For most of the Pocono calendar year, beauty is just shouting at you non-stop. Fall is a wall of color, the winter snows dazzle. Spring and summer....well, we all know what show-offs they can be. Right now, however, autumn has ended and the only thing jumping out of the landscape to catch your eye is the random sculpture made by some bear eating last week's trash.
This time of year you've got to look carefully for signs of natural artistry. Yesterday I was carrying my camera around because I want to take a photo of the single white duck that's taken up residence on a neighbor's pond. Although I walked over there a few times, she never glided near enough for a good close-up. The leafless trees looked forlorn and the grass was already brown in spots. Then just before 5 PM, I happened to go out again when the setting sun had transformed the sky into the work of art pictured above. Yes, it's here. Beauty has not abandoned us.
You can't turn around these days without running into a ghost walk or a haunted house. While ghouls are obviously big business (especially during a recession), the presence of departed souls is very real to me, especially at this time of year. It's not just the mist that rises along the river, or the way the wood smoke haunts the cool fall air. There is a mysterious energy that seeps into the shadowed places around us; it soothes more than it scares.
To celebrate this time when the spirits feel so close, Pennsyl Pointe is sponsoring "Echoes of Souls" a reading on Sunday, November 1st, at 2 PM at Artefino Gallery, 16 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. Five Pennsylvania writers will read work that explores the ways the dear departed continue to dance among the living. Works will include original fiction and poetry by writers from Pennsyl Pointe and the Liberties Scribblers group in Philadelphia.
To make the event a little more special we will also be making a community "ofrenda". This is a collaborative artwork that looks like an altar but is actually made up of objects that commemorate the lives of loved ones who've passed on. If you would like to have an object included for someone you've lost, please drop it off at Sellers Books and Fine Arts (101 Broadway) or Artefino Gallery and we will place it in the ofrenda. You can pick up your object after the reading.
Well, it's happened. The trees decided to throw a party. Of course they had to put on their wildest colors before the rest of the guests arrived. In Albrightsville, where I live, the leaves are really stunning. Yesterday I stopped at a nearby lake to snap a few photos. The picture at the right sums up the season's beauty. It's a great time to write. I hope some of these trees are still dressed when we have our Journal Writing Workshop on October 27th-28th. (See www.poconowriters.com). People will delight in the experience of writing in the woods regardless of what happens to the foliage. But if the trees keep this up, no one will leave the workshop feeling uninspired.
This is also the first of the Fall Foliage weekends in Jim Thorpe. Although the leaves there really haven't changed colors yet, the town's full of free music, good food, and autumn revelry. Last night I finally went on the Ghost Walk to hear more stories about the spookier aspects of the town. I recommend it for the first-time visitor. Part of what makes the town so attractive is the strong sense that it has never been abandoned by the spirits of the past.
The trees can't come to an agreement. Some of them still think summer has a little life left in it. Today the weather is on their side. The sky is bluer than Paul Newman's eyes and the Rose of Sharon is still heavy with flowers. Opposing these optimistic plants, we have the elms which are shedding their red leaves at a dramatic pace. Although it's clear that fall is gaining the upper hand, the brave flowers above continue blooming. By the way, the color in that photo has not been enhanced.
All this variety makes autumn a great season for writing. The Pocono Mountains boast incredible beauty at this time of year. I'm hoping we'll still have some foliage and sunny days during our upcoming Journal Making Workshop at Graystones Preserve. We will be working with participants to help them make personalized journals they can use for their own creative projects. I'll be teaching with Randall Sellers and Debra Dick, two accomplished colleagues who have been making exceptional art for a long time. The dates of the workshop are October 27th and 28th. You can check our new website at www.poconowriters.com to get more information on the workshop and Graystones Preserve. Graystones is a spectacular 3800 acre nature preserve just outside Hickory Run State Park.
Autumn is arriving with the determination summer lacked. Already the elms are shedding their leaves and the air has a crisp edge to it. My beloved frogs look like they're shivering whenever the sun turns its attention to some other corner of the pond. Fall usually inspires me but I feel like the summer passed too fast and I'm not ready for the cool weather.
To shake off the doldrums I've been working on plans for an October journal writing workshop I'll be offering with two other instructors at Graystone Preserve. Our intent is to offer a 1.5 day creative experience that teaches participants how to make a beautiful personal journal complete with calligraphy, sketching, and high quality writing. My fellow instructors are Debra Dick and Randall Sellers, both talented artists in their own fields. I'm excited about the prospect of teaching this workshop in the gorgeous environment of Graystone, a 3800 acre preserve adjacent to Hickory Run State Park. The place is filled with wildlife and spectacular scenery. The truth is, it will be a treat to be there even if autumn is coming along too.
