Hello July: Berries, Weeds…and a Lunar Eclipse!

blackberrySummer is here. No question. The dog days of August arrived early this year. Trust me. With two canines lying flat on their sides on the cool concrete of the porch, too enervated to even wag their tails at me, I know it’s true.

I can’t complain too much. After all, July is my birthday month (the 6th!) AND our anniversary month (the 7th!) and…. the month of berries and freestone peaches. Hurray! July also brings back that cherished, although awkward, memory of the lunar eclipse of 1982. Anybody else remember that? I boiled down that long-ago experience into an ultrashort flash essay that Mental Papercuts just kindly published in their Issue 1.5, Weird Summer Vibes. If you’re hankering for wildly creative, off-the-wall summer stories that may bring back memories of your own, please check it out.

Three poems of mine also appeared today, more writing inspired by the summer. “What the Weeds in My Yard Taught Me About Social Justice” and “September Raspberry” bloomed in the Summer 2019 issue of Gyroscope Review. And “Pulling Up the Wild Blackberry Bushes” just unfurled in the July issues of the gorgeous O.Henry and Pinestraw magazines, both of which are distributed in locations across the state.

As a reminder to all my writer friends, July also marks the halfway point for what we hope will be a productive year of writing. Now’s the time to start penning, gulp, other seasonal pieces (think: Halloween and Christmas) and most importantly, setting goals to improve.

Chinese fortune cookies are fun, not always prescient, but they can be surprisingly profound. Here’s one just for you. Of all our human resources, the most precious is our desire to improve.

So what are you doing to get better? For me, it means leading two workshops this summer at The Joyful Jewel because I learn as much, if not more, from my fellow workshop participants as they do from me! It also means taking a memoir class led by Dorit Sasson through Women on Writing, my favorite space for online writing classes.

I’m a little nervous because I’m new to the field of memoir (and a beginner in the world of creative nonfiction) but the good news is that I’ve got lots to learn. This means I’ll never be bored!

Stay cool, eat your berries, and set your own improvement goals!





Bored? Write about it….

snow.jpgAs we recover from the early December snowfall, trapped at home due to icy roads, it’s easy to feel bored.

There are only so many ways you can reorganize your pantry and entertain house-bound dogs, and yes, even watching movies gets old pretty quickly. And reading, while always stimulating, feels self-indulgent to me after days on end.

I need to be writing! New material, not just editing. As good as it feels to whittle and sculpt, there’s no substitute to the high you get by rolling out new pearls. So, on to new stuff….

When writing creative nonfiction, it’s easy to be intimidated by all the great prose out there. I recently read essays by a woman visited by the ghost of her mother, an environmentalist who protests exploitation of sea life by robbing coastal souvenir shops with his father, and a piece by George Orwell about a wild elephant on the rampage in Burma. Do you ever feel that your own experience, while certainly special to you, seems inferior when stacked up against that of others?

Don’t! Just because you haven’t survived a harrowing incident recently, been the victim of a crime (thank goodness), or saved a baby from drowning, you still have an extraordinary life, and I promise, you can find something inspirational to write about.

And on that subject, one of my favorite prompts came from a Women on Writing  newsletter. It goes like this: “Take a small, boring moment that happened and write as much as you can about it. Go overboard describing it, and make this boring moment exciting by describing it in intense detail with ecstatic prose.”

So while we all might not have an earth-shattering event at our fingertips, we all do have a seemingly boring incident to write about AND possibly elevate. You just have to be creative about it. Such an assignment might also be fun — at the very least, it’s certainly good practice to flex those creative muscles and push yourself in this way.

Humm…reorganizing my pantry is suddenly exciting again. And didn’t one of the dogs do something silly this afternoon on a walk through the neighborhood….




I Have Drunk the Wine of Life at Last – Day 3

Today we journeyed to Lenox, MA, to The Mount, the home of writer Edith Wharton. Just like Millay, she defied social expectations for a woman of her time and pursued her intellectual ambitions to the highest degree.

Although most of her relationships with men (including her husband Teddy, whom she later divorced) were unsatisfying, she did have a few brief moments of happiness. As the quote in the title of this blog implies, she reveled in the good times. She cherished her friendship with ex-patriate writer Henry James, with whom she enjoyed a true marriage of the minds. They possessed “a sense of humor and irony in exactly the same key.”

Having only read Ethan Frome (Ann and I) and The House of Mirth (Jen), we were amazed to learn that Edith penned 40 books in 40 years!


Her first book was actually on interior decorating but she penned many other non-fiction books in addition to countless novels such as The Reef, Summer, and The Age of Innocence, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Edith’s philosophy and intellect are reflected throughout The Mount, which made the visit all that more interesting. In contrast with other mansions of the Gilded Age (think Biltmore), The Mount was full of intimate spaces and natural light. We adored our tour guide, Cecily, who was charming, funny and smart. Cecily encouraged us all to read The Age of Innocence, claiming it was Wharton’s most accessible novel.

During the tour, we learned that “Edith liked her tables round, her lighting low, and the conversation sparkling.” Being dog lovers (Edith considered cats “snakes with fur”), we were thrilled to see that dogs played an integral role in her life. Her dogs slept on cushions under the table and dined from bowls of Chinese porcelain by the fireplace.

french gardens






Her gardens were equally impressive, with French- (above) and Italian-inspired designs. Not surprisingly, she even had a pet cemetery where several of her little darlings now rest in peace. Unfortunately, our visit did not conclude with a view of her grave, as she is buried in France where she spent the latter years of her life.

We next went to the nearby homestead of William Cullen Bryant, a writer and naturalist who was most famous for penning Thanatopsis, a mediation on death. While his home is now a National Historic Landmark, unfortunately for us, it was not open today. But we did peek inside the picturesque barn, which still had the individual house stalls and troughs.







Our tour for the day concluded in Northampton, where we strolled the grounds of Smith College, which prides itself on building generations of independent young females. Seeing a young woman seated by the Mill River Dam, where she laughed to herself as she leafed through a book, Jen quipped: “Now there’s a young woman who thinks for herself.”

And on that subject, tomorrow we’ll go to Amherst, the home of the notoriously independent-minded Emily Dickinson. It will be quite different from The Mount, as Emily never reached the fame of Edith in her lifetime, but given her talents, we expect to be equally delighted.