Category Archives: books

Percolating As An Artist

Local artist, Sandra Waugh, with the book cover she designed for author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and Hay House Publishing.

Local artist, Sandra Waugh, with the book cover she designed for author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and Hay House Publishing.

As part of my job as a contributing writer for my local newspaper, I have the great fun of interviewing many talented, local people and highlighting their work. One of these people is artist Sandra Waugh of Limerick, Maine.

Like writers, artists often struggle to find paying gigs (hence the terms starving artist/starving writer) and usually supplement the creative work with more prosaic jobs like retail, dish-washing, and serving food in restaurants. Nothing wrong with it. It’s a noble tradition of sacrifice for the sake of art. In addition to the supplemental jobs, artists and writers often do well to find niche markets for their work, freelance jobs that bring in a little extra cash–and cachet!

A self-taught artist, Sandra has been perfecting her watercolor art over the years in many niche markets. For example, Waugh recently designed and illustrated the cover of a new self-help book put out by traditional publishing house, Hay House Publishing.

The book, PERCOLATE, was written by Maine author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino, founder and CEO of the Best Ever You Network which includes workshops, a magazine, a radio program, and other networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, authors, and everyday people in all walks of life. PERCOLATE has a tag line of “Let Your Best Self Filter Through” and is a guide for creating positive change in a person’s life.

Waugh worked with Hamilton-Guarino previously on a children’s picture book that was self-published. When PERCOLATE was being written, Elizabeth asked Sandra if she’d be interested in creating artwork for and designing the cover of her new book. “She was very specific about what she wanted,” Waugh said. “She made many changes, and we kept fine-tuning the design until we got what she wanted.” The cover’s painting of a white coffee cup with colorful words steaming out of it over a brown background was done in watercolor paint. Inside the book, sketches of coffee cups and three little creatures–an aardvark, a platypus, and an armadillo–were done in graphite. Waugh also designed the layout for the book cover.

“I used to be a graphic designer and worked in pre-press work for ten years, so designing the cover was going back to my graphic arts roots,” said Waugh.

Not sure if Hay House would chose to use the design or would go in-house, Waugh was excited when the publishing company decided to pick up the cover and use her artwork. Hay House is a traditional publishing company, not a self-publishing enterprise, though it has a self-publishing line called Balboa Press. Hay House offers books on the subjects of self-help, inspirational, and “transformational books and products,” according to the company website. It publishes work by such well-known authors as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Christiane Northrup, and Jerry Hicks.

PERCOLATE is available in local bookstores and online.

Now that the PERCOLATE cover project is finished, Waugh says she is working on a new book illustration project for a children’s book by another local author.

Waugh also recently opened her own store on Etsy.com where she sells her fine art. “Etsy is an online artisan community where artists sell their products, everything from knitting to jewelry to pottery to fine art. The list goes on and on,” Waugh said. Her original watercolor paintings can be viewed on the site at www.etsy.com/shop/waughtercolors. She also paints people and pet portraits on commission. Her website is found at www.waughtercolors.com.

As always, I encourage you, my dear readers, to look around in your own towns and cities to find local artists, writers, and creators of all sorts of wild and wonderful things and support them with your good wishes and your dollars. Keep the cash circulating locally, build good-will connections within your community or neighborhood, and enjoy a Localista lifestyle that is anything but bland. Create an environment that is unique rather than cookie-cutter!

And thank you once again, dear readers, for stopping in to Localista.

(This post was published in another form in The Reporter newspaper. Support your local newspapers, too, with your advertising. Advertising pays for the articles you enjoy reading!)

Fashion and Fiction at Goodwill

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Take me to the flower show!

Dear Reader:

As Polyvore.com automatically posts my new sets to Localista, you may be wondering if I’ve forgotten my original mission: to shop local sources rather than big box retailers.

I haven’t. I’ve just been very busy and captivated by my new fiction project, 52 Flash, where I create a fashion look on Polyvore and then write a story inspired by the graphic. However, a trip into the nearby city of Biddeford gave me a chance to drop into my fave Goodwill store, and while I was there I decided to search for some pieces to recreate one of my recent fashion sets: the Flower Show look, which is an easy, casual but classic look I imagined a youngish woman donning for a meandering walk around the Portland Flower Show scheduled for later on this spring (click that link to learn more!).

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The pink J.Jill blouse jumped right out at me. I wanted something over-sized, so I went right to the rack of clothes one size up from my norm. All shirts (and sweaters and pants) are grouped on the racks first by size and then by color, making shopping for particular items pretty straight-forward. I liked the pleating on the front and the swingy cut that I believe would make this a “smock” shirt. (Check out this guide I just found on internet world called Fashion Terms and Styles for Women’s Garments from the Oregon State library! If I’m going to ever get serious writing about fashion, guess I should read up on my terminology!)

