Susan Holloway Scott meets Project Runway


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Soon after meeting Susan Holloway Scott this week, the best-selling author of many historical novels including her latest, The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr, I went to her Instagram account. There I found a treasure trove of Project Runway-perfect inspirational photos. Not only does Susan delight in crafting stories about historical figures, she posts lots of artwork. She’s attracted to pictures of women, often wearing clothes of either great richness or great simplicity. I couldn’t help but imagine the designers on Project Runway running away with ideas inspired by the frocks in the many paintings she selects. The dresses themselves tell a story.

Great examples are “The Painter’s Honeymoon” by Frederic, Lord Leighton, c1864, “Lille Marie on Neky’s Arm” N.P. Holbech, 1838, and Kehine Wiley’s 2012 “The Two Sisters.” Thank you, Susan, for sharing these images with us.

Billie on the Street


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About the most fun I’ve had in a while was eating dinner with friends and talking about the goofy Netflix show starring Billie Eichner called “Billie on the Street.”

He absurdly approaches a random woman on the streets of NYC, camera crew in tow, waving a dollar bill, screaming at her to “Name two people!” Somehow it is hilarious to see victims become paralyzed when talked to in this abusive manner, even when it is simply to “name two people.” He really means any two people, such as “Mom” or “Joe.” You see their panic as they realize it is as simple as it sounds yet they cannot make themselves calm down enough to come up with the names of two people. I mean, even saying, “the milkman” would probably suffice, but even that is impossible for these ambushed deer-in-the-headlights people.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t also be terrified. Being abused verbally is not actually funny. It is truly terrifying. But in the spirit of the old comedian Don Rickels, Billie Eichner insults and abuses for a laugh. He’s angry and rude and screaming, impatient with the world and particularly, you.

Because of the humor, I can see his actions as a social experiment. He exposes the truth that we freeze up when treated badly, lose our heads and have no sense of the moment. Become ineffective and weak. Powerless. He shows us that no matter the content of the abuse, we are vicitms simply by virtue of it.

Fighting back is an option, but few people on this show have the presence of mind to do so. That’s why, I guess, we had a hilarious dinner, topping each other with one silly “Billie on the Street” story after another.

“You can hide behind words” – Tara Westover


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When Tara Westover said that as an author she can hide behind words, I knew exactly what she meant. It’s easy to use figurative language to suggest an idea and then let the reader bring what they will to it. In this way, we as authors invite individual interpretations of universal themes.

It may seem like we are saying something particular, but in truth by using metaphors and other rhetorical devices we only offer a suggestion. Then the reader embellishes. We have hidden what we really think or how we really feel in this way, especially if we aren’t even sure ourselves.

I sat in on a discussion of Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir, at our local library and watched as various participants presented Tara’s work as evidence of various positions on the nature of evil, power, and denial of the past.

I love how powerful words are.

The Big Mind Break at The Lodge at Woodloch


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If I could have taken a picture of my daughter and myself outdoors in the infinity hot tub, in the woods during a snowstorm, peering out across the forest where deer were nestled in from the weather, to the view of the frozen lake beyond, I sure would have. But, as you can imagine, I just couldn’t manage a camera at the time.

Besides that unique experience I learned to ice fish! No mani-pedi’s for me.

And start fire by rubbing sticks together! 







The Lodge at Woodloch, in the Poconos, was a spa full of deligthful surprises. It was worth the splurge to be there because not only did we have the fun of these physical outdoor activities, we enjoyed some unique indoor fun, too. Here we are on The Great Wall of Yoga.

Once our brains were well-perfused we sat in on a small-group discussion of “apologies.” A social worker led by describing her cancer experience and how her first doctor, who missed the signs and the diagnosis, seemed to be avoiding her. Missing apologies, accepting apologies and how to move on if you’ve decided not to accept an apology were all brilliant points if you ask me since these are issues of everyday life.

The big mind break of thinking in different ways and learning new skill brought a joy I didn’t expect. This gift to my daughter seemed like it might be loaded with the kind of activities I enjoy only in small doses. But the thoughtful variety of things to do and experience were exactly what I appreciated in this January trip to the spa.

The Writer’s Journey


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By the time I reached adulthood I knew not to trust anyone. I knew to take things seriously. Not to say out loud anything that mattered to me. Not to expect anyone’s help. To be leery of people who wanted to help. To leave my body if I needed to.

I have been compelled to write the story of my unusual childhood, and now eighteen years after starting my project, I have an agent and a completed manuscript that’s making the rounds at various notable publishing houses. Join me next Tuesday night at the Brandywine Valley Writers Group where I’ll lead a discussion on The Writer’s Journey.

I’ll be using Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work “a best-selling guide to getting your work discovered,” to help me describe my own path. I’ll be using his points to make my points. He says that work, or in our case, writing, “is about process not product and that by being open and freely sharing your process you can gain a following that you can then use for fellowship, feedback or patronage.”

My own process has been slow for good reason, and I’ll talk about the hurdles we all face in trying to move forward in the seemingly solitary pursuit of “being an author.”