It's been an incredibly busy summer and I can't believe September is already here. August flew by like a hungry raven. Once the sun came out, there was not much time for writing. I spent much of the month trying to spruce up the pool area at Pennsyl Pointe. For a long time, it had been a neglected part of the property so I decided to do some painting and planting to restore it's value as a social gathering spot.
To help speed the process, I threw a party one glorious summer Sunday. Guests included friends, neighbors, and family members. We had live music (by Raffi and Zion), great food (made by many exceptional cooks), and carried out a group creative project. Using a stack of ancient windows that had been left here by the former owner of the place, we gave everyone the opportunity to make a painting for our poolside "gallery". Painters ranged in age from six to seventy years old. A few days later we also hosted some visiting "artists" from Toronto who added more works to the collection. This was so much fun I think we may repeat it at a future date. You can see a few samples above. That party was unforgettable thanks to the contributions of all our participating artists.
Now that the weather has improved, writing indoors has lost some of its charm. Pennsyl Pointe has about 3.5 acres of grass that needs regular mowing. It's also surrounded by tree-lined roads that make you want to walk until your toes give up. In fact, it's so beautiful here that it's hard to leave Carbon County at all. Coffee on the porch is my idea of an inspirational journey.
However, I did make an exception last week to spend an evening in Allentown with Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson -- and 10,696 other people. Stadium concerts never appealed to me much but this one was great. The three craggy legends all played in Coca Cola Park, a pretty nice minor league baseball stadium. The crowd ranged from adorable three year olds to aging rock fans who looked like they'd keep clapping as long as they could stay awake.
We met great people. We sang along with some songs: "I fight authority, authority always wins!" It's tough to sing along with Dylan since he isn't very melodic. Plus he sings his songs any way he wants -- deliberately screwing with your radio memories. It's like listening to someone do a cover of his music. For the faithful he sang "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower". He also did a lot of tunes from recent albums like "Love and Theft". I had a great time that night. Once we got back in the car, I fell asleep like the old chunk of granite I seem to have become.
I hit the publish button before I had a chance to post this illustration of Randall's work in the blog entry below. The piece that accompanies this brief post is titled "Raven". Here is the link to Randall's website
Yesterday the weather was perfect for a drive. So I hopped in the car with a friend to make the trek to New York City for an artists' panel featuring Randall Sellers, a very talented Jim Thorpe artist. In addition to having his work featured in New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) -- where he was speaking yesterday -- Randall's pieces have become part of collections at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Musuem of Art and other very fancy places.
Apart from his serious talent, Randall possesses some noteworthy virtues. His talk was by far the funniest and most straightforward of the artists featured yesterday. His profession has not forced him to adopt that goofy, self-concious attitude so common to New York artists. Pretentiousness becomes a lifeboat many artists jump into when they are afraid to let their skill speak for them. Randalls's really quite a nice guy with a great sense of humor. He's also been very supportive of writers I've invited to Carbon County by providing a site for readings and workshops. A visit to his website ()will allow you examine his incredible drawings for yourself. Or go to his store at 101 Broadway in Jim Thorpe and see them first hand.
For Proust it was the madeleine, for me the lilac. The sight of one takes me back to the yard behind my childhood home. When my mother needed milk or bread she sent me to Kline's store, on the street behind ours. The shortest route to Kline's passed through an alley of thick grass separating our yard from theirs. At the edge of Kline's lawn was a mammoth lilac bush that filled the air with scent and bee buzz every spring. Mrs. Kline was a gracious woman who adorned our lives with candy and kindness. Every once in a while she'd hand me my change and say, "If you want to take a few lilacs down for your mom, go ahead."
I was always a champion flower picker. Permission to take some lilacs was a free pass to paradise. Even now I find them hard to resist -- whether they are in some stranger's yard or growing wild along the highway.
Last night, as I walked the streets of Jim Thorpe, I made the loveliest discovery. From the middle of Broadway to the top of town, the entire avenue smelled of lilacs. That perfume is a sure signal that you're not in Philadelphia or New York, not Pottsville or Reading. You are on the main street of one of America's best small towns and, at night, the entire length of it smells like lilacs.
This past weekend I was privileged to participate in a dismantling ceremony for a beautiful piece of art in New York City. The work we took apart was a wonderful Rangoli created by Indigo Raffel, an environmental artist who has created many murals, labyrinths and natural sculptures around the U.S. According to Wikipedia, Rangoli is one of the most popular art forms in India. It is a form of sandpainting decoration that is used commonly outside homes in India. The term rangoli is derived from words rang (colour) and aavalli ('coloured creepers' or 'row of colours'). The motifs in traditional Rangoli are usually taken from Nature - peacocks, swans, mango, flowers, creepers, etc. The colours were traditionally drawn from natural dyes made with the bark of trees, leaves, and other organic substances.
