Friday, September 28, 2007

Creative Nonfiction: Raising the Craft to an Art

I’ve been reading two books in preparation for tomorrow’s Creative Nonfiction Workshop led by Lee Gutkind at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. I talked a little about one of these in my post of September 19 – about In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (Gutkind). Gutkind was the first to teach creative nonfiction on a university level, starting at the University of Pittsburg in 1973. Today I’d like to share a bit from Gutkind’s book, Forever Fat. First, Gutkind’s definition:

Creative nonfiction—writing nonfiction using literary techniques like scene, dialogue, description, while allowing the personal point of view and voice (reflection)….

And a little exposition by Gutkind:

The term “creative nonfiction” was adopted by the National Endowment for the Arts to represent the different styles within the genre (memoir, immersion journalism, etc.) … there’s an explosion of altogether brilliant nonfiction prose being written today by people about whom they are writing while communicating compelling information and striking some sort of universal chord. What about Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)….

Unfortunately, however, with so many new people discovering creative nonfiction from so many different orientations (especially in the areas of psychology, literature, and composition), the journalistic, fact-oriented roots of creative non-fiction are often forgotten—or ignored. Writers can become too enamored with the creative part of the term, paying precious little homage to the nonfiction part. There must be a delicate balance between style and substance.

It’s a genre under attack. Possibly because novices to the field too often blur the lines between fact and fiction. If you want to make stuff up, write fiction. In creative fiction, as Gutkind says, “we draw the line; we do not make up information of any kind—for any reason.”

It’s gotta’ be real. Gutkind continues:

In its purest form, creative nonfiction is… nothing else but real—with all of the potential flaws and warts of any real human being. Mostly people attack writers of creative nonfiction because we are too difficult and complicated to figure out. And we can become much too embarrassingly public.

That last point is something those of us who blog regularly must constantly keep in mind. When you think about it, blogging is the most prolific form of creative nonfiction happening today. And it doesn’t get much more public than the internet. Every day as I write here at Pen and Palette, I am aware of my audience. This is not a private journal. I have invited you into my thoughts, into my personal point of view and voice, hoping that, on a good day, I might succeed in, as Gutkind put it, "communicating compelling information and striking some sort of universal chord, and raising the craft to an art!"

Isn’t that why we read blogs? And why we write them?

Okay, sure, some days we just chat about our pets and our families or even our new shoes or a delicious cocktail we just discovered. But hey—we’re human. And all those seemingly insignificant details are part of what makes us who we are. And those of us who take blogging seriously will realize that each post is like a chapter in a creative nonfiction book. Am I shooting too high here on this little cyber-space journal? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe, as Gutkind says:

… the essence and the meaning of creative nonfiction: the ability to capture the personal and the private and to make it mean something significant to a larger audience and to provide intellectual substance that will affect readers—perhaps even incite them to action or to change their thinking—in a compelling and unforgettable way.

Gutkind does this in spades in his essay from which the title of his book was drawn, “Forever Fat.” Having struggled with eating disorders and diets and exercise addictions for almost forty years, I was so moved by his candor and courage in sharing his struggle. I’ve read countless books and articles about eating disorders over the years, taking a little from this one and a little from that to strengthen me along the way. Gutkind’s story is now on top of the stack. His childhood obesity and the ostracization he received. His successful weight-loss and fitness improvement in the military. His rediscovery of reading as “a solitary activity that provided comfort and an escalating emotional awareness.”

Emotional awareness.

How we continue to struggle with self-image even after losing weight. After losing weight and getting in shape in the military, Gutkind says:

Just because I am solid and muscular, can lift heavy weights, and run ten miles with no significant effort, doesn’t mean that I am not fat. Buried deep down inside… I am constantly struggling to remember who I am.... The extend to which you control that fat fucker seeking therapeutic relief through eating inside your body—how you balance the mirror’s double image—is a challenge all formerly fat people share.

In psychological terms, it’s the struggle to make our insides match our outsides. Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear Mr. Gutkind speak at the workshop in Oxford tomorrow!

On a lighter note …. I’ll be carrying bundles of the October Memphis premiere issue of skirt! magazine down to Square Books during lunch break at the workshop tomorrow. The launch party at Elfo’s last night was wonderful! Maybe I’ll have pictures by next week. For now, here’s a pix of Leanne Kleinmann and her staff... getting pedicures to celebrate their first issue!

It was fun meeting Joann Self, founder and executive director of True Story Pictures. Read about her latest project, working with advocates for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, “Voices of Jericho.” And Jenny Odle Madden, co-founder and executive producer of Voices of the South theater company. Joann’s video projects and Jenny’s production company are just two of many examples of the Memphis arts community in action. They are both featured in the October Memphis skirt!

Hopefully by Monday you can read the articles online. Look for my essay, “myPod,” on page 29. It’s nothing very ethereal. But it might give you pause… to think about the importance of naming things… and people.

My best friend is coming in from Little Rock tonight to attend the workshop in Oxford with me tomorrow. Then on Sunday afternoon, I'll be at the third meeting of the Mixed Bag Ladies. Sunday night, hubby and I are off to our new dinner club's first gathering... it's a 50s themed evening, so watch for photos on Monday! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogger's Block: Miniature Disasters & Picasso

Is it possible to have blogger’s block? Blogging is supposed to be free-flowing, right? I’ve read successful writer’s blogs that sound like they were just chatting with friends over a cup of coffee. Genuine stream-of-consciousness stuff. How can they do that, knowing that hundreds of people are reading their words? Maybe that happens once you’ve got books published. Then you can relax on your blog because you know people can read your books to see your serious writing.

But for the rest of us, our blogs are our serious writing! So when the blog gets clogged, it’s time to call in the muses. For me, this usually involves music and art.

Mary Chapin Carpenter can usually get the juices flowing for me again … or Kris Delmhorst, or for sure The Wreckers. I was in Chicago in May and went to a Wreckers Concert at Joe’s Sports Bar, which was great fun. The next day I saw this in front of the Museum of Modern Art and thought it should be called “The Wreck” or “Earthquake.” Any other suggestions?

