Holding on and Letting Go: A Year in the Life of a Book

“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?”
~”Seasons of Love”, from Rent

Ann with the first book I unpacked

“I love the song “Seasons of Love,” and I remember humming along with it  well before I ever saw Rent.  The opening lines came back to me when I began to think about how to measure my first year with a published book. Was it really only a year ago that I had my opening reading on a cold February night at Zu Coffee in Annapolis? Cliff Lynn and Rocky Jones emceed the evening, with Cliff introducing the readers and Rocky providing music with his bongos. So many of my friends came to cheer me on, and I have special thanks to each of them. To Grace Cavalieri for her unfailing support and belief in my work, to Laura Shovan for her keen insight and good ear, and to Debby Kevin for her help with marketing and promotion.  My children were there at the first reading–Brian took care of video taping the reading and Christella sold the books for me so that I could talk to people while I signed copies for them.  The evening was magical, and I was humbled to have so many folks attend my first reading and buy my book, The Altar of Innocence.

I think that I could perhaps measure the year in friends–old friends who have celebrated with me and new friends that I’ve met while doing my readings in Baltimore, Annapolis, and DC.  To begin the list, I want to thank three good friends who are part of the meditation group that has become such a valuable part of my life.

Jane Nitsch and her husband, Gerry Cohee, have been steadfast in their support and love.  Jane and Gerry invited me to read my poems as I was shaping them and they offered both critique and support in a safe atmosphere. Additionally, they hosted my book party last May, graciously opening their home to many other friends who attended  my reading party. Thank you, Jane and Gerry.

Renee Rogers is another friend from the mediation group. Her special contribution came in the form of beautiful bookmarks that she designed and produced as party favors for all of the guests. The bookmarks are elegant and graceful, and now I give them  as a special treat included with every book I sell. Thank you, Renee.

Barbara Morrison invited me to read with her and to design a program  exploring memoir using our poetry. The program is called “Looking Back to Move Forward,” and we explore the themes of innocence, secrets, and burdens that emerge in both of our books. Barbara’s book, Terrarium, looks at her life through the lens of place. She does an amazing job of capturing both the joy and the sorrow of childhood as she leads readers to her favorite childhood haunts in Roland Park. Thank you, Barbara.

I want to thank all of the wonderful people who have come to my readings and shared their stories with me. It is deeply humbling to write a book that delves into difficult personal and family issues–alcoholism, depression, and verbal abuse–and to find that my stories touch my readers’ lives and create a bridge of experience that we can share. No writer could ever ask for more.

Here’s a shout-out to all of my guest-bloggers who have so faithfully contributed their talents and stories, helping to expand my readers’ horizons with their fresh perspectives. Here’s to Patricia Van Amburg for her thoughtful guidance as my critique partner and for the many hours she has worked with me to refine my poetry. Here’s to Peter Brunn of New Day Campaign, who invited me to be part of his work of using the arts to end the stigma around mental illness and addiction.

Christella and Brian, Christmas Eve in Hamden
Christella and Brian, Christmas Eve in Hampden

And lastly, here’s to my wonderful children, Brian and Christella Potts. They have always believed in my work and encouraged me to write poetry when no one else thought I could. Most importantly, Brian and Christella encouraged me to resist the urge to censor my story. I am so grateful for the advice that they both offered: “Mom, no one can tell you how to make your art.”  Thank you, Brian and Christella.

How do I measure my past year?

In friendships, and laughter, and fearless abandon. It was all about love.

Enjoy the music!

Hope and Gratitude: Tools for Moving Forward

When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I found a card with a wonderful quote by Emily Dickinson that I used to fuel me through my darkest days:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all – “
Bird and flower
 That quote sprang to my mind as I looked around at  the many tragedies occurring around the world that shake our faith in humanity. The bombings and murders in Paris, the police brutality in our cities and schools, and the continuing tragedy of the millions of homeless people in our midst. As the old saying goes, there’s plenty of tragedy to go around. So how do we hold on to hope?

Somehow, we find the hope and the will to go on. One way that people often respond to tragedy is to create informal memorials to remember the victims and to comfort their families. In Paris, memorials sprung up all over the city and the glow of candles still shines as if to blot out the darkness of despair. Churches and social service agencies offer housing and meals to homeless people. Right here in Columbia, Maryland, Bridges for Housing Stability offers assistance for families and individuals who are in danger of losing their homes or who are already homeless.

And just this past weekend at Baltimore’s Center Stage theater, Anna Deavere Smith presented her one-woman show, Doing Time in Education, The Baltimore Chapter. Smith has traveled around the United States interviewing politicians, educators, prisoners, mayors, psychologists, and students about their experiences with education. In her one woman show, Smith offers us a panoramic view of the problems we face in our schools by sharing the voices in our community.  The performance was powerful and thought provoking.

But more than Smith’s amazing performance, Center Stage offered the theater-goers an opportunity to discuss the issues raised and to dream of what we might do as a community to change and improve our schools for all of our children. Each group of theater-goers had a facilitator who led them through a brainstorming session where we discussed what we can change and what we can’t change.  What can we change? Class sizes, arts programming, opting out of testing were just a few of the ideas. As for what we can’t change, I agree with the person who said, “Nothing!”

Smith’s one-woman-show explored the difficult and serious issues of the school-to-prison pipeline and the many faceted needs of urban students, families, and teachers. At times, the weight of the problems was profound. Yet, a theater full of people from all walks of life had come together on a sunny Sunday afternoon to pool their collective interest and ideas–and hope filled our hearts as we walked out into the city.

So where does gratitude come into this narrative? As I drove home from the theater, I listened The Science of Gratitude Radio Special narrated by Susan Sarandon.  One of the most striking facts that I heard was related to the value of shared experiences. According to the research, people are more likely to be generous and express gratitude after experiencing a shared experience than after they receive a gift. For me, hearing that confirmed the magic of the afternoon that I had just spent with my daughter and my two friends at Center Stage. We had shared an experience. The positive energy in the theater was infectious and inspiring. That alone inspires me to feel hope and gratitude as we move forward to face our challenges.

Enjoy the poem by Emily Dickinson. May it increase your hope. May you feel gratitude for the uplifting thoughts.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers” (314) by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.