Sunday, October 30, 2011

TRACING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD TO FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

My neighbor Jacky and I were walking our dogs the other evening, when we met a man heading down Meridian Street, a dead end. Up by the top of Hallwood, Jacky and I usually cut through a path to the back of Jacky and his wife Sara’s house.

"You folks from the neighborhood? I was just visiting a friend down here," he said. "Name's Bill English." We reached the corner house. “But I live over this way – so I’m going to take a very old shortcut through these woods…” He had an affable manner and looked to be in his mid forties.

"I didn’t know you could cut through these woods," I said.

The property on the far end of Meridian Street extends to the sound wall for route 66. There are trees and a creek which runs along on our side.

"Sure you can, Amanda,“ Jacky said. “That’s where all the deer come up from."

"That’s right," said Bill.

"Also foxes," Jacky said. He was holding his head on one side, like the country squire, trying to size up our acquaintance. The men seemed to take a liking to one another – being about the same age and friendly disposition.

"Yup," said Bill, "there are a number of dens back there as well."

Jacky has a way of engaging people on our walks – Janet who is watering her trees, or Nancy who is moving to DC, or Hank on the corner of Gordon whose basement flooded a couple months back. So we stood with the dogs while Bill told us his family had been in the area many years "since back when all of this was woods," he said. "In fact, there used to be a house back here designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.”

"No kidding!" Jacky said.

"When they put in Route 66, they took the whole thing down, numbered all the pieces and reassembled it up on 95," said Bill.

"Hey, is that the Pope Leighey House?" asked Jacky.

"Sure is."

"I know of that place. I’ve seen signs for that many times," he said. "And you have too, Amanda."

"Have I?"

"It's on the way to Ikea."

"It was Frank Lloyd Wright's idea of a working man’s house – built around 1940 for a guy in the newspaper business," Bill told us.

"How incredible," I said. "And right here in our neighborhood?"

"Right here, where the road continued through before they put in the highway. See how the trees on this side are thinner than the ones over here? That’s because the road went straight on though."

When I got home, I looked up our neighborhood on Google maps and saw that there was indeed a sizable wood behind Meridian. To think it had been there all this time – and we'd owned a property one block away for twenty years, but I’d never even thought to explore it!

Last Sunday I told Ben and the boys all about it, while we were sitting outside enjoying the autumn sunshine. I had a notion I wanted to explore those woods. Alex and Elliot were carving pumpkins on the terrace and Ben was relaxing with a cigarette. "But why are you so interested?" Ben asked. "Do you think you’re going to find indigenous peoples back there?"

The boys and I laughed. "That’s right," they joked. "People who have stopped having their newspapers delivered – and have been waiting there all this time to reestablish contact."

"Who knows what you might find," I said. "Don’t you think it’s interesting?"

"Not really, Mum," said Elliot. "I’ve been in those woods many times, and there’s nothing special about them."

I didn’t believe him. They had captured my imagination, like a secret garden. I loved the idea of Bill English cutting through those woods, as he had since boyhood. And also the idea of that special house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, right in the middle of our neighborhood.

So two days ago, on Friday, Alex was going down to visit Elliot at VCU – they were going to a Halloween party, and after my sculpture class I said I’d drive him down. It would be a chance to talk on the way to Richmond, and a chance to think and listen to music on the drive back home. Then, once we got on the road I had another idea. "Hey," I said to Alex. "How about visiting the Pope Leighey house!"

Alex thought it was a splendid idea. We got off the highway and followed the back roads and the signs until we found ourselves at an estate called Woodlawn – where the Pope Leighey house was now constructed.

The estate was a throwback to another time, apparently an old slave plantation – but we parked the car and went up the brick path and inside bought a ticket for the tour.

A crumpled man sat in the corner of the visitor’s lobby. “Tour will start at 2:30," he said. "So you can wait up here or…"

“Can't we stroll around the grounds?” Alex asked.

"Sure you can," he said.


Down a winding path, past many silver maples in full autumnal splendor we found the house nestled at the bottom of a hill, on a stretch of grass.

It was constructed of brick and timber – long wide planks laid horizontally – so that it appeared more expansive than it really was. The front door was sheltered by an overhanging roof – and the layout was simple and inviting, reminiscent of the houses we had recently visited at a sustainable architecture exhibit in Potomac Park.

