Wednesday, December 27, 2023


more grief diaries

Hey there, friends.  This is another placeholder post for the end of this long sad year.  I'm still here.  And I'm working on my next book.  It's slow going but I keep adding to it and editing what I've already written, so I hope that someday it will be complete and ready to print.  It's the memoir I started before Ryan died, about painting and walking in the north woods of Maine, and the experience of reading Thoreau's Journal and The Maine Woods.  The book was underway and I was excited about it.  I felt like there was more than just a kernel there.  I had really begun.  I could see it.  In the winter and spring of 2021, I made a big push to finish my first memoir, Autobiography of an Island, about painting on Bear Island for all those years.  And finish it I did.  Then Ryan left, in July of 2021, and everything stopped.  Life changed forever.  Our time together, that often-joyous span of nearly thirty years, ended.  What I could pick up again was fragmentary, for two years.  It still is, in many ways.  And I am writing down those fragments.  The new memoir has become the story of us.  It has two parts - before and after - the book I wanted and meant to write, and the book I now have to write, because of what has happened.  I feel committed to writing our story, the story of us.  No one else will.  The purpose this project lends me is strong and bright, like Ry himself.  I hope it will carry me forward through the next part of my life alone.  I say alone, but Hodge is still here, and my close family and nearby friends, and the beach a mile or two from home.  I can't say I'm looking forward to anything, but there is love here.  And good work to do.  That's a lot.  Peace in the new year.         

Monday, May 01, 2023


grief diaries

Hi friends, it's been a long time, I know.  I'm writing today as a placeholder, for myself and for Ryan, because I don't want this blog to be deleted due to inactivity.  A brief life update: Hodge and I are living quietly at home.  I have a daily routine that keeps me in motion when motion is required and helps me be still when I need to be still.  Writing in my diary is one of the first things I do each day, after feeding Hodge his early breakfast.  We miss Ry more than words can say.  Tears arrive at some point each day, often several times a day.  I also have some good times, being with my sister and our family, my niece, and a few close friends.  Otherwise I spend my time alone, working in the studio, reading, and doing the necessary tasks of daily life.  Grief is ever-present but sometimes a whisper and not the whole shout of pain.  So much has happened since Ry died, it feels impossible to encapsulate.  I will say that a few things I've done have been specifically for him, and a few are ongoing projects I want to share in the future.  So I may write here again, about that.  Until then, thank you for reading my blog all those years, such good years, when we were able to speak about books and bookshops and library sales and reading.  I've read a stack of books about grief and bereavement, and they have helped that part of me which can be helped.  But there is a part of me now gone, beyond that kind of help, because the essential trouble is unsolvable.  When Ry left, half of me went along with him.  Who we used to be.  Who I was, with him.  I'm slowly learning to live with a new version of myself, and reality.  Enough for now.  Thanks for reading.  Peace, and gratitude for what we had, and what remains.

Saturday, October 30, 2021


the love of my life

We were deeply happy together, for almost three decades.  We met in our early 20s, and lived through so much, but not the summer of 2021.  I lost my dearest Ry, to heart disease, at the end of July on the night of the full moon.  How I miss him.  Beyond words.

Dennis Ryan King II, August 18, 1969 - July 24, 2021.

Ry.  My love, always and forever.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021


heat wave reading

It's too hot to think much, this morning.  The windows are shut since the temperature is currently just under 80 degrees in the house, but it's hotter outside and may be in the low 90s this afternoon.  A fan is pushing some air around, and Hodge is in the coolest place indoors, the north-facing living room.  He's flat, sacked out for the day.  I'm going to get a few things done and then join him, with a good book.  Current reading is as follows:

Yesterday was also revoltingly torrid, so after completing something momentous, in my little universe at least, of which more in just a moment, I sat for a few hours and read books.  I've been painting for days, and working on lots of other things, and had almost forgotten what relaxing felt like.  It was good to lose myself for a while and inhabit some other interesting places and times.  I re-read The Summer Book by Tove Jasson (nyrb edition 2008) from cover to cover:

I first read it when a dear friend found out I never had, and sent me this copy.  It's like nothing else I've ever read, except it holds a few shades of Gerald Durrell's memoir My Family and Other Animals, a book inextricably linked to my childhood, since my family and I read it aloud several times, on long car trips especially.  The Summer Book holds the same kind of hilarious/dreadful combination of events which aren't even truly events, just happenstance or life observed, in there alongside the over-arching theme of an oddly absent parent, which is barely explained, and yet the family carries on with life as it is.  I might re-read My Family and Other Animals soon, too, come to think of it.  It's perfect summer reading.

As is today's choice for a re-read: The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim (Macmillan 1900).  Certain books ask to be read again every few years, and this is one of them.  Gentle yet piercingly thoughtful, if memory serves.  She says (pp.1-2):  "I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life.  I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow.  Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls, they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick.  I shall spend months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests.... I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me.  Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace."

Sounds like heaven, although after the enforced solitude of last summer, I have doubts.  Solitude may have come easier for von Arnim than for most, seeing as how she was married to a count, lived in a schloss, and had servants.  I do not fault her for that (and I recognize how those very circumstances trapped her in certain ways), instead I enjoy the fact that she had time to write, and did write, very well.  Her schloss-life did not last all that long anyway, since the count created trouble for himself and lost everything.  The Elizabeth von Arnim Society offers a fascinating look at the ruins of the manor house and surrounds, as it exists today.

The other books shown are either finished or in process.  I just read In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (Flatiron 2016), and it was enlightening to discover the life story of the woman behind all those children's books we know and love.  I wish the book had more direct quotes from Brown's diaries, though, not just the one tantalizing quote at the very end of the book.  The Jed Perl anthology, Art in America 1945-1970 was a long long read, and utterly fantastic.  It took me two or three months to navigate all its 800+ pages, but it did what all great books should do - led me straight to more great books.  Since many of the selections he chooses are from other sources, and while I already own some of them, some I didn't.  But I do now!  At the moment I'm halfway through another recent arrival, retired pastor Rob McCall's collection of brief essays (and sermon-like commentaries) Some Glad Morning: Holding Hope In Apocalyptic Times (Pushcart Press 2020).  In the introduction he says (p.9):

"The world is gradually moving from dogmatic religion established by male hierarchies and based on supernatural revelation to open-sourced religion established by consenses and based on Nature.  We are moving with it."

Sign me up, although as always I have my doubts about the word religion.  There is something, though, something undeniable and sacred and I experience it when I'm outside, and I love it and feel at home there, and feel loved in return.  This is, in part, what my book is about, not just about painting, and the little island I stayed on for years.  Speaking of my book - this is the momentous event I would like to mark, and share.  Yesterday I finished working on the remaining details of my manuscript, and today I have turned over the whole messy thing - cover mock-ups included - to the lovely woman who will format it for me, so it looks like an actual trade book, and I can send it to the printer.  All this will take a while, but I hope to have copies in hand before the end of summer.  Another wonderful reason to get some lemonade from the fridge, put my feet up, and take the rest of the day off.  When evening arrives and the day truly cools down, Ryan will be home, Hodge will wake up, and we'll open the windows wide and watch the fireflies dance in the dusk.  They are out there, tiny lights in the dark, showing us the way.  Enjoy these hot summer days, they are so fleeting.  I eye next year's already-stacked woodpile with satisfaction, and think more than a little fondly of winters past and future.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


bookselling in the time of covid

A quick note this morning to say hello, and mention that I returned to my book booth late last week, for the first time in over a year.  The antiques mall where I sell books closed for some of the pandemic, then opened again, then closed again, than reopened.  Here at home I had a ton of books for my booth, from one of the last public events I attended, pre-pandemic: a library book sale during the first weekend of March, 2020.  In a fit of spring cleaning, I also culled a lot of books from my own stacks, and ended up with around fourteen cartons and assorted bags of books and other items to bring in.  It took me a few hours to clean and tidy up my booth (which was a sad mess), and shelve all the new books.  I remember how immaculate my shop used to be - first thing every morning I'd straighten the books on their shelves, touch the spines, put a few new things on display, and give everyone a pep talk as I opened the shop - and seeing my booth in a relative shambles was disheartening.  But throughout the last year I just wasn't willing to be in public places, stores especially.  The wonderful folks at the antiques mall understood and kept my little business going for me, while I stayed home.  It was good to be back, and have my hands on a lot of books again:

