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Small Town Maine

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on Tuesday, 18 July 2017
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On Saturday morning, Howard and Alfie and I stood on the side of the road and watched the Old Home Days parade in the tiny town of Lovell, Maine (population just over 1000)  There is something nostalic and charming about such events: the aged VFW guys, the float with a handful of Girl Scouts, the solitary man in a kilt, playing bagpipes. And on the sidelines, with their folding chairs and leashed dogs, the townspeople: a combinaton of year-round residents and "summer people"...some of the latter with famous and recognizable faces.

And here is the Center Lovell Market, where you can get a NY Times or an egg salad sandwich and maybe stand in line at the cash register behind Stephen King.

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Poor Bucky

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on Monday, 12 June 2017
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Some years ago, my brother, a doctor, gave my grandson a human skeleton for his 13th birthday.  The same grandson will be 19 next month and his interests have moved on to other things, some of them better off unidentified.  Bucky (for so the skeleton is named, for reasons I have forgotten) now lives in my office, wearing a baseball cap.  I ignore him, mostly. My office is the place where I work, a place of solitude, and if I thought about Bucky too much I would feel his presence and that I should speak to him now and then. And what does one say to a skeleton? "Nice-looking tibia, mister!"??   No, it is better to ignore him.

But maybe now I should comment, at least to offer sympathy, because today I have noticed that a piece of a bone has come loose. I think it may be his right patella. It was on the floor by his feet, as if he had dropped it inadvertantly, and so I picked it up and put it there on his seat cushion. I don't know what my next step should be. Is an anatomist going to happen to stop by and offer to glue it back on? Not likely.  I guess it will remain there, between his femurs, and I will have to think of the whole thing as a kind of still life.  Bucky with Bone Chip is the title, in the manner of Tin Pitcher with Chysnthemums on a small bronze label in the Cezanne room at the Musée D'Orsay.

I arrived at my summer home, an old farm in western Maine (where Bucky lives year-round) to find that the stove doesn't work because there has been no delivery of propane, (remedied by a phone call), and there was no electricity in the dining room because the contractor working on that side of the house had discnnected it while he drilled and scarped (remedied by an email), and the underground electric fence is not working because the landscapers had cut through the wire as they seem to do at the begining of every summer; but fortunately the dog—who  memorized the electric fence when he arrived here at age 4 months and he is now eleven years old—doesn't know that it isn't working.  So I am not too concerned about it, and the fence people will be here next week for repairs.

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NIGHT STORIES

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on Saturday, 20 May 2017
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I said in an earlier post that I would write about an event in New York...it has now happened, and was as interesting and successful as I had hoped it would be. 

Last summer, a painter named Linden Frederick asked fifteen writers to embark on a project wiht him. I was one of them.  He gave each of us a preliminary study of a painting he had yet to complete, and we were each to write a short story based on the painting.

I was pleased to do so. But I found it surprisngly difficult at first. Linden's paintings (each of them them in a nighttime setting, hence the title of the project: NIGHT STORIES) are very evocative. It appears that something has just happened...or is about to happen. (Think: Edward Hopper.)  But what?  I looked at my painting for a long time and finally, eventually, a story began to appear. No, wait. Not a story, actually. But a situation. And a group of men...men in a small Maine coastal town...men past their prime, men who have regrets, men who don't articuate feelings.

This is most often the way any piece of fiction begins for me. With a person, or perhaps more than one. With vague feelings of unease, of soemthing that needs to be adjusted, fixed.

And so I created my story, which I titled VITAL SIGNS, and fourteen other writers: Dennis Lehane, Ann Patchett, Tess Gerritsen, Lawrence Kasdan, Louise Erdrich, Andre Dubus, Lily King, Richard Russo, Daniell Woodrell, Tom Talley, Elizabeth Strout, Anthony Doerr, Luanne Rice, and Joshua Ferris...created theirs.  Last week, at the Forum Gallery in NYC, there was an opening that displayed the fifteen paintings (ecah 36" x 36")...and also shown was the beautiful book containing both the paintings and the stories. (It won't be available until October but can be re-ordered from Amazon)

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May already!

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on Wednesday, 10 May 2017
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Somehow a lot of time has passed and it is now May 10, and I am completely recovered form pneumonia, and have been to Cuba for nine days, and then to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, and now am just about to leave for NYC for four days of theater and opera. Wedged in around and among all of this, I have been, actually working. Writing. Despite my brain having turned 80 years old, it still functions, along with my imagination.