But late last night and early this morning it was KT Tunstall’s “Miniasture Disasters” that seemed to work for me. You can listen to it and watch KT sing it live here. And read the full lyrics at the end of this post. Some of what inspires me in this song is this:

It’s gonna be up and down
It’s gonna be lost and found
And I can’t take to the sky
Before I like it on the ground.

She reminds me of the earthy work involved in writing… and remembering, again and again, that loving the work itself is the most important thing. The process. (Rather than getting published – the pie in the sky part.)

And this part:

It’s a hindrance to my health
If I’m a stranger to myself.

Knowing ourselves is also hard work. Especially when it involves looking inside and sometimes finding darkness. Or emptiness. Or loneliness.

Art helps.

Like this painting by Picasso, “Interior With A Girl Drawing.” The girl in green seems to be enjoying the process of her art… of drawing. But what about the girl in purple? The one with her head on the table and her hands clasped in front of her? Is she depressed? Is she waiting for inspiration so she can also draw? Or write? Or sing?

The artist Robert Henri has a wonderful book called The Art Spirit. These words help:

Find out what you really like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. Then sing your song. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing…and If a man has something to say, he will find a way of saying it.

Wassily Kandinsky writes in Concerning the Spiritual in Art

If the artist be priest of beauty, nevertheless this beauty is to be sought only according to the principle of the inner need, and can be measured only according to the size and intensity of that need. That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.

I think it’s working. I can feel the juices flowing again. Today will be devoted to more re-writes on the novel. With help from my muses in the worlds of music and art. KT Tunstall. Picasso. Robert Henri. Wassily Kandinsky. Michelle Branch and Jessica Harper (The Wreckers).

And spiritual comfort from the Apostle of Love. Today is the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian… the one who wrote the book of Revelations while on the island of Patmos. (See my post of September 22.) St. John was inspired by a higher muse for higher work than novel writing. After attending a funeral yesterday, and then visiting a dear friend who is dying of cancer, St. John’s words blessed me as only words divinely inspired can do:

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

Miniature Disasters by KT Tunstall

I don’t want to be second best
Don’t want to stand in line
Don’t want to fall behind
Don’t want to get caught out
Don’t want to do without
And the lesson I must learn
Is that I’ve got to wait my turn

Looks like I got to be hot & cold
I got to be taught and told
Got to be good as gold
But perfectly honestly
I think it would be good for me
Coz it’s a hindrance to my health
If I’m a stranger to myself

Miniature disasters and minor catastrophes
Bring me to my knees
Well I must be my own master
Or a miniature disaster will be
It will be the death of me

I don’t have to raise my voice
Don’t have to be underhand
Just got to understand
That it’s gonna be up and down
It’s gonna be lost and found
And I can’t take to the sky
Before I like it on the ground

Miniature disasters...

Well I must be my own master...
I’ve got to run a little faster...
I need to know I’ll last if a little
Miniature disaster hits me
It could be the death of me

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Place of Healing For the Soul

This should have been my blog post for September 18. That was the 9th anniversary of the death of my precious Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway. She was only 20 years old. I’ll talk more about her later in this post.

But I’m glad I waited until today to write about Mary Allison, because now I have two other things to say about healing for the soul:

Peter France’s wonderful book, A Place of Healing For the Soul: Patmos is the second in my trilogy of books to read before our trip to Greece in a few weeks. It has proved to be an amazing book on many levels. Unlike the first book I reviewed, The Summer of my Greek Taverna (see my post of September 18) France’s book is truly a spiritual journal. I don’t think he set out for it to be, since he was a self-proclaimed agnostic when he first traveled to Greece with his wife, Felicia, who had converted to Orthodox Christianity a few years earlier. But as he says in the first paragraph of his first chapter: “The island of Patmos is a place of power. It changes people.”

btw… from a writer’s point of view, isn’t that a great opener? And actually, if you back up a few pages to the “Introit,” you’ll find an equally compelling beginning: “’Spit on him,’” said the bishop. So I spat.” I’m hooked, aren’t you?

The spitting refers to part of the ancient sacrament of baptism in the Orthodox Church, wherein the adult convert spits on the devil. You turn to the west for this spitting, because “the dominion of Satan was in the west, the place of darkness.”

These are just inklings of the colorful descriptions of life amongst the Orthodox on the island of Patmos. Stories of priests and monks and nuns and everyday folk who live their lives just down the street from some of the most revered holy places in all of Orthodoxy. Lives interspersed with the daily stuff of finding whatever products are available in the markets that day for your evening meal as well as celebrating that meal with enthusiasm and extravagance, despite the universal Greek motto, “Pan metron Ariston” (“Moderation is best”).

I loved France’s description of a typical evening scene at a café:

By around ten o’clock, families were arriving…. Children of all ages were chasing cats around the square and being called back to tables piled high with food. Inside the café the jukebox was playing passionate Greek music and three old men danced in a grizzled circle, connected by the handkerchiefs they jointly held, their movements fluid and controlled, as if they, and not the music, were in charge. Their heads were thrown back and half-smiles lit their faces, as if they knew all about passion, had felt it and could feel it again. They were dancing for themselves and not for the people watching, but they were applauded and cheered when the record came to an end.

I realized something important: the people applauding were their friends and relations. This was not a show put on for the tourists but the way life was lived on the island before the tourists found it. And the most striking thing about their approach to life was its intensity, its urgency…. Their lives were being lived fully in the present.

Okay, we can all enjoy this imagery, and yes, I’m looking forward to the music and dancing and candid glimpses I hope to get of the local Patmians and their lifestyle. (We're staying on the island for three days of our trip to Greece next month.) But I also look forward to the more somber side of the pilgrimage. Later in the book, France says:

Patmos is the place to read St. John’s Gospel, and not just because he once walked here…. But there is a danger in reading St. John on Patmos. It is that the surroundings, the atmosphere and finally the people might come to persuade you that he speaks the truth. Secure in the post-Christian rationalism of the West, we can enjoy his flights of spiritual imagery as colorful and poetic indulgences from an age before science. But when you live amongst people who have not rejected the spiritual dimension in their lives, his words are sharper; they point not to fantasy but to reality.