The J.Jill blouse was more than reasonably priced at $4.99 and had not one mark or stain on it. Then it was on to pants. I found only a few grey jeans and none that were skinny. I tried on the most promising pair for the photo above but decided they were too big for me. Still, I’ve found ALL my recent pairs of jeans at Goodwill–at prices much too amazing to believe–so I wasn’t too disappointed. The search for the perfect grey skinny will continue.

I was actually very excited to accidentally grab my slimmest pair of jeans this morning–the ones I couldn’t zip up right after Christmas–and had them on and zipped before I realized they weren’t my big-girl jeans. Guess the French Women Don’t Get Fat philosophy is working. More about that in a later post. I’m obsessed with all things French right now, and if I can ever carve out a workable schedule for myself, I will spend some time learning la langue Francaise. I already have the champagne at dinner thing down pat.

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Colorful Rain Boots

But I digress. I already had rain boots at home, thanks to an earlier trip to Goodwill a couple years back. All that was left was a grey puffy vest with a fake-fur collar. Now, I really had no hope of finding that exact item, and I didn’t. What I did find was possibly even better! An olive green puffy vest with a brown, pink-spattered velvet collar originally from Old Navy. Parfait!

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Look at this pretty detail on the vest.

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I did not find a floral bag, at least not one big enough for a tote. For me, it is nice to have something out there still, awaiting discovery. What I DID find, though, were…

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. . . Books! Janet Fitch’s Paint It Black, Jane Green’s Jemima, and Elizabeth Buchan’s Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. See, fashion and fiction DO go together (at least in my world.)

And I snapped a photo of this amazing prom dress. Only 14.99, but not the right size for my dear daughter. (Plus, I’ve brought home so many fancy dresses from this store over the past couple of years there is no way she will be able to wear them all.)

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Oh, Goodwill, how I do love you.

So what about you, Dear Reader? Have any luck with the local shopping lately? Drop me a line, a link, or both. I love to hear from other Localistas out there.

And check out some short stories–flash fashion fictions–at Localista’s sister blog, 52 Flash.

Copy-cat Highlighting on Kindle

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

Dear Reader:

Just going to write a quick post about a certain human behavior I found myself noticing while reading books and articles on a Kindle. You know how you are skimming along on your electronic device, your mind filling with images and ideas, caught up in a story-line or argument, and all of a sudden there is a dotted, lighter-gray line underscoring a particular sentence or paragraph?

Well, this line indicates a “highlight.” Not YOUR highlight. Someone else’s highlight. And all the copy-cats who followed suit. Somehow Kindle keeps track of these highlights and reports directly to each reader a helpful note telling her just how many fellow-readers have highlighted that particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph.

Now here’s my question: Why do so many people end up highlighting the very same phrases? Is it because these thoughts are so obviously important that everyone decides, on their own initiative, to highlight them? Or do many people highlight a passage simply because OTHER people have already highlighted it? I suspect the latter answer falls closer to the truth, and it is just another weird indication of the sheeple-like behavior of most humans.

Memes–an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person through a culture–have always been an aspect of being human. We used to spread ideas via storytelling and then via letters and books and magazines and newspapers. Even as we moved to the written story versus the oral, we were still able to experience the story in our own private heads, think our own private thoughts, and draw our own private conclusions about what we thought was important. Maybe we’d talk about what we read. Maybe we’d jot a private note in the margin. Maybe we’d share that book with a friend who happened upon those margin notes. But did that person underline your underline in his own pen and then pass it along to yet another friend who underlined it in her pen and so forth? Um, no.

What we are talking about here goes so far beyond your college roommate’s yellow highlighter in last semester’s American Literature textbook that you bought from her because you’d like not to spend $500 on something that will be obsolete by spring semester the following year. Now that we have technologies that allow us to share everything with everyone electronically, so that even the once-private reading experience has become hive-like, herd-like, the question arises once again. Are we people, or are we sheeple?

This morning, for example, I began reading short story by Jennifer Weiner entitled Swim. It’s a good short story, well-crafted, interesting characters, great internal conflict. I’m reading along, minding my own mind when, POW! A phrase with 68 (not much compared to some books I’ve read, but I’ll get to that) highlights. This must be a rip-roaring great sentence, I thought.

So I read it.

“…making my heart beat like a little girl who’s gotten just what she wanted for her birthday.”

I blinked. Really? Sixty-eight people thought that phrase was highlight-worthy on their own initiative? I growled at my Kindle and startled the dog. “No stinkin’ way!”

Here’s what I think happened. One person highlighted it, someone else saw someone highlighted it and so highlighted it as well, and then a third followed, then a fourth, and then twenty. I actually found myself compelled to drag my finger across the words and click “highlight” in the pop-up box myself, as if some weird internal synoptic hard-wiring connected a vestigial sheeple-lobe in my brain to my right index finger with nary a stop in the actual thought-processing centers in the frontal lobes.

And then I DID highlight it, just to see if the number of highlighters changed from 68 to 69. It has now. Experiment complete. Let’s see if I can un-highlight it. Yup. Just drag finger and hit delete. Voila!

Have I highlighted other books and articles I’ve read in Kindle? Yes, particularly for non-fiction stuff I want to go back and read again or wish to quote. These are my own highlights, though, irrespective of whether or not anyone else got a tingle of “aha!” while reading the passage. Do I hope other people see my highlights and chose to highlight it, too? Should I go back and look and see what kind of influence I’ve made in the world with my fancy-smancy highlighting skills? Shudder. That the thought even occurred to me sets off warning lights and danger sirens.

This is all beginning to feel a little bit too much like Facebook and how some people actually analyze how many “likes” their friends get on posted photos and shares–as if that is some indication of that person’s popularity or likeableness or something. Not to mention Klout–social media that calculates your influence on the social-media culture. I signed up for that for about a week, just to see what it was all about. Then I got outa’ there. What, exactly, was the point?

(This post is turning out to be anything but “quick.” Sorry about that! I didn’t realize I had this much to say on the topic, which is kinda part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? It’s a new discovery each and every time.)

But back to the egregious example of copy-cat highlighting. After resisting for as long as I could, I gave in and bought Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. I really didn’t think it would be any good, and it wasn’t great. However, I readily admit that I was curious about why this erotic novel sold so spectacularly well, spawned a slew of copy-cat novels, re-invented a genre which now fills entire shelf-displays in bookstores, and has even been picked up for a movie adaptation. Pretty good stuff for the author, I have to admit. She must have done something right. I wanted to see if I could find out how she did it.

So, yes, the writing was pedestrian, the sex scenes were so-so and there were way too many of them for my taste, and now I have my own theory about why women like this book (which I may or may not share in a later post), but there was one aspect of reading this on Kindle that really amused me. I knew the story wasn’t exactly gripping my attention (no matter WHERE Christian Grey was gripping Anastasia at the particular moment) when I began paying more attention to the highlighting.

“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail…” 1,761 people thought this was highlight-worthy.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 3,962 highlights.

“A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” 8,586 highlights, and who am I reading? E.L. James or Ayn Rand?see Reading Atlas Shrugged in my 40’s

“Oh, f___ the paperwork, he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.” 2,349.

And so on. The funniest thing is that there is never just a highlight with 50 highlighters or 10. Just thousands. Does Kindle only report the top-scoring highlights of each book or article? Yes. “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.” (http://gigaom.com/2010/05/03/amazon-starts-sharing-what-youve-highlighted-on-your-kindle/)

I’m so glad to know that two-thousand people thought Christian pushing Anastasia against the wall of an elevator was wicked important, aren’t you?

What Amazon doesn’t address is why. Why so many people highlight particular passages. Is it based on true personal preference or is there a copy-cat quality?

I will continue to watch with great interest the highlighting trends in Kindle editions. I’m wondering how this feature could be used and abused–both from sharing information about what certain kinds of readers highlight and also from influencing what readers think is important by artificially amping up the supposed highlights (hello: pay or otherwise ask 100 readers to highlight a certain passage thus causing more people to pay attention to certain ideas and to also copy-cat and highlight that passage than would happen organically.)

What do you all think?

I (Heart) Snow Days

I (heart) Snow Days

Dear Reader:

We had a little snow covering the ground this morning, and it felt like the kind of day to sit beside the fire with a good book. I didn’t quite manage such a relaxing day, but I CAN recommend a good book to read this winter. Maine writer, Bill Roorbach’s LIFE AMONG GIANTS. (Buy it at your locally-owned bookstore!)

This is a big book, a giant book. Big themes of love and family and longing…so much longing. Big characters. Tall, yes, but also big in scope and heart and personality. Big houses with lots of doors and corridors and secret rooms hidden away. David “Lizard” Hochmeyer, a tall and talented high school football player becomes enchanted with the famous dancer, Sylphide, living next door in a big house, a mansion. Lizard’s parents are murdered because of his dad’s dealings with a crooked boss possibly (likely) involved with the mob, but we don’t know if, how, or why Sylphide is somehow involved. Lizard ends up playing pro football for the Miami Dolphins and later becomes a restauranteur. There is so much here. It is the kind of book to read slowly, to savor.

This would be my ideal day: cozy flannel pajamas, a fur throw, coffee, a great book, soothing music, snow falling, roaring fire, and a scented candle. What about you?

Adventures in Window Cleaning

Vinegar and Water Solution

Dear Reader:

There comes a time in every person’s life when she looks out her window and sees only one thing: dirty fingerprints.

Okay, not really. She sees dirty fingerprints, dirt, bird seed from the window feeder, spider webs, pine needles, and dog-nose smears.

With my freshly-painted walls and new furniture arrangement (Hubby and the Teen both approve) mocking my disgusting window panes, I decided to tackle at least one window a day until they are all finished, and this brought me to a project I’ve been meaning to try, namely, “eco-cleaning.”

Now, this blog isn’t focused so much on “going green” as it is on “going local,” but it seems the two concepts (ideals?) converge quite often. Take cleaning products, for example. It’s not like your local farmer’s market carries a line of locally-produced cleaning products, right? There may be a cottage industry somewhere in the neighborhood that concocts hand-made soaps, lotions, and potpourri, but as yet I haven’t run across anyone selling cleaning fluid. Why? Because ANYONE can make their own cleaning fluid, and your own kitchen is as local as you can get. Here’s what I found out.

A few years ago I was browsing in the book area of One Earth Natural Food Store in Springvale, Maine when I came across a little gem called CLEAN & GREEN by Annie Berthold-Bond.

I haven’t used the recipes for “nontoxic and environmentally safe housekeeping” as much as I’d like, but today was the day to try the glass cleaners. First up, the simple vinegar and water in a spray bottle. I used an old, washed-out spray bottle, poured in the recommended amount of plain old cider vinegar (now see, this is where we could get local out of this. I didn’t have any Maine-produced vinegar, but I will be on the lookout for some in the future. THEN, I’d have a totally-Maine cleaning product), and sprayed the panes of my kitchen door.

The book also recommended using newspaper to wipe the windows. I have a nice stash of old WEEKLY SHOPPERS and SHOPPING GUIDES hanging around, so I took a couple sheets and went to work. Scrub, scrub, squeak, squeak. Did it work? You bet! However…

Printers Ink on Yellow Gloves

I was not happy with the black ink getting all over my gloves and imagining what my fingers would look like if I didn’t have said gloves, and let’s face it, yellow rubber gloves are NOT locally-produced. Also, I found the solution to be kind of, well, wet. I know, I know. Of course it was wet. But it was wet in the droplet sort of way versus a spray sort of way, if that makes any sense.

I decided to try another recipe in the book, called “The Best Window Wash.” I should have tried the best first, probably, but I was drawn to the simplicity of a two-ingredient solution. The Best Window Wash called for the addition of a teaspoon of vegetable-oil based soap. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for a long time, and so had this on hand. Plop! I added the teaspoon directly to the vinegar and water solution bottle.

The Best Window Wash ingredients

I also decided to use an old sock instead of the inky newspaper. The addition of the soap made for a much smoother application on the windows, the sock worked fine, and I finished up with a nice polishing with a dust cloth. Now, in a pinch, I could go with the local vinegar/water/local newspaper combo, but I did prefer this soap additive.

I wonder how one makes vegetable oil soap? Could someone take local corn, for instance, to make the vegetable oil and from there make soap? How exactly does that work?

I’ll let you know if I find out.

Clean Window with spider plant

In the meantime, I recommend Berthold-Bond’s book if you are interested in low-cost, environmentally-friendly, and kinda’ neat ways of cleaning your house. Oh, and that spider plant in my window? According to the book, the plants act as natural air purifiers along with aloe vera, English ivy, fig trees, and potted chrysanthemums. Green may just be my new favorite color!

Economy of the Miniature?

Five Weeks’ “Growth”

Dear Reader:

Okay, so I moseyed on down the road a few miles with my good friend, Sandi, to check out a MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmer’s and Grower’s Association) certified farm stand. Piper’s Knoll Farm in Newfield, Maine exemplifies what I consider an ideal local business. Yes, they are certified organic, but according to their website, farmers Karl and Cynthia Froelich use farming methods that go BEYOND organic…including permaculture and biodynamic techniques, managing natural woodland and wetlands for native species of medicinal plants, and using season-extending methods such as hoop houses for greater productivity (they’ve had carrots already, started in the hoop houses in February! Amazing!).

Karl is a stonework landscaper. Cynthia is a Master Gardener and herbalist, and she also conducts workshops on eco-spiritual topics. In addition to their farm-stand, the Froelich’s participate in the farmer’s market in Saco, Maine. They are diversified…just like their farm.


This week I’ve been reading a new book on sustainable life called SMALL, GRITTY, AND GREEN by Catherine Tumbler. A journalist and historian, Tumbler spent a few years researching and touring small cities, specifically “Rust Belt” cities–the old industrial cities left crumbling and emptying in the wake of suburban development, highway-bisection of neighborhoods and downtowns, and the de-industrialization of the American economy as trade agreements launched the flight of production to cheap labor overseas. Tumbler agrees with people like James Howard Kunstler (author of the New Urbanist book, THE GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHWHERE) who believe that in a post-oil world, our small cities–not our small towns or metropolises–are best suited for a new way of life, one that is sustainable, human-scale, and doable in a low-carbon future.

These cities–in Maine, I think of places like Biddeford/Saco, Sanford, Waterville where the textile mills once ran three shifts a day–still have infrastructure intact that could be used when we inevitably must begin producing things here in the U.S. of A again. These small cities are surrounded by smaller rings of suburban and exurban development than the big metropolises–meaning the farmlands are closer to the urban center. Taking a look at the numbers, Tumbler makes the case for small-scale farming over commodity farming, retrofitting empty retail “malls” and concrete big box structures into sustainability centers–even hydroponic farms and raised-bed crop-raising on top of the parking lots, and the breakdown of highways instead of the constant necessity of maintaining them.

So, imagine a small city with parks and mixed-use architecture and Broadways and downtowns. Imagine a bus system, walkable neighborhoods, sidewalks, and fewer cars. Imagine suburbs with community gardens and backyard chickens. And then imagine a ring of fertile farmland cultivated by thoughtful, intelligent people like the Froelichs who provide food and medicine for the people in the city and suburb. Imagine a city without a Walmart but instead a bunch of locally-owned shops–a Plummer’s Hardware, a Betty’s Dress Shop, a bakery, a butcher shop, a bookstore–not just downtown but in many neighborhoods. Imagine a downtown district with a department store, a theater, a park, upscale shops, a music hall, City Hall, art galleries, restaurants…and lots of interesting people to watch when you sit down for a latte at the cafe.

Early Girls

Okay, so I am drifting into a utopian fantasy. Or else I’m reminiscing about a time in America just before I was born, before the rise of the cookie-cutter suburb, the two-car family, the two-income household, NAFTA, GATT, off-shoring, and the shrinking of the middle class.

What about today? What am I doing living in a single-use exurban housing development that is really like living at camp year-round? How can I work toward that other, larger vision? I garden, and I tell myself I am keeping some knowledge alive. Honestly, though? The economy of my miniature garden box garden is really pitiful!

I spent about $100 on “ingredients” for my straw-bale tomato experiment. The bales were pricey, considering. Then I had to add in the nitrogen fertilizer–not exactly organic farming practice there, folks. I bought three heirloom tomato plants, and if all goes well I may actually be able to save some seeds for next year. The other three (Early Girl) are not heirloom, and I have no idea if the seeds are viable or not. If these six plants produce thirty or so pounds of tomatoes all together, I suppose I may break even.

As for the other garden boxes, these are really nothing more than fun. I might as well have planted all ornamentals, since the small (miniature) scale of my garden-box garden will produce nothing more than a few servings of each kind of veggie, even if the plants produce well.

For instance, my peas are beautiful and blossoming, but really I may end up with a pound of snap peas at most. At Piper’s Knoll today, I bought a pound of snap peas for $3. The radishes have been fun, but I could have bought a bunch for $2.50. A large bag of greens was only $4. Sigh. My greens boxes have been the biggest disappointment of all: the spinach went to seed at two-inches tall, the arugula hasn’t even sprouted, the micro-greens did no better than the spinach. There is probably something wrong with the pH balance in the soil (all those pine needles?), though the romaine and green leaf lettuces are still growing if slowly, slowly…

The basil plants look great. The cucumbers are blossoming, and I’m hopeful for a good harvest. And if the zucchini and summer squash don’t end up with that gray mold stuff, I COULD have squashes coming out my ears in another month or so. Let’s hope! But in the end, this sort of gardening will never feed the family. Another $100 for ornamentals and cuke, fennel, basil, cabbage, sage, and pepper starts will, if I’m lucky, provide enough produce to pay for itself. If I’m lucky. Otherwise, I can put it down on the books as “entertainment” or maybe “education.”

Really, economically-speaking, I would be better off putting that $200 toward membership in a CSA farm like Piper’s Knoll. Maybe they’d let me come over and do some weeding now and again because…

I attempt to garden because I want to keep the rhythm of the growing season beating in my heart. I want my daughter to see me digging in the dirt and pulling a round, purple radish out of the ground, grown from a seed I planted. I want her to taste a cucumber right off the vine so she can appreciate the difference between it and the tasteless thing that rode on a truck from Mexico all the way to Maine and landed on a supermarket shelf.

Will I do this again next year? Yeah, I probably will. I’ll also buy as much produce and meat and eggs locally and in-state as I can…because those farmers are the people who will feed us in a low-carbon future. I encourage you to search out small-scale, diversified, biodynamic farms in your area and support them with your food dollars and your friendship. I think you’ll be glad you did.

The Mill Has Some Gloss

North Mill in Biddeford, Maine

Dear Reader:

I love old mill towns. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because I didn’t grow up in a mill town, I am fascinated by the novelty of an industrial-ish landscape. These manufacturing communities are cities, not towns, I suppose, but they are not cities of high-rise apartment buildings, corporate offices for national food chains and banks, and big shopping malls. These Maine city-towns have Main Streets, corner stores, local tobacco shops, and hundred-year-old bakeries; triple-decker apartment buildings that used to house the mill workers, big Catholic cathedrals with a satisfying Gothic flair, and a turn-of-the-century architectural style that for one reason or another sets my creative juices flowing; people who sometimes speak with the slight accent, still, of the St. George River Valley. I love it!

Across the river in Saco

When I lived in Westbrook, my daily walk took me past one of these slumbering manufacturing behmoths that had been built along the tumbling river that once powered the building’s machinery. Incidentally, I would also walk past the still-operating paper mill at the other end of Main Street. I would look up at the even rows of windows, the geometric simplicity of those windows and the pattern of red-orange brick, and imagine an earlier time when people walked from the neighboring streets to punch in to work for the day. They’d be carrying their tin lunch boxes. They’d be tired already, perhaps, at the end of a long week, or else young and cheerful and hopeful.

I’m sure I’m romanticizing the whole thing. That’s my nature.

Since moving even further south, I’ve spent time driving into Sanford, often routing past the empty, old textile buildings there and dreaming of how they could be repurposed. I even wrote two romance novels set in towns like these. Apparently, I’m a little obsessed.

From www.goodreads.com

Maybe it has something to do with Richard Russo. His EMPIRE FALLS is brilliant, of course. It is the story of a town and its citizens trying to come to grips with a new economy where manufacturing takes place in China or India or Mexico, and the people left behind at home buy the finished products and struggle to figure out what to do now. I loved EMPIRE FALLS. I recognized it. There is a kind of sad romanticism to these crumbling, quiet buildings. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham, they’ve seen better days.

Enter Biddeford. I’ve been to this small city many times in the past few years, taking the Teen to the orthodontist and myself to the allergist over near Southern Maine Med, but I’d only visited downtown twice–once to eat at a great little Indian restaurant, The Jewel of India, and another time to have coffee with a friend at the old mill building. So, on a sunny day last week, I decided to check out the refurbished North Dam Mill again–this time with my camera and a notebook in hand.

Smokestack Tower

The first mill established here in the 17th century was an iron manufacturing business. Eventually, large buildings were erected on both the Biddeford and Saco sides of the Saco River and workers flooded into the cities, creating a booming textile manufacturing center. Read about the history and see some great archival photos at the Maine Memory Network site.

Eventually the mills closed. A few years ago, developer Doug Sanford bought the property and re-purposed the wonderful buildings into retail, office, and living space. Click HERE to visit the Pepperell Mill/North Dam Mill website.

Art Outside the Mill

On this day, I take a few photos of the impressive smokestack near the parking lot and then stroll into the reception area on the main floor of building 18. The large hallway is dim, with its exposed pipes painted black to blend in with the black ceiling. An expansive red Oriental rug anchors two over-sized leather couches in a sitting area. Right near the windows of a small off-shoot of a hall, a tiny coffee shop wafts acoustic music and the aroma of fresh-ground java.

This is “Perk”…and while I sit at the narrow counter in front of the windows, a few residents drift in to order lunch or coffee. The young guy behind the counter makes pleasant chit-chat with everyone. His co-worker is busy making sandwiches or something. I hear clanging pans behind the music (Sarah Brightman, maybe?)piped in over the speakers

Outside the windows, I can see the river across the road, traffic zipping past, three guys hanging out near the benches and steel flower sculpture near the entrance. Neighbors chatting? I think so.

The entire place makes me think of a castle, the walls rising along the river and road like ramparts, the smokestack a watchtower. Inside are art studios and professional offices on this main floor. A sign beside me reads, “River’s Edge Wood Products: Showroom open on an appointment basis.” Upstairs floors are dedicated to apartments.

Exposed pipe against a white-painted brick wall

I can imagine living here. The exposed pipes. The high ceilings. The well-used hardwood flooring. Mostly, though, I love the idea of living within biking/walking distance to Main St. and all the great local stores and restaurants and the library. The Amtrak station is a short walk, as well, for trips to Boston and beyond. Living close to neighbors. Stopping for a morning latte at Perk.

Art in the hallway

This is a New-Urbanists dream! Click HERE to read about New Urbanism. Walkability. Diversity of purpose. Community and connectivity. Traditional neighborhood structure. Common space. I’d like to see a community garden somewhere here–maybe on the roof!

The Saco River

I took this picture from a little patio off the parking lot overlooking the river. The Saco side of the mills are across the water.

Windmill at the Mill

Isn’t the juxtaposition between the old water/coal-powered mill and the new, space-agey windmill great? To me this symbolizes the future . . . if we have the guts and willpower to transition to a more sustainable way of life. A way where we go back to our more densely-populated urbans centers, our Main Street stores owned by our neighbors, and our sense of community purpose while at the same time taking advantage of new technologies and ideas and art.

I want to wake up and smell the coffee . . . at places like Perk!

Who Is A Writer?

From Lesson One: Writing With Intention

Beautiful Blooms

How does a person become a writer? Who or what is a “writer” anyway? Is a writer someone who has been paid money to write? In order to be considered a “real writer” does someone have to be published? If so, in what kind of publication? Would a self-published blog be enough? How about a church newsletter? The local paper? A literary magazine? The NEW YORKER or some other national magazine? A book publishing company?

What about a student newspaper or literary magazine? Or a photocopied manuscript that you’ve bound yourself and given to your grandparents for their anniversary?

This is a question students ask (and all writers secretly–or not so secretly–ponder).

Stephen King in his great book about writing called ON WRITING says:

I don’t believe writers can be made, either by circumstances or by self-will (although I did believe those things once). The equipment comes with the original package. Yet it is by no means unusual equipment; I believe large numbers of people have at least some talent as writers and storytellers, and that those talents can be strengthened and sharpened.

Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES, does not give a definition, but rather asks the question “Why write?”

“Why do I write?” It’s a good question. Ask it of yourself every once in awhile. No answer will make you stop writing, and over time you will find that you have given every response . . . Yet it is a good and haunting question to explore, not so you can find the one final reason, but to see how writing permeates your life with many reasons.

She also says, “Don’t worry about your talent or capability; that will grow as you practice.”

Here is what I believe: A writer is someone who writes with intention.

When you write, you are present, engaged, explaining or exploring or describing the topic at hand. Not striving at first to write a great poem or story (although you probably will, eventually, want to edit and prune and expand and make it the very best your talent allows), but rather opening yourself up to the topic, reaching deep, getting to the truth of things. More on this later on.

A writer writes with a goal in mind, an idea that begs to be explored, or with a serious intention to create an image with words, to play with language, to see what you can do with the medium of words the way a sculptor creates with the medium of clay or a painter creates with the medium of watercolor paints. A writer likes to tell made-up stories (fiction writers), or wants to capture a moment in rhythms and imagery (poetry writers), or enjoys giving information in a vivid, complete way (journalists), or likes telling true stories about places, people, things (non-fiction, narrative writers, memoirists, diarists, etc.) A writer writes in order to see how a story or poem or narrative idea will turn out on the page.

This may sound serious (it is), but it is not so serious that it becomes a chore–at least not all the time. Because when you are a writer, at heart, writing is work and play at the same time. You may procrastinate sitting down to write. You may dread it. You may drag yourself kicking and screaming to the notebook or computer. In the end, though, when you get yourself down to the business of scribbling or tapping away, something magical happens. Your brain engages. You energy begins to flow out into words and sentences and images and rhythms. Time speeds up. If you come out of the zone for a minute or two (to stretch or have a drink of water–highly recommended, by the way) you realize, gasp! You are enjoying the process.

Maybe it is THIS that makes you a writer. We feel engaged, happy, useful, “in the zone” when we are doing what we are meant to do or have the capability of doing well.

To read the entire lesson, click HERE.

Your Soul On Paper

In her classic book about the scribbler’s craft, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg shares her philosophy of writing and the practical applications she’s developed over the years for getting words on the page, ideas into sentences, life into print. “This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane” (3).

Sane? Is she serious? Some days I think true sanity would be giving up writing altogether. I know from past experience, however, that no sooner do I officially “quit” writing than I am hit with the irresistible urge to begin again.

A word to the wise. If you ever think, “I could write a book. I have this great story idea . . .” then squash that thought immediately or you, too, may find yourself hopelessly addicted to this drug we call writing. Obviously, it is too late for me. I’m already hooked. While I can’t cure myself of my addiction, I can attempt to manage it. Enter, Natalie Goldberg and timed writing exercises.

Since this is January, the month we’ve designated as National Unreachable Goal-Setting Month, I went ahead and resolved to commit to daily timed writing practice, i.e. setting the timer on the stove and writing crap, er, thoughts in a journal for ten minutes every day.

Excuse me for being initially skeptical about the efficacy of this exercise. I’ve been a diarist since sixth grade, the year I filled a red, hard-bound book with adolescent gushings about one Patrick Tardy (not his real name). That particular journal went up in flames, literally, on New Year’s Day 1981 when I symbolically annihilated my love for dear Patrick by throwing the book into Dad’s Ashley wood stove down in the cellar and waiting for the pages to turn to ash. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned my lesson and was already showing classic signs of writing-addiction (not to mention romance-addiction). That same day, I began writing in another diary, this one blue with a gold clasp and a key. This artifact from days-gone-by now sits on the top shelf here in my office along with its myriad companions–assorted spiral-bound notebooks, black and white marbled essay books, pretty padded cloth-covered journals, and even one hunk of white, lined loose pages stuck into a manila envelope from the year I decided I couldn’t be hemmed in by bindings of any sort.

As if that made any difference.

