"culinary circus": our trip to bountiful

Monday, September 15, 2014








We have the enormous generosity of the Halloran Family and the ingenuity of Kathy Coffey to thank for one of the most exquisite evenings of our entire lives. For creating a book we loved creating, for working with people from whom we learned and with whom we laughed, we were (there is irony here) given a gift—an afternoon at an Outstanding in the Field event, a back-to-the-earth meal orchestrated by the artist Jim Denevan.

The idea, quoting Devevan, involves "setting a long table on a farm and inviting the public to an open-air feast in celebration of the farmer and the gifts of the land."

The execution—and the weather—were perfection.

Our farm was Blooming Glen, in Perkasie, PA, bursting to eggplant/fennel/heirloom tomato/cabbage/tap-rooted clover/popcorn corn/passion flowers life under the care of the recently organic-certified Tricia Boneman and Tom Murtha. Our chef was Lee Chizmar, of Bolete, in Bethlehem, a much-raved about restaurant (and every rave you've heard has been earned). Our vintner (and, lucky for us, near tablemate) was Richard Blair, of Blair Vineyards, a family enterprise that produces incredibly delicious wines. (Richard also has the great distinction of being another Radnor High alum.) Our friends were and are and will always be John and Andra.

Heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella. Lamb and watermelon and feta. Pork and potatoes/foraged mushrooms/kale. A dessert inside a mason jar that had something to do with squash and cheesecake and everything to do with heaven. Indelible skies. Theatrical sun.

It was as if we'd been transported to a country far away.

I'm back now, but only reluctantly, to tell the tale.

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Greater Gratitudes and Farm to Table, at Blooming Glen, with Chef Lee Chizmar

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sometimes you work for a client who sees beyond the schedule and the deliverables and cares, outright, about you. This afternoon we'll travel to Blooming Glen Farm to experience a Farm to Table extravaganza—a gift from a dear client for whom we created a commemorative book. We'll spend the afternoon with our foodie/dancing/cultural arts/New Year's Eve Every Eve friends, John and Andra. We'll see what it is to take a leaf of lettuce (and other things) directly from the earth to a plate.

(and we'll wear straw hats)

In this, I am blessed.

I feel blessed, too, by the glory of last evening's celebration of a certain 21-year-old Emma, whose family has taught so many of us about love, resilience, and grace. When the Yasicks call us together, the clouds subside, the sun locks in, and sometimes, even, a rainbow blooms. They may not understand just how much they mean to us, or how dearly we hold them in our hearts, or how they cast their minor spells of wonder. We have only this to say:

In the way that you live your lives—in your integrity, kindness, and dignified exuberance, in your bequeathing search for joy, in the ways that you remember (with wonder, without regret)—we learn a greater gratitude.

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Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking by Christian Rudder/Reflections

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My son is a trendspotter, a quiet strategist, a Child of the Social Media World. I knew I had to buy him a copy of Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking, Christian Rudder's new book, as soon as I started reading about it two months ago.

Rudder is one of the founders of the online dating site OKCupid—a Harvard grad with a popular blog. He has access to massive personal data and he has insights about (and now I am jacket copy quoting): "... how Facebook 'likes' can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person's sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot. He charts the rise and fall of America's most reviled word through Google Search and examines the new dynamics of collaborative rage on Twitter. He shows how people express themselves, both privately and publicly...."

You get the point. Innately interesting stuff.

The book now in hand and my son briefly at home, I've proven myself an Indian giver—bandying the book about, reading interesting bits out loud, and saying, "Wait until you read this chapter," while the poor guy sits there, waiting to read that chapter. Rudder isn't just smart, insightful, and data-possessed. He proves himself to be a charming, engaging writer, even as he fills his book with red and black scattergrams, word charts, and x/y axes. He's not brash, he's not impressed with himself, he would never himself submit to online dating. He's just curious. And he has the facts.

Haters above all else confuse me; I see little point in spending one's time engaged in ruthless take downs, unprompted negativity, public/private screeds, and all those other e-facilitated things (which is one of the reasons I will never Google my own name or check my Amazon stats; life is too short to worry through the unkindness of strangers). I'd much rather listen to someone who has something to say or who has created something dazzling than to someone merely blessed with the right cheekbones. I don't feel a personal need to be "hot"—below the radar suits me just fine (just ask Kelly Simmons and Donna Galanti, who have the distinctly unpleasant task of planning a self-promotion panel with me at the upcoming Push to Publish conference; they have had to politely encourage me to stay on task more than once, bless them, these dear and task-appropriate souls).  Nonetheless, I'm fascinated by Rudder's facts—and by his musings. I find them distinctly relevant and helpful. Here he is, for example, reflecting on "the data generated from outrage.":

It embodies (and therefore lets us study) the contradictions inherent in us all. It shows we fight against those who can least fight back. And, above all, it runs to ground our age-old desire to raise ourselves up by putting other people down. Scientists have established that the drive is as old as time, but that doesn't mean they understand it yet. As Gandhi put it, "It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings."

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It's the uncertainty that bungles us—

Thursday, September 11, 2014

that strikes us down, a paralysis.

Think it through, make the decision, pursue the dream, part the mountains, leave the mist behind.

Action is the cure.

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Belzhar: Meg Wolitzer/Reflections

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Meg Wolitzer began The Interestings, her acclaimed 2013 novel "for adults" (my quotation marks, because I so dislike/unlike categories) with this convocation of the teenaged young:
On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all....
In Belzhar, Woltizer's new book "for teens," it is not a camp teepee toward which the characters are drawn, but a school for emotionally fragile children called The Wooden Barn. Unknown to each other in the school's early days, the students have arrived bearing secrets. Soon enough the core protagonists will forge camp-like bonds in a miniature English class focused on Sylvia Plath and facilitated by journal writing. They will learn, unlearn, and learn themselves. They will enter a mystical world called Belzhar, a condition or place that Wolitzer explains like this:
Belzhar lets you be with the person you've lost, or in Casey's case, with the thing she's lost, but it keeps you where you were before the loss. So if you desperately want what you once had, you can write it in your red leather journal and go to Belzhar and find it. But apparently you won't find anything new there. Time stops in Belzhar; it hangs suspended.
Wolitzer's theme, in Belzhar, is second chances, and in order to have a second chance, you have to be honest with yourself, you have to know what really happened. Through Belzhar, Wolitzer transports these student-friends to the past. She builds a reckoning mirror and holds it steady.

Whereas The Interestings (which I reviewed for the Chicago Tribune here) was rich with detail and character asides, full of the messy, tangential sprawl of messy life, Belzhar is lean, plot-focused and plot-purposeful. Like We Were Liars, E. Lockhart's summer sensation, it harbors a secret within a secret that will keep readers turning pages.

But perhaps what I liked best was this simple and essential thing: Wolitzer has written a novel that reminds teens how much words matter. A message that must burn eternal.

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take one photo, make it a story

Monday, September 8, 2014

this, today, is where my story begins.

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Spend time alone, and do not look away

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Time spent alone writing the novel provided a different kind of instruction. “I learned not to look away at the moment when I should be paying the most attention,” he said. “The closer I got to the heart of a scene, to the really difficult material to write, the emotionally challenging stuff or the exchange in which the conflict is made most explicit, the more I’d look for a way out of writing it. This was out of fear, obviously, because you don’t want to run up against your limitations in craft, intelligence or heart. It’s much easier to duck the really vital material, but it kills what you’re writing to do so, kills it instantly.”

—Matthew Thomas, author of WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, in an email interview with the New York Times

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Reviewing Diane Ackerman's "The Human Age," in Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal

Friday, September 5, 2014

My thoughts on Diane Ackerman's new book, "The Human Age," appear in this weekend's Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal. 

