Grace Street reading at North Adams Public Library

Grace Notes #8 – Summer 2022, On the Road

June 2022 was a glimmeringly beautiful month here in New England, and I was occupied with taking Grace Street “on the road” for readings and the engaged, sometimes tender discussions that followed.

Like with any good road trip, we collected photos along with way to share with you.

From the cheerful (hello, Covid creativity!) book-club-in-a-garage in Reading, MA to the charming Roasted Granola Café in Arlington, from a book group meeting beside Follen Pond in Yarmouthport to the “living room” of my hometown library for a summer evening with friends new and old, I continue to follow the “kite strings” the story sends out and to appreciate the people and places it is introducing me to.

(Lovely book club meeting in Reading with one member joining on Zoom!)

As the month of July took us into a summer heat wave, I attended the International Women Writer’s Guild conference (IWWG.org), held this year at Endicott College in Beverly, and participated in the book signing table and conference Book Fair, run by Copper Dog Books in Beverly.

What an incredible opportunity to meet women writers from around the world!

One highlight was meeting author Susan Tiberghien (https://www.susantiberghien.com) from Switzerland, a stalwart member and generous teacher of IWWG.

I also had the privilege of sharing a signing table “shift” with Laura L. Engel (https://lauralengel.com) from San Diego, author of You’ll Forget This Ever Happened: Secrets, Shame and Adoption in the 1960s, and to talk with her about a heartbreak in her life that led to a wonderful reunion and later became this beautiful book.

The July newsletter of the IWWG featured an introduction to Grace Street, as well as the work of my old colleague, Cape Cod poet and visual artist Anne Ierardi (https://anneierardi.com), whose beautiful collection Coming Alive just won an Indie Award!

Next up for August are a few weeks of “down time” and a delicious visit with the littles.

This window of time always feels so special—a time of pause—pausing to play, pausing to drink in beauty, pausing to just be with the folks we love. Like the pauses Tony and I grabbed during the Grace Street story that felt “like vitamins for our relationship.”

(Our littles, from summer 2021. They are even bigger now!)

And speaking of pauses and of vitamins for the spirit, have you started to make some pages at the start of your day? It is certainly MORE of a challenge to do these days, as we are bombarded with the news and with life responsibilities, than it was years ago for me when I was writing the pages that became Grace Street.

But if anything, my hunch is that the benefit of taking the time now may be even greater because we, with our poor overtaxed nervous systems, are in even greater need of PAUSE time, time to reflect. Remember, if you are trying to pick up a writing practice, to not make it a “should,” but to think of it as a little massage for your brain, a little time out to check in and ask, What’s on my mind? What’s on my heart?

Grab that cup of coffee—mine is iced these days—and instead of picking up your tablet or phone to read the latest Incoming, take half an hour instead to create some Outgoing messages, to yourself. There are many, many online resources for journaling. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a classic if you’re a book person. Another excellent resource that includes some writing prompts is the work of Boston-area writing teacher Kendall Dudley, (http://writeyourvividjourney.com).

I have hardly mentioned grief in this letter, yet I think I am urging this way of working with our selves precisely because there is so much to be grieving these days in the greater world. Not to write only about that, but to create a place to put it rather than numbing it out. And as we write our own private personal thoughts and reactions, we often come upon our own private personal ways to respond or act. Which just helps. It can also help to buddy up with someone, the way you would to start a walking practice. Not to read your pages, but to share: Did you do them today? How’d it go? As our Turtle Studios coach Kate Ransohoff used to remind us, and wrote in her book, Elijah’s Palace: “Alone is not the way.”

One question/comment that has come up in more than one Grace Street evening: “I want to write, but am in such a place of grief, I can’t. I’m frustrated.” If this resonates with you, consider broadening the meaning of what it means to write. Can you simply open your notebook and jot words as they come? Make lists? Or clusters of words? Or quick sketches? Then close your book and consider your “writing” for the day done.

Or don’t do it at all. Instead, read, or meditate, or walk, or noodle around on an instrument, or kneel and weed the garden. The “product” is not important. The shift that you undergo when your brain is making something—even a list of what you want to do that day—is where healing can happen. Proceed with utmost gentleness. Napping or staring at the sky are just as beneficial.

And finally, warm congratulations to the recent participants of the Edith Wharton-Straw Dog Writers Guild Residency at The Mount. I attended an afternoon of readings on the great porch at Edith Wharton’s former home, and was touched and impressed with the works these writers shared, which grew from their week-long residencies last March. For more information, go to https://www.strawdogwriters.org/blog.

(Back row, left to right: Jody Callahan, Ella Jacobson, Yasmine Ameli. Bottom row, left to right: Jessice Provenz, Dashaun Washington, Cheryl Isaac. Missing were: Elyse Durham, Liana Mack, and Sarah Wang.)

Enjoy these late-summer days, friends! And as always, thanks for reading.

– Maureen

P.S. In this edition of Grace Notes, we’ve included more links to resources & authors. If you have a preference of Yea or Nay about including such links, please shoot us an email: mcsmith@maureencallahansmith.com. Thanks!

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