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Archive for Patricia Erikson

My Affair with Henry and the Photo Shoot that Followed

As the one who’s always behind the camera instead of in front of it, my need for a new, professional portrait crept up on me this year. Charmed by Sarah Beard Buckley Photography‘s beautiful 50 Mainers portraits in Maine Magazine, I craved how she created environmental shots that capture the intersection of sense of place with personal identity. Since my pulse centers on Portland, I wanted to choose from the many scenic or gritty or architecturally fascinating locations. But where? My mind traced the trails and cobblestone streets and wharves until my mental tour arrived at Congress Street and stopped at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, the historic home museum of the Maine Historical Society. Yes, I’m talking about an affair with “Henry,” a Maine poet, dead for some 130 odd years now.

I discovered by age ten that “Henry” had seeped into my DNA. On a one-week forced hiatus from school, confined to bed with influenza, I decided to memorize the 88-line poem “Wreck of the Hesperus.”

It was the schooner Hesperus,
      That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
      To bear him company…
Those of you who know this poem know that the skipper probably shouldn’t have brought his little daughter. Things don’t end well for either of them “on the reef of Norman’s Woe.” Nonetheless, I was smitten by the melodrama of the trampling surf, sheeted ghost, bleak sea beach and the salt sea frozen on her breast (you really have to read it, it’s great stuff).
Weeks later, as a fifth grader, I performed the Wreck of the Hesperus in front of the whole school in what today we would call a poetry slam. Bruce Macomber’s intensely talented rendition of Casey at the Bat transported us all to Mudville and put me firmly in second place. (I forgive you now, Bruce).
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Although I lost that competition, my affair with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow continued. My mother, Joan, a compulsive and passionate gardener, belonged to the Longfellow Garden Club, a volunteer non-profit since 1924 that maintained the garden once established by the Longfellow family. She donated hundreds of hours of her time to organize, research, weed, and plant a garden worthy of the house’s history. Before she passed away, she became the Club’s President, a position that honored and intimidated her in equal measure. My personal relationship to that garden deepened when I graduated from the Portland History Docent Program as a docent trained to give tours at the Longfellow House, a volunteer service that I loved.
So, yes, the photo shoot had to use the lovely newly-renovated and rejuvenated garden of the Longfellow House. Thank you, Maine Historical Society, for allowing the photo session and for taking care of this treasure.
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Patricia Pierce Erikson, at the “Children’s Gate” entrance to the Longfellow Garden

Things to do: Residents of Portland visitors alike love to take their bag lunch into the Longfellow Garden or catch some private moments for reading and writing in the lush oasis. On Thursday, August 4, 2016 the Garden will host a poetry reading event.
Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Out of the Fog and Toward Manuscript Submission

House Island, suspended in fog

Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

As writers, we need guides to help us through and out of the fog just as surely as a seaman needs foghorn and compass. In my Jimmy Brackett manuscript, Jimmy must row from Peaks Island to House Island and onward across Portland Harbor to reach the shop where he works. He must use all of his skills and senses to pick his way from island to island and then reach the Portland waterfront, bustling with Civil War-era activity.

Like Jimmy, we all need stepping stones to find the way, reassuring strategies that help us see as far as our headlights can reach during our journey.

The reassuring stepping stone for me right now is hearing my mentor, Rachel Harper of the Spalding MFA program, tell me that it’s time to prepare the agent query letter and submit my manuscript. “This is what you’ve been training for. You’re ready to come out in front of someone. It’s a journey that’s not easy, but you’ve got to go on it,” Rachel said. I’m at that moment where it’s time to stop editing, time to let go of it. It’s time to find the bravery to take that next step.

So expect to hear more from me soon about one-sentence synopses and query letters. I’m grabbing the oars. If I want Jimmy Brackett to reach the mainland, I have to start the long row across the foggy harbor.

Find Your Retreat: Your secret hiding sense and place

retreat2An experience this weekend reminded me of the necessity for finding my “retreat,” that muse-infused space where magic happens. I don’t mean a formal “writing retreat,” complete with workshops and lectures. Although, those are nice, too. Find your retreat in a place that inspires you, connects you to a sense of wonder.