We strolled around, looked into windows and waited on a bench, chatting, until the same crumpled man from the visitor's lobby ambled towards us and welcomed us into the house.

We found ourselves in an open vestibule – with brick floors – off to the left was the bedroom wing, like a row of ship's cabins – but down the steps in front of us was the expansive living area – small kitchen to the right – storage space on the left side of the stairs, obscured by wooden hinged planks that harmonized with the rest of the timber interior.


The house was aromatic and woody with light pouring down through the many small windows set one on top of the other for visual interest – in a stencil pattern reminiscent of native American artwork. The furniture was module – we were told that the several identical tables positioned in various different parts of the house, could be laid end to end for large dinner parties – and that chairs – all identical simple and comfortable, could be positioned at the table or arranged like a sofa.

Large french windows near the dining area and off the living area, as well as in the bedrooms, invited the outdoors into the home. They could be opened entirely, expanding the living space into the terrace areas.

We chatted with our tour guide, and asked many questions, told him why we were so intrigued by the place.

"Imagine that!" he said with pleasure. "You’re the first visitors who have ever come here from that neighborhood. But funnily enough, an intern was trying to pinpoint where the house might have stood only the other day. We couldn’t locate it on the map. We thought perhaps it was on the other side of 66."

Alex and I were able to tell him exactly where the house had stood, and how long we had lived there – and how the houses in our neighborhood built in 1947, seven years after the Frank Lloyd Wright house, had evidently drawn just a little inspiration from this place, with their concrete floors, cunning use of space and underfloor radiant heat. Our houses were built from post war materials - and although they are decidedly blue collar dwellings, they were built to last - not with frills or ostentation, but with integrity and thought to their design.

All the way to Richmond, Alex and I mused about the little Pope Leighey house. Even when we got into horrible traffic we didn’t much mind – because we’d made a connection to the past that had entirely captured our imagination.

Today when Jacky, Sara and I met up to walk the dogs, as we usually do on a Sunday morning, I told them about the visit. Instead of heading to Haycock Woods we decided to check out the wood where the Frank Lloyd Wright house had been located.

It felt a little magic – slightly like stepping into Brigadoon –as we followed the path along the end of the creek and into the woods behind the final house on the corner. The ground was full of brambles and undergrowth, but we found a path and on the other end, Jacky wanted us to keep going. There was a house – and he thought it might belong to our acquaintance, Bill English.

We found ourselves on a private road, running beside the woods which buffer us from route 66. And here we found several small and interesting houses, shaded by the trees.

"I think we should all move here, don’t you," suggested Sara. She loves to pipedream like this – imagining us all going to Mexico, for instance. Last week she was contemplating property in Bulgaria – "You can get amazing villas there for really good prices~" This was right up her alley.

"I like this little stone one," she said. Further along, we passed an old style ranch with white clapboard sides and wooden decks around it. The trees arched across the road providing a beautiful golden light.

"We can tell Ben that we've found our indigenous people after all," she joked as we stepped onto the main road – and found ourselves next to a familiar Korean church.

We walked back to ours – and had a cup of tea and biscuits on the terrace. "I’ll have to run down there," Ben conceded, when we told him all about it. "It does sound interesting."



For more information, or to visit the Pope Leighey House: www.popeleighey1940.org

Saturday, October 29, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH YELIZAVETA P RENFRO


My friend Yelizaveta P Renfro recently published a wonderful short story collection with Black Lawrence Press. It is more and more difficult for books to see their way into print these days, so I thought it would be fun to hear about her journey, here on my blog. We sat in my back garden a few weeks ago, with children and husbands and other writer friends - and later, I asked her some questions.

Your book of short stories A Catalogue of Everything in the World has the subtitle Nebraska Stories. But how much does this setting really bear on the stories themselves?

First of all, the juxtaposition of the words “everything” and “world” in the title with the geographic specificity of “Nebraska” in the subtitle appealed to me. I liked the notion that Nebraska could somehow contain “everything,” or that Nebraska was some sort of microcosm of a larger whole. I wrote all the stories while living in Nebraska, and Nebraska as a location, as a place, was certainly on my mind while I was writing. And I think that the opening and closing stories, which frame the collection, deal deliberately with Nebraska as a place. The rest, however, are probably not geographically bound. I suppose part of my impulse in applying that subtitle is rooted in my attempt to hold onto Nebraska, since, as it turned out, I ended up leaving. I guess, in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide: just how much are the stories about Nebraska? How much does setting, place, have to bear on our lives? It’s a question I’m still very much engaged with, especially in my nonfiction. In fact, the questions of where to live, and for how long, and what exactly is “home” are ones that I am likely to return to again and again.