The review begins like this:
Mental caravan.
It is the phrase that appears on the penultimate page of Diane Ackerman's new book, "The Human Age." The two words bracket all that has come before in this wide-ranging exploration of our world right now. This mini-history of our slurry epoch. This summary of human plunder and residual wonder. This panoramic investigation of vertical ocean gardening, geo-friendly architecture, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, the "bounty" that grows on planted urban walls, the coming age of regenerative medicine. This poetic treatise on microbes and the medicinal power of human touch.
And continues here.

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Anthony Lane on Young Adult Fiction: a generalized and generally disturbing definition of the form

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Generalized definitions of anything—or anyone—are provocative, sure. They get the readers' ire up. Which is to say they attract more readers. I am sure that Anthony Lane of The New Yorker (a terrific if mostly acerbic reviewer) knows that YA fiction comes in many hues and forms and flavors, and that it is fed by many ideals and many wild imaginations, many time periods, many themes, and a full array of characters and landscapes.

But here, in Lane's review of the movie "If I Stay," based on the Gayle Forman novel, he issues a standardizing decree.
Young-adult fiction: what a peculiar product it is, sold and consumed as avidly as the misery memoir and the self-help book, and borrowing sneakily from both. One can see the gap in the market. What are literate kids meant to do with themselves, or with their itchy brains, as they wander the no man's land between Narnia and Philip Roth? The ideal protagonist of the genre is at once victimized and possessed of decisive power—someone like Mia, the heroine of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay," which has clung grimly to the Times best-seller list, on and off, for twenty weeks. And the ideal subject is death, or, as we should probably call it, the big sleepover.
Oh, the blogs/articles/talks that will erupt from this. Oh. Or? Perhaps we who write young adult fiction that is not part misery memoir and not self-help book, not, indeed, any single one thing, grow weary of the castigating, the easy sarcasm, the sneak and overt attacks?

Let others stomp their feet and say what they will. We've got work to do.



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Garden Ghosts and River Voices, this evening at Radnor Library


One of my incurable obsessions is imagining Then. The yesterday years. The years before those. The land before it was cultivated. The earth before the glaciers peeled off. The mountains before they were sprung loose from the seas. The birds when they were the size of dinosaurs.

Give me an afternoon off, keep me on hold for a conference call, put me in the car alone for a long drive, and I’m thinking about Then. We live in a transitory and transitional time. We have entered, say some, the Epoch of the Anthropocene. We have reconstructed and redirected our planet to suit our own needs. Nothing that is here right now was here eons ago. And none of it will be here in the long future.

— excerpted from "Garden Ghosts and River Voices," the talk I'll be giving this evening as the Community Garden Club at Wayne kicks off its season. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River (the affordable paperback edition), my Chanticleer memoir Ghosts in the Garden (some of the final copies in existence), and my Chanticleer young adult novel Nothing but Ghosts will be available.

The details:

September 4, 2014, 6:30 PM
 Community Garden Club at Wayne
"Garden Ghosts and River Voices"
Nothing but Ghosts/Ghosts in the Garden/Flow
Open to the public
Winsor Room
Radnor Memorial Library
Radnor, PA


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What if we spent September re-reading our favorite books, like "Housekeeping"?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Readers of this blog (and of Handling the Truth) know how much a certain Alyson Hagy means to me—the quality of her work, her character, her mind. Not long ago she mentioned that she was re-reading Housekeeping, one of my very favorite novels of all time. Oh, I thought. And lifted my copy of the book from its shelf.

The extraordinary thing about re-reading a much-loved novel is realizing how brand new the novel can feel, even the fourth time around. For here I am this morning, turning the early pages of Marilynne Robinson's exquisite story, and thinking: How could I have forgotten this? Or this? And this? Yes, I remember the train and the lake, Sylvie and her flowers, the laundry being hung on the line. But I did not remember how swiftly and gracefully Nelson moves through genealogy and across landscape. There's that impeccable first line, "My name is Ruth." Then an indication of grandmother, sisters-in-law, a daughter, and Edmund Foster—all in seven lines. Then a sudden shift to place and to Edmund Foster's childhood home, described in great detail, "no more a human stronghold than a grave."

All this, and we haven't turned a page.

Why?