Indigo's Rangoli was made using rice, lavender, frankincense, rose buds, pink peppercorns, juniper, mirrors, lentils and glass drops. If heaven has a scent, it might well be what we smelled as we swept the rangoli materials into small baskets. Part of the design was made with sticks that had been blessed by members of the Cabecar tribe of Costa Rica. They undertook this ceremony as a gesture to help heal the pain of the people of New York City after the 9/11 attacks. After we took the Rangoli apart, we fulfilled the wishes of the Cabecar people by planting the sticks into the soil of lower Manhattan near the edge of the Ground Zero site. The entire process was very spiritual and solemn. But there was joy in the house as well. The art had been on display in the museum of Trinity Church, a beautiful sanctuary in the financial district of lower Manhattan. The church yard was wild with the color of hundreds of tulips, cherry blossoms and daffodils. A wedding was underway while we engaged in our work. Just after we completed the last task, the strains of the Wedding Recessional sounded throughout the church and we caught a glimpse of the just-kissed bride's bliss. What a day!
The ice has finally melted off the lake and it's been over a month since I gave myself the time to sit and write a post here. This is no way to run a creative life, but with all the uncertainty in the economy, I was eager to take on more work projects from my clients. The March/April tidal wave of left-brain activity stole some of my creative energy. A freelance writer or artist needs to take advantage of work opportunities when they arise because you really don't know what will happen next month. Nurturing your creative life -- while you work additional hours -- is never easy.
One good rule is to take at least one hour per work -- in between other labors -- to immerse yourself in some kind of creative experience. Yesterday I managed to spend some time meeting writers at Pottsville's Block of Art celebration. Just listening to a few great poems helped to revive me. Before the last lines were read aloud, I was swooning under the influence of good metaphors. Here is a weblink for Lester Hirsh, one of the poets whose work helped rotate my tires.
When I end up in the grip of unhappiness, I try to right my ship by reminding myself how lucky I am to live in a place as beautiful as Carbon County. The other day I was struggling with some very sad memories that would not release their hold on me. Finally I took myself out for a walk along the roads that border the Mud Run Creek. Pacing those trails, my mind began to quiet down until I could feel, once again, what a gift it is to live here.
Lately geese have been returning, reminding me that all wintry emotions eventually give way to new journeys and brighter days. A couple of mallards have taken up residence on Henning Pond. They patrol the border of the water, searching for food and a place to raise the baby ducks that will arrive once spring wins its duel with winter. Birds of all kinds have come back to the pines, bringing old squabbles and new songs with them.
Down the hill in Jim Thorpe, the whole town has given itself over to the wearing of the green. Sure it was St. Patrick's Day, but all that green isn't just about shamrocks. It make you think of growth and new beginnings. Yesterday, the streets were filled with bagpipers and people decked out for fun. My mood was lifted by the bright skies and marching bands. Happy friends and some excellent folding chairs made for a special afternoon. It was a great opportunity to take in the Irish energy that lies at the heart of Jim Thorpe. Overall, it was the kind of day that makes you feel lucky to be alive.
After much organizing, re-organizing, and endless worry, we managed to throw a wonderful party at the Suzanne Roberts Theater last Tuesday night. 12th grade students from Mariana Bracetti Academy had a chance to discuss their senior research projects with Philadelphia notables like Pedro Ramos (former managing director of the City of Philadelphia), Joe Bordogna (former Chief Operating Officer of the National Science Foundation), and the Honorable William Greenlee, member of Philadelphia City Council. Wait, did I forget to mention the accomplished women at the party? Juanita Figueroa, pathbreaking Latina community activist was there along with Debbie Kahn, Director of Delaware Valley Grantmakers, and Linda Jacobs of the Nelson Foundation.
I could make a longer list of who was in attendance but my words can't capture the incredible sound of the crowd's conversation. The air just seemed to crackle with energy and ideas. It was great to see our students talking about their research with adults who were eager to share their professional knowledge. The Action News team from Channel 6 even showed up to take some footage of the event. They got a few shots of the newly famous Barking Bulldogs who played background music for the guests. If there are cuter musicians in the world, I have yet to meet them.
Snow, or the prediction thereof, has foiled our grand plan for tonight's Brazo de Oro Foundation party with students from Mariana Bracetti Academy. Who could foresee that a winter which brought only one measly snowstorm to Philadelphia would deliver a Nor'easter on March 2nd? We may have been stopped this time, but we will reschedule the party for a date in the near future after we consult with our partners at the Philadelphia Theater Company and Primo Catering.
Meanwhile, although the Philadelphia storm delivered far less snow than predicted, the Poconos got a nice big helping. I could barely get the car out of the driveway.
The remarkable thing about creative expression is its resilience. Before you've learned how to multiply and divide, you have the ability to tell a story. Long after your blurry vision has forced you into a pair of reading specs, you can write a poem. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that believed in early artistic training. My sister and I were taking piano lessons before we were tall enough to ride a roller coaster. Every summer we took arts and crafts classes that taught us how to create things in different media. It took a long time to finally figure out what kind of career I really wanted to pursue. But in my professional life, I've continued working to help promote creative educational opportunties for young people.