No spoiler alerts here. Read the book for it’s amazing balance of what France calls “reason and emotion, aesthetic sense and spiritual sensitivity.” Patmos. A Place of Healing For the Soul.

My second thing to say about healing for the soul has to do with death. Specifically, the death of a dear friend’s father, this morning. Lt. Colonel Damon Jr. Boiles, Sr. was 89. He and his wife, Thelma, who died in 2006, were members at my parish here in Memphis. His son, Damon Boiles, Jr., and their grandson, Damon Boiles, III are my Godsons. His daughter-in-law Madeleine is my Goddaughter. He loved antique clocks, like the one in this picture. So when she called early this morning to tell us that he had died, we knew just what to do to start the process of healing for the soul… we told them to meet us at the church for Trisagion Prayers for the Dead.

My husband, Father Basil, is an Orthodox Priest. At noon today, he led us in the prayer service. We were joined by a few friends from the neighborhood who also attend St. John . It was a brief spiritual interlude into a day which is, for the departed one’s family, filled with paperwork, phone calls, funeral plans to be made, and all that attends a death. The prayers will be prayed again tomorrow morning at the Divine Liturgy. Then on Monday, when Mr. Boiles’ body is brought to the church, there will be yet another time of prayer, followed by an all-night vigil at which parishioners read the Psalms. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, September 25—just one day before the Feast Day of the Falling Asleep of St. John, our patron saint, which brings us back full circle to Patmos, a place of healing for the soul. The Prayers for the Dead bring healing to the soul, because they are an outpouring of love for someone who has not ceased to exist, as some definitions of death would have us believe. They have only entered a higher plane of living, where “there is no more pain or death or sighing.”

Back to the significance of September 18. Another of my Godchildren, Mary Allison Callaway, was killed by a drunk driver on that day in 1998. She was only twenty years old. She was from Jackson, Mississippi, but was living with my family in Memphis for a time, working, establishing residency, and planning on attending school here.

So, today as we prayed for Mr. Boiles, I remembered Mary Allison and the joy she brought to our family for the eight months she was in our home. And as we sang “Memory Eternal!” at the end of the Trisagion Prayers for Mr. Boiles today, I thought about how it was the same healing words that we had sung last week, at the 9-year memorial service for Mary Allison. Because prayer heals. And the Holy Apostle John heals. Today. At St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Just as powerfully as he did, and still does, on the island of Patmos.

I’ll be there (on Patmos) in three weeks, by God’s grace. And you can bet I'll be lighting candles for Mr. Boiles and Mary Allison and quite a few others when we get to the cave where St. John wrote.

Holy Apostle John, pray to God for us.

P.S. Tomorrow... check out my guest post, "We Don't Care How They Do It in New York" on A Good Blog is Hard to Find: Musings From Southern Authors.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good News Will Keep, But...

I was never good at delayed gratification. They say good news will keep, but it’s been all I can do to keep it for three days. Monday. That’s when she called me. Leanne Kleinmann, editor of the new Memphis imprint of skirt! magazine, called to give me the good news that my essay, “myPod,” will appear in the premiere issue in October! The kick-off party is next Thursday, so I had high hopes of saving the news ‘til then… when I’ll have pix to share and all that jazz. (Yes, you’ll get another dose next week.) (Cover of September issue below, left.)

A little history. skirt! Was started in 1994 as a monthly magazine for women in the Charleston and Columbia areas of South Carolina. Since then, they have tripled in size. Print editions of skirt! are now available in Charleston, SC; Atlanta, GA; Augusta, GA; Charlotte, NC; Augusta, GA; Savannah, GA; Jacksonville, FL.; Columbia, SC; Knoxville, TN; Memphis, TN; Richmond, VA; Houston, TX; and Boston, MA.

Each issue has a theme. October is the “Spark” issue… as in creative spark. Each local edition of skirt! publishes about 12-14 essays which circle the theme each month. Local editors select from essays chosen by the national editors. So… while my essay has been chosen to appear in the Memphis skirt!... I don’t yet know which other editions will carry it. You can also read a good bit of the magazine’s content online.

So… yes I told a few friends and one showed up at my house with flowers (cheerful white daisies) and a Congrats! helium balloon which made me feel so special.

The only “bad news” is that I’ve got to buy drinks at the end of the day when the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group meets in Oxford in October. We agreed that whoever got published next would buy drinks at the following meeting. Patti emailed me to remind me when I shared my news with her on Monday... she didn't waste any time about it, did she? It will be my pleasure! (It’s the only way I’ll ever get Doug to let me buy him a drink… he’s such the Southern Gentleman.) You know what, drinks will be on skirt! (out of my check for the essay, that is)

Balance. If you read my down-in-the-mouth post from Wednesday, and now this one, you’re thinking, uh huh, she could use some meds about now. Yes, the writer’s life can be a roller-coaster ride. We have to remember how much we love the art. For itself.

Poetry helps. I often read poetry when I’m struggling with emotional imbalance. Diane Ackerman (at right) explains why this works beautifully in her essay, “Language at Play,” in In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction. (see yesterday’s post for info):

When we create with words, in the literary arts, we raise the stakes. Then we stare straight at our inherently poetic version of life, make it even more vigorous and resourceful. Poetry, for example, speaks to everyone, but it cries out to people in the throes of vertiginous passions, or people grappling with knotty emotions, or people trying to construe the mysteries of existence.

Sunsets help. Here’s a parting shot of the sun as it sank behind the Mississippi River down at Harbor Town last night. I’ll bet it will be just as beautiful tonight…. but I'll be home cooking flounder and Greek salad for my sweet hubby, whose plane is landing as I type these parting words.

By the way, I took that photo with our new camera - it's a Panasonic 7.2 megapixels with 12x optical zoom and all sorts of magical capacities that I'll never even begin to tap into. We even went to the class at Wolf Photo a few weeks ago, where my husband (the scientist) asked questions about things like aperture and bracketing. I asked one question at the end of the two-hour class. It was this: "After my husband makes all those fancy adjustments on the camera, will I still be able to turn it to the "beginner" mode so I can just point and click?" Big smile on the instructor's face. That's exactly what that setting is for, darling. How 'bout that beginner sunset? I think Jimmy Buffet would like it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"The Hardest Part is Over"... Post Partum Blues

I was in a bit of a funk earlier this week… because I heard back from my freelance editor with her comments about The Sweet Carolines. First of all let me say that I think she is brilliant and I agree with 90% of what she says. (The other 10% is probably also right, but I’m stubborn.)

