When Richard Reeder invited me to be the featured speaker at last night’s Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series, it was a multi-layered gift.
It was a chance to talk about essays, something I’ve loved since I was 14.
An opportunity to read from my collection of essays, Views from the Home Office Window.
A possibility to excite one or more people in the room about the essay form, perhaps for the first time.
The prompt to connect some dots for myself about my artistic influences.
And, finally, a Max and Benny’s corned beef on rye with Russian dressing and cole slaw.
My deep gratitude to Richard for the invitation, and to his curation of a very exciting line up of authors each month at Max and Benny’s. Click here for future author presentations.
This is Richard and I before the presentation began.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I was preparing for last night that I saw the connection between my affinity for the short essay to my early journaling practice, those pages that safely allowed me to express feelings, explore relationships and ponder big questions.
Here’s a photo of the cover of my first journal, circa 1974.
And, the second influence: my deep love of the music, poetry and art of Joni Mitchell.
Joni and I were introduced when I was 11, at summer camp when I first learned to play guitar. Looking back, I have my guitar teacher to thank. She dared to teach Joni’s complex music and special tunings. Joni’s art left an indelible mark on me: that a woman can be boldly confessional with her art and can say so much in so few words. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found Joni at a perfect juncture in my life, that open and absorbent moment of pre-adolescence. I guess it isn’t so surprising that for me, the most beautiful essays are the ones that mimic the structure and lyricism of a well-written song sung by the songwriter herself.
I can’t even begin to express how context giving it is to have identified these early influences. We really are, to a large degree, a product of our times.
My thanks, once again, to Richard for the invite, for the impressively large group of you who showed up in 15-degree temperatures to hear me read my songs in essay form, and for the thoughtful and provocative questions about writing personal narrative. Thanks also to David, my husband, for lugging the huge box of books, taking photographs, and for being sure that I got that corned beef sandwich home safe and sound.
Special thanks to the ongoing gifts provided to me by my journals and Joni Mitchell’s music, reminders that we can be bold and brave in the exploration of self and, that it can, someday, turn into art.
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