Sunday, November 30, 2014


When you're working at your craft - be it painting, sculpture, writing, there are not always signs to say you're making progress.  Sometimes it looks like a mess, a sadly mistaken endeavor. You think you're wasting time.

night windows

Often you must throw away what you've worked so hard on and turn a new page. And then keep going. Again and again I am reminded of Orhan Pamuk's phrase "digging a well with a needle" a Turkish saying he uses to describe the craft of writing.

For instance, I've been working on a book over the last couple of years, and I've got hundreds of pages of work. They testify to the process of getting to know my characters.  But I've now got to a stage where two characters refuse to do what I intended them to do.  I'm trying to make them get on a train together - and somehow they just won't do it!

So I've been writing around this train journey, writing up to it, and over it and around it - and from all sorts of different angles and perspectives. I want them to take action - but instead they want to sit in a cafe and talk.  It's as if they are ignoring me - or saying, "Sorry, Amanda. We're not quite ready to go yet."

In any case, I was talking with two friends, Pat and Helen, last night about our creative work - although mainly I was talking about sculpture - and how I feel more freedom in sculpture to throw away stuff that isn't working.

Pat is an artist. She was talking about her collages, tearing up paper, and sitting with these little strips in front of her wondering Is this what my life is about?

"You don't always have an epiphany," she said. But sometimes when she's struggling with a collage that isn't working, she might cannibalize it, to make a second one that does work.

I was working on a bust in the sculpture studio for six weeks  recently.  In the end, I decided to chuck it out. My teacher George took a wire and sliced off the face - in case I want to kept that. I might fire it to make a kind of mask. Or I might toss it out. Why not?  I will take what I learned into the next project. The physical work feels like the detritus of something internal.

May toss it. May not

Helen said that she's noticed in working with Pre-K children they don't always need evidence that they have internalized a process.  She might save their drawings - but they forget those drawings so she throws them away and they don't care a bit because they are moving on. 

It's a false sense of self importance that leads us to save everything.  You don't always have an epiphany. We spend a lot of the time simply learning the process.  If we manage to stay engaged in the process, and trust it, perhaps we do more than we realize.

rooftops in the morning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



Your favorite qualities in a man:
Emotional generosity, good sense of humor, playfulness, intelligence, flexibility, protectiveness and openness, strength

Your favorite qualities in a woman:
Good sense of humor, openness, intelligence, playfulness, emotional generosity, strength, acceptance

What you appreciate the most in your friends:
Honesty, understanding, silliness, unconditional love, support and validation, appreciation and gratitude

Your main fault:
Overly accommodating, ability to overlook the negative because of hope for the positive, putting other people’s desires before my own, worrying when any of my people are disturbed or upset, wanting life to be pleasant for everyone, all the time

Your favorite occupation:
Sewing, writing, designing, watching others grow and flourish (my students)

Your idea of happiness:
Peace of heart and mind, music, colors, conversations that are hilarious, deep and honest, wine and candles,  fairy lights crickets and birdsong, soft freshwater, tiny things

Your idea of misery:
Emotional walls, anger, closed hearts and minds, sadness in others that I can’t fix

If not yourself, who would you be?
The version of me I hope to someday be

Where would you like to live?
England or Lisbon!  Anywhere without earthquakes

Your favorite poets/writers:
Kafka, Gogol, Nabokov, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, A.A. Milne, Ernest Hemingway

Your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction:
Martine in Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Tuesday, November 11, 2014



My favorite qualities in a man:
sincere, loving, funny and adventurous.

My favorite qualities in a woman:
 Ditto for women.

Qualities I most appreciate in friends:
sense of caring and support for each other.

My main fault:
Impatience and being over anxious sometimes and too sensitive.

My idea of happiness:
walking and talking with friends and sharing meals with loved ones.
Later on after my shower: A massage from a young lover and breakfast in bed!

My favorite occupation:
wrestling with languages in all forms, teaching, learning, doing.

My idea of misery:
having no one to share time/stuff with when you want to.

If not myself, who I'd like to be:
My sister Siobhan perhaps because she is wonderful in so many ways but  I like being me, I like my curiosity!

Where I'd like to live:
by the sea but near enough to a good size town/city.

My favorite writers:
Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Seamus Heaney and Colm ToibĂ­n.

My favorite characters in fiction:
Queen Maeve of Connach ( powerful woman in celtic
folk tales), Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. Alice in Wonderland, and Oscar in Die Blechtrummel(The Tin Drum).
In real life: Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


 A few months back, at a book club meeting which I facilitate at a local library, when we discussed Wallace Stegner's exquisite novel about friendship  Crossing to Safety, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves.

In Stegner's novel - two married couples spend a year in Florence wandering around museums and churches writing, discussing art and literature, enjoying wine and Italian cuisine, and having picnics in the countryside.   The men are writers and academics. But the entire time they are in Florence, they feel no need to engage Italian writers or academics or Italian people of their educational background.  They don't even betray any curiosity about doing so. In fact, the only Italians they meet are the portiere, amusing and quaint to them for his tireless work ethic, and a village girl who longs for the sophisticated life of travel to America.  Oh yes, and there is also some guy they meet on the road, who is drunk and has suffered an injury and who they do the kindness of conveying home to his village in their car.

This is the extent of their interaction with Italians.  One comes away with the sense that Italians are quaint and loveable country bumpkins, while Americans understand more keenly the sophisticated elements of Italian history and culture.  The foreigners in such fictional accounts are the ones who seek a higher tone.

And this goes for films set in Italy - such as The Talented Mr Ripley, based on the Patricia Highsmith books - or the Italian Spring of Mrs Stone. In The Talented Mr Ripley,  it is the Americans who sit in cafes, looking glamorous, just before zipping off on motorini in front of the Spanish Steps.  Meanwhile, the Italian characters are bumbling police detectives and a naive country girl who drowns after a failed romance with one of the American characters.  In The Italian Spring of Mrs Stone, Helen Mirren plays an English woman swanning around Rome as the great exemplar of sophistication and taste.

I lived in Italy for four years - and I can tell you - this just ain't the case! We are not the sophisticates on the scene. By and large, we are the bumpkins.  Americans visit Italy dressed in shorts, t shirts and sensible walking shoes.  They absorb culture, art and history,  but are struggling first and foremost with language, and don't strike the casual observer as particularly suave.

I remember attending a launch in a beautiful reception room on Via Veneto - for a book of travel writing from the New York Times.  One of the contributors ( an American) told a story about how much he loved Italy and his countless travels over the years. He was speaking in English, by the way, and began with an anecdote, evidently intended to amuse and show how fond he was of Italians,  about how he and his wife had once mistakenly checked into a brothel - instead of a hotel.  It was supposed to demonstrate that wild, crazy and whimsical character that is the Italian.

THUD. Not a soul in the largely Italian audience laughed.

Americans are prized for a casual openness and winning enthusiasm. We really want to be liked when we're overseas. But sophisticated and urbane? By and large only in fiction.

Saturday, November 1, 2014



Favorite qualities in a man:
intelligence, sense of humor, sincerity, empathy and bit of quirkiness

Favorite qualities in a woman:
same as a man

What do you appreciate most in your friends:
love, loyalty and tolerance for my faults and foibles!
My main fault:  
I brood too much!

My favorite occupation:
Teaching, which is what I do, or being a Mentor for new teachers

My idea of happiness:
Being amongst my loved ones, preferably in some setting like a house by a lake, on a warm late summer evening,  laughing talking and watching the moon reflected in the water

My idea of misery:
Feeling alienated , misunderstood, and unloved

If not myself, who would I be: 
I'd love to be a great singer like Ella Fitzgerald or Eva Cassidy.  Singers like that, whose voices had such range and emotion, with every note so true!

Where I'd like to live:
Well, I  do like living here in DC, but I would love a getaway place, again like a house by a lake or a country cottage with a big back yard with a stream nearby and garden that had beautiful flowers!

My favorite writers: 
 Let's see, probably Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Shakespeare, Yeats, Gwendolyn Brooks. I enjoy mystery books by Anne Perry.  I teach young children, and I love picture books by Lois Ehlert, Ezra Jack Keats, and Kevin Henkes.
My favorite heroes and heroines in fiction: 
 Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Jo March.  A character from one of my favorite books when I was a child: the Velveteen Rabbit. Two others characters from my childhood:   Lisa from the book "Corduroy" and Mary Jo, from the book What Mary Jo Shared.  These were children's picture books published when I was a little girl and Lisa and Mary Jo were little black girls, just like me-something you didn't see that much when I was growing up.