The good news? She said that “it’s a story worth telling, and worth telling well.” She said that Caroline is “a character worth giving a voice to.” But she also said that the novel needs major surgery. Ouch. A lot of her suggestions and observations are repeats of what my first freelance editor said, but I just wasn’t ready to hear them. Because this is my baby.

Following several pages of comments and critiques, she ended with these words: “Writing the first draft is the hardest part, and you’ve done a great job of getting a whole lot of material out onto the page…. The hardest part is over.”

Okay, first of all, it wasn’t my first draft, although I’m sure it read like one to her. It was about my third draft, having been through eight “early readers” and one other freelance editor and several revisions. But that’s okay… I’m a novice and I have a lot to learn. I get that.

But then, when I read her words, “The hardest part is over,” I thought, “really?”

Instantly I thought about a young mother I know who gave birth to a precious little baby who has needed numerous surgeries in his young life so far. I visited her recently, at home with her second baby now. She was in a bit of pain from a C-section, but her tears as we talked weren’t about the pain of childbirth… they were about the pain her child has suffered since childbirth.

Please don’t think I’m in any way saying that birthing a novel is as significant as birthing a child, or that revising a book is on the same plane as a mother watching her child undergo major surgery. But I couldn’t help but think what this young mother would say if she were asked this question: “Which was harder—giving birth, or the subsequent surgeries your baby has needed?”

They say you forget the pain of childbirth. I wouldn’t know, as all three of my children are adopted. But I will say that writing this novel has not been painful… or even hard. It’s been incredibly joyful and redemptive. Just getting the story down. And even the revisions thus far. But now as I face the major surgery that I need (and want) to perform on her, I consider my freelance editor’s words, “the hardest part is over.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover that this is true?

I’ll find out soon, as I begin the surgery. Maybe next week.

But this week I’m taking some “personal time” … time away from the baby to do other things. Like reading In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind, (pix above, right) who will be leading the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’ll be attending in Oxford on the 29th. What an amazing book! The first essay in this collection of what Gutkind calls the best twenty-five essays published by Creative Nonfiction over the past ten years (out of 10,000 manuscripts submitted and 300 published!) is “Three Spheres” by Lauren Slater (below, right). Slater is a psychologist and author of several books of nonfiction. These 21 pages held me captive and left me wanting more.

So I flipped through the table of contents and decided on Francine Prose’s (below) essay, “Going Native,” which also did not disappoint. But it’s her words at the end of the essay that I sat up and noticed. Words about when she writes and how she shuffles between fiction and nonfiction: “On an ideal day I would work on fiction in the morning, when I’m really fresh, and then on reviews or journalism in the afternoon….” Sounds like a plan.

Thankfully, there are 23 more essays waiting for me in In Fact… and I’m looking forward to reading more of them this week.

Taking “personal time” also means allowing myself some breathing room… room to enjoy the beautiful weather, and the opportunity to sit outside on the deck of my favorite bar/restaurant with a friend yesterday afternoon and share poetry and family stories and the feel of autumn trying to sneak into town on the slight breeze that’s been chasing the temp and the humidity down a bit lately. Deep breath. Two days until Fall. Can you feel it? It's nice to be 10 minutes from the Mississippi River (at Harbor Town)... I think I'll walk along the river at sunset tonight....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive & Write

Driving down I-55 with my car on cruise and a favorite CD playing, I keep a pad and pen handy and often write down ideas for a short story or my novel or even a poem…. What’s scary is that on occasion I’ve suddenly noticed that I’ve written several paragraphs and wonder who’s driving the car. (Maybe it’s Earl—Holly Hunter’s angel on “Saving Grace”.) By the way... that's not my car... yet.... I was watching this gorgeous '86 Mercedez on eBay a while back and a friend Photo-Shopped me into it and sent the pix to me. Maybe some day....

Anyway, I was shopping the other day and picked up a little gadget called My Lil’ Reminder. It’s a personal digital voice recorder. Only cost $9.99 (should have been a clue, right?) for a package of two!

So, I get home and take them out of the package and, you guessed it, they only record for 20 seconds. And the next message you record erases the first one. Twenty seconds! You really do get what you pay for!

The next day I open up the Brookstone catalogue and on page 37 I see a Sony Voice Recorder with 256MB flash memory which records up to 91 hours. It’s $149.95. So I thought I’d ask my friends and readers if they’ve got a gadget to recommend. Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below so others can benefit! (or send me an email if you don’t do comments)

And speaking of gadgets, well not really gadgets but products, I’ve got two to share. Most writers really really care about the kind of pen we use. For years I’ve used a Pilot Precise V5 extra fine, which I still love. But recently I discovered the Precise V7 RT Pilot click pens! Yes, they click open and shut… not more keeping up with the top. Try ‘em.

Another recent purchase is a medium-size kidney-shaped bag for our trip to Greece. It’s by Ameribag. My tiny laptop fits in it, and a camera, notebook and other stuff. It’s ergonomically friendly to my back and less pick-pocket friendly, since your stash says at your side.

And speaking of Greece… here’s the first of a series of book reviews of the three books I’m reading to prepare for our trip in October. (We’ll be going to Athens, Leros, Patmos, Aegina, Delphi, and other places, but Patmos will be the highlight for me, because St. John wrote there, and he’s the patron saint of our parish.)

I decided to read a memoir about Patmos, a spiritual book about Patmos, and a memoir about Athens, in that order. So, today I’ll review The Summer of My Greek Taverna, a memoir by Tom Stone.

