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A Pink Suitcase

Posted on by Sandell Morse

My suitcase is small enough to fit in an overhead bin, light enough to lug—with difficulty—up and down the steep steps of the Paris Metro, light enough to carry—again with difficulty—up the even steeper steps of a bridge that crosses the tracks at the gare in Valence d’Agen, the station closest to Auvillar, a village I visit in southwest France.

My suitcase is dark blue, not vibrant pink like the one on the cover of A Pink Suitcase, 22 Tales of Women’s Travel, but like the women who wrote these tales—and I am one of them—I am drawn to chance encounters and to the unfamiliar. However, before writer and editor, Janna Graber, accepted “The Memory Palate” for inclusion in her anthology, I hadn’t thought of myself as an adventurer. I’d reserved that title for those who hiked solo from Georgia to Maine along the grueling Appalachian Trail or for those who explored exotic places. Their stories are here, but so, too, are stories of a mother pushing her thirteen year old daughter in a wheel chair, struggling with stairs, struggling with shoes, hers and her daughters. This mother is determined to show her daughter Paris, and she does. In another tale, a woman who has adopted a Chinese baby returns ten years later with her daughter, now ten, both searching for a man they know only in a photograph, the only link to this child’s past.

As I read the stories of these women, my thoughts of travel broadened. Adventurers, it seemed, were those who opened themselves to new experiences. Curiousity keeps the mind nimble. I loved new tastes and new neighborhoods, and late in life, after my husband stopped traveling, I learned to travel alone. I reveled in my new freedom, choosing a restaurant randomly, and then savoring my food at a table for one. In Auvillar, I rode a borrowed bicycle to Valence d’Agen, rented a car and drove solo through the French countryside, reading maps and circling roundabouts two or three times to find an arrow pointing to my destination. Always, after my travels I return home to my husband and my dogs, and when I do, I am changed. I like to think I’m a little wiser, a little more in tune with myself and with others.

I am honored to have my travel tale among those Jenna Graber has chosen for inclusion in A Pink Suitcase. Perhaps, when my blue bag wears out, I will choose pink.

 

 

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Second Place Tiferet 2015 Writing Contest

Posted on by Sandell Morse

 

I’m pleased to announce that “Brown Leather Satchel,” one of the essays I’ve been writing about Jews, War and Vichy France placed Second in the Tiferet 2015 Writing Contest. Tiffert publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art that expresses spiritual experiences and/ or promotes tolerance. Thanks to VCCA-France where this work began. The essays are now morphing into a memoir of the last four years of my life– about me, a woman with a patchy relationship to Judaism who travels to France, discovers a village’s World War Two history and sets out on a journey that leads her back to her own faith.

 

 

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Hominid Up

Posted on by Sandell Morse

 

One of the joys of writing is reading the work or your friends. Today, Hominid Up, by Neil Shephard, his sixth book of poems. Neil is a long time friend, and although I hardly see him, we are compatriots, inhabiting the same metaphorical country, meeting the last time at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Neil writes what must be said, each word precise. He writes of New York City streets, of Vermont’s countryside and of Maine’s coast. I’m drawn to each of his landscapes. People inhabit his landscapes, sometimes the poet, sometimes those he observes, and so Neil’s poems are about each of us.

In “Meadow Cottage, Deer Isle, Maine,” the poet remembers the year before when he came to Deer Isle to finish a book. He remembers being alone and writing and watching, and I can feel time nearly suspended as he writes of “the osprey’s gyroscopic motions” and of an eagle that “seemed tethered to its aerie.” This year, he watches nothing; he composes nothing. He picks blueberries with his daughter, goes clamming with his wife. Yet, it is after this year of family, that he writes this poem, telling us, his readers that sometimes even the eagle forgets its solitary nature “to mate in mid-air,/ copulate as they fall….” And on to a dynamite ending I will not reveal.

Not many people read poetry or buy books of poems. But poets have a way of grinding down what is essential and saying it, some more clearly than others. Neil is a poet of gemstone clarity. I love his work. You will, too. He does not even know I am writing this. This is my way of thanking him for these poems. They illuminate my life. Hominid Up.

 

 

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Summer Water

Posted on by Sandell Morse

Early morning. Moments of rounded pearls. Only, I am awake. My husband, my dog, my son and my granddaughter sleep. Only, my sounds, grinding coffee, boiling water, then carrying my mug into my study. Finally, outside my sliding glass doors, grass is green. The sprinklers spray. Summer water. York, the town where I live, has ten miles of above surface summer lines, and most of those summer lines trail alongside dirt roads. Mine is one of them. When, finally, I see the York Water District truck on our lane, I know that after a long harsh winter, summer will arrive. Usually, summer water lines are opened by mid April. This year, the lines weren’t opened until May.

The Water District website tells me that three quarters of the earth’s surface is water, but ninety-eight percent of it is salt and not fit to drink. The site says that all of the water we will ever have is the water we have right now. And still, I water my lawn and my gardens. However, I no longer let the water run when I brush my teeth. I’m aware of turning off faucets and of how often I run the washing machine. All of our household water comes from a well on our property. Summer water is for the lawn and the gardens, flowers and vegetables. In York, we are fortunate. Our reservoirs are ample and deep.

My garden tells me it is spring, iris coming into bloom, peonies tightly budded. Scapes do not curl from the green shoots of my garlic– not yet. This past week temperatures have dropped to the forties and fifties. Today, it is warmer, but a cool breeze wafts from the ocean. I’m wearing a sweater. But outside, the summer water sprays. Sprays and sprays in anticipation.

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Gifts of Arrival at the VCCA

Posted on by Sandell Morse

 

IMG_0970Cow flags flying. I love the cow flags. They fly on special occasions– