Barn mind

My sabbatical year is now, and has been for a few weeks, officially at an end.  I’m back in the classroom, and the committee meetings, and the long commute.  Back to that kind of free-floating anxiety that comes with this job: the cloud of so many things that must be done, things half-remembered, or overdue, things that could be done, ideas and responsibilities and conversations and worries, the gray cloud that slouches behind you all day, every day, shows up in your dreams, eats lunch with you, sits beside you, gets between you and the book you are trying to read, the papers you are trying to comment on..

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the barn mind desk

I’d forgotten about this.

A year away and there was no cloud, nothing between me and the work of writing.  While on sabbatical, I felt at my desk as I always do working in the barn. When mucking stalls, grooming horses, cleaning tack, moving hay, riding — all the work and pleasure of horses — the cloud just isn’t there.  There is something about working with your body that clears the mind.  Your hands are busy, and your imagination is loosed.

.So now, to recreate “barn mind,” I make time every morning to work at my analog desk.*  The desk was my mother’s, and her mother’s before her.  Solid mahogany, a drop leaf writing surface, the desk probably about a hundred years old, maybe more.  It’s a desk made for writing by hand.  I sit at this desk in the morning, write longhand as long as I can.  And the cloud goes away.  Even if it’s only for a few hours, this makes all the difference.

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*a nice idea I stole from Steal Like an Artist.   Go read this book.  It’s terrific.

 

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You are not alone

DocHdl1OnVERSA-PPM01tmpTargetI gave the first public reading from Still Life with Horses on Sunday evening, at Augsburg College, home of Howling Bird Press.  The reading went well, and the Q&A that followed also went well.  And then there was a reception with cake and wine and cheese, which was lovely.
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But.  What struck me most was the number of women who came up to me at the reception, and in the days that followed, women who pulled me aside to tell me about their own experiences with difficult marriages, relationships that were tainted with invisible emotional abuse.  The kind of repeated trauma that leaves no visible scars or bruises, but scars and bruises you all the same.
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Readings from the book touched a nerve in each of these women, and I found myself saying again and again, “You are not alone.”  You are not the only one going through this.  There is a sisterhood out there, made up of those of us who have endured too long the misery of a marriage or partnership filled with anger, hostility, gaslighting, lies, and more.
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I can’t begin to tell you what to do, or how you can’t or maybe can fix things.  I can tell you this: you are not alone.  You are not the only one.  Even just knowing that simple one thing is, I hope, a beginning.  The opening of a door.  One you might be able to walk toward, and through.  I did.  It was far from easy, but it made all the difference.  Still Life with Horses is about that walk.  It’s for you.

save the date

There is now a publication date: November 1, 2017.   That’s when Still Life with Horses will be launched into the world.  You can’t quite pre-order it yet, but you can click on a little link that says someday you can.  And that link is right here: LITTLE LINK

So, you don’t really have to save the date.  Just the link.

xxoo

The other real world

Eight years ago, although it seems just like yesterday, I was in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  Two weeks of unbroken time to write.  It was wonderful.  Ha! It was brutal and miserable, to be honest.  I was trying to write about the death of my beautiful horse, Buddy, working day after day in my studio, putting words on the page about all of that was difficult, to say the least.  I was also teaching an online class, cramming in several hours early each morning for about 30 students, they too writing things and having their own hard times.  And, if that all that weren’t enough, I had the worst cold I’d had in years.

The real world
The sign you see as you leave VCCA.  Says it all

But.  There were delightful and brilliant people at VCCA, two horses outside my studio window, and amazing food day after day.  One of the nicest, wisest, writers at VCCA was Randon Billings Noble.  She and I had many conversations about writing, writers we admired (and did not), the writing life, the various things we were writing about.  I really liked Randon, and we have stayed in touch over the years as writers do, seeing each other off and on at AWP, which really should be called AWR, Annual Writers Reunion.

Randon has just written a wonderful blurb for my book, and here it is:

A horse can be broken, as can a heart, but Jean Harper’s luminous Still Life with Horses shows us that heartbreak leads to something infinitely larger – a truer self and a greater love.  Still Life with Horses is a beautiful book, gorgeous and gutting by turns.  At times harrowing, but yielding a rich harvest, it haunts us with stories of possibility and desire, loss and transformation, love and transcendence.  Read this book and be broken in the best ways, be moved, be changed.
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Thank you Randon!  And now, go check out Randon’s work, on her website:
Also watch for her forthcoming books too:
 Devotional  (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2017);
Be with Me Always (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

Amy, Amy, Amy

My dear poet friend Amy Pickworth wrote a lovely, lovely blurb for my book.  Here it is, as it will appear in print.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Amy.

There is a lot of heart in Still Life with Horses, but this isn’t a soft book.  It’s a love story in the fullest sense, glittering with ragged truth and hard-won wisdom.  Beautiful.

Amy Pickworth is the author of Bigfoot for Women, a gorgeous book of poetry.  You should go read it.  Really soon.  You can read about it right now on Amy’s website

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Self portrait, 1968.  “I am a horse.”

another really very nice blurb

winners of the costume class
Buddy as Bunny, me as his Carrot

The latest blurb of my book is from Barb Shoup, Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center, and author of Looking for Jack Kerouac and An American Tune.

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Still Life with Horses will make you fall in love…with the strength and silence of horses and learn to believe in the healing power of giving oneself fully to the care and pleasures of another living being. Honest, unflinching, it shimmers with the light of life unfolding.
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So glad to have Barb’s generous words!
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And, for your amusement, a photograph of Buddy and me, winners of the costume class, Earlham College, 2005.

horse language

Yesterday, we took our paint horse Cody to the vet clinic for his routine therapeutic shoeing appointment which periodically involves x-rays to see how he’s progressing.  Cody has “ringbone” which is a horse person’s term for osteoarthritis.  In Cody’s case, as the x-rays revealed yesterday, he has both high and low ringbone, which means the arthritis affects the coffin joint and the pastern.  Which means, for Cody, things hurt.  His new shoeing prescription should help, as will the injections of steroids he will soon receive.

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Cody’s right front foot

Yesterday, the clinic was slammed Continue reading

another blurb

One of my favorite writers just wrote a lovely blurb for my forthcoming book (Nov. 2017) Still Life with Horses.  Here it is:

“I loved this luminous and searingly honest story of love, loss, life and hope; and I loved how a horse served as metaphor for all of this.  The lesson I came away with is that in its best and purest form, love can only lead to more love.”

— Elizabeth Berg
author of The Dream Lover and The Story of Arthur Truluv

I feel very honored to have such a wonderful writer say such lovely things about my book.  Thank you Elizabeth Berg.