Cynthia Williams is getting personal with her writing. She’s making it her business to write about people’s personal lives, their families, even their pets. She calls it “writing personal histories.”
Writing personal histories is a real business, and it might have been conceived by Cynthia, herself, for it is only a whisper away from the broader narrative history she loves best. Cynthia often says that a nation’s history, indeed world history, is merely the sum of the personal histories of the individuals and families of that nation and our world. And now she proposes to begin writing them.
“For decades now,” she says, “people have been increasingly interested in exploring their family trees—even their own DNA—but what’s the point if you can’t share your discovery with those who share your history?”
Having a professional storyteller assemble all the bits and pieces into a beautifully crafted narrative would be the finest gift you could ever give to your loved ones and to future generations of your family. Your story can be told in any form you can imagine: in book form, filled with imagery of all kinds; as a e-book, also with imagery, along with the voices of family elders and children telling their parts, and with music to heighten the mood; and/or in video form, so that generations from now, your great-great-greats can see their ancestors telling the family history. You might even wish to have a beloved pet immortalized in a child’s picture book for the little (and big) kids who mourn her or him. As Cynthia says, the possibilities are limited only by your and her combined imaginations.
There is no better time than right now to think about both your past and the future. What you will pass on to your descendants? What do you want to say to them? Does it matter to you, or to them, that they know who you were, who your parents and grandparents were? Cynthia Williams thinks it matters. Because your history is, in microcosm, the history of our nation,. and without knowledge of our own history, we are neither a family nor a nation, but only swarms of rootless individuals wandering about in ignorance of our past and without the tools to build a better future.
We, the Pen Women of Southwest Florida, have been busy over the past year and have reaped many rewards for our endeavors. On the following pages, we have shared some of our accomplishments with you.
But then, you know…the world stopped. Like people the world over, we are all inside now, looking out at empty streets.
That’s okay, though, because as artists—whether visual artists, writers, musicians, fine craftsmen, or filmmakers—we are, by nature and of necessity, observers of as much as participants in life. And, seclusion being necessary to a greater or lesser degree to our work, we have not been stifled by ostracism.
On the contrary, we are busy doing what artists do; each of us is trying, through her art, to distill from this human comedy of errors, from this drama of suffering and loss, the essence of what it is to be human—right now, right here on this smalling planet that is once again and forever teetering, like a drunk, between the dark night of self-destruction, and morning, alive with promise and birdsong.
In the following simple, yet gut-wrenching poem, our past president, author jd daniels, has distilled what is to her now, in this strange time, the essence of silence. It is to her not beneficence, but absence.
She wrote it, she says, at the request of her sister.
April 10th, 2020
She texted and asked me to write something about silence
–the silence that brings unexpected fear when you go out your front door for a walk under gray skies and there are no people anywhere
–the silence that you hear when no cars or trucks drive past
–the silence that is so all-encompassing that you jump when your tennis shoe lands on a small paper wrapper
–the silence that you taste like half a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
–the silence that makes your nostrils asked to be rubbed
–the silence that you feel deep in your soul.
–the silence that makes you shudder when a bird flies low and lands in a tree branch just beginning to develop its leaves while its tune hints of promise.
Please, sis, write it for us and send it so we can save the words for when our neighbors are free to come running across the street to give us hugs
–for when cars are so plentiful in front of our house we shake our heads in wonder
–for when our large family flood the town park for a summer picnic
–for when laughter fills our home after one of us makes another mistake in Mahjong
–for when Kay and I once again crave an hour of silence after all the kids leave with their Easter baskets in their hand
their sticky fingers having left their mark on the fabric of the dining room chairs
Recognize the colors on her studio palette in her painting?
Barbara’s painting is done in a cold wax/oil medium, and is pictured here on a 48″ x 33″ board. It is titled, “Resurrection Power.”
Barbara has also published a book with the same title. “It is non-fiction,” she says, “addressing the stronghold of fear. True life stories overcoming fear of snakes, deliverance from panic attacks, fear of succeeding…”
It’s linked here to Amazon, if you’d care to grab a copy. No better time than now to address our fears.
Something else just came in from jd daniels: “Lest you think I’ve been laying on my lazy butt doin` nothin`, I am attaching the first three paragraphs of my synopsis for my latest novel, No Circle So Perfect.”
Taken by surprise, Matlacha, Florida, artist JESSIE MURPHY receives a two-hundred-and twenty-five-page manuscript in the mail with this note: We’ve never met. You’ve most likely never heard my name. By the time you get this I may be dead. I have cancer. I no longer want to be an ostracized member of the family. I want my story known. Would you read this please? I am your aunt. A real human being. Is wanting you to know me too much to ask?
Reluctant, resenting the time it will take, Jessie begins to read. Soon she is hooked by an intriguing, frightening story that is stranger and more mysterious than she could ever imagine.
It’s the 80s. Thirty-eight-year-old JORDAN PILLAI is vice president of the school board, a devout Christian and a noted hostess of parties married to a professional man who provides her with a luxurious lifestyle. Behind the façade of her busy and privileged life, Jordan is aware that she loses track of time, that often a friend will mention something she did that she doesn’t remember doing and even more often she experiences unreasonable fear of others and sex. At other times, she has an overpowering desire to be a writer and to return to college to complete an interrupted degree. Giving into that urge, calming the anxiety the decision causes her, Jordan signs up for a creative writing course at a nearby university.
jd’s book is in its final revision, so it will be available soon. We’ll let you know.
This just in from Ellen “Honey” Costa and Gay Cable. Both are exhibiting their works of art in the new Bokeelia Art Gallery on Pine Island. Ellen is seen here welcoming guests to the grand opening.
The gallery is closed now, of course, and not expected to open until the fall of this year. However, the Pine Island Eagle did a story on this island favorite, newly acquired by Carol Garske.
As soon as the gallery reopens, we’ll take you inside for a look at Ellen and Gay’s displays.
More prizes for Cheryl Fausel! (And we suspect this is just the tip of an iceberg.)
December 2019-January 2020: The National Founders Exhibition at the Von Liebig Museum in Naples selected only 90 from among the 1000 entries for their exhibition and Cheryl’s magnificent painting, “The Loschwitz View” was one of them. Rightfully so, wouldn’t you agree?
But wait. There’s more.
Cheryl is holding a blue ribbon up to her painting, “One Step Forward,” winner of the Merit Award at the 12th Biennial National Art Exhibition! Held at the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda, FL, February-March 2020, the show attracted 537 entries, from which only 150 were accepted. Cheryl’s work was not only one of the 150, but it won a blue, blue ribbon!. Rightfully so, in our opinion.
Cheryl has described for us, as beautifully as she paints, her life since the world slowed and quietened and paused in a sort of holding pattern.
“Here it is, right from the heart, a bird’s eye view of what it’s been like entering this most unique and frightening time of my life. At first, after being so busy with teaching, prepping for teaching and doing all the other social accommodations life throws at you, my first thought was, wow! I can now paint with no distractions and whenever the mood moves me. That was not the reality, though. I found it difficult to settle into the role I had chosen for myself. I started reading, and reading, and reading…something I don’t get to do when I am painting every spare moment. In between the reading there was the napping. I just said, well, I’ve been working so hard for the last few months, I need this.
“I had to push myself to go the studio and set a goal. Instead, I reached out to various friends around the country and around the world, connecting during a uncommon moment of change. Trying to feel grounded.
“Slowly I was able to put brush to paper, and I finished two paintings started months ago. I then set about working on a project I had wanted to tackle for months—a series of florals that I would be mounting in a new way for me and at the same time learning a new technique. Slowly the motivation took hold again and 6 weeks into quarantine I find myself accepting this new normal and going forward.
“At the same time, I started to hear from all sorts of creative friends, artists, writers and students about their difficulty in just getting down to work on the creative process in spite of having all this new-found time. I could at least add comfort and say, “You are not alone.” This seems to be a phenomenon experienced by many!
“These are my two latest paintings created while in quarantine. This how I, a non-gardener, grow flowers.”
The assertive power of these flowers is a clear statement of Cheryl’s state of mind at this time, and of her spirit. Like a night-blooming flower, she has, in quarantine and exile from her family and friends, blossomed in bright, bold, shocking color.
We who know her are not surprised.
This little poem seems is perfect for the times we are living in:
stop wasting time my love
living in fear
it’s time to live in a way
that could light trees on fire
Poet Lorraine Williams is not one to mope around under any circumstances. Here’s what she’s been doing during the quarantine.
