Monday, August 24, 2015


the fog days

The end of summer.  Ho hum.  For the past week - or ten days, I've lost count - the sun has emerged so infrequently that I'm starting to forget what shadows look like.  Because around here it's been fog, fog, and more fog, slowing everything down, leaving droplets of moisture on window screens, blades of grass, the cat, us, and all the leaves just beginning to turn from green to... sigh... all those other colors.  Curtains are damp.  Books are damp!  Everything, including my brain, feels a little rusty.  I need to dig up the potatoes in the garden, but am waiting for a sunny dry day, which feels like an impossibility right now.  In short (The Letters of Horace Walpole Volume VII):

"I feel all sorts of feelings, none comfortable..."  (p.43)

However, I did not mean to write today about Horace Walpole, even though my reading in his voluminous Letters continues.  And, need it be said, I would not still be reading them for all these months if I didn't find them utterly compelling, and downright great reading.  But:

"...I will now be methodical, for you want information, not a rhapsody on my sensations."  (p.197)

Instead of more words from Walpole let's mention a few forthcoming books.  Because, for three of my favorite authors, publication is imminent!  An exciting state of affairs!  One that gets my brain working again and even puts a spring in my step, when I think about fall and those most wonderful of all wonderful things, new books.  Lots of links forthwith.

First out of the gate, or rather off the press, is volume one of the new illustrated memoir from writer and artist Susan Branch.  It's being printed as we speak and will be available in a few weeks.  The Fairy Tale Girl (Spring Street Publishing 2015) is available for pre-order right now at a reduced price on her website, and if you leave a comment on her current blog post you have a chance to win a copy.  Volume two of her memoir will be coming out in the spring.  To say I am looking forward to reading this, culled from her voluminous diaries, is a wild understatement.  As I've said here before, her charm factor is off the charts.  She is so charming that she should be totally insufferable!  But no!  Instead, like everyone else who reads her it seems, I adore her - she is real and funny and altogether delightful.  I wrote about her last memoir A Fine Romance two years ago, here.  A self-taught watercolor painter, cookbook author, and writer, great appreciator of wonders small and large, self-publishing her own story in her own way.  I can't wait to read her diaries and find out more about how she got this way.

Next, my other favorite painter-writer Vivian Swift has recently been blogging again, after a long time of not doing so, and her new book is due out in the early spring.  But I mention it now because it too is available for pre-order, and besides, it looks too good not to.  The title alone really gets me - Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler's Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening (Bloomsbury 2016). I loved her other two books (I wrote about her first book here).  In fact I still browse in them, often.  From the glimpses I've seen on her blog, this new one looks equally wonderful.  She too is a self-taught painter, and her blog is full of really good step-by-step tutorials on how she goes about her business.

Finally, this will surely be a huge bestseller because why in the world wouldn't it be - Elizabeth Gilbert's new book is due out in a few weeks.  Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books 2015).  I read her facebook page from time to time and love many of the long essays she posts there, along with her little snippets from this book.  I'm really looking forward to reading the whole thing, since I've found that books which bolster creative strength are invaluable when you find yourself, oh, say, facing a blank canvas over and over again.  When I just can't face it (it happens, even though I love it), my favorite thing to do is read about how we humans manage to go on, in art and life, and summon the courage to do the work we are surely meant to do. 

All three of these authors help answer that question, and their books are food for the hungry.  Or, should I say, lighthouses in the fog, to return to the situation at hand...

Monday, August 17, 2015


the dog days

Here we are already - shadows lengthening, crickets singing, summer on the wane.  I am doing end-of-season chores such as having the furnace cleaned, attempting to get on the chimney sweep's fall list, and ordering extra firewood.  A lot of what I wanted to do this summer remains undone, and the mere thought undoes me even a little more.  However, at least I do not have a beloved dog who is mortally ill.  As does Horace Walpole (Letters Volume VI, p.490):

"...I must quit my joys for my sorrows.  My poor Rosette is dying.... I have been out of bed twenty times every night, have had no sleep, and sat up with her till three this morning; but I am only making you laugh at me; I cannot help it - I think of nothing else.  Without weaknesses I should not be I, and I may as well tell them as have them tell themselves."

Dear Rosette.  They went everywhere together, for years.  As he says in an earlier letter, about preparing to bring her to a princess's country house party (p.244):

"...Rosette is fast asleep in your chair, or I am sure she would write a postscript.  I cannot say she is either commanded or invited to be of this royal party; but have me, have my dog."

She even saved his life one night, as chronicled in another letter (p.232):

"You know I always have some favourite, some successor of Patapan.  The present is a tanned black spaniel, called Rosette.  She saved my life last Saturday night, so I am sure you will love her too."

She barked and barked at the roar of a chimney fire, and wouldn't let up until Walpole discovered what the trouble was, summoned aid, and kept the house from burning down (note to self - contact chimney sweep again).

I haven't even gotten yet to the part in the Letters when his French correspondent Madame du Deffand dies, and leaves him (along with her papers) her dog, Tonton.  Oh Patapan, Rosette, Tonton (the last immortalized on a snuffbox, even).  The pathos!  These, added to the descriptions of the deaths of many of Walpole's long-time human friends, bring tears to my eyes as I read.  It's tragic stuff, truly, as Walpole's heart gets broken again and again, it seems.  But love and loss are inseparable, and besides:

"...the evils of life are not good subjects for letters - why afflict one's friends? why make common-place reflections?"  (p.440)

We shall instead smile again as we look forward to the coming weeks, since:

"...September is a quiet month; visits to make or receive are over, and the troublesome go to shoot partridges." (p.393)

While not planning on hunting game birds any time soon myself, I am still in the thick of art exhibits, prime painting weather, and other sundry activities, and hope to return more regularly here soon.  With more words of my own, not Walpole's?  Well, I'm halfway in to Volume VII, with still a few more volumes to go in this set, so I'm sure his name will crop up again.  Until then, please:

"...don't think I write merely to tell you that I have nothing to tell you." (p.252)      

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