Ryan helped me get all the books inside, then waited, took a few pictures, and was generally supportive while I did my thing.  Business throughout the last year was slow but surprisingly decent.  And the owner of the antiques mall didn't charge booth rent for the times they had to close.  I made some money here and there, and enjoyed seeing what sold, and what would therefore live to be read another day.  Oh world of books, I miss you.  But the corner has really been turned in my life, from being a professional full-time bookseller to being a professional full-time painter (it only took a decade or so, to make that transition), and I don't think there's any going back now.  I still love and want to continue with bookselling, but my art life is ascendant.  I just brought sixty paintings to my primary gallery for my solo show there in June, and the gallerist would like even more for the remainder of the summer.  The second gallery representing me also wants more work.  Maine is about to reopen for business, and is one of the safest states to visit right now.  We could have a very busy season.  However, I'm going to continue to stay away from highly-populated places, and out of stores and other enclosed spaces, whenever possible.  Ryan and I both are cautious people by nature, and see no reason to take chances when we've made it this far.  I'm glad that painting is solitary.  It suits me fine.

This week I'm working at home, looking at the empty spaces left by the removal of all those objects last week - so many books, so many paintings - and wondering what will arrive to fill the space.  My instinct is to leave it empty.  I only have one book on order right now, which is supposed to be published next week, but other than that I have no desire to buy, just to continue with my spring cleaning, and clear out even more.  This is probably the residual effect of being cooped up for so many months.  I'm looking forward to more space, greater clarity, and the open horizons of summer.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


spring check-in

Almost the end of April, already!  As of now, I'm two weeks past my second vaccination shot, and just beginning to experience the first glimmerings of... I won't say normalcy, because who knows what that even is, but rather a quiet peaceful happiness.  One I usually inhabit, but which felt far away during the past year, and really throughout most of the last four years.  I won't write a lot today, but want to share the good feeling while it's visiting, along with this new little to-be-read stack of books:  

First and foremost, I just received the brand new Jonny Sun book in the mail, Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations (Harper 2021).  I loved his illustrated book everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (Harper 2017), not to mention the book of Lin-Manuel Miranda tweets he also illustrated, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You (Random House 2018), which is utterly charming and heartfelt.  I read his twitter account regularly, and love his highly-anxious-yet-positive vibe.  Now I'm over halfway through this new book of his essays.  Favorites so far are On yearning, On nostalgia, Staying in, How to cook scrambled eggs (which he should win some kind of award for, it's so odd and so good! like a storyboard for a perfect film short!), I am trying to decide if I should buy two rolls of paper towel or three, and Anxiety tax.  Some of the essays are one paragraph, or even just a few sentences.  Others are longer, and have line drawings and symbols accompanying them.  All of them allow us, the readers, a glimpse at the truths of his life, a life in which he experiences depression and overwork, and examines the nature of happiness, with houseplants, friends, and family members making appearances along the way.  Open and endearing.

My other books are all over the place, as usual.  The Frugal Vegan cookbook by Katie Koteen and Kate Kasbee (Page Street 2017) was a gift from my mother-in-law a while back.  I'm not vegan but have been mostly vegetarian for the past three/four years now, and after cooking for myself and Ryan for more than a year I'm very interested in learning a few new foodways.  The book has some good ideas and illustrations.  I'll at least have fun imagining them, even if I don't implement them.

The rest of the books I'm just dipping into.  I've started and stopped Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer several times and am determined to read the entire thing, soon.  What I've read so far is fantastic, but other books keep nudging her aside.  Her long essay The Serviceberry, in December's Emergence magazine, is deeply beautiful, and gives a taste of her writing style.  I also got a new book of poetry by local author Stuart Kestenbaum, things seemed to be breaking: visual poems (Deerbrook 2021), and a collection by art critic Dave Hickey, Pirates and Farmers: Essays on Taste (Ridinghouse 2013).  Hickey says on the front flap of the book:

"I advocate site-specific optimism.  Hope for a better tomorrow is delusional, but we can still look forward to the next few hours with a high heart."