Tom Stone was a Broadway stage manager for ten years before moving to Greece. He has published several books on the history of Greece as well as travel guides, (including Frommers) Greek dictionaries, etc. The Summer is a wonderful combination of travel guide, memoir, and yes, cookbook. The final chapter, “Extra Helpings,” is 43 pages of recipes cooked up in his kitchen at “The Beautiful Helen,” the taverna he ran in Patmos one summer. He also describes and defines many Greek foods offered in restaurants, which will be very helpful during my visit! My favorite of his recipes is “Chicken Retsina” – which he invented while staying at a friend’s house on Mykonos. He couldn’t find anything to eat but some rice, a chicken in the freezer, grapes hanging over the door, and a large wicker bottle of retsina in the pantry. His family was hungry, so he threw it all together and ended up with what he calls “a gift of the Greek gods.” (Retsina is a Greek wine… he uses some of it to cook the chicken and drinks the rest with the meal!)

I loved the memoir because it’s so personal… his love affair and marriage to a French artist (who does gold-leaf applications to copies of icons and sells them to tourists!) and his colorful but rocky partnership with the owner of the tavern are described with candor and intimacy. Tom went to Greece to write a novel, and yes, he spends some time writing, but it’s his escapades with the locals and the taverna and the tourists that captivated me. Since I’ll be spending three days on Patmos, in a hotel right on the water, I’ll be anxious to look for the places he describes.

Because I’m Orthodox, a big part of my trip will be pilgrimage to the holy places in Greece… including attending services at the monastery church on Patmos and visiting the cave where St. John wrote the book of Revelations. (My icon of St. John, in progress at right, is based on a prototype from Patmos.)Tom’s memoir infuses daily life with only a bit of the flavor of the local pious Orthodox Christians’ lives. I’m getting a big dose of the spiritual side of Patmos in the second book in my series—A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos by Peter France, to be reviewed next.

That’s all for today… but I’ve got some news to share soon, so stay tuned! And please make Earl's job easier by recommending a personal voice recorder I can use while driving!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Slow Water Traveling Through Fertile Land

There was something magical about sitting up there on the balcony at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi yesterday… with a cool fall breeze blowing and Will (the cute Ole Miss law student working upstairs that day--can't link to Will 'cause I didn't get his contact info:-) bringing us lattes and cappuccinos from the coffee bar inside…

Sounds like the setting for a good Southern novel, doesn’t it? Or maybe just the inspiration we needed for the first meeting of the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group, a spin-off from the Yoktapatawpha Summer Writer’s Workshop held in Oxford in June. By the way, “Yoknapatawpha” is a native American word meaning “slow water traveling through fertile land.” William Faulkner used it as the name for the fictitious county that was the setting for much of his writing. We’re not borrowing it from Mr. Bill… we’re borrowing it from the Indians. We think it’s quite appropriate for a group of Southern writers.

Several of us have been keeping in touch by email, sharing writing samples to critique, info about upcoming conferences, good literary publications, contests, etc. It was Doug McLain who finally said, “Let’s get together.” Doug is still working on our web site, which is up but still very much in progress. We agreed on a date (September 15) and place (balcony of Square Books in Oxford, thank you Richard Howorth!) for our first meeting, and deadline to send writing samples in for group critiques. Five folks participated this first go-round (left to right in group photo):

Herman King from Hernando
Patti Trippeer from Memphis
Tom Hamiton from New Albany
Susan Cushman from Memphis
Doug McLain from Tupelo

Others were invited and hope to join us in the future.

We started with discussions of what we want to be and what we don’t want to be. We want to be a critique group, not an actual guild (like the Mississippi Writers Guild) which organizes conferences and the like. We want to be humble and friendly, not competitive. As Joshilyn Jackson shared at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in August, “No no one breaks out of the pack.” The whole pack shares each other’s successes and struggles and journeys. A good critique group is honest, but also supportive.

As we critiqued Doug’s short story, “Shadetree Mechanics” and the first chapter of Herman’s book, Bon Sequour, and part of a chapter of Tom’s book, War of the Doves, and Susan’s short story, “There is a Balm,” we handled each other’s treasures gently, but wisely, offering praise for the parts that aroused our emotions and imaginations and suggestions for the parts that didn’t work as well. We discussed Patti’s three-book project and told stories of our shared Southern upbringings which offer such fertile fodder for fiction (yes, that was intentional… weak, but intentional) … or for creative non-fiction.

Our final two meetings for 2007 are scheduled for October 27 and December 1, both in Oxford. If the weather is too chilly for the balcony at Square Books, we’ll find an indoor spot and let everyone know.

Thanks so much to Doug (in deep thought, at left) for getting this started! And… you M&M (Mississippi & Memphis) writers who missed this first one, we hope to see you at the second meeting! Be sure and send your writing sample to Doug McLain at if you’d like the group to critique it. You can also bring short samples for spontaneous reading if we have time. Or just come and listen, comment, inspire, and get inspired! We get started around 10 am, take a lunch break at some point--City Grocery this time-- and stop around 4 pm. Oh, and we wound down at the end of the day with a mojito or margarita or beer on another balcony - the one at City Grocery, just around the corner from Square Books, which is a great place to have a drink, so long as you don't need to use the restroom.

I’ll close with the quote that was on my coffee mug at Square Books yesterday:

You think your pain and your heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who are alive, or who have ever been alive. – James Baldwin

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Inventing Jerusha Bosarge: Another Mississippi Writer Emerges

I knew Jerusha Bosarage was special when she came bouncing into one of the workshop sessions at the Mississippi Writers Guild's conference in Raymond, Mississippi in August... handing out bottled water and glowing with a million dollar smile and rosy cheeks. What I didn't know, until later in the weekend, was how much we have in common:

Both of our hubbies are docs and work at VA hospitals (hers in Jackson, MS and mine in Memphis, TN) ... and actually mine was at the VA in Jackson for eleven years before we moved to Memphis in 1988.

Both of us have a special connection to the Guyton family, and especially Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, the subject of her book, Inventing Ott: The Legacy of Arthur C. Guyton. Dr. Guyton was the inventor of the electric wheelchair, father of ten Harvard-educated doctors, chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and writer of the best-selling medical textbook of all times.

