Friday Five

1. What I talk about when I talk about editing. (Apologies to Raymond Carver.) Before my first half marathon, I trained for months so I could complete the 13.1 miles without walking any part of the course. Actually my larger goal was to complete the course without going into cardiac arrest. For months, I followed a strict training regimen. I was out there in rain and snow, before work and on weekends, on steep hills and on gravel paths. (This all came in handy because race day saw wind chills in the high 20’s and the start line was on the boardwalk at Coney Island.)  So when I reached mile marker 12, I nearly cried. I knew I was going to make it to the finish line. This formerly asthmatic, overweight kid who got a “D” in phys. ed. because she couldn’t make it around the track once  was about to finish a half marathon.

I had that same feeling last week.  I’ve been making final edits on my 325-page novel in bits and spots. I’ve been getting up before work (5:00 am) and taking pages on my subway commute and spending hours in the coffee shop on weekends (where now everybody really does know my name). For a while, I’d been stuck on page 25, unable to move forward for an inexplicable reason. I had written the whole thing and edited it once already, so clearly I’m dedicated to it. It had nothing to do with the story itself. It was me. This New Year’s Day I decided to create a theme rather than a resolution I could easily break. The theme is focus. Whenever I sat down to watch an hour of t.v. or  realized I was surfing the internet mindlessly, I reminded myself to focus and that helped me get back to work. Just like with running, the more I grow my novel, the more it comes back to me and feeds me. So this week, when I reached page 315, I nearly cried. I know I can make it to the finish line. The End.

2. I don’t usually buy coffee table books to display in my living room. I have a very small apartment and I don’t even have a coffee table. But Pilgrimageby Annie Leibovitz, made me think twice. The acclaimed portrait photographer stepped on out a different path this time, shooting landscapes and objet d’art. She fell into this project quite by accident. She’d taken her children to Niagara Falls on vacation. “I was stunned by the beauty of the water,” she told The New York Times. The picture she took that morning became the cover of the book.

From that auspicious start, she went on pilgrimages around the globe to connect to historical places and people she cared about. We get treated to photos of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress, Virginia Woolf’s writing table, a silver tray in Eleanor Roosevelt’s bedroom, Sigmund Freud’s couch, Elvis Presley’s Harley-Davidson, and more. The photos are, of course, stunning and enlightening. (Virginia Woolf’s desk is pretty darn gross, um, well-loved.) But more than that, I love this idea of a pilgrimage which has a religious connotation, but doesn’t have to be to a religious site. I went on one to Walden Pond some years ago and it was a total game-changer for me. (See the header of this blog.)

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? Where did you go? 

Annie Leibovitz. From “Pilgrimage” (2011) The cover of the book: Niagara Falls from the Ontario side.

3. Up the Down Volcano. I found Sloane Crosley’s Up the Down Volcano featured as an Amazon Kindle Single. I’ve been a fan of her writing ever since her hilarious 2008 essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake. (Kindred spirits, we must be.) In this short essay, she tells the tale of her trip to South America to climb that continent’s highest volcano. Based on a recommendation from a friend, which seemed so benign from 4,000 miles away, she is woefully unprepared for altitude sickness, the language barrier and the weather.

I enjoyed reading this though it’s not a traveler’s delight. It won’t make you want to take the next plane to Ecuador in the way that Under the Tuscan Sun makes you want to spend the rest of your life in the Italian countryside. If anything Up the Down Volcano is a cautionary tale. But a really funny one.

Aside: Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can still access these Kindle Singles through the free Kindle app, available for most computers and other devices. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend Ann Patchett’s single The Getaway Car.

4. Kiva Update. One of my favorite ways to give and receive is through donations to charitable organizations. For Christmas a wonderful friend in San Diego sent me a gift card to Kiva. For those of you not familiar, Kiva is a non-profit that connects lenders and borrowers around the world to help alleviate poverty. Through their site, you can find someone in need of a micro-loan and send a donation to fund their dreams. How cool is that!

I’ve helped fund several loans thus far and all borrowers paid back on time, which frees up my donation to lend to another borrower. With my gift card in virtual hand, I searched the Kiva site this week and found an inspiring woman in Paraguay who makes bags from recycled materials.

image via

Here is her story: Fabiana is 26 years old and single. She lives with her brothers in the city of Itá. She was a teacher and now makes bags, purses, flask carriers, etc. from recycled materials such as plastic bottles and small cans, among other items. Currently she is exhibiting her products at handicraft fairs in the cities of Luque, Itá, Argeguá and others. Fabiana works with the municipality and the government to exhibit her wares. She is a very hardworking and creative young woman, as well as a very busy and modest one.

5. Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. ~Lao-Tzu

Have a great weekend, everyone! 



  1. Funny you should mention your motto or theme for the year. I was thinking of you two days ago when i realized I’m NOT focussed. It should be my theme too. I’m distracted too easily these days. Congratulations on getting to page 315.
    I love the idea of pilgrimage. I went to Galstonbury once with this in mind. Should have taken my camera but I didn’t.
    I got Crosley’s essay collection but never read it. I read the first one and liked it so much that I kept it “for later”. When’s that going to be… Posponing good things isn’t a way to go.
    I have looked at the Kiva site. It’s a great idea but I shouldn’t only say that, i should participate as well. I think I’m afraid of leaving my credit card details.


