Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Post on New Website

A reminder-- I've made a change. New blogs on my new website, And I just posted. You can sign up there if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Location for My Blog

I have redesigned my website and integrated my blog on that site. So, my blog will be continuing at You'll find more posts and listings of upcoming events. You'll also find links to essays you can read online and information about my current work.

Come on over.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


This is the house in Beaulieu sur Dordogne where seventy Jewish refugee girls were saved from deportation and almost certain death during the years of World War Two when Marshall Petain ruled France from Vichy. To the right and out of view is the massive Abbey of Saint Peter where church bells rang every quarter hour. Everyone knew who was taking refuge in that house, the priests, the parishoners walking to Mass. Beaulieu kept the house's secret. I weave the story of that house with my own house during those years, a yellow stucco house in Morristown, New Jersey in an essay, I call-- what else--"Houses."

And now, Scott Olsen, editor of ASCENT magazine has nominated that essay for Best Of The Net.

I am deeply honored and humbled.

Friday, August 22, 2014

An August Evening

Three orange plastic chairs. One that will be pulled off to one side for the moderator. The spotlight will be on two women, sitting in the center of a boxy wooden platform. Two low mikes on long arms stand ready for their voices. I sit in an aisle seat in the second row, sipping wine from a small Ball canning jar. This room reminds me of a warehouse, high plaster walls, no windows—the Space Gallery, Portland, Maine. I’ve come to listen to Roxana Robinson and Ann Beattie read from the work of writers they admire, then discuss their selections. Later, each will read a selection from the other’s work. They rise from front row seats in the section on my right, Roxana leading. She wears red ankle length trousers, a white and black striped three quarter sleeve top, a black and white striped matching cardigan tied over her shoulders, red flat canvas shoes with closed toes. Ann wears black and white. What I notice about Ann are her long fingernails, polished fire engine red, then her toenails, polished the same red. Each has chosen red for her splash of color.

The selections they read are by Peter Talylor, Robert Stone, Grace Paley—Ann; Elena Ferrante, Hillary Mantel, Alice Munroe—Roxana. Now, Roxana reading from Ann Beattie’s “In the White Night,” then, Ann reading from Roxana’s Sparta. All of the writing is arresting. Stunning. Some writers rely on exposition, others on scene—which ever each chooses, he or she is a master. Each voice is unique.

How delightful to listen to two very smart accomplished writers talking about writing. But I as a writer can’t aspire to write like any of them—and I shouldn’t. Each’s wonder, each’s brilliance springs from an unknown quality that is his or hers alone. As I leave the gallery and step out into the cool of an August night, their words, their stories, their characters, the moods they create linger like a brush of silk on my skin. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

That Night

Sam and I in better days. 
I’ve been meaning to blog all of July, hoping to get a post up before the month ran out; then, life rolled in like a tsunami, sweeping away intention. The only thing left was that night, Saturday, July twenty-sixth. Two dogs, maybe four, attacked Sam, my beloved standard poodle. Dick, my husband and I, had left Sam in the care of a dog sitter, a woman we knew. What we did not know was that she would leave Sam and her four dogs gated in her living room and leave on her bicycle to get ice cream. Her housemate found Sam lying in front of the gate, his breathing harsh and gurgled, his fur soaked with blood. Sam survived, still survives with severe bite wounds to his neck, impaired breathing which may require surgery to open his air ways, nerve injury to his right eye. He can’t blink. May never blink.

That Saturday night, the veterinarian gave Sam a fifty-fifty chance. It was two in the morning when Dick and I arrived at the hospital. Sam lay on his side, in an oxygen cubicle, his neck so swollen, he looked like he was wearing a ruffled Elizabethan collar. He smelled foul—like blood and rotten flesh. His fur has been shaved, revealing severe bite wounds to his neck, one about four inches long and two inches wide—and so deep. His white skin was the color of strawberries. An IV dripped into his left front paw, administering fluids, morphine and antibiotics. I held my hand to his nose. Sam licked my fingers.