It's almost as if the novel has broken into tangents before it has even begun, and this (among so much) is what I didn't think about before (or maybe I forgot thinking about it before so that I read it as brand new)—how Housekeeping declares itself by means of a branching interiority right from the start.

Do I see that now because of something Alyson said in a note to me, or would I have seen it anyway, and is it because of the number of books that I have read between my third read of Housekeeping years ago and now, or because of my age, or because I am looking for something new in the stories I read?

I don't know, but I do wonder this: What if I decided to re-read my favorite two dozen books? What would I learn—about stories and about me?

What if we did?

A project to ponder, as September unfolds.

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Geometric September

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The bold geometries of baled hay. 
The beginning of September.

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the news worth telling

Monday, September 1, 2014

I had 30,000-plus images stored in my computer, and the old Apple wasn't going to take it much longer. And so, for the past four hours I've sat here whittling those images down.

Reviewing a photo log is like reviewing a life, in miniature. Yesterday I might not have been able to tell you, as assuredly as I can now, that my photo obsessions (which may also be my life obsessions) can be divided rather readily into: family and friends, unusual (to me) places, portraits of children, my house in every season, dancers, and Chanticleer garden.

It seems that there is not that much more to me than this: I love those I love, I love to find and explore the new, I find peace in the sheltered quiet of this world, young people thrill me, dance is magic. I don't tend to photograph my vast collection of books. But I love the books too, of course.

The other day I was actually thinking about this question—the me of me. My son had called and had told me his news—the adventures he'd been having, the conversations, the outtings with friends, his river at night, his city from a rooftop club. And then he stopped and asked what I'd been up to lately, and I stumbled. I find this question a perennial stumper. What's new? What's up? It's a rare day when I have something meaningful to say.

Because most of what is new with me is what goes on inside my head. I read a great book. I had this idea. I was fighting with a sentence. I was lying down and looking up and I remembered my grandmother. Or I remembered Uncle Danny's laugh. Or I thought about a meal I once had and tried to resurrect the recipe. Or—oh, I know—I was thinking of painting the bathroom. On a good day I can tell you about a movie I've seen or opine over "Orange is the New Black" or mention that I've been to Adamstown and bought a pair of 19th century baby shoes. Or maybe I'll say (if I sense that there is time) that I lucked into a Hamburg hamburger festival, and that will be it: my news. A sentence or two, and I'm done.

What's new? Every time I'm asked I feel the Tedium of Beth coming on.

What is the life news worth telling? At my old age I'm still figuring it out.

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Writing is a kind of sickness: History of the Rain/Niall Williams: Reflections

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I bought History of the Rain because Melissa Firman said I should, and because I trust this fine reader/writer/reviewer.

I read it because it is glorious. Irish and tangled and and caught, at times, in its own whirl, its own strange uncharted loveliness. It is a story about failure that is, itself, a victory of style, foresight, love. A book of tangents and a-chronology, of curves and mist. A book that, on its final page, does not, will not end.

Ruth Swain lives by a river in a part of the world where it always rains, where family is good, where the absence of a brother and a father requires Ruth herself, sick and perhaps dying, to write her family's wobbling story down. Into that story she writes the stories of the books her father loved and endowed to her, the mythology and the hope, the fortitude and the flood.

Look at what Niall Williams does with a character:
Two-handed, Mrs Quinty lifts the glasses free of the minor parsnip of her nose, holds them just in front of her and scrutinises the dust gathered there. Rain makes bars of light and dark down her face and mine, as if we're inside the jail of it.
Look at what he does with landscape:
The fields are wrapped in soft grey tissues of weather.
Look what he does with memory:
I know that field. Years ago I went there. It's rough and wildly sloping, hoof-pocked and rushy-bearded both. Running down it is bump and splash, is ankle-twist treachery. You get going and you can't stop. You're heading for the river. And you can't help but scream.
And (knowingly, truthfully, achingly absolutely), look what he does with the truth:
Writing of course is a kind of sickness. Well people don't do it. Art is basically impossible. Edna O'Brien said she was surprised Van Gogh only cut off one ear. Robert Lowell said that he felt was a blazing out, flashes, nerve jabs in the moments when the poem was coming. I myself have had no blazing out, and don't suppose it's all that good for your constitution. To stop himself from taking off into the air Ted Hughes had to keep repeating over and over Beneath my feet is the earth, some part of the surface of the earth. The thing is, writing is a sickness only cured by writing. That's the impossible part. 
More than 350 pages, and every page this good.