Meet us at Ryan’s Pub in West Chester, PA at 7:00pm to join in the conversation about The Writer’s Journey.

Throwing plates at the wall


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Whatever was on my father’s mind was rarely a secret. Unless it was a secret, of course. Both my parents were masters at keeping secrets. Common everyday concerns, like how they felt about me, for instance, was worthy of a trip along with them to their graves. Oh, they tried to come up with plausible feelings, but I don’t think they knew how they felt about much.

Their feelings popped out unexpectedly at times.

They didn’t fight. At least not in front of the kids. Oh, they did bickering pretty well, and complaining, and Dad was especially good at deriding, degrading and humiliating. But I was shocked to learn, that during my childhood, Dad would get so mad he threw plates at the wall. That’s what Mom said, and I believed her because it definitely sounded like Dad. But I never saw anything like that. That was a secret.

It was no secret that was how it was supposed to be. You are supposed to never share your feelings, if you even know what they are.

That’s what I learned at home.

Daughter saves the show


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Last night my daughter complained that both my husband and I fell asleep at the movie theatre. (What are they putting in those loungy reclining chairs for anyway?)

“It’s like going to the movies alone,” she said.

I countered with, “You used to wet you pants, you know,” and that shut her down!

Thanks to her waking me several times though, I can report that Knives Out is a delightful show with an unexpected social commentary under all the fun.

I’m always on the lookout for signs that people care


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As a Quaker and as a human being, I’m not a big lover of guns. But this weekend, a group of us from the Quaker Meeting went to the home of a deserving gentleman where I was encouraged to develop my skills with a nail gun. I personally installed those brackets inside his shed, and that was after using a battering ram to remove the old roof and install a new one. I even learned to hammer in roofing nails to shingles fitted and lapped into place. Others worked in the main house, and all in an effort to make the home safer, warmer and dryer, the mission of Goodworks, the organization supporting our work.

But then care comes in many forms.

Yesterday afternoon, a friend treated me to a group demonstration of how to make a Christmas centerpiece. It was a gift from her to me. At the end, though, the leaders encouraged everyone to make a second floral arrangement and to give it away to a friend or neighbor who would benefit from the cheer. On the spot I was able to pass on the gift as the two of us stopped by two homes in our neighborood where medical issues darken their lives.

Care comes in whatever way you want to package it. The common denominator may be the joy we take in caring for one another how ever we do it.

I’ve suffered from emotions my whole life


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This is me at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this fall.

Movies for me have always been a secret way to spy on others. I’ve had emotions my whole life and it’s been a big problem because they weren’t allowed in my house growing up. Because I was isolated physically and emotionally, movies were one of the ways I discovered that other people suffered emotions too. I’d see how a mother and daughter might interact, or discover that crying was acceptable. I’d feel the validation that disappointment happened to others, and the acknowledgement that forgiveness is real.

Even the least popular movies were wonderful for me, because they suggested that there was no shame in having emotions. There they were, on display, larger than life.

That is why I willingly signed on to watch ten shows in the space of 72 hours at TIFF this year. I am a lifelong movie lover and this event did not disappoint. Some movies were great, some were weird, some were not good at all, but overall, the artistic endeavor to depict the human condition in whatever way offered, is fascinating to me.

My favorites this year:

Blackbird with Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Kate Winslet and Rainn Wilson, and

Dads, the documentary directed by Ron Howard’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard.

Storytelling 101


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A jeans pocket I embroidered circa 1974

I was watching Abstract: The Art of Design, a Netflix program, when Ruth Carter, the designer for those fantastic Black Panther costumes explained that it was not a love of fashion that led her there. My ears perked up when I heard her say that her heroes were authors, poets and playwrights, like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. She considered them designers. And they inspired her. She says people think she sews, but that’s not it at all. Her work is an art form. A means of storytelling.


Her Black Panther costumes apparently incorporate the history of African tribes. She selected a color palette to support the words and scenes of the script, and fabrics that mimicked the specifics of the landscape and of African traditions.

When I heard all this I felt like jumping off the couch. Because I used to sew. A lot. And I never once thought of my many hours at Mom’s Singer machine as a means of storytelling. I was supplying myself with clothes. Otherwise, my choices for what to wear included anything from my two older sister’s hand-me-downs. By the time I left home during the college years, I was splicing patterns together, custom fitting every project, and embellishing my work with embroidery, contrasting thread and button tricks.

But storytelling was not on my mind.

My work back then was literal. I sewed the straightest top-stitching around. By eye. And I measured three times before I cut once. My work was impeccable, skilled, practiced and I considered going on with it somehow. But the only idea I had was to become a tailor. I did not see the possibility of becoming even more creative in my sewing or to tell the stories I wanted to tell through this art form. So hearing Ruth Carter tell me that I could have, that she does, confirmed what I’ve learned about art in general since then.

It’s about expressing yourself and you can do it any way you want to.

So, I ended up writing a story to express my story. Being literal once again.

But the good thing about art is that the story is still the story however you tell it.