On that note, which sounds a lot like what I'm feeling today, I'll sign off and walk out into this gorgeous afternoon.  I might even paint the flowers in the back yard.  The forsythias are a generous froth of bright yellow, and the dandelions and daffodils near them radiate almost the same color, against the fresh green of the lawn.  We heard the first hermit thrush of the year, last night.  Spring.  SPRING...!

Thursday, March 18, 2021


seeking permission

Another month!  Like the last, except slightly warmer!  I've been out painting (in the car, yes, but with the window rolled down), and birds of spring are returning to our yard (saw the first song sparrow this morning, under the cedars), and the snow is nearly melted away (some blue ghosts remain at the edge of the field).  I've set Thoreau aside for now; I never did finish Volume Seven of his Journal.  I'll get back to it another time, I hope.  From what I read in the Thoreau biography about how it progresses, I'd rather leave him here now, before he gets much older, darker, and sickly.  Perhaps around 3000 pages of the Journal is enough for one winter.  All in all he's been a most excellent readerly companion, over these last few months.  I opened my own diary at random to see if I could find a quote or two to illustrate this, but instead saw some passages I'd copied from Emerson's tribute to him in the Riverside Thoreau collection Miscellanies (snippets from pp.18-23):

"It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him.  He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own.  He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before him.  One must submit abjectly to such a guide, and the reward was great.  Under his arm he carried an old music-book to press plants; in his pocket, his diary and pencil, a spy-glass for birds, microscope, jack-knife, and twine.  He wore a straw hat, stout shoes, strong gray trousers to brave shrub-oaks and smilax, and to climb a tree for a hawk's or squirrel's nest.  He waded into the pool for the water-plants, and his strong legs were no insignificant part of his armor....  His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses.  He saw as with a microscope, heard as with an ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and heard.  And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that imparts, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind.  Every fact lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole....  His eye was open to beauty, and his ear to music.  He found these, not in rare conditions, but wheresover he went."

The essay-slash-obituary is very moving, however Emerson also says that Thoreau lacked the kind of ambition that he, Emerson, wished that Thoreau had possessed, so he could be a leader on the world stage, " for all America," rather than merely "...the captain of a huckleberry party." (p.29)  I tend to think, after reading many places that indicated as much in Thoreau's letters and writings, that Thoreau did not seek that kind of power, ever, and mistrusted it, and disliked it.  He looked and looked, but didn't see anyone like himself in literature, or politics, or even society in general, and subsequently traveled his own path.  And wrote into existence a new way of being in the world.

In his Civil Disobedience (also printed in the Riverside Miscellanies p.146), he says "I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad."  Take that, Emerson!  Also (p.156): "I was not born to be forced.  I will breathe after my own fashion.  Let us see who is the strongest.... I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society."  And that!  Phew.  And yet, here he is, in his life and writing: pointing, forcing the issue, attempting to open eyes wide.  Bracing stuff.

I always feel like there is much more I could say, and want to say, but there's only so much time, and we have to go pick up our grocery order soon, and then I have paintings to finish, in my studio.  So I'll leave Thoreau for now, in a stack of unfinished reading, with many bookmarks throughout.  There's a new stack at my elbow, as we speak, with nary a Thoreau title among the many:

Mmmmm, new books.  Nothing like them.  I ordered up a storm in January, and this is some of the fruit, to mix metaphors.  Let's look at two more closely:

Brand new, these ones.  I just got the Anne Lamott book in the mail.  And I continue to love all things Tom Cox.  His Notebook (Unbound 2021) contains various selections from his own handwritten notebooks.  I've sampled a few pages here and there and am about to read the whole thing cover to cover.  I can't wait - reading other people's journals and diaries is turning out to be a life-long fascination of mine.  I will also say that his work reminds me of Thoreau in some ways - especially in his book of nature memoir essays in 21st-Century Yokel (Unbound 2017).  If Thoreau collected vinyl records and wore bell-bottoms, which he might well have done, had he lived at a later time.  And I was going to say if Thoreau was edgy, because Tom Cox is, but Thoreau certainly was.  And if they both love cats (check), and music (check), and rambling the countryside (check), and the minutae of nature (check).  Anyway, read Tom Cox...!  He is high on my list of exemplary authors for all kinds of reasons, but one of the most recent is this: he recently granted me permission to quote him, in my own book.