Your stories often have an edge – or more than an edge (!) – of menace about them. Where does this come from?


My first literary influences were classics of Russian literature read to me—in Russian—by my Russian mother, a literature professor. I remember being horrified at the conclusion of Chekhov’s “Sleepy” when a young nursemaid murders a baby so she can get some sleep. Gogol’s “Viy” is even more terrifying, and his other supernatural tales are also quite menacing. Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy can be extremely disquieting in their own ways. The cumulative effect of these early influences was that they left me with a pervasive feeling that there is always suffering, tragedy, hardship, or sorrow around the corner. I think my early years were permeated with this sense of dread, of menace, as you rightly call it. It’s not that something horrible has or will happen to you, but only that it might, at any moment. And in my fiction, I suppose, I often imagine what will happen if some of the things that might happen actually do happen.

In your story “Lenten Rose” Rose says, “The old old urge to tell stories and write things down is driven by shame or glory. Often, it’s both.” Do you believe this to be generally true, or true of your own impulse to write?


When I wrote that line, I wasn’t thinking that it had a general applicability, or even that it reflected my own motivations for writing. I felt that it was true for the narrator in that particular story, both because of her own secret shame and also because of her encounters with young men who fought in World War II and who seemed to be telling her stories that were grounded in those impulses. I wouldn’t say that those same impulses apply to my own need to tell stories. If you asked me, I’d probably say that my impulse to write is rooted in a need to make sense of my experiences in the world—though such a statement is a lot vaguer than Rose’s. I wish I could boil it down to glory and shame, but I think that usually there’s more going on in the telling of a story.

By the way, you seem to love lists. Can you talk about this a bit?


Lists are everywhere. They scream at us from supermarket tabloids, delineating everything from the top ten leafy green vegetables of 2011 to the worst-dressed celebrity dogs. Our days are full of lists. Lists are often the primary way we obtain and store information. How many of us scroll through news headlines or lists of status updates on Facebook? No one can possibly read all the news; we must largely rely on just lists of headlines. And then there are the planners and calendars and to-do lists and shopping lists that dominate our lives. And yet, lists are also literary. They can be high art. Homer and Whitman made lists. So did Milton and Thoreau and Melville. They have a place in poetry and prose. We can make lists of groceries or angels, lists of debauched talk show hosts or notable trees. Lists can be lofty or petty, profound or banal, and sometimes both at the same time. I really got interested in lists when one of my characters began to attempt to catalogue everything in the world. Hey, she’s onto something! I thought. And I’ve been making lists and thinking about lists ever since.

I also notice that you've written a lot about trees lately, and in this collection there’s a character whose neighbor is slowly killing off his trees. What's with the trees?


I love trees. I’ve loved them my whole life, but I was only beginning to discover this as I was writing my short story collection. Trees do appear in the story “Tree Roots,” as you mention, but they don’t make a significant appearance anywhere else in the short story collection. Since then, I’ve written a whole essay collection about trees. It’s about a lot of other stuff as well—working at a cemetery, spending the summer at a Soviet Young Pioneer camp, covering the police beat for daily newspapers, growing up in the Inland Empire of Southern California, traveling with my daughter—but what brings all of the essays together is that they’re all in one way or another about trees. The book is my life in trees. The collection is currently unpublished, but most of the essays have appeared in various journals. I’m looking for a publisher. What’s with the trees? I hope there’s a publisher out there who thinks my answer is worthy of a book contract.


Do you have any particular habits or routines, when you are writing?


I have two pronounced habits: I often wait until the last minute to get anything done, and I tend to underestimate the amount of time it will take me to write something. You’d think I would learn, but I haven’t. I write when I have the time—that is, when the kids are sleeping or at school. The trade-off is I don’t do housework—or I should say, I do as little housework as I can possibly get by with. The house is in a perpetual state of entropy. I find keeping the house clean and organized an insurmountable task. If the house was clean—really clean, top to bottom, with everything put away—I would spend all my time on its upkeep, and I wouldn’t get anything written. So twenty years from now when I look back, I think I’ll have more satisfaction knowing I’ve spent my time writing something than keeping a clean house. It’s all about priorities.

