our daughter then made the recipes just hers with inspired touches like the addition of Madagascar-Bourbon Vanilla to this delicious banana bread we made. This beloved cookbook was her wedding gift in late October this year. This book, and 38 years of family cooking.

 

From our hearts to bless theirs. A new family. New traditions, and a few of the old.

 

Remembering kitchens, I hope you enjoy this beautiful poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont:

 

WHEN I AM IN THE KITCHEN

I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend's
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband's grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother's
teapot, my mother's Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law's Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.

 

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