"Ott" also designed and built boats, tennis courts, swimming pools and homes. My husband and I used to visit the Guytons at the home they built in Jackson. One of their sons, Robert, was my husband's big brother in their fraternity at Ole Miss in the late 60s. Another son, Johnny, has always been a good friend. In the spring of 1968, we had our first date on one of the sailboats their family built... with Johnny and his date, on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Jackson. One summer during medical school (early 70s) my husband worked with Dr. Guyton in his lab. Over the next thirty-something years, we would keep up with various ones of the Guyton clan, with whom we were re-united, sadly, at Dr. Guyton's funeral in Oxford in April of 2003.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I met Jerusha and discovered our shared involvement with this amazing man and his family. We sat together at Scrooge's Restaurant the final night of the writers conference--she's the young one with the rosy cheeks!

Jerusha has agreed to answer a few questions for my blog today:

SC: Inventing Ott is your first book. How did you decide on this subject? I know it’s written for, what, middle-school students? (which means it’s just right for me!)

JB: When Dr. Guyton died (in April 2003), I lived on the UMC campus, as my husband was in medical school at the time. When the entire campus, and the entire city for that matter, sort of froze in shock at the news, I was confused. In all that time of living so close to greatness, I had never even heard this person on the news.

By some odd coincidence, I just happened to be actively seeking a subject that could possibly hold my attention for the entire length of time it would take me to struggle through the creation of my first book-length manuscript. When I started making random inquiries around campus (and eventually around town, state, and country) about the man on the news, I was intrigued. Dr. Guyton was so well known for so many things, that I never got the same answer twice. In fact, at first I thought that there was no way all of these people could possibly be thinking of the same man. But, they were. And I knew that I had my story.

SC: Your book is wonderfully illustrated with photographs. I read your acknowledgements and picture credits in the back of the book. What was it like working with Dr.Guyton’s children on this project?

JB: As anyone who knows a Guyton will tell you, Arthur Guyton’s children are extremely worthy of his name. Although I cannot possibly claim to have learned all that there is to know about them in the short time it took to research this book (in fact, I did not even communicate with all of them), I can say this. While each that I met was wonderfully unique, there was an underlying Guyton sameness in all of them. This sameness is obvious to nearly everyone who meets them. It’s like a really down-to-earth, familiarity that you feel, even when meeting one for the very first time. It is a quality that must have been instilled by very loving parents, to be so apparent in all of them. Anyway, naturally, they were all quite helpful and easy to work with.

SC: You went to a local publisher, Quail Ridge Press, for publication. What was that process like, and what have you (or they) done to promote the book?

JB: Going to Quail Ridge Press was sort of a no-brainer for this project, since they specialize in Mississippi subjects. Working with them was wonderful, and they have really held my hand through most of the publishing process. They even listened to MY input about nearly every part of the process. I only found out later how unusual that was for a publisher. As for the promotion and marketing, who is ever really satisfied on that aspect? Can anyone ever try hard enough to promote your precious creation? I will say this for Quail Ridge…although promoting children’s books was new to them, when I pointed out a market, they pursued it. They have pretty much followed every avenue I’ve suggested.

SC: Your web site shows your three children, your availability for speaking, and your other published works in The Mississippi Press, The Northside Sun, and the Jackson Free Press. How do you find time for writing, publishing, speaking, and raising three children? Any tips for other mothers of young children who want to write?

JB: With great difficulty. You really have to want it badly to succeed at writing with young children. In fact, you really have to make a gargantuan effort to simply finish a single thought with three youn…..what was I saying?
The trick is to let your laundry pile up into a gigantic mountain! This frees up the time you would have spent cleaning the clothes, while providing a magnificent play-structure for the kids. As long as you’re careful not to lose the baby in the pile, it’s a win-win situation.

SC: What are you working on next? Another non-fiction children's book? Any fiction?

JB: Susan, I’m glad you asked! I have just found a publisher who is interested in taking on my next non-fiction book for upper-elementary/middle grade readers called Aquarius: An Undersea Adventure, thanks to all of your wonderful critique suggestions at the Mississippi Writer’s Guild conference. It is non-fiction about the world’s only undersea human habitat! I expect a 2008 publication date.

Since the conference (thanks to the wonderful advice of C. Hope Clark, founder of, I have also founded a children’s literacy program called Mayor Mary’s Book Club in my home town of Madison, MS. For the club, I will write a series of eleven picture books, published by the City of Madison, to be distributed (free of charge) to every single child in Madison who is between the ages of 4 and 9. The books will be distributed with backpacks, bookmarks, a cozy blanket, a flashlight, etc… along with pamphlets for the parents with instructions on how to nurture their children’s love of reading. We hope to use this program in Madison as a prototype, and then expand it to include the entire state of Mississippi! I am so proud of this club, because it is the first time in my career that I feel truly empowered to use my skills for the good of my community.

SC: That’s awesome, Jerusha. Thanks for taking time to share a bit of your story with us.

You can order Inventing Ott at all major bookstores, from Quail Ridge Press or a signed copy directly from Jerusha by sending an email to

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Risking Friendship: The Secret to Happiness

Tonight on the NBC Evening News, Ann Curry interviewed a group of women who had been friends for twenty or more years. They talked about the importance of friendship. "Friends: The Secret to Happiness" was a spinoff from the larger report about how Americans are living longer. The women agreed that for most of them, friends were as important as family, and possibly more important to their well-being.

Yesterday a Friend rode with me as I made one of my frequent 400-mile round trips to visit my mother, who is in an assisted living home in Mississippi. Now, I actually love to drive... even on long trips alone. Time to think. To listen to my favorite CDs. To write. (Yes, I know, I should get a tape recorder, which would be much safer than writing while driving....) Anyway, my Friend went with me to visit her newborn great-niece. We talked a lot, but there were also periods of comfortable silence. Just being together. We were gone from 7:30 am until about 6:30 pm, but I wasn't really that tired when I got home. Because I was with my Friend.

As an artist and writer, I find myself spending more time alone. Some of this is necessary, in order to work. Some of it seems to be a natural social attrition that happens to artists, I think. We're different, and sometimes we make people uncomfortable. Which is one reason we need the company of other artists and writers. This morning I met an artist-friend at Starbucks for about an hour and we sat outside in the (finally) cool morning air and talked about our current projects and I felt refreshed... re-energized by her energy, you know? Like our dear Madeleine L'Engle said, "we all feed the lake." And it's encouraging to be with people who get you.