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Hamburg-ers and Philadelphia Sidewalks





Yesterday we went off in search of a river trail—an end of summer drive through corn country—and discovered a hamburger festival in (but of course) the town of Hamburg. One of those sweet surprises that puts an exclamation mark against the word adventure. I'd been anticipating a sleepy, overcast river walk. But when we arrived, I found the Supreme Woodstock of beefy festivals instead. Dozens upon dozens of hamburger chefs out on the street alongside musicians and leashed pigs and roller derby queens, the crafts people and the wood carvers, the hat wearers and the cigar smokers, the people having a beautiful time. It was as if I'd gone on a one-day European vacation. It was an hour and a half drive and a whole other country. I loved it.


I love, too, my collaboration with Kevin Ferris of the Inquirer, who gives me room to write about the Philadelphia places or experiences that I hope will resonate with those who have meandered through or wondered about our city. Many months ago, while we were chatting, Kevin suggested that I study the sidewalks of the city and see what they might reveal. And so one day, I set out on a sidewalk walk, then wrote the story that begins like this:
From 30th Street Station I walk east on Market - cross one river in pursuit of another. I watch the world beneath me shift. Asphalt. Curb cut. Bridge. A ribbon of discontinuous sidewalks.

Way down deep, the planet's inner iron core radiates some 5,000 Celsius degrees. Here, on the Market Street sidewalks, solidity is an illusion. The concrete panes are cracking. The bricks are buckling. The rising angles of the slate and granite tiles suggest the ceaseless motions of the Earth's crust and the convective power of a restless mantle.
A planetary urging from below.
A streetscape pounding from above.

The sidewalk like geology, I think.
and continues here.


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the very height of things, the end of summer

Saturday, August 30, 2014




You know summer is ending when the flowers at Chanticleer are taller than you, when the pods are mostly empty, when the petals have mostly blown away, when the cardinal flowers light the bendy paths.

You stand at the crest of the hill. You consider the months that are now tucked inside your history.

There's a breeze out there. A stirring.

Next week, or the week after, I will drive to the beach and stand on the shore and talk to the sea. Because the end of summer also means a little reckoning with the salt and the churn of the sea.

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giving thanks

Friday, August 29, 2014

To John Warner, who writes Biblioracle, for listing Handling the Truth on his Recommendation list. I read Mr. Warner's smart books essay every week in Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal. I learn whenever I do:
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations

1. "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

2. "Love and Shame and Love" by Peter Orner

3. "Handling the Truth" by Beth Kephart

4. "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist" by Thomas Beller

5. "Carsick" by John Waters

To the American Bookselling Association, for including Going Over in the 2014 Best Books for Children & Teens, Too. Honored to be there. Grateful to be listed alongside my friend, Amy King.

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In Chicago Tribune: Books with purpose demand urgent reading

Earlier this summer the impeccable Bill Wolfe invited me to write a short piece for his beautiful blog, "Read her Like an Open Book" that focuses on the work of women writers (their methods, their work). I had been thinking a lot about books that matter and the clicking tock, about the world we're in and the role of writers. And so I wrote a quick piece on the topic that began an interesting conversation out there in the virtual world.

A few weeks later urgency was still on my mind, and my dear friends at Chicago Tribune gave me room to expand on the thesis. This time I included books—both fiction and nonfiction—that have lately impressed me as significant.

That piece runs here today.

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WS studioarts: a gathering of my husband's art

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ceramics. Photography. Graphic Arts.

This is the work my husband does.

This summer, Bill has brought all of that together in a single web site, which I have the privilege of launching here.