For days my sadness was visceral, sapping my energy and my strength. I couldn’t read. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t think. I could empty the dishwasher, walk in the rain. This was grief. For Sam’s suffering. For his wounds. I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have left him with a woman who owned four dogs. Shouldn’t have made Sam the outsider. Wasn’t that what I wrote about, the outsider? But the woman knew Sam. Sam knew her. And he’d spent time with her dogs. But never without the woman present. She was distraught. So sorry. She would pay. She didn’t care how much. She wanted Sam to live. She didn’t know what she’d do if Sam died. Early, in his care, I set limits. No resuscitation. No breathing tubes. If Sam was going to survive, he’d need to pull through on his own. Sam has a big heart, a steady slow determination.

After five days, I brought him home, that large wound still open and draining, smaller wounds open and draining, too. I changed his dressing, fed him pills, antibiotics, painkillers, an appetite stimulant, each wrapped in brie. Brie is soft and smelly. Sam loves smelly. I sat on the floor applying warm compresses to his wounds. Sam leaned back into my hand, the hand that used to bandage a son’s skinned, then lift a lock of sweaty hair from a forehead. With touch, Sam’s breathing eased.

This morning, Sam lies on his bed in my study. This is our routine; Sam rests in my study as I write. And I’m beginning to write, first this blog, then perhaps, tomorrow, I’ll return to the work I left before the night of Sam’s attack, my book of essays about Jews, war and Vichy France. Sam has patches of dead skin that may transform into open wounds. Weeks will tell the extent of injury to his trachea. It will be months before we know if those nerves in his face will regenerate. I stoop down to scratch, lightly, on his head. He doesn’t move. He is content, hardly laboring as he breathes. Perhaps, no surgery. I turn back to my desk. Together and slowly, Sam and I re-enter our lives.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


My residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts ended a month ago. While I was there, a friend and fellow writer sent me an email. She was working on a lecture/essay about the challenges of maintaining balance in our lives as artists. At that moment, I put the email aside. Nothing was farther from my mind. I was the person I was meant to be, rising early without an alarm, doing yoga in my pajamas, dressing, then walking slowly out to the barn and my studio, carrying a half a grapefruit, a boiled egg, both of which I’d picked up in the dining room, entering and leaving, wordlessly. I’d walk past a paddock where horses ambled, their breath coming in ruffled snorts. At my studio, I’d insert my key into the lock, then enter the stillness I’d left the evening before. In a nearby kitchen, I’d plug in the electric kettle, and as water heated, I’d look out a window and watch bluebirds. After brewing my first strong cup of my day, I’d sit alone at an outside table or in my studio where I’d already pulled a big old broken down overstuffed chair to a window. There, I’d eat my egg, perhaps some fruit, maybe crackers with peanut butter or cheese. Surrounded by silence, I’d watch the sky, and all this time I would not have spoken a single word, so that when finally I’d take up my pen or go to my computer, the subconscious writing, my brain had done the night before was waiting and ready to pour forth.

Nights, after dinner when I’d walk down the long front drive, I’d seen a sign: “Entering the Real World.” The VCCA is an alternate world. A different world. Now, I wonder, is what feels like balance to me it’s opposite? Since I first learned about them in high school, I’ve been drawn to utopian communities, Brook Farm, the Transcendental community outside of Boston, the Shakers. I was the kid who loved camp. Now, I love the VCCA or retreats of my own making when I travel abroad, rent a room, research and write. When I write, I enter what my friend and fellow writer, Alexander Chee calls a fugue state. Alex says, “… when you enter the fugue state required for making art, you can’t really be a normal person. The good news is that at a colony, you’re not expected to—you’re expected to be civil to other colonists and respectful, but not normal. It’s a huge relief.” And I might add that travelling solo, knowing no one affords that same freedom and relief.

So here I am one month later, back in the real world, and I’m juggling, tossing balls up into the air: doctor and dentist appointments, commitments to family, to friends, to Sam, my standard poodle. I’m doing yoga, hiking into the mountains, walking, daily, swimming, gardening, travelling—and I’m reading and writing. My life is rich and full. Yet, I yearn for the VCCA where I live in a fugue state twenty-four seven. At home I enter that state for short periods. That, I suppose is real life. As for balance—which I perceive as equilibrium—that’s not me. I juggle; I totter. And I dream.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A New Week