I was delighted to see (speaking of "old" writers...i.e., those of us who have been around for a long time) that Katherine Paterson has a book coming out which is set in Cuba.  There is much to be said for Cuba...in particular their unversal health care as well as literacy....along, sadly, with the terrible poverty and the governmental corruption. I have not read KP's book but I think it is about the amazing, and successful, effort to create a literate populace after the 1959 revolution.

Here's a photo I took in rural Cuba....an unidentified woman, but the light was so lovely as she stood in the doorway.

More to come, but right now I must get myself off to the airport. We have tickets for THE GREAT COMET in New York tonight. And tomorrow, a wonderful event which I will write about afterward.

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Happy 100th

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on Thursday, 30 March 2017
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I don't know if that is the thing to say to JFK...but he would have been 100 this year, the same year that I turned 80. Hard to believe in both cases. I remember when he was elected and of course I remember the day (and hour and minute) that he died.

I spent yesterday at the JFK Library in Boston, for a conference that was based on "writing from life"...memoirs, autobioraphies, etc. In the morning there was a panel with me and Alma Flor Ada and Nikki Grimes, and it was interesting (though not at all surprising) to see how despite different ethnicities, we all essentially had the same feeling for home and place and family and loved ones. Great to be wih them and others who were participating, though by afternoon, when I had to do a one-hour presentation by myself, my recent pneumonia caught up with me and I felt very wobbly. I must force myself to take it VERY EASY for a while.

 

 

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RINSE.

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on Thursday, 02 March 2017
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This morning I spent an uncomfortable hour in the hands of a dental surgeon, then drove to a different dentst where I spent another hour and now I am at home with Advil and icepacks and amoxicillin and I have just eaten sipped a dinner of soup.

When I was CVS picking up my Rx, the pharmacist, a young woman, had a charming accent and wore a nametag that said OKSANA.  I bit my tongue to keep from asking her if she had ever met with the Russia ambassador.

(No, I didn't. I bit my tongue because my mouth was so full of Novacain that I didn't know where my tongue was.)

But I not feeling sorry for myself. At my age...80 in 3 weeks...I am fortunate to be very healthy, very active, with my brain intact. And that my dentist is not named Dr. DeSoto. (How many people will get that reference?)

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Oscars again

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on Tuesday, 28 February 2017
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I indulged once again this year in what I have come to think of as a night of shallow revelry...commenting, with three women friends, all of us sprawled in my TV room, on various gowns (what's with the to-the-navel cleavage? Do we need this?)..and then, because I had thought MOONLIGHT a brillliant film and rooted for it, I turned the TV off in disappointment when they announced LaLaLand the winner. And so I missed the drama. Darn.

And I also missed the thank-you speech (for LaLaLand) by producer Marc PLatt who not that long ago had lunch in my kitchen (long story. Another time.)

I do love movies. Thinking about them, talking about them, watching them. Occasionally, when I have been asked If you hadn't become a writer, what would... I reply that I would have become a filmmaker. Screenwriter, editor, cinematographer, director? All.

Last night, on the recommendation of a friend (thank you, Phyllis) I found an Iranian film called ABOUT ELLY on Netflix. Using a complicated procedure that we seem to have mastered pretty well, Howard watched it with me. (We get on Speaker Phone, coordinate our Netflixes, find the film, and click PLAY at the same time (watching the minute/second counter) and somehow manage to get them showing simultaneously.) It was ironic, having just seen the same Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi, win an Oscar for THE SALESMAN, which I have not yet seen ... (and he was not there to accept it, protesting  the immigration ban....)

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Cote d'Azur

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on Sunday, 19 February 2017
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I am back in Maine, having magically missed the 10 days when 3 feet of snow fell here. Today it is 44 degrees and the sun in shining in a blue sky. I'm sure there will be more snow to come....March is a false-promser; one thnks it is spring on the way (and I have always liked my birthday, allegedly the first day of spring)...but inevitably it disappoints.

The night before I left Florida, Howard and I did what has become something of a last-night-here tradiiton for us; we went to a tiny restaurant called Cote d'Azur. It seems a well-kept secret, because from the road one doesn't even know it is there. Howard has owned a home nearby since, I think 1997, but he only discovered this restaurant last winter. There is a Starbucks on one side of it, and a supermarket on the other, so one might walk past in the afternoon and barely glance at its entrance, assuming it to be a dry cleaner or a dog wash. Ah, but then evening comes. Little lights appear dangling above tables set outside, with screens around so it is still invisible to passersby. And inside: it is lovely, and the food is magnificent, (and also pricey!) Last month we both had Dover sole and shared a bottle of Sancerre. This time we were slightly more circumspect (a glass of prosecco and a duck breast)...but oh dear, this time we had dessert. And here is my Pear Heléne

 

And boo hoo, now I am back in Maine, with work to do and taxes to finish and a dental apointment Tuesday. The mundane intrudes.