Thirty years of daily writing practice, and all I have to show for it is a collection of truly horrible entries. No, really. Some writers may sit down with their beautiful Cross pens and their leather-bound journals and compose the most wondrous prose. Not me. My journaling is the equivalent of psychological diarrhea. All my angst. All my anger. All my frustrations and illogical worry and obsessions. Endless probing of emotional baggage. Repetitive questioning of motives. Tiresome analysis of relationships past and present, punctuated occasionally with some recording of actual events like what I ate that morning, how much I weighed the night before, and what I plan on cooking for dinner later on. My journals make BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY look like a deep and insightful literary masterpiece rather than the delightful, campy chick-lit novel that it is.

(Need I mention my increasing paranoia that I will unexpectedly die and someone–my husband, a parent, my daughter–might actually decide to read my journals? Shudder. I may have to look into buying a safe and instructing my lawyer that the contents are to be destroyed immediately in the event of my departure from this earthly plane.)

I have to ask myself: If journaling hasn’t helped me become a better writer yet, why do I think it will help me become a better writer in the future?

Journaling can be used as a warm-up exercise, a way to get those words and sentences flowing. Daily journaling means showing up with your writer’s mind on a regular basis, not just when you feeling “inspired.” Journaling is a mining exercise, spelunking both near the surface and down in the depths of the writer’s psyche. It provides raw material for future projects. It is also a record of the writer’s journey, regardless of where the writer ends up. It is a place to try on various voices without someone overhearing. It is a place to explore ideas, paste observations, create a mood, or paint a scene to use in a later piece of writing. In most cases, a journal of this type isn’t for public viewing. A journal is private. A journal is your mind, your heart, your soul . . . on paper.

The journal is what we make of it. At least, that’s what I’m gonna tell my students when I start up a teen writing workshop next month. First assignment? Find a journal and a pen you like. Set the timer for ten minutes. Write until the buzzer goes off.

If writing is an addiction, does this mean I’m a drug pusher?

Stay tuned for next time when Yours Truly goes spelunking in her new journal for writing material . . . Outside the Box.

Christmas With Kings

11/22/63

Dear Reader:

I woke up this morning to see snow falling outside, just a few light shards of sleety stuff at first but gradually expanding to big, fluffy flakes gently blurring the landscape and coating the dead leaves and still-greenish grass on my front yard. I plodded downstairs and turned on the coffeepot, wrapped a soft blanket around my shoulders, plugged in the Christmas tree lights, and curled into my favorite corner of the couch to read Stephen King’s new book–11/22/63–a time-travel tome, satisfyingly long and hefty. Reading King’s latest book has become a Christmas tradition for me. (When you are a Really Famous Author, your books get released just in time for the shopping season.)

My mother, God-bless-her, buys the latest Stephen King for me every year there is one, sometimes even stands in line at the bookstore in downtown Bangor to get me an autographed copy. When Joe Hill, King’s son, published his first book, she gifted me with HEART-SHAPED BOX. Another year, she bought Tabitha King’s BOOK OF REUBEN because I absolutely adored her novel of high-school hoops and adolescent angst, ONE-ON-ONE.

For my part, I used to buy Hubby the latest book in King’s DARK TOWER series for Christmas, and last year I found a published collection of “superhero” stories, WHO CAN SAVE US NOW?, to give to The Teen . . . edited by one Owen King (he also has a story in the collection), Stephen and Tabitha’s youngest son.

I guess in our house, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a King-family book under the tree.

I love Stephen King’s later novels. The earlier works were a bit gory and gross for me (but I read them anyway because once you start reading one of King’s stories, you really cannot put them down). My first was SALEM’S LOT. I borrowed it from my friend, Kara, down the road when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Because I suspected my parents might, for the first time, begin to limit my reading choices if they found out their young, impressionable, Christian-schoolgirl daughter was about to read a horror novel with lots of “swears” in it, I decided the most prudent course of action was to read it at night, in bed, under the covers with a flashlight.

I also had hanging on my wall a black and white poster of Scott Baio in his JOANIE LOVES CHACHI days. He’s not smiling, and he’s wearing a sexy leather jacket, be still my heart. (Kara also had a subscription to Teen Beat, and she liked Ralph Macchio so giving me the Scott Baio centerfold poster was fine with her). Needless to say, I loved Scott Baio, but by the time I was halfway through SALEM’S LOT, I had to take that poster off my wall because he looked like a vampire looming over my bed.

That book scared the bejeezus out of me! Last year I decided to read it again, to see if it really was that freaky or if I’d become hardened over the past thirty years. Guess what? It scared the bejeezus out of me again!

The newer King novels, though with their share of gross and gore and thrills and chills, are more meaty. None have outdone THE STAND, of course, but this new one promises to catapult the reader back to the “earlier, gentler” America of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Were things really so great back then, I wonder? I suspect King might put a different twist on it than, say, JOANIE LOVES CHACHI or HAPPY DAYS.

While I’m reading about time travel and JFK and Brill Scream (pun intended), you can catch page 7 of my humble Christmas story under the Fiction Corner tab.