Lighting Fires at Ragdale

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We moved recently and the one thing we don’t have in our new condo that we really miss is a fireplace. So how fortuitous to spend 18 cold winter days at Ragdale where of course they have one!IMG_0246 I haven’t lost my touch either, it’s burning pretty darn good and that’s without the help of last year’s expert fireplace lighter and poet extraordinaire, Katie Riegel.

They’ve rearranged some of the furniture and artwork recently. I don’t remember this beautiful piece of sculpture here where all kinds of plants including geraniums IMG_0251anxiously await Spring, literally sprawled against the windows to soak up enough sun to bloom. I appreciate their impatience.

I’m in the same room I was in last year, the Hay Loft, and this year my neighbor is my friend and mentor, Rita Dragonette. Last year that room was occupied by Jill Wine-Banks, who I met through Rita. We both miss her lots but know she’s on to something special with the book she came here to work on last year.

As was the case before, there’s a fascinating group here again–visual, composers, poets, non-fiction, fiction and multi-genre artists, all who raise the bar so high it’s both exhilarating and intimidating. In other words, I really need to quit circling this wagon and jump on. Enough procrastinating this morning. I’ve got stories to tell.

We Write Because & Hope to be Published

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The difference between being a writer and getting published reminds me of the difference between wanting to be a good parent and actually being a good parent. They appear as a continuum but couldn’t be more unrelated. There are legions of great wordsmiths in endless varieties like journalists, poets, fiction writers, essayists and others. Many create outstanding work but aren’t published simply because the quantity of material editors, agents, publishers and other gatekeepers must review is overwhelming.  Can you imagine the percentage of writer to agents, editors and publishers? That’s one of the few facts  I never want to learn.

Nonetheless, writers keep on writing. I don’t believe we have a choice. I could no more stop writing than I could turn down a mani-pedi with either of my grown daughters. Being published rivals sitting in a salon with one on either side of me. It’s probably hard for the non-writer or childless adult to comprehend, still it’s indisputably true.

In March I spent 18 glorious days at Ragdale, a writer- and artist-in-residence retreat. I reveled in the company of like-minded souls who struggle with all the thrill and torture of our calling. My bunk-mate was Jill Wine-Banks. More precisely, we shared a bathroom, and any woman knows after 18 days that alone creates an indestructible bond. She was working on her memoir about an inexperienced Dept. of Justice prosecutor in DC who happened to be the only female prosecutor on the Watergate case. Among others, she questioned Rose Mary Woods, then-President Nixon’s White House secretary and long-time confidante, about the 18-minute gap on  audio tapes used to record phone conversations in the White House. In the 1970s. When maybe 3% of law school graduates were women. Maybe 2% trial attorneys. Can you imagine the sexism facing a brilliant female attorney working to oust a US president and his senior advisors? Who also remains beautiful? And those were only some of the challenges she faced at that time.

She’s still working on it and no less concerned about getting published than I am about the essays I’m painfully aware can’t come close to the drama and infamy she participated in at the highest levels in a milestone moment of U.S. history. If she’s worried about getting published, you’ve got to believe me when I say we don’t choose to be writers. We just are.

I’m currently helping a long-time friend promote a book of poetry and water colors, entitled Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd by Emily Thornton Calvo. Emily has two other books published the traditional route with a co-author:  How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have is Talent and 25 Words or Less, a primer on finding a soulmate on-line. She’s co-founder and associate board member of Chicago Slam Works and tallies other credentials I couldn’t accumulate in 100 years. Still, this time she went the self-publishing route because she won an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council.

She dreaded the time-consuming and unsure fate of finding a traditional publisher. The grant supports the cost of Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd. The book’s words and images represent the lifelong journey of an incredibly talented, warm and brilliant soul wanting to help interpret or “color” the absurdities of life with “a beauty, irony or compassion that makes nonsense less disagreeable and even amusing.”

Introducing...Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd

How lucky is she that her application rose to the top in a city the size of Chicago and with a bureaucracy that has nothing on Washington D.C?  Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd will be available in October. You’ll want to own this masterpiece and share it with others. It’s truly a gift.

In less than one year I’ve been privileged to work side by side with two fascinating women, each struggling to share their remarkable experiences with words and images. Writing is one profession where members rely heavily on each other, depend on each other in fact, for constructive criticism and reality checks―a lot. We read, edit, workshop and consume each other’s efforts as no others can. That I think my words compare with these two seems laughable, but their encouragement is genuine. I know these are friends who wouldn’t let me waste a minute chasing a fantasy. Still, it’s hard to imagine….