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Grandpa's House

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on Monday, 13 February 2017
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I have been working on tax stuff...which is BORING...and I did a live radio call-in show with Christopher Paul Curtis...which was fun...and then, sitting here alone (Howard is off playing bridge with his guys' bridge club, a cut-throat group if I ever saw one), I started searching Google Maps for places I have lived in the past.  In a way it is nostalic and fun, to see one's own history that way. In another way, it is disconcerting. What happened to the magnolia tree? There was one that bloomed outside my bedroom window. I suppose it got old, as I have, and died, as I haven't yet.

Anyway: this is small town Pennsylvania.  The white house on the left was my grandparents' house. My mother, pregnant with my soon-to-be born baby brother, took us (me and my sister) there when our dad went off to the Pacific during WWII. My brother Jon, newborn, came home to that house and I peered into his bassinet (I was five).

I learned to ride a two-wheeler on that long uninterrupted sidewalk across the street. That sidewalk was the border for a part of the Dickinson College campus and in those early 1940s days we played on the grounds...now there are buildings, dormitories, built on that land.  Now, in fact, there is a sign on the front lawn of Grandpa's house because he left it to the college and it is an official college building.

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Just for the record...

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on Monday, 06 February 2017
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I can no longer stay silent.

I was personally responsible for the incredible Superbowl win last night.

We were watching here in Florida with another couple, all of us from New England, all of us growing increasingly despondent as the score widened.

In the third quarter, wiht the score 28-3 in favor of Atlanta, Howard looked at me and said:"You forgot to put on your Patriots shirt!"

And he was right. I was wearing a blue-and-white checked LL Bean shirt. So I scurried into the bedroom and changed. I put on my Patriots shirt (the back side of it says BRADY):

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REINCARNATION

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on Thursday, 02 February 2017
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Well, no, This isn't really about Buddhist teachings.  It's about books.  I've been in this business a very long time...my first book for young people was published in 1977...and although all of my 40+ books are still technically in print, some of them are undergoing a refurbishing so that they will have an appeal for a new young audience.  The Anastasia series, for example, has new jackets (and in one case, a different title) and some of the new editions have introductions by me...it was actually fun to re-read them and think about how things have changed, or to reflect on why I wrote what I did so many years ago. And it has been gratifying to hear recently from adult women who are glad to see the series again, and to be reminded of how they loved them when they were young, and who tell me now they have daughters to whom they'll introduce the books.

And oh my goodness, Caroline Tate! Here is a new jacket for a re-edition of THE ONE HUNDREDTH THIG ABOUT CAROLINE. I wrote three books about Caroline and her brother, J.P., and later regretted not having connected the titles, so that many readers or fans didn't realize that they were a series...or at least a trilogy. Now, for this new edition, they have indicated that on the jacket by adding the collective title THREE ABOUT THE TATES. (Two more yet to come! I have a hard time choosing my favorite; all three are really fun midde-grade books. Caroline is 11; her brother is 13).

 

Another that has recently been repackaged is one of my favorites: STAY (subtitled "Keeper's Story") which is a first-person narrative of the life of a very special dog.

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Idle Hands

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on Wednesday, 01 February 2017
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My grandmother...and everyone else's grandmother...used to say that "Idle hands are the devil's playthings"  I am not sure I believe that.

Nonetheless, these days when I seem to turn on the news every night...and then fall into despair, watching, but am not able to STOP watching....I needed something to do with my hands. So I have started knitting again. I used to knit a lot. Then, after Martin died six years ago and the dog fell into a depression..someone suggested that I get a kitten. Which I did. And it solved the dog's despair; he was thrilled to have a playful companion.

But it meant that I coudn't knit any more, for obvious reasons. The kitten, whose name was Lulu, found my knitting to be the most amazing, wonderful toy she could imagine.  It seemed a small price to pay, a fairly easy trade-off: a sweet kitten (soon to be a cat); and no more un-needed sweaters or scarves or hats.

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Me Again

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on Monday, 30 January 2017
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I have been away from this blog for a very, very long time; and now that I have returned, I find it overrun wiht "comments" that are actually Spam...so I have spent some time deleting all of that. My apologies to those who might have scrolled through and thought that I was recommending products...some of them porn-related...although actually I think most readers of blogs are savvy enough to know what's what (and what isn't).

