Fame is a Fickle Food

Emily Dickinson

So Em fans, you can be famous – just answer the  question –  Who are you? – by Friday, July 2.

  Use punctuation, capitalization, hymns or psalms, meter or pattern – or not.  We love Em’s  idiosyncratic dash – write short – stun, surprise, please us.

As for crumbs the crows will inspect, try this:

Emily Dickinson’s  Black Cake Recipe
(updated for modern kitchens)

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 225 F.

2 cups sugar
1/2 pound butter
5 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp mace
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg, ground
1/4-1/2 cup brandy
1 pound raisins
2/3 pound currants
2/3 pound citron

Add sugar gradually to butter; blend until light and creamy. Add unbeaten eggs & molasses. Beat well. Resift flour with soda and spices. If you’re using unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp salt. Beat sifted ingredients into mixture, alternately adding brandy. Stir in raisins, currants, and citron.
Pour batter into two loaf pans lined with waxed paper.
Bake at 225 F for 3 hours (this is not a typo). Remove pan of water for last 1/2 hour. Let loaves cool before removing from pans. Remove paper and wrap in fresh paper.

Forever – is composed of Nows –

You don’t have Forever…the time is Now.

One week left to answer Emily’s question in prose, poetry or code   …Who are you?

The winning entry will be posted on Friday, July 2, 2010.

Wow us with Bolts – of Melody.

Good Luck!  :)

Emily Dickinson Giveaway Challenge

Hey, Em groupies…

We want your answer to the following question:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Our favorite answer will be published on our website and the winner will receive a copy of Emily Dickinson-Selected Poems, a Running Press Miniature Edition.

So get writing, go public, tell your thoughts to this Admiring Bog.

Emily Dickinson? No, It’s the Writing Group meeting in the garden.

June 14, 2010

My deck looks out on raised beds overflowing with vegetables and flowers. Today they’re also planted with Emily Dickinson’s poetry taped to little cards designed by Ronnie. Last week Ronnie and I went to the New York Botanical Garden where Emily Dickinson’s 19th-century New England gardens were recreated as they would appear in Spring. More than a third of Dickinson’s poems and almost half of her letters mention plants and she treats all her plants as if they are human friends. At the botanical garden more than 30 storyboards and audio messages featuring her poems and excerpts from letters sprouted near flowers, trees, and bushes. Ronnie and I were  thrilled to be there. (Thanks to Doug Pickard we got there in one piece and didn’t get lost twixt Grand Central and the Bronx.)

So with a mini version of the NYBG show as inspiration, we began group with a list from Mary. (I want to all “lists” to Mary’s list of genres that makes me laugh and talk.)  Marion Roach Smith advises that stating what my piece is about in one sentence would help me structure my writing. Mary had the group alternately gasping and laughing with her one-sentence statements, each of seemed like the structure for yet another story from her life.  Mary’s not sure what she’ll do next, but it could be that one of those sentences will become, as Marion suggests, The spine upon which you build the rest of the body. One of the sentences was something like this: 132 nipples and they still couldn’t get me to eat. That sure grabbed my attention? The list of sentences was powerful. Stay tuned.

While we ate chicken salad and strawberry shortcake, we also digested a few more tips from Toni about the blog. Toni’s found a sort of word.press-for-dummies kind of book that she borrows for a while and then returns to the library. (A body can absorb only so much tech stuff along with writing.) She’s unearthed how to do a calendar and how to figure out who’s been visiting the blog. We’re all going to try to add pictures and are figuring out that the “pages” of the blog are “static” and what that means for how we can add to them. Toni wants us to add to the About Us page; we agree that it makes sense to think about what we have to say about ourselves and our writing.

Toni also described how Huffington Post has asked for help in writing a five-word thank you for their Webby award. Recently we participated in a couple of six word memoir contests that got us laughing and compressing ideas—sort of like how Marion has us creating one sentence statements. So we’ll give this five-word contest a try.

I read a paper copy of her Letter to Linda. The group helped me see that the paragraph on Troglodyte troglodyte is there because of something I’ve yet to heave up out of the lagoon of memory.  So, albeit with a kick or two of resistance—I love this science stuff—I agreed to jettison this paragraph and use it to start an exploratory draft (thanks to William Zinsser for that concept: exploratory vs. compositional writing–http://www.williamzinsserwriter.com; http://www.theamericanscholar.org/visions-and-revisions/). I’ll try to probe the connection, fragile though it may seem, between troglodytes and Linda’s story. (Marion is encouraging us to pursue these “fragile” connections.)