But it's also important to be with people in our communities, our neighborhoods, and our church homes... those with whom we've cast our lots because of commitment to places and causes or shared faiths. These relationships require a little more work, because when we work together on things we care about, we sometimes hurt eachother.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven wher eyou can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.

Father Christopher Metropulos, founder of the Orthodox Christian Network and the Come Receive the Light national Orthodox Christian radio program ( contributed a wonderful article to the latest issue of The Handmaiden, whose theme is "Loneliness, Isolation and Community," called "The Way of Koinonia." Fr. Metropulos says:

The Greek word koinonia means community, in its most profound and mysterious sense. God Himself is koinonia.... We can only truly understand ourselves, we can only lay claim to the image of God within us, when we recognize that like God, the truth of who we are is centered in our community. The truth of our very nature demands that we fully embrace our relationships with others.

Our church is hosting it's annual women's retreat November 9-10, and our speaker this year is an Orthodox priest from Wichita, Kansas--Father Paul O'Callahan. Fr. Paul wrote a wonderful book called The Feast of Friendship, and I'm really looking forward to hearing his thoughts when he comes to Memphis in November. And to spending that weekend with some of my Friends, embracing those relationships that, as Ann Curry found in her interviews, just might be the "secret to happiness."

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Day the Music Died and New Life in the Culinary and Literary Mississippi Delta

Ten years after Mother Teresa's death... two more giants have left our midst. Although their publicists just announced it yesterday, this past Thursday, September 6, 2007, two icons of art both departed this life:

Lucianno Pavarotti, the 71-year-old legendary Italian opera singer, and Madeleine L'Engle, 88-year-old award-winning author (and one my favorites of all time)as reported in the New York Times. Among L'Engle's more than sixty published books was the Newberry Award winning book, A Wrinkle in Time, which should be the standard-bearer of patience for all of us writers seeking to have our work published: it was rejected by 26 publishers before it was finally accepted! But it's her book about writing, and art and spirituality and life that inspired me to write. Walking on Water is full of amazing wisdom and beauty. But I'm going to quote from a book compiled by Carole Chase, Madeleine L'Engle {Herself} for today's memorial to this great lady. The subtitle is Reflections on a Writing Life. It's hard to choose my favorite quotes, but I've narrowed it down to the following.

The Danger of Artists - The first people that a dictator puts in jail are the writers and the teachers because these are the people who have vocabulary, who can see injustice and can express what they feel about it. Artists are dangerous people because they are called to work with human clay, with the heart and the soul. So to protect itself, society has had to pretend that either art is unimportant or that it is simple.

Writers are Dangerous - When Hugh and I went on a trip to Russia I almost didn't get a visa because our travel agent put down my occupation as writer. Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous.

The Truth of Fiction - I think that all writing, even the most scientific, is autobiographical, and there's no such thing as an objective history. I don't trust history as much as I trust fiction. Fiction tends to be more true. When you're writing fiction, or what is called fiction, you're more able to let go and you have to let go to get to the truth. When we're controlling it, it's never quite there. Our darknesses do change us sometimes, pulling us further in and sometimes opening us up to the most brilliant sulight. We have to trust them. I don't want to go through some of mine again, thank you please. But they were very important.

The Language of Poets - An icon is more than a simile; it is a metaphor, containing within itself something of the indescribable, so that the need for description vanishes. It is not just like. It is. Jesus is God. What an affirmation! Jesus is God, the ultimate metaphor. Poets use both similes and metaphors, but metahpor is the stronger. Whatever is an open door to God is, for me, an icon. It may be that small picture pasted on wood with which I travel. The icon of the three angels, the Holy Trinity, does not prove to me anything about God, but it opens the doors and windows of my heart.

The Paradox of Success - There is no evading the fact that the artist yearns for success, because tha tmeans that there has been a communication of the vision; that all the struggle has not been invalid. Yet with each book I write I am weighted with a deep longing for anonymity, a feeling that books should not be signed, reviews should not be read. But I sign the books; I read the reveiews.... We cannot seem to escape the paradox; I do not think I want to.

Me, either. Madeleine!

The Lion King just finished a run at the Orpheum Theater here in Memphis, and I was thinking about the song, "The Circle of Life" when I started this blog post. Just as we are losing these two giants, new life is gaining strength in the Mississippi Delta...

INTERVIEW WITH Keetha DePriest Reed:

What a delight to meet Keetha DePriest Reed at the Mississippi Writers Guild's first conference in Raymond, Mississippi in August. This young woman has already published two books-- Culinary Kudzu and More Culinary Kudzu, while raising a five-year-old and holding down a full time day job! Her books are full of yes, wonderful recipes, but also endearing stories of growing up Southern, photos of local culture, and links to web sites about everything Southern. (I bought 8 autographed copies to give as Christmas gifts!) So, today I’ll do a short blog interview with Keetha so my readers can get to know her better:

SC: I'm so impressed with your educational path... undergrad (Mississippi Southern) in hospitality and grad school (Ole Miss) in journalism. And you're actually using both of these in your work in the food and publishing industries. Was this all calculated from the beginning?

KR: My master plan ten years ago was to get a master's in journalism then conquer Manhattan via the New York Times food pages. Good plan and all but it didn't exactly work out! I have learned the hard way that I am, shall we say, lacking in reporting skills. I really enjoy is essay-type writing. More recently, I'm trying fiction and not focusing as much on food writing. I daydream about going back to school, this time to study creative writing.

SC: Did you write down these amazing childhood memories and details about family events all along the way, or just call them back up from somewhere deep in your Southern soul when you were preparing to write these books?

KR: It was funny - all those stories were saved up there, vivid and real, when I began writing! Like many southern families, I come from a group of storytellers. Growing up, some of the most fun I had was spent with family, trading funny stories. We'd be just howling, all but rolling on the floor laughing. At some point, I realized how rare and wondrous that was and wanted to capture it. Or try to, anyway.

SC: I hear you're taking a detour with your next book... a mystery novel? Do you have favorite authors in this genre? What/who's your inspiration for this project?