Since I last posted here, an updated edition of my photographic memoir LOOKING BACK has been published, with twenty years of addiitonal material, including some stuff about the making of THE GIVER movie, plus tantalizing comments about the additon of a new and important person in my life (yes! Old Age Romance!).  And I've been travelling: Botswana, France, Germany...coming up: Cuba, and in the fall: northern Spain.

I have some interesting projects underway: one, a poem for an anthology; another a piece, non-poem, for a different anthology. I've written and published some introductions to other works, including for new editions of some of my own.  And I am always working on books.

I have recently written an essay called "A Story of Three Children" dealing with my concerns for refugees; I posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and find that many people are requesting a printable copy, which I will send to anyone who emails me and gives me their email address. (You can email me by...guess what! ...clicking on EMAIL ME on my website.) You have my permission to print and dsitribute "A Story of Three Children" if you share my concerns.

three-children.docx

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Here and There

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on Tuesday, 09 June 2015
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How did it become June, when the last time I posted to this blog appears to have been from Hawaii, in January?  Time rushes past. And Twitter diverts attention from the blog; and I am working hard on new book, and I have been in the Far East, and then I was sick.....and   Excuses, all of them.

I did go, in April, to Japan, and briefly to Korea. It was a nostalgia trip, returning to the places where I had lived in the late 40's, as a child.  Of course Tokyo Then and Tokyo Now are two very different places.  But it was fun to go back, and I went to places I had never been before—Sado Island, the place where the famous Koto drummers of Japan live and train—was the most fascinating.

Well, maybe the most. Also quite astounding was the incredible museum designed by I.M. Pei, in the mountains near Kyoto.  And I was there in April when the cherry blossoms were in bloom.

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Such a Full Sea

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on Friday, 16 January 2015
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I am in Hawaii, my birthplace. But I was born on Oahu, and this trip I am exclusively on Kauai, my favorite of the islands. I am writing this while sitting on the lanai of my rented condo, listening to the waves break on the beach nearby, and I am shaded by some palms, and birds are singing.

I am here with a friend and in our days here we have done a lot of driving, oohing and ahhing at scenery, walking on beaches, sipping wine, laughing, etc..all the things one does on avacation wiht a friend. And reading.  Here is a picture of my feet on a beach at the north end of Kauai...I was loafing there while my friend did a hike that was a little too rugged for me (I knew that, because I did it ... the famous Kalalau Trail along the NaPali Coast... 30 years ago with Martin. And it was too much for me even then!)

And in the picture is the book I was reading on that beach, Such a Full Sea.  I am a fan of Chang Rae Lee's work, though I am not (maybe surprisingly) a particular fan of post-apolcolyptic fiction, and this book is that. (my personal exception has been Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which I lked very much)

But I am liking this book a lot and also reading it with an odd feeling of familiarity. Many years ago, when I wrote a post-apolcolyptic book called Gathering Blue, I wrote a descritpion of a ceremony in which the people chant, each year, the history of their world (there is no longer any written record).  One part of their chant consists of the unitelligible words:

BOGO TABAL

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The Woman in the Striped Pajamas

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on Saturday, 27 December 2014
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I know. I know. The title, with a "boy" instead of a "woman"...has been used. Book. Movie.

And I shouldn't co-opt it. But this is only a blog post ("only a flesh wound"...Monty Python) and it is the obvious title, because I am going to illustrate this post with a picture of the actual striped pajamas.

They are striped in purple and white, and I was wearing them when I went to bed last night, taking my iPad wth me beause I was reading a book on it.  I actually much prefer to read a "real" book, but I do use the Kindle app when I travel, and often...as now...I end up with a partly-read book which I then finish reading on the iPad. Last night, it was the new biography of Penelope Fitzgerald.

Fast forward to morning. I woke up, as I usually do, at 7:15 or so. I got up, fed the dog and cat, let the dog out, made myself a big cup of coffee, and noted on the outdoor thermometer that yesterday's springlike weaher had turned to winter and it was now quite cold.. 28 or 30 (a little hard to tell exactly, looking from my kitchen window to the thermometer  attached to a wooden fence about 20-30 feet away.)

(I am including details...the striped pajamas, the 20-30 feet, the wooden fence, because that is what we writers do, to make a story come to life; and this is turning into a story).

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She's Baaaacckk!

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on Thursday, 11 December 2014
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Everything Goes Haywire

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on Friday, 28 November 2014
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...and I don't have a clue where that phrase came from. Going haywire? What does it mean?

But it came to my mind Wenesday ngiht, when...almost simultaneously...a dental implant fell out. Because of a snowstorm the power went off. And..unrelated to the power outage..my email program failed...can't send, can't receive.