A shadowy porch, a flower-ringed garden bench, or a gloomy forest might offer what Robert Duncan called a widening of the world:

“…part out of longing,   part     daring my self,
part to see that
widening of the world,   part
to find my own, my secret
hiding sense and place, where from afar
all voices and scenes come back…”retreat3
I craved this place “where from afar, all voices and scenes come back” so I ran away this weekend to edit my Jimmy Brackett manuscript. Dear friends offered me respite for a precious 24 hours. I feel rejuvenated, renewed, re-energized.
I share photos from the weekend to encourage you to find your retreat. It doesn’t have to cost money. Go out and find that place, that corner, that view that brushes aside cobwebs and sets your writing free.

 

retreatWritten by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Aiming for Audience: How Peaks Island Authors Do It

Aiming for Audience event

Aiming for Audience event

In an era when many people are tempted to debate the future of books and libraries, it’s comforting to me that the discussion on Peaks Island centers more around how we can make our library bigger and better, and which authors are going to meet with the public next.

This week, I’ll have the pleasure of tackling the topic of  “Aiming for Audience” with a panel of authors, including Tom Bohan, Twain Braden, Mira Ptacin, and Chuck Radis. While we’re foregrounding magazine and journal articles, aiming for audience is something all writers should consider at the writing, editing, and pitching-for-publication phases. For that matter, it’s a topic that everyone should think about whether you’re a teacher, a politician, or a businessman.

Who are the readers that you are most interested in reaching? What do you hope to accomplish when you reach your readers; in other words, what do you hope that they will feel, think, discover, or do?

Peel yourself away from the beach or deck for a couple of hours and join us at the:

Friends of the Peaks Island Library Annual Meeting & Program

Thursday, July 30, 2015, 7-8:30 PM
McVane Community Center, 129 Island Avenue, Peaks Island
Refreshments will be served.

Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Where Munjoy Hill Memories Meet Masts of Tall Ships

 

Spanish Galleon Andalucia

 I have decided to watch the Tall Ships Parade of Sail from a corner of Portland most meaningful to me-Munjoy Hill. Here my Irish and French Canadian grandparents found a welcoming neighborhood to raise their two children. Here, a narrow strip of sand-East End Beach- fringes the toe of the Hill. I try to imagine the bathhouses and ugly wool bathing “suits” of my mother’s stories. With the legion of boats navigating the harbor today, I remember her stories of World War II war ships clogging the harbor and then disappearing during the blackout-curtained night.

From this lofty vantage point of Portland’s spine, it’s not hard to see why Lemuel Moody chose this as the site for building his Observatory, the multi-story wooden tower now one of Portland’s beloved historic landmarks.
 

Historic illustration of the Observatory

 This octagonal tower plays an important role in scenes from a manuscript that I’m editing this summer. My Jimmy Brackett middle grade reader tells the story of the Confederate Invasion of Portland Harbor in 1863. The Observatory hoisted flags to announce the approach of ships – carrying passengers and cargo – who were still approaching the harbor from many miles out to sea. I won’t divulge more of the drama around the caper of mistaken identities or the ship stealing that characterizes this novel. I will say that, unless you’re on board a boat, there’s no better place for viewing a Parade of Tall Ships or spotting Confederate pirates than Munjoy Hill and the top of the Portland Observatory. 

Ceiling of the Observatory’s dome

Streetcar named “Narcissus” has a new chapter

StreetcarNarcissusarticleIt feels good to write another chapter of a story, especially when the plot is headed toward a climax. Last year, I published an article in Portland Magazine about a historic Maine gem on the National Register, the “Narcissus,” a luxury, high-speed, interurban rail car on which Teddy Roosevelt rode in 1914. The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine curates this vintage vehicle and is renovating it in its steampunkish Townhouse Restoration Shop. This summer, Teddy Roosevelt Days – a July 31-August 2nd event – showcases the Narcissus, its relation to Teddy Roosevelt, and Roosevelt’s love for the Maine outdoors. Proceeds from the event will help fund the restoration project.

Since I published the article last year, the Teddy Roosevelt Association and the National Park Service (Sagamore Hill site) have partnered up with Seashore Trolley Museum and the museum has been awarded restoration funds from a national railway society. Bibliophiles will love the early edition Roosevelt books up for grabs in the silent auction, as well as the book signing events featuring authors Chip Bishop, Andrew Vietze, and Joshua Reyes.

You can read more about the restoration project of the Narcissus at www.narcissus1912.blogspot.com

Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Chasing Muse: Finding the “Wild, Silky Part of Ourselves”

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Reaching the summit in the Saddleback Mountain Challenge. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

People pay good money to chairlift up a mountain in civilized fashion and then ski down for pleasure. I just paid to snowshoe straight up 2000 feet in single-digit temperatures to brave a gnarly descent. But, then, I’m not a mountaineer, I’m an island writer chasing a muse.