     Taking stock of my week on Monday after the new week has already begun, but that's the way this past week has been for me. I'm running behind the bus, arms outstretched, yelling, “Wait for me.” Not the best feeling. So far today, I have managed 45 minutes at my computer working on an essay, an hour yoga class, breakfast, my second cup of coffee with Sam, my standard poodle, behind me on his bed chewing a treat I've given him. His sounds calm me, and so I'm trying to breathe, to say, this is my life. At this moment I write for as long each morning as I can before life intrudes in the way of  my yearly physical which I put off until it catches up with me, the dermatologist, the dentist, the birthday gifts and cards, the graduation gifts and cards, events that I scheduled long before my calendar got full. You know how it goes. So this last week my major writing accomplishment was finding a title for the essay I'm working on about Germaine Poliakov, a ninety-five year old French woman who was a caretaker in a house hiding Jewish refugee children during the Second World War. I’m calling the essay "Connecting Threads." I like the way the title moves backward and forward. I've been tearing the essay apart and putting it together in a new way. I got about four new pages this week. I've also been searching for material for a workshop I'm teaching at the Ocean Park Writers’ Conference in Ocean Park, Maine in August, but I need my course description in about a week. West Moss, friend and writer, helped me move my thinking away a narrow technical focus to something more open and much more fun. Thank you, West, for your help. I think I've found a perfect essay for the group to read and talk about, "Traveling," by Grace Paley. It's in her book Just As I Thought. If you haven’t read the essay, do. She did, then, that we’re talking about with essays now, a lyric, braided essay—of course. What else?


Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Writer Checks In

My Friday writing check in with a friend happened this morning, Saturday, which seems appropriate. A week has gone by since I pulled in my driveway, last Saturday, after a month at the VCCA, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Looking  back, this has been a week of re entry, a week of missing terribly that immersion I had at the VCCA, and so I've felt scattered as if I'm not sure where I need to be and what I need to be doing. My mother in law used to describe this feeling as being at sixes and sevens. I have no idea what that means or where it comes from, but it describes accurately how I feel, neither here nor there, neither good nor bad, more uncomfortable than comfortable. So work has been slow. I managed to go over "Surfacing," an essay I read from at the VCCA. At home, I read the piece aloud over and over. I changed the last sentence at least five times. I took out short paragraphs that interfered with flow. I researched literary magazines- an ongoing project every time I send a piece out-- checking deadlines and money. I decided I'd send only to magazines that pay—at least something—this first round. I don't like working for free. Nobody else works for free. So I've sent this essay off to four places. I usually like to hit at least  5 in one shot. But a lot of the good ones have closed to submissions for the summer. 

For this coming week, I'd like finish one of two essays that are nearly ready. I'd like to start a folder I'll call The Book where I gather my musings for an introduction. I think an introduction will help me focus on what I'm doing. I'd like to begin a second essay about Yvonne which will center on her life right after the Second World War when she is 15 or 16, then end that piece when she marries and moves to Paris. "Surfacing" is about her life during the War. She was nine when her father handed her over to his sister at the French/ German border. I know I don't have enough information for the next piece, but beginning will let me know what I need. 

What's bothering me? Angst about finding an agent, angst about finding a way to publish this book that is not self-publishing, angst about taking what I have and throwing it all down on the floor and seeing if I can find a way to bring the essays together, angst about whether I should wait a while before I do that, angst, angst, angst. Welcome to the writing life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Leaving VCCA-- but not quite

I am leaving the soft Virginia air, the nearly constant bird song, blue birds, mourning doves, the muffled sounds of horses, sightings of rabbits and ground hogs-- who knew I would learn to love a ground hog-- outside my studio window. I am leaving evenings filled with art, music and literature, artists' open studios, composers' music, writers' words. I am leaving my long walks past an old cottage that I love, past goats in a field, past trailers, small houses, crowds sitting and talking on porches, children playing in yards. I am leaving my studio, the long hours, the work taking hold. I dove down into its depths and stayed there. That is a good thing. But I'm not finished. Yet, I must leave, say goodbye to the VCCA-- until next time.

But wait, another day, I can stay one more day to complete this piece I'm working on, a piece that grips me. And I can celebrate, afterwards with all of the artists, composers and writers here at Pat Oleszko's and Krin Fleisher's  fête galante tomorrow afternoon.