Is it fair for everythng to happen...ah, to go haywire...all at once? Maybe it's easier. Instead of three separate meltdowns, you have only one.

Now, the day after Thanksgiving, I am planning to head south on Monday to connect with the dentist, who is in Massachsetts. The power is back on, thank goodness...it returned yesterday morning in time to cook dinner for a friend who is visiting. And I am waiting now for a phone call from my computer guru, who over the years has managed to fix every computer disaster and I hope will be able to restore my email capacity. Then the world will seem okay again.

And in the meantime, with no email, I am sitting here at the computer and will turn my attention to work which awaits...and without the distraction of those always ongoing communications.  Perhaps this is even a good thing.

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A new book. No, not by me.

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on Sunday, 16 November 2014
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I got back late last ngiht from Savannah, Georgia, where I had spent all day yesterday at the outdoor Savannah Book Festival. Savannah is a gorgeous city which I have not visited often enough, so I had been happy to accept that invitation. But who knew that the internet weather forecast would lie as profoundly as it did when it said the day of the festival would be 75 degrees?  I loved heading toward that forecast when I left my Maine home in snow on Friday morning...heading south, smugly taking with me a cotton sweater and a lightweight jacket.  OMG, I was cold in Savannah!!!!  As was the audience, whom I had to try to entertain during two different one-hour events. Me on a wooden platform, shivering, they unable to sit on the grass as planned...instead, standing, hands in armpits, attentive but miserable.  Then two hours of sitting at a table, signing books...my hands went numb.  Temperature? I'm guessing 48? The warmth of the people involved...festival organizers, volunteers, and attendees ALMOST made up for it.  And Savannah, dear beautoful city, I do hope to see you again, but please, on a warmer dayi

Several things warmed me mightily when i got home. The cat, left alone, was very happy to have me back. And the dog, when I picked him up from the kennel this morning, was friskily delighted to come home.  The NY Times crossword puzzle was fairly easy today, and fun. I still had some homemade chiucken soup in the fridge and have just made my lunch from it. And in the waiting mail was a book that is making my day and will make my month and year.  It is a new collection of poems..."Splitting an Order" by Ted Kooser, Nebraska poet, former US poet laureate.

I love his work. I have met him only once, at a dinner in Nebraska where I was the speaker and he was in the audience, and it was one of those ignominious times when one's Power Point doesn't work. He was gentle and forgiving of that, and later sent me a book of his poems, and I sent him a thank you note, but he would remember neither that nor me and it doesn't matter.

Kooser collects the tiny quotidian details of life and then presents them in a way that both heightens your own awareness and also creates a significance, a greater and more unversal context. A poem called "Swinging frm Parents" describes a child between mother and father, swinging from their hands—and it so brilliantly creates both the present and the future of the child..I wish I could copy the whole poem here but it would violate copyright law.  Go buy the book.

That particluar poem followed immediately after the one called "Bad News" which sent an ice pick into my gut with its familiarity. The familiarity of the phone call that comes in the night..."In the flare of the light you've snapped on"...and brings the news that is "thrown over your shoulders like a threadbare robe."...most of us have experienced such a call.  It is oddly comforting to be reminded of that; he shapes it into a familiar form.

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A glimpse of evening

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on Wednesday, 05 November 2014
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I have always loved the writing of Donald Hall and his late wife, Jane Kenyon. My daughter read a Kenyon poem ("Let Evening Come") at Martin's memorial service.  Now I have just received in the mail, from its publisher, Donald Hall's new book, with an eerily reminiscent photograph. No, this is not Carl Nelson, whom I photographed years ago and who still appears on the cover of THE GIVER (unless you have the movie tie-in edition, where Jeff Bridges appears).  This is Donald Hall. But there is something about a lined, craggy face with piercing, somewhat sad eyes and an unkempt beard that makes one think that all the wisdom in the world is housed therein. I think I have a book with a similar cover photo of Robertson Davies someplace.

(When I had photographed Carl Nelson and was in the process of developing and printing the photos, one was floating in my darkroom sink when my teenage son walked by, glanced at it, and said, "Who's that? Moses?"  I told Carl that when I sent him some copies of the potographs, and thereafter he always signed his letters to me: "Love, Moses.")

I've never met Donald Hall. But a good photograph makes you feel, almost, as if you do know the person. I'm sure that reading his essays will compound that feeling. And though I hope and assume he is in good health with many years of writing still ahead, I cna't help thinking that the title of his photo should be his wife's words: Let evening come.

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