When my house is clean, it's usually a sign that I have writer's block!

You do the writing if you really want to. Even if you have a job or kids, you still do the writing. If you don’t do the writing, it’s because something else is more important. I wrote most of Catalogue while holding a sleeping or nursing newborn in one arm and typing one-handed. It can be done. The question is: do you really want to do it? Or would you rather have a clean floor? Would you rather take a nap? My habits or routines can be boiled down to: get the writing done. But still, I have so many unfinished writing projects piling up! I can’t keep up with myself. And sometimes, I would just rather take that nap.

And what have you been reading lately? Which authors do you particularly admire?


I have a list of books I’d like to be reading, which is perhaps ten times the length of the list of books I actually get read. It’s the same question of time (read a book or clean out the fridge?). I’ve been reading more nonfiction than fiction recently, partly because I’ve been writing more nonfiction. A novel I recently finished that I loved was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I admire most of Ian McEwan’s work. Of course I love the vast Russian novels of the nineteenth century that you can lose yourself in for days. I love the Modernists, especially Virginia Woolf. I concentrated on the Modernists for my Ph.D. exams. Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passos, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, James Joyce, and many others are among my favorites. Just as I can’t keep up with my writing, I can’t keep up with my reading. Right now on my nightstand you’ll find: The Best American Essays 2011, The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, and The Bird by Colin Tudge. That’s what I’m reading right now—and yes, all at the same time.

The book publishing business is changing a lot– with the advent of e-books. Any thoughts?

Ask me a decade from now, and I might be able to tell you something useful. Yes, the publishing business is changing, and we’re in the middle of that change. My book just recently became available as an e-book from Dzanc, but I don’t have any numbers yet to share about sales or readers’ responses. Personally, I have a sentimental attachment to books as material objects, as corporeal entities made of paper that I can hold in my hands.

Me too. I'd much rather read a physical book~

For me, the reading experience is different if I’m reading a hardcover with deckled pages versus a mass market paperback versus my old college copy that I’ve annotated in the margins. I could wax poetic about this for pages (or would that be screens?). Yet I admit that e-readers are very handy, and there are times when getting a book on an e-reader is a lot more convenient than hunting down a physical copy.

Well, this is true. I hope printed books will continue along side e-books...


I wish I could tell you something that would illuminate the future of book publishing, but all I can really say is: keep reading. However you do it, just keep doing it. The book is not dead.

Thanks, Lisa, for these stories, and the conversation.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

QUITTING FACEBOOK

I logged onto Facebook for the last time on Tuesday, not quite knowing it would be the last time. I did it as always, by reflex, unaware how much I was ingesting this diet of fast food friendship. I scrolled through my news feed, ticking off boxes- ‘liking’ people’s posts – and then, as you sometimes do when you find yourself at a very big party and cannot seem to blend in, and nobody interesting wants to talk with you, I suddenly decide to duck out the back gate, and run down an alley, and into a field.

I don't know why I did it, but it felt exhilarating. I know those who want to see and talk with me will do so in calmer, safer places, without so many people overhearing. So I ran across the greenscape into a wide open blogosphere, and sat down on an open page.

And see, now you've stop by~ So here we both are, just us two. I’ll be happy to visit you over there, on your blog ~ or even in your real live garden~ or even in mine~

We can breathe and detoxify our minds.


There again, who will read this story, unless I publish it on Facebook?

Friday, October 14, 2011

PEPITO AND THE SUPERFICIAL SKIN

When I'm tempted to grumble because I have to do all the housecleaning here, I remember what it was like to have help. Sometimes it wasn't so bad. Except in Rome, when Pepito was our housecleaner. I actually never hired him. I hired his wife, Helene, as she was recommended by someone at the embassy. But she did a bait and switch. Said she’d take the job, and that if she couldn’t make it, her husband might fill in occasionally. But Pepito showed up the second week, after which I never again saw Helene.

Pepito explained that he was working for us because Helene could not do our cleaning job. She was too frightened of our elderly Labrador and wire-haired Dachshund. “But don’t worry, ma’am. I work hard.”

Other embassy families had hired Pepito before, and we needed the help. I was teaching a full load of courses at American University of Rome, and our apartment was enormous, with plate glass windows and marble floors, which required special cleaning. Pepito understood all this. He was also good at beating carpets, and heavy lifting. He was a whiz at cleaning bathrooms. And he was honest.