Since finishing the book, my memoir Autobiography of an Island, in January, I've been doing something I should have started a long time ago: seeking permission to quote from various authors and artists.  In writing in general, I've always copied long and short passages from other people into my diaries.  I started keeping a commonplace book for quotations when I was around ten years old, and I have it still.  Here on this blog I've always had the habit of quoting others for purposes of review, or general adoration, or every so often, dislike.  I think that (most of?) what I've written falls well within the bounds of fair use.  But when something is going to be printed, in a book, the situation changes.  I want to use other people's words as chapter headers, and I want to quote the people I admire, within my text.  So in late January I made a long list, and started writing to ask permission.  Most publishers have an online submission process, which is fairly easy, so I completed a lot of forms, wrote explanations about my book, and sat back and waited.  So far, 75% of the permissions I requested have come back affirmative - yes, I can quote, with an endnote citation.  In a few cases, I paid to use the words I want to use.  They are worth it, to me, and I thought I'd have to pay a lot more, to be honest.  But again, most of what I quote does fall within fair use guidelines.  Some of it's even within the public domain.

The best part about seeking permission to quote has been being in touch with BOOK PEOPLE from all over the place.  Book people are wonderful, and I've missed them, since I "retired" from my own open shop, and from the world at large during the pandemic.  I've corresponded with literary estate executors, publishers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., archivists, and a librarian.  Even a record label, for a song lyric I hope to be able to sing, in print.  I'm only waiting now for a few final permissions to clear (or not - I did have one rejection, and had to rewrite two paragraphs), and the process will be complete.  Then I'll work on designing the book, or have someone else design it for me, and hopefully print it in July.  It would be earlier, but I already have a lot on my plate, work-wise.  No rest for the self-employed!  And gladly so.  When I rest, I don't rest.  I worry.

The only times right now I'm not worrying seem to be when I'm reading, or painting.  Thought - and anxiety - goes, and I'm in the moment, a place I dearly love to be.  So I work a lot, and read a lot.  When I set Thoreau aside, I re-read some of the novels of Ruth Moore.  She was originally published by Morrow, and now her work is being reprinted by Islandport Press, in wonderful softcover editions with cover images from the original first edition dust jackets.  Her novels about Maine are unsurpassed, in my opinion.  My favorites are Candlemas Bay and SpoonhandleThe Weir is a close third, tied with The Fire Balloon.  She has a gimlet eye when it comes to characterization, and so many of her people are unforgettable.  We know them.  She writes about families, and entire small towns.  The good people, and the bad seeds.  I ordered a few of the Islandport Press editions, even though I have most of her work in hardcover first editions already, just to support their endeavor, and to triple-check the quotations I'm going to use in my book, and the copyright citation.  The good folks at Islandport granted me permission, which I'm so grateful for.  I don't want to hide behind the words of others, when I quote from them.  I want to use what they say to illustrate what I myself believe and care about.  That's what I've tried to do - draw up a bucket from the great well of world literature and art and then offer a dipper to drink from.  Read the quote, then go buy the book!  Support the publisher, the author, and their heirs.  This is how books will continue to be written and published, by people who care about such things.  Us!

In closing, for today.  Requesting permission has another facet to it.  As I worked my way through my list of quotations for the book, I realized that the very act of asking for something has never come easily to me.  It's like asking permission to exist, in a way.  Calling attention to oneself.  Stating one's intent clearly, with no obfuscation: I want do do this; or tempered for politeness, I would like do do this.  Part of what my book has become, in writing and rewriting, is a statement of this kind: I exist, and do what I love to do, with no one's permission sought or needed.  It took me a long time to come to this place.  Decades, I'd say.  But here I am now, and it's a good place to stand.  The view is fine.  Almost Thoreauvian.  Until next time, be well, and... keep buying books.

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