Some of our clients will recognize some of the images. Our pottery friends will recognize the pots. Our dancing friends will find themselves inside Bill's magical 3-D imagery. My niece will find herself in the image above, reading a book that is called Small Damages.

The site is like a gathering. I hope you'll take some time to explore it.

The link, again, is this.

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A Kephart is the first American to scale Mount Kilimanjaro


From my cousin Libby, earlier today, this bit of family history, posted on the Cornell University news site. I didn't know this. I probably should have. I find it especially interesting today, as I finish reading the new Matt Higgins book Bird Dreams: Adventures at the Extremes of Human Flight, a magnificent chronicling of the men (and women) who choose to jump from planes, buildings, antennae, and cliffs, some wearing nothing more than flying-squirrel-shaped suits.

What people will do. What they can do. And apparently Leonard Kephart, my grandfather's brother, chose to scale Africa's great mountain all in a hunt for new grasses, and clover.
Aug. 30, 1927 Leonard W. Kephart, Class of 1913, is the first American to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. He was in Africa on a search for new grasses for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kephart took four days to reach the peak, slogging through snow-covered gravel the last day. The climb was not entirely without scientific reward, reported the Cornell Alumni News (Nov. 10, 1927). Kephart discovered three new varieties of clover on the expedition.
Leonard (pictured standing with my grandfather and great aunts (and Laura Mack)) was one of his six children born to Horace Kephart, the librarian-turned-outdoorsman who helped found the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I've written about Horace here. But just moments ago, I found this lovely biography on the Horace Kephart Alaska Center Weblog.

I learn so much from those who do history well.

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Throwback Thursday. I had a thing for hats.

I still have that hat.
I don't think, however, that I am still so deer-caught-in-the-headlights-ish.
(I hope not; perhaps being not-headlightish is the sole advantage of advancing age.)

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Miranda Kephart, my niece, dazzles with a foxtrot (and turns 21)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014



My niece, Miranda Kephart, will soon turn 21. Having made her way to Yale with countless science credits and awards, Miranda soon emerged as a truly stellar ballroom dancer—learning the steps, and the artistry, at lightning speed. This foxtrot was filmed at Yale's 2014 Spring Show, and Miranda's old aunt (that would be me) watches it through teary eyes.

Happy Almost Birthday, Miranda.

And Happy Already Birthday, Owen. (Owen being Miranda's brother, who dazzled the Beth Blog World last year with this amazing Rubik's Cube performance and who is now settled in for his first year of college.)

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Elly P.: tween wonder








Yesterday, this:

A client sends a gift of blank notebooks in the wake of a job I gladly did (so many jobs, through so many years, I've done—but this gift, so unexpected). An author for whom I read and blurbed a debut novel sends a beautiful card and gift—wholly lovely thoughtfulness. The weather unfolded, magnificently. I wrote the first two pages of a book.

All of that was enough and then, end of day, an email from the impeccable Elly P. of Alaska-trip fame arrives. The world's top National Geo Junior Explorer who has a travel pedigree that outshines most, wears a camera around her neck like a pro, jumps into frigid bay water with nary a blink, and kept me company on a glorious boat with stories about herself and at least one fantastical story that she made up on the spot, while spreading Nutella across her breakfast toast.

Elly P. Elly P. All these weeks later, she writes to me.

Elly, you may have taken a bunch of photos of the crazy author lady with the untamed Alaska hair, but I've got pictures of you being your glorious intelligent, determined, clever, funny self. I've got these.

Magical camera. I'm in.


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upcoming, open, and free: September 4/rivers, gardens, ghosts/Radnor Memorial Library

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


The talk is written.
The doors will be open.
Rivers. Gardens. Ghosts.
Radnor Memorial Library
September 4, 2014
 

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baby steps/finding our way toward new projects

Monday, August 25, 2014

In Adamstown yesterday, I buy this pair of 19th century shoes. I bring them home. I add them to my small collection. I like the scars and worn buttons. I like imagining the child who yearned to run.