But if you were home on one of his afternoons, you had to count on lots of interaction. He’d appear in the room with a vacuum cleaner just as I sat down at my desk. “Afternoon ma’am.” Then after vacuuming, he’d systematically remove every piece of china from the cabinet in order to polish it, chatting to me all the while.

He spoke of a former ambassador from another country that he was working for. He chatted about the Philippines. He talked about the dogs. He and Helene used to keep dogs, but sadly they were stolen for their meat. “Yes,” he said, “This is very common in our place.” Sometimes he talked about black magic and the spells that had been cast over him. These spells had been responsible for his health troubles the previous year.

“The quack doctor. He comes from our place,” he said, meaning the Philippines. “He can call mosquitoes. All my body have inflame.”

He paused, leaning against the table with his duster in hand. “They put a spell in soft drinks, so your stomach will grow like this.”

“Who are these people?” I asked.

“Disciples of the devil. They study how to become a witch. According to the quack doctor there is a school in our place and they can learn how to become a witch there. Yes ma’am. My only armor is my body. Every day the rosary.”

“Hmm…” I turned back to my work.

Pepito lingered. He chuckled awkwardly. “They make your egg so big,” he said. “Your egg get big, like that. My quack doctor gave me something to avoid that.”

“Pepito, I’m glad you were able to undo this horrible spell, but I really must get back to my grading.”

“Yes ma’am. They make your saliva a pungent odor and your eyes you cannot open.”

“What! What are you talking about?”

“Yes. It is real, ma’am. They do it so something is moving in my body. My superficial skin.”

“Wait. What exactly is a superficial skin?”

“Is how they enter. Always on your feet, they enter.”

“They enter through your feet?”

“Yes,” he said. “In my superficial skin.”

For four years, Pepito mopped our floors and vacuumed the rugs, cleaned the windows, the marble floors and the bathrooms, and polished the furniture in our apartment. I paid him well and he was reliable. “Only why is Pepito so annoying?” Elliot asked.

When Elliot came home from school, Pepito greeted him loudly, exactly the same way every time. “Hello!” he cried. “Hello, handsome boy ~ha ha ha!” Sometimes he showed up very late and flustered, having been detained for a special function at the foreign ambassador’s residence. This meant he was still cleaning at ours when Ben came home from the embassy. He always stayed the allotted length of time and this was all the better if he got to talk to Ben, especially when Ben turned on the television. That was his cue to come in and polish the furniture, making comments on the news broadcast, and asking Ben’s opinion on current affairs.

“Why do you keep him?” Rozzie asked when she visited between her college semesters.

I did consider replacing Pepito. But it seemed unkind to fire someone simply for being annoying, especially since he needed the work.

When it was time for us to leave Rome, Pepito presented me with a severance calculation, neatly tallied up. It was the work of a genius. It had been done by his wife, Helene.

“What!” I cried, in horror.

“Yes,” he said. “This is legal, according to Italian Labor law.”

“But you worked two afternoons a week,” I cried. “And I’m not your sponsor…”

“No, ma’am…”

“… or even your primary employer! The foreign ambassador is your sponsor. So why do you expect a severance package from me?”

“Ma’am, this is legal,” he said. “Helene did all the calculation.”

I looked at the neat rows of numbers – every holiday in the last four years accounted for; he expected payment for them all. “Why didn’t you tell me as we went along?” I asked. “If you expected to be paid for holidays, we could have discussed it before you began, and I would have paid as I went.”

“Ma’am,” he explained. “This is how we do the calculation.” He was also charging us for his transportation to and from the apartment, for four years in a row, in addition to a month’s extra wages while he looked for new work. Wow, I thought. If only my university teaching paid this generously; I should be so lucky.

“Does everybody pay you like this when you leave their employ?”

“Yes ma’am. Everybody,” Pepito said. “They are good people.”

I checked with the embassy colleague who had originally recommended Helene. She acknowledged that it didn’t seem fair. But Pepito was right; all this was legal according to Italian labor laws, even for part time employees.

Pepito’s severance pay worked out to well over two thousand euros. I handed it over in cash, as he requested and then he counted it out. “Wait, Ma’am! This is short,” he cried.

“It certainly isn’t!” Then he watched carefully as I counted it out once again.

“Ah, yes,” he said. “It is correct.” He seemed downcast when we said our goodbyes. But I was determined to keep my temper. Maybe I was just cowardly. Or maybe I had put up with his quirks so long, that it seemed silly to end badly. “Goodbye, Pepito. And good luck to you,” I said.

For once in his life, Pepito was speechless. He left without a word. But my superficial skin was absolutely crawling as I shut the door.

Friday, October 7, 2011

LISTENING TO THE CLAY

My sculpture teacher Chuck was in better form today than he was last week. Last week I was a little bit worried about him, because he’s old, of course, and his health is not so great. But today as he limped round our work stations, he seemed fairly comfortable. He was wearing a corduroy blazer, which Harriet said made him look distinguished.

“You need to work on the hands,” he told me, when he got to my piece. “And put some clay on the upper lip. It looks a little flat. And you may want to build up the nose a bit. Although the rest of it is looking good, kid. You’re coming tomorrow, aren’t you?”

“I’ll try,” I said.

I love to come in twice a week. That way I spend a full day a week working on sculpture. Several hours, four days a week I’m busy teaching writing, but lately I don’t spend much time working on fiction. Having said that, during a break between classes yesterday, I sat under the trees on a bench, reading Catherine Brady’s Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction. For the first time in months, I felt excited about reworking some of my stories.

Trish, on the far end of the sculpture studio, is building a tall abstract. Behind her stands a full sized skeleton. Light pours down from the skylight. Everybody is calm and quiet today, absorbed in their work, and in the middle of the room, a naked woman, our lovely model, strikes what Harriet calls the “Little Mermaid” pose.

Behind our model, shelves of our work is drying under plastic.

Barry is making a bust this time. He always has more tools than everyone else – a bucket of brushes and knives. He takes his work seriously all right, although whenever a good song comes on the radio, he can’t resist bobbing up and down to the music. The rest of us always smile at this, and exchange glances.

Livia has colored her hair and looks very chic. She’s working on a bust as well. She’s a sculptor and a painter, but she also poses for us, and next week she’ll be our model.

Harriet is struggling this week. She started her piece over again from the beginning today. Chuck says she has to get more curve into the back.

Cindy is working on a smaller scale, and as usual her work is beautifully articulated. Next to her Susan is doing her thing. Her work is sort of blocky, always with a small head, and frequently leaning very far forwards. Next to her, Fran works silently. These are the mainstays of the group.

Silent work. So much good comes out of silence. Ben got us tickets to the Synetic Theater production of Macbeth last week. We were absolutely stunned, captivated for every second by their powerful, silent and eloquent production. How is it possible that a silent production of Macbeth, with none of Shakespeare’s poetry, can be the best production of that play we’ve ever seen? What does that say about words?

A few weeks ago, I showed my students the TED talk by John Francis – who walked the earth, refusing to ride in motorized vehicles, after he witnessed an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. He remained silent for seventeen years, and learned a lot from silence, mostly, he said, about listening.

Listening to the clay.

That’s what we’re doing here. That’s what Charles, the elder sculptor in our class, does when he takes his time setting up, sitting on a chair, with gloves on his hands, reflectively. He likes to capture the gesture, and to keep his work simple. He spends a lot of time sitting on his chair. But what he puts into his work is so good. It holds up enormously.

“How are you today, Charles?”

“Oh,” he says with a downward inflection. “I’m all right.”

A quiet day in the studio. Everybody working. Trish with silver hair and silverly laughter and the other Trish next to her. And lots of new people too – working hard at their pieces.

This is what I did today: I let go of words, and of myself. I learned a little bit more about how to see. I partook of the most basic form of expression - articulating with a bag of mud something that I saw. I worked on the curve of a hip, and the slight curve downwards of the line of the thigh. The underside of foot – the sole with its complicated mapping – the heel – the creases underneath – the proportion of toes – and distance between them.

I worked on the profile of a face, and the way it slants backwards. I took a bit off the tummy – and angled the armpit and the short inward line towards the breast, a hollow above the collar bone, the long crease running across the trunk, below the breasts.

So absorbed did I become in what I was learning, that I didn’t care much about the end result. I have no particular attachment to that. Because after I’ve finished this piece, I’ll move on to the next.

I’d love to get that exploration back into my writing. Maybe it will happen by applying the ideas in Catherine Brady’s book. But maybe it doesn’t matter so much as I thought. Writing is a wonderful and important way to communicate. But it isn’t the only way. And it isn’t the only thing.

Silence often says more than words.