See, we do have fun.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Notes From The Writing Life

Here at the VCCA, a pattern has evolved. Mornings, when at home, I write; here I read history, memoir, essays. I particularly like the voice of Phillip Lopate in my head before I write whether he's writing about his childhood in Brooklyn or Stendhal. I've also grown fond of the voice of Joachim Fest in his memoir about his father, Not I, Memoirs of a German Childhood. For the sheer detail of the end of that War, I'm reading Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma.  

And so I read. I scribble notes. I take an essay I'm working on, read aloud, telling myself I will read to the end, then mark it. I can't get farther than three pages before I'm revising, thinking, marking. When I can't follow my own script, I go to my computer. And so it goes, the dance of writing which is so much more than writing. I write when I walk, write when I sleep, waking at three in the morning, turning on my light, scribbling thoughts, then falling down into sleep again. Back in my study the next day or days later, when finally, I can force myself to read that essay to the end, I know I have a viable draft.

Twenty-four/ seven, total immersion. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Notes From The Writing Life

At the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, walking to dinner, talking with my husband on the phone, I listen as he tells me of a visit with his sister and brother in law. A friend called inviting them all over to see her new TV. It's huge, of course, and 3D. "You wear these glasses," my husband says. 

And on the path, passing a gazebo, a flower bed where violets bloom, a stone statue of a cherub, a hedge of fragrant boxwood, I see them all, three overweight, old people with white hair or no hair, slumping on a couch or in chairs, all wearing those ridiculous glasses and watching. 

"Oh, please," I say.

At dinner that evening with artists, writers and composers, our talk turns to our second discipline. If we have one, what would it be? Or if we don't what would we like it to be? For example, if you are a writer, would your second discipline be art or music? Do you tend to be more visual or musical in your prose or your poetry? And what of the artists and musicians? What would they choose?

An artist, a colorist, among us, says she's working with the color red. She wants to find true reds, not purple reds, not orange reds. She wants to open her studio, display her reds and ask everyone who visits to tell her what emotion they experience seeing each version of the color red. She wants her red to evoke feeling. 

I understand. Feeling, connection, empathy, compassion are the road to what is best in each of us, and no matter how idealistic, elusive or foolish that may sound, this what we work toward-- for ourselves and for you. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Notes From The Writing Life

This afternoon, I visited artist Katherine Kadish in her studio. On a wall, a large painting made of smaller paintings, each one a two foot square-- nine in all. Katherine is known for her use of color, something that has become even more important as her eyesight wains. I love Katherine's references to the natural world, vines, twigs, petals. Katherine explained that each painting worked independently; yet, all nine formed a whole. I couldn't believe what she was telling me, couldn't believe our work was converging like this. I blurted. "That's exactly what I'm doing."

But I couldn't have articulated that until that moment.

Katherine pulled out two chairs. "Tell me, more."

I spoke of my essays, each part travel, part history, part memoir, and each one written to stand alone. Yet, I was understanding that each essay was part of a larger whole. I'd thought in terms of traditional narrative, looking for an arc. But somehow I knew that wasn't right. Now, I knew I wanted a book that would work as Katherine's nine squares worked, individual squares speaking to one another, and at the same time, forming a whole. The essays are related through repetition of characters, time, place and theme. They will flow as Katherine's vines and twigs flow, as the thoughts inside our heads flow, as art and writing flow inside the same stream.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Notes From the Writing Life

My blog resurfaces, here at the the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). It's taking a new form-- less formal, more like musings. For the month I'm in residence, I will post notes from the writing life. 

I have spent the last two days letting the well fill up. The well. A reference from Virginia Woolf. I suppose she meant letting the subconscious seep into consciousness. For me the well is both internal and external. Yes, the subconscious along with every cell in my body. The well fills as I sit in my studio staring out a window at the red soil, the metal roof of a wooden barn, two horses in a pasture, fills as I read, essays by Phillip Lopate, fills as I read The History of Anti-Semitism, Volume 3 by Léon Poliakov, a French historian who died in 1997. I've been interviewing Germaine, his widow, now 95, and Aline, his step-daughter, a woman about my age. When I arrived here, I thought I was writing a love story about Léon and Germaine. Now, I think I'm writing about Jewish identity. Soon, I hope, the work will let me know. In the meantime, I'm filling the well, thinking, writing notes, words, phrases--and I'm staring out that window letting myself feel the fullness of emptyness.