When I shuffled to the starting line of the Saddleback Mountain Challenge an hour earlier, racers appeared in a motley assemblage of equipment that reflected their strategy. Most wore Randonee skis adorned with “skins” that could be removed at the peak, allowing a rapid descent. A few people wore snowshoes with a snowboard strapped to their back; their descent would be swooping, graceful. One man wore two halves of a snowboard strapped to his feet, halves that would be reunited, presumably, once he achieved the peak. And then came the smartypants distance runner — one of two women in the pack and the only one outfitted with just snowshoes to wear, both up and down — that’s me. Halfway up the mountain, I reconsider the wisdom of entering this challenge; wind-driven ice cements to my hair and face, and bounces off my fingers, bare and hot from exertion. What was I thinking?

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Brown hair turned white in Arctic conditions. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Reaching the peak, I pass a number of racers who stop to switch their fancy gear to downhill mode. One-two-three of them. I wonder: do they admire my strategy of using the same gear for the entire race? Nah.

I yank on my coat and gloves, pull up my face guard, and lumber onto the mountain’s shoulder. My left ear loses feeling to the flesh-freezing wind, no doubt casting me even more as the Bride of Yeti. Then I reach a point where the race route narrows to a two-foot wide shelf, little more than the ridge of a snowdrift. As if on cue, I stumble onto the precipice. A normal audience would gasp as my center of gravity plunges over and back from the edge, but the ski patrol sentry quips, “Nice catch.” That’s high praise up here.

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Running across the peak on snowshoes. Photo courtesy Saddleback Mountain.

Finally, I stand alone at the top of the designated downhill route, a narrow chute. It’s name: Muleskinner. I try not to take the name literally or conjure images of how it might apply to me. But, if this route were a highway, the sign would flash orange neon letters “Go back, 50-60% grade.”

Given the promised first-place prizes of season ski passes for the winning man and woman, the racers ahead of me are pushing hard; I just want to survive. Avoiding last place would be a bonus. Descent on snowshoes: my strategy faces a crisis. Facing this downhill reminds me of facing a blank page, or worse yet, a manuscript with extensive need of editing. I don’t want to do it. What am I afraid of? Falling? Getting lost in a snowbank? Those rank as givens today. I decide I’m most afraid of not finishing. I abandon all pretense of sanity and step over the edge, on purpose this time.

To my shock, the deep, fresh powder has been scoured away by wind, leaving porcelain-smooth white ice disguised as snow. My snowshoes respond by rocketing downhill, spinning me sideways. There is nothing to grab, nothing to stop me. Channeling my five year-old self, I sit down hard and push my snowshoes out in front of me. With buttocks serving as my snow-tubing device, I shoot straight down Muleskinner, stopping in an explosion of deep powder. Able to stand again, I run downhill until hitting another porcelain plate of ice. Repeat the sit and slide until powder impact. Stand and run. Midway down Muleskinner, a couple of the guys that I had passed on the peak, pass me–one of them with graceful swooshes, the other guy resembling a human snowball.

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Reaching the finish line. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Why am I doing this? It wasn’t until after I crossed the finishing line (looking indeed like the Bride of Yeti), after I had driven back to Portland and reached home by ferry, that I read Mary Oliver. Only then did I find words for what I was doing on Saddleback Mountain–I was taking care of the “wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem [and, I would add, no writing] can exist.” Oliver describes this inner muse as a “mysterious, unmapped zone” that “comes before everything, even technique.” She warns that “It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.”

This is what I fear more than Muleskinner. That silence within.

In “Wild Geese” Oliver writes, “You do not have to walk on your knees, For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Seriously? Does this mean I didn’t have to grind up and down that flesh-hungry mountain on snowshoes to find my “mysterious, unmapped zone”? Mary Oliver would probably say that I could discover beauty in the everyday world around me. But, no, on this day, I needed the mountain to shatter a deep silence, to shake the silence apart the way the wind knocks rime ice from evergreen needles and casts the shards into the howling spit of the storm.

 

Thank you to Eleanor Morse and my fellow writers in the Sudden Fiction group for sharing Mary Oliver with me at the moment I most needed it and to the staff of Saddleback Mountain for running a first-class ski area with the biggest heart I know.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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