Another idea that came up was this: when we’re wrestling with a piece it’s helped in the past if we write on the topic in another genre. So I may try taking this memoir/profile piece into fiction—or maybe poetry. Donald Hall says that when he’s working with an idea he tries it out as prose, then poetry, and back again sometimes to help himself hone it down. (http://wiredforbooks.org/donaldhall)

We talked more about the importance of making sure we don’t neglect close study of each other’s writing. (Ronnie’s going to work on her villanelle and bring it back for the group to Really Ruminate Upon.)

We’re meeting on Monday at Toni’s at 11:30. Toni and I are playing piano and cello at 10:30 if anyone wants to arrive for Morning Music. We’re doing Sammartini and Saint-Saens. We’re all going to bring our writing and start on Chapter 4–The Barbie-Bodied Book. (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-What-You-Know-Realia/dp/1935534025; http://thesisterproject.com/roach/marions-new-book-on-memoir/ )We’re learning that we’re probably going to go back to earlier chapters and use them as a sieve for writing projects, but for now we’ll keep reading.

Two developments for our group: 1st: Like Ted Kooser and Art Plotnik, Marion Roach Smith has tugged at our minds and hearts and generated writing energy. 2nd: The blog has provided a platform and forced us to pay attention so as to learn something that’s just a bit hard in an area that’s just a bit off our comfort zone. While it’s created both positive and negative energy, it’s intriguing us. Both developments are helping us to notice things we might not have noticed. (Sort of like the telescope in the Phantom Tollbooth.)


Love in the Afternoon

June 9, 2010

So, the words are on the paper. Lots of words. 

There, amid all The Stuff, I search for the sentence where I can stop time, focus the lens, find the details to deliver the emotion.  In her article, Understanding Personal Essays: Short and Sweet on www.writersontherise.wordpress.com , Abigail Green says short essays only have room for the “meat”.  Whittle, whittle, whittle.  Prune ruthlessly, advises William Zinsser – revise, tighten and revise some more.  When we wrote our first query letters during the memoir classes with teacher/editor Lary Bloom (www.larybloom.net ), we sat around the table and had to pitch our piece in one sentence.  He asked the Big Question – What is it about?   In Chapter 3 of Realia, Marion reminds us to ask ourselves that same question (and no, Chapter 3 is not about sex or Roger).  She says that something as small as a blog post or personal essay can be pitched in one word.  Remember the small moment?  Here’s mine.   What is it about? You tell me.


             Grandma spreads the whitest of linen over the tables on the sun porch and smoothes the nests of wrinkles until they lay flat.  She sets the rolling pin, flour canister and jelly jar within reach.  Then she dons her apron and worries the wispy gray strands on the nape of her neck into the black hairnet.

            “Guardi,”  she says .

             Grandma makes a “well” of flour in the center of a large wooden board and, in the middle, cracks the eggs.  She beats the eggs ever so gently, blending the inside wall of flour as she goes. Soon the dough is ready, the creamy ricotta is drained.  The scent of freshly chopped mint and grated nutmeg hangs in the air.  Grandma moves in and out of the kitchen, gathering a few utensils, a fork for crimping and a bowl of water. It is ravioli day.

            I watch as Grandma smoothes the dough into a circle, comic blue veins dancing across her hands. With pronounced thrusts of the rolling pin, she creates an unplowed field, a large thin rectangle of dough ready to receive the ricotta mixture.  Her deft movements leave rows of milky mounds which she skillfully covers with a fold of the dough.  With brisk moves of the knife, she cuts the mounds apart. As she works, she hums and Caruso croons, the faint echo of his wedding canzone coming from the Victrola.  Then it is my turn. My job is to seal and crimp.  Grandma watches as I invert the jelly jar over each mound and twist it a few half turns.  Then I press the tines of the fork in the edges all the way around until the ravioli is made fast.  We work together like that for hours, sealed in quiet.  Washed in velvet light, the porch cools as the late day sun rests its face on the window sill. The afternoon’s work lay around us, each ravioli the size of a mouse’s ear.

            I loved being on the sun porch with Grandma.  I worked at her elbow, I pressed against her side, I leaned into her thigh. The shape of her lay like a promise between us.   I don’t recall if we talked much during those long afternoons.  All I remember is that she hugged me tight and called me “Bella”.


originally published in Christian Science Monitor and Weston Magazine