Which is precisely what I've been doing lately—imagining, yearning. We need time, I always think, between projects. We can't leave one thing and rush to another. I never have, never do. We have to figure out who we have become in the midst of making and who we are going to be next. We have to believe in the validity of our own work, its place in things. Write as if you are writing your last book, I always tell myself. Because someday it will be your last book.

I will want to believe that it mattered.

And so I buy a pair of shoes and study the scars. I turn stories over in my mind. Yes? No. What? For whom? What is going to matter now?

If no one but me reads the books I write next, will I still believe they were worth making?

They have to be.

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That someone who could change your life—Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs/Joshua Wolf Shenk

Saturday, August 23, 2014

This weekend's New York Times Book Review fills me with desire. I imagine a lake house. I imagine time. I imagine a week with nothing but books and a notebook into which I might record my favorite lines.

Alas.

That isn't here, or now. And so I find myself reading the first many chapters of the reviewed books instead, trying to narrow my choices for those days when I will have full reading time. In Joshua Wolf Shenk's Powers of Two, reviewed by Sarah Lewis, I find this bit of loveliness. I am, to be honest, a lone wolf much of the time—searching my limited brain for a next idea, having the conversation mostly in private, taking the long solo walk to breathe more substance in.

But there have been moments, projects, abbreviated eras when I've found myself in the midst of a heady collaboration. Someone who makes the small idea bigger or clearer than how it began.

Shenk captures the feeling of that here:

When the quickening comes. When the air between us feels less like a gap than a passage. When we don't know what to say because there is so much to say. Or, conversely, when we know just what to say because somehow, weirdly, all the billions of impulses around thought and language suddenly coalesce and find a direction home.

Sometimes you meet someone who could change your life. Sometimes you feel that possibility. The sense that, in the presence of this celestial body, you fall into a new orbit; that the ground beneath you is more like a trampoline; that you may be able—with this new person—to create things more beautiful and useful, more fantastic and more real, than you ever could before.

How does this happen? What conditions of circumstance and temperament foster creative connection? In other words: Where and how does it begin? And which combinations of people make it most likely?




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Scenes of Hamlet—my husband's book of ceramics and still lives (now live on Blurb)

Friday, August 22, 2014

A few days ago I posted here about my husband's work as a ceramicist and photographer.

I can now share that exquisite work here. Bill made all of the pots, arranged, lit, and took the photographs, and designed the book, which he will soon be sharing with ceramics studios.

I, however, love the work so much that I have asked if I might share it with all of you.

The link to the Blurb book preview is here.

In a few weeks I'll be sharing Bill's new web site, which features this work, his 3D design work, and his photography.

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How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky/Lydia Netzer: Chicago Tribune Review

I want to love every book I read. I crack the spine eager with hope. I struggled, unfortunately, with Lydia Netzer's new novel, a book that has elsewhere earned raves as well as raised eyebrows.

My review of the book is now live in Printers Row Journal. It begins like this, below, and can be read in its entirety here.
If you are a reader intoxicated by the strange, a reader for whom conceits matter more than characters and song, then Lydia Netzer's "How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky" is the sort of book that may well live up to its billing as a funny valentine. If, on the other hand, you read in search of stories that ultimately transcend ideas, then this second novel by the best-selling author of "Shine Shine Shine" may furrow your brow.

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Honoring Greg Djanikian in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I felt blessed when Pennsylvania Gazette editor John Prendergast invited me to write a 3,000 word story about Greg Djanikian, who trusted me to teach at Penn, who talks with  me many spring-semester Tuesdays when I arrive early to teach, who inspired a key character in my forthcoming Florence novel One Thing Stolen, and who writes some of the most gorgeous poetry anywhere. I wrote of his most recent book, Dear Gravity, here.

To write this story I spent an afternoon in Greg's beautiful home (filled with the artistry of his wife), interviewed Stephen Dunn, Julia Alvarez, Al Filreis, Gerald Costanzo, Fred Muratori, and others, and returned to a dear student, Eric Xu, who brought valuable insights to the Greg's beloved teaching.

The story can be found here.


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