These efforts led to my involvement with the Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School in Philadelphia. Years after helping to found this school, I am now seeing the tremendous fruits of that labor. Next week we are having a party to celebrate our students' accomplishments and introduce them to professionals from a wide variety of careers. The reception will be held in the Suzanne Roberts Theater on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts on Monday, March 2 from 6-8 PM. Youth musicians from MBA will be performing that night. They call themselves the Barking Bulldogs. I can't wait to hear them. Tickets are $25 and proceeds go towards helping the school provide college scholarships, technology and educational programs for students in 6th through 12th grades. Come out and help us celebrate!
Today was the day for a real Pocono treat. Before I had my coffee I could hear the chain saws humming in the mournful key that tells you someone is cutting ice. Since the top two or three feet of Henning Pond was frozen solid, the saws groaned for about an hour as they sliced out a slab big enough to let the Polar Bears jump into the water. This year the Polar Bears included about 30 crazy swimmers decked out in nutty costumes. The real festivities began at about 1 PM when the first candidates leaped into the water. There were lots of older guys who obviously spent the winter growing nice big beer bellies. Then there were some younger guys dressed as Blue Man Group and a few teenage girls in tutus and bikinis. A bunch of little kids in front of me kept yelling: "Do a belly flop, we want to see you throw up!" There were lots of bellies and a few belly flops. But the crowd did not get to see anyone throw up.
Parking lots at the local restaurants were overflowing last night. The bars are packed with skiers and holiday tourists toasting winter's final 3-day weekend. The slopes of Big Boulder and Jack Frost are full, even though my once white lawn is beginning to show some grass around the edges. When the tourists take over my favorite local spots, I like to get out of town and be a tourist elsewhere. Today I'm taking a ride to Schuylkill County to see an art exhibit in Pottsville at the newly renovated Many Worlds Gallery. It's a nice day trip from Pennsyl Pointe. Last month I wrote an article on winter day trips. Here's a link to the piece which appeared in Blue Mountain Moments, a Carbon County publication. I'm hoping today's trip gives me a little material for my next piece.
Snow. It’s coming. White, fluffy, thick, heavy. It’s down batting over concrete. Where’s the sidewalk, the road? It’s comprehensive. Birds hide, Trees shake. Cars and fences disappear. It’s blameless, pure -- absolution for the city, adornment for the woods. It’s a school day on the couch, hot chocolate and cartoons. It’s a back ache, a collision, wet shoes. At night, it's a blanket that quiets the streets and sweeps our dirt beneath a pristine rug. By Sunday, it will be an urban memory, drowned in slush. But in the Poconos, it’s a tale that never ends. A childhood friend, an engine’s enemy. Whatever it is, it wakes me up and moves my pen.
Last week I spent a great evening talking with some creative artists from around the region. It's amazing how every artistic medium is changing in response to the growth of the Internet and its many communication tools (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Like online technology, our conversation moved very quickly and in a thousand different directions. One result of our chat was that I made a commitment to learn more about the online works my friends are developing. Click here for a link to a blog for Angie Jordan, who happened to be part of this conversation. I confess that she is my cousin, but she is also an award winnning artist and a pioneer in the field of digital caricatures. Michelle Gallagher, a Carbon County writer was also there. We're both looking forward to my writing workshop in Jim Thorpe next Sunday. Check out the flyer -- Angie used her gifts to create my logo!
It's snowing steadily here in the Poconos and the skiers are happy. The sight of snow can be awfully inspiring (more about that later) but it does keep a lot of us stuck in our houses during the cold winter months. For those who don't ski, I've been organizing a different kind of activity to get you off your couch. On Sunday, February 8th, from 1 pm to 3 pm I'll be teaching a writing workshop at Sellers Books and Fine Art in Jim Thorpe. This workshop is intended for writers of all skill levels -- from writers who would like to learn more about the craft of fiction to those who are just getting started. The fee for the workshop is modest: just $10 bucks (about what you'd pay for a movie ticket and a Coke). If you'd like to learn to write (or just get better at it), please check out the workshop. You can get more information by calling (570)722-1680 or by writing a comment here and including your email address. The location of Sellers Books is 101 Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA.
Albrightsville and Philadelphia, PA, United States
When I'm not whizzing up and down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I am writing. I may be out on the porch writing short stories at Pennsyl Pointe. Or I might be in my tiny Philadelphia garden typing madly to meet a deadline. But if, at any given moment, you bet your annual salary that I am scribbling, you are likely to win your wager. If you have a writing query for me, feel free to email me at email@example.com or snail me at PO Box 591, Albrightsville, PA 18210.