“One of my most important weekly joys is to run a Zoom meeting for our writing group here in SWFL. It is wonderful to connect and give positive critiques. We have even found that from one week to the next poems “talk to each other” and the writing grows from there.
“I am also in a weekly Women’s Literature class that originates in San Francisco. Since my summer in California is on hold, it is terrific to see members of the group I was part of and delve into the stories assigned by our professor.
“Of course, I am always writing and editing and find it a help during sheltering in place.”
Sheltering in place and writing is, after all, what writers do best. Lorraine is happy to share with us two of her poems written while in quarantine.
Full Moon 5 a.m.
Out of night’s black envelope
beams the moon, full of itself.
Alone, at the top of its game,
it dominates the sky,
diffusing a pearl-like sheen
wherever it shines.
Slipping silently toward the horizon,
hoping no one will notice,
disappearing into the
blue mask of morning.
Moon has been up all night,
watching, keeping an eye
on fevered Earth, consoling
stars who blink back tears.
Moon knows it will return
for the night shift, a little diminished,
giving all the light it has to give
to our ailing planet, Mother Earth,
pulling tides, wave after wave,
making all things whole,
in the oncoming darkness.
I am a rock, I am an island,
I touch no one and no one touches me. Simon and Garfunkel
The problem is I am not a rock,
I am nerve-ending needy.
A voice, a smile…images transmitted speak from screens…
my granddaughter at one
reaches for me inside the phone pleading
I want to smell her baby scent, cuddle her close.
In a class in gallery mode onscreen,
I am pixels transformed across a continent
in a virtual room with others I used to sit next to.
Calls are made by appointment so we
have something to look forward to,
to mark the day on empty calendars.
Connect with family, friends, a series of virtual hugs.
I hear touch in our voices. Tones soothe and
settle like candlelight and soft music…
like distant bells marking matins and vespers.
Like hands on a clock that once touched,
I have become digital, a pulsing blip on a screen.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
Lorraine Walker Williams
One of our newest members, artist Susan Lindsey, has sent us an update on her year-to-date accomplishments, along with her thoughts on the subject of “Creating Art in 2020.”
“The year 2020, for me professionally, started out on a high note. I won two national awards in 2019 and in January of 2020 I was granted signature status in the Oil Painters of America, a goal I had been a long time working toward.
“My aspirations for 2020 included a portrait of my granddaughter, Wren. I had been working on the idea for some time and had photographed her in several different settings to further develop my concept. The idea began when I read that a female fetus had all it’s eggs fully developed by five months gestation. This means that at one point, pregnant with my daughter Sarah, I held the “seed” of my granddaughter within me. My mother held the seed of my daughter. The finished painting, “The Promise” speaks to the hope of life continuing forward, the connection to the past and the path to the future.
“The events of 2020 have led me to think that art is essentially always about connection. We all hunger for a sense of connection, to the natural world and to one another. The Covid-19 pandemic has required us to sever some of those meaningful connections. Perhaps art is more important then ever in providing good motivation to keep working amid all the distraction! It has been hard to concentrate, but I am back in my groove and working on a series of still lifes.”
This first painting that Susan shares with us is a reminder, to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, that October will come again.
And here is Wren.
Pen Women of Southwest Florida are proud to count Susan Lindsey among our members.
In art therapy, the mandala is a powerful tool. Learn how to use it in a three-day, 23-hour course taught by Carol Thayer Cox, MA, ATR-BC-Retired, REAT, and Amy Bucciarelli, MS, ATR-BC, LMHC in Fort Myers, Florida, April 17-19.
A weekend retreat filled with music, mandala-art making, meditation, and the nourishment of meaningful learning is the perfect springtime refreshment of mind, heart, and soul.
Carol Thayer Cox, art therapist and writer, found her own emotional therapy in the nature poetry of Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, who has been compared to literary giants, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. Oliver’s passing early this year deeply affected Carol. As Oliver would have done, Carol gave voice in a poem to her emotion and the revelation that Oliver’s death brought home to her. The Messenger was published in this summer’s edition of Pen Woman Magazine. To fully appreciate Carol’s tribute to Mary Oliver, you may wish to glance first at this fine description of the renowned poet and her work.
Photo of Mary Oliver by Angel Valentin, New York Times, 2013