    1. I find that I’m easily distracted, too. Sometimes I get off on an idea and don’t even realize that an hour has elapsed. An hour that I could have spent doing something more important to me. I’m not sure why I procrastinate like that, but reminding myself to focus has been immensely helpful in getting me back on track. Let me know how it works for you.


      1. I haven’t read The Art of War. Is that the Sun-Tzu version?
        There is a big festival in Glastonbury, yes? Are the festivals mainly for performing arts?


  2. I love your involvement with Kiva. I need to try it. Also, I’m curious to check out the Annie Leibovitz book (Sara and I love her), not to mention “Up the Down Volcano”–cool title, isn’t it?

    Hope you and Reggie have a great weekend,



    1. The Pilgrimage book is beautiful. Each picture tells a story of the person’s life, even though it’s not a portrait. In a lot of ways, I think this is even more revealing. You should see Virginia Woolf’s desk!

      FYI – on the Kiva site, you select different categories of projects to fund, one of which is housing. Borrowers seek funds to improve or expand their homes to allow for bigger business ventures. I know that is something near and dear to you and Sara. 🙂
      Say hello to Sara for me!


  3. I have to constantly refocus myself too, Jackie. I’ll have it ‘under control’ for awhile, then it will slip, and things get progressively messier, until I once again get my $#!T together. It’s a funny coincidence you wrote about this for today’s post, cause this morning I got up and spent an hour clearing files and getting my hard copies of critiques in some kind of rational system again.
    When I opened your post I had to chuckle.
    So glad you are now getting through your edits. That feels great, doesn’t it?! I would love to hear what your novel is about some time!
    Have a great weekend 🙂


    1. Cynthia, you have just hit upon my biggest time waster: cleaning/organizing files (digital and physical). It’s so deceptive because it feels productive. I mean, organizing is a good thing, right? But then I had an ah-ha moment when I realized it was just another way to procrastinate.
      We should compare notes! Then I’ll have to tell you about the time I came to a particularly difficult spot in my story and I found myself vacuuming!



    i’m revising my second children’s book, but I’m also a photographer, and I was SO excited to hear about Pilgrimage…I’ve got to pick it up………I feel like this part of my own personal pilgrimage has been the most exciting and there’s so much I want to do, I believe I now have A.D.D.
    Best of luck to you!


    1. After seeing some of the beautiful photos you post, I think you would love the book Pilgrimage. The objects she chose to photograph were so personal. It really gave such insight to the person behind them.
      Thanks so much for stopping by. And good luck as you finish your book!


  5. Hi Jackie!


    This is such a beautiful way to express the way that writing can be nourishing. Looking forward to reading your novel one day! 🙂

    And, thanks for the tip about Sloane Crosley’s new essay. I, too, have been a fan of her work for a while now.

    Have a good weekend!


    1. Thanks for those lovely thoughts, Lauren.
      I hope you enjoy Up the Down Volcano. I remember one of her essays in particular that NYers can relate to: she was moving about 10 blocks away and lost her house keys – twice. 🙂
      Have a great weekend!


    1. Thanks so much, Carole! It’s been a long time in the works, and I’m so happy this chapter (pun intended) is near completion. The day it shows up on Amazon will be a day for celebration!


  6. I will have to read that travel story – I too had a travel journey (6 months in India) that I was led to believe was going to be a lot easier than the reality! The crazy adventures are usually the best ones in the end though.


    1. I would love to hear that story! It sounds like you have a great tale to tell.
      You’d probably have a lot of familiar feelings if you read Sloane Crosley’s essay.
      Have a great weekend!


    1. I thought of you when I saw Annie Leibovitz’s photo of Niagara Falls. It reminded me of some of the lovely photos you’ve posted. 🙂


  7. Your comparison between the 1/2 marathon and the book is brilliant, Jackie. I believe the goal to ‘focus’ is working well for you. May the comparison carry you through to the finish line … it looks like you are on your last lap! Congratulations.

    My Dad went to Walden Pond as a kid. It was life changing for him, too. I understand the power that comes with pilgrimages. One should not avoid such a wonderful experience, because they are turned off by ‘religion’. It is more than ‘religion’.

    Kindness. I am working so hard with that one. Not by me – per se. I am trying to surround myself with kind people and speak out (more) when they are unkind. I’m tired of meanies. Seems I am reading more and more negativity within the blogosphere, too. And cursing. I don’t get the cursing within the blogosphere. Alas, I am merely a prude. Kindness. The world needs more of it.


    1. Thank you, Lenore. I can see the finish line. It would be nice if I got a medal and a bagel like I do when I finish a race. 🙂

      Yes, kindness is key! Mean spirits only breeds more of the same. But it’s hard to remain kind in the face of a bully. I’ll keep trying.

      You just reminded me – I should do a post about Walden Pond. Such a magical place.


  8. I can’t tell you how impressed by your half-marathon-ing! Incredible! It makes me tired just to think about WALKING 13.1 miles. In my current altitude! Congratulations! Wowza!


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