KR: I am collaborating on a novel with a friend. The inspiration came about because we both wanted to write and both seemed to need either permission or a shove, or both. We decided to just do it. Write this thing, although I, for one, don't know what I'm doing. We gave ourselves official sanctioned permission to write something really awful, but to WRITE IT. It is a lot of fun. I love the way once I get started, I really am there, with the characters. It's a trip! I have ideas for another novel and several ideas for short stories I'd like to pursue. Making the time to pursue these things is a daily challenge.

SC: Keetha, you are a prolific reader, as well. Every writing instructor tells us to read, read, read, but oh my gosh, your annual book list is amazing. And your contributions to Goodreads ( ... how on earth do you find time for that?
KR: Books have always been a huge deal to me. Since I first learned to read, I've had my nose in a book at every opportunity. I read during my lunch break (when perhaps I should be writing) and I read in the evenings while my son watches Tom and Jerry cartoons. As much as I love books, it's kind of amazing that I was a full fledged grownup before it occurred to me to try my hand at writing. Better late than never, right?

SC: Thanks for "chatting" with us, Keetha. Good luck with the novel... and I'll think of you when I try out your recipes during the upcoming holiday seasons!

Keetha offers a free monthly e-newsletter called Delta Dish. Visit to sign up. Keetha's books make great Christmas gifts - she will even autograph them for your family and friends. Just go to her web site to order:

Friday, September 7, 2007

Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Giants

As I write this post I am thinking about several things that might appear disparate at first glance—like oddly matched fabric scraps. But stay with me as I try to show the thread that’s woven through all of them. We might end up with a crazy-quilt—ooops, my roots are showing again. But here goes…

These musings all started with the September 3 issue of Time Magazine—the one with “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa” on the cover. I was in Little Rock visiting a friend when the magazine came out, and she and I talked about the blessing these private letters of Mother Teresa could be to the world, as she gives us all permission to be human. (The fact that she asked that the letters be burned and never made public is another issue altogether, and it sounds a warning bell to all of us who write. My mother gave me a shoebox of letters she found at my grandmother’s house twenty years ago… letters I wrote to Mamaw from the time I was five until after I was married. I told her everything … because she was a “safe place”… or so I thought! I never have asked my mother if she read those letters before giving me the shoebox….)

Anyway, I’m anxious to read Come Be My Light (Mother Teresa’s letters) when it’s published, for a number of reasons. I’m hopeful that what we’ll find there is a woman who continued to serve God and others even in the spiritual droughts she experienced. As an Orthodox Christian, I’m familiar with the Church fathers’ teachings on how we experience God’s grace in our lives… and its absence. And I’m personally familiar with times of great awareness of God’s grace in my life as well as the times when I feel that He has removed His grace. Once when I was distraught about this, a wise spiritual person told me that God does this so that we’ll seek Him, and not just His gifts. Otherwise, His gifts (ecstasy in prayer, abiding peace in our hearts, freedom from depression and addictions) can become our reason for seeking Him. They can become replacements for other things that make us feel good, like food, sex, drugs, material things, the praise of men, etc.

Thinking about Mother Teresa reminds me of a women’s retreat I gave a couple of years ago at a church in Texas. My topic was “The Middle Way: Finding Balance in Our Lives.” One section of the retreat was about saints. Not to set the bar so high we can never reach it, but rather to encourage us to see what they saw… as artists and poets and writers often do in their crafts as seers—showing us what’s beyond our view. In the prologue to Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, a book about saints edited by Tomas Spidlik, we read:

There is a crowd of wings fluttering in our hearts: the holiness of the Holy One, of God, and the holiness of Christians sanctified in their faith and in their love. We have 20 centuries of the Church’s life in our blood. We are its heirs…. We are dwarfs; they are giants. We ought to know them in order to know ourselves better. We ought, as they used to say in the Middle Ages, to climb on their shoulders in order to see further.

Dwarfs on the shoulders of giants—that’s us… those of us who want to know ourselves better and see further. And what is it that we can see, standing on those shoulders? A way to holiness? A way to happiness? Are those goals in conflict with each other?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard, in the Introduction to In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (edited by Lee Gutkind—more about him later*) says:

Dedicate (donate, give all) your life to something larger than yourself and pleasure—to the largest thing you can: to God, to relieving suffering, to contributing to knowledge, to adding to literature, or something else. Happiness lies this way, and it beats pleasure hollow.

This certainly describes what Mother Theresa did. And many of the saints. But also what each of us can do, whether we are writers or artists or poets or teachers or parents or businessmen or [fill in the blank]. It behooves us all to remember why we do whatever it is that we do. And to bring our whole selves into our work—our human selves, made in God’s image, and yet often covered in the dirty residue of doubt, loneliness, fear, and pain.

Which brings me to the final squares of this quilt—icons. I’m working on an article for a spiritual publication. I have titled the article “Icons Will Save the World.” They can save the world because they are incarnational art. They are visions of what we can become if we allow God to penetrate every aspect of our lives. They encourage us to take our humanity seriously, and not scorn the physical, materials things.

Taking our humanity seriously means being concerned about our responsibility to the world around us. John Chryssavgis (Beyond the Shattered Image) says that our generation is:

Characterized by a behavior that results from an autism with regard to the natural cosmos: a certain lack of awareness, or recognition, causes us to use, or even waste the beauty of the world…. We have disestablished a continuity between ourselves and the outside, with no possibility for intimate communion and mutual enhancement. The world of the icon, though, restores this relationship by reminding us of what is outside and beyond, what ultimately gives value and vitality.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save the world. I think the beauty of which he spoke includes art and literature and selfless giving by people like Mother Teresa, and icons. Sometimes when I’m writing (painting) icons, and even when I’m contemplating them, especially in church, I experience a psychological dimension as the icon invites my response to its spiritual beauty. The icon sanctifies our vision. It lifts us up—up onto the shoulders of giants—so that we can see. Icons are called "windows to heaven." We could all use a little window-shopping.

*Lee Gutkind, the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” is leading a Creative Nonfiction workshop at the University of Mississippi on September 29. The deadline to register is September 15. You can register online. Leave me a comment (click on "comments" at the end of this post) to let me know if you're going. Or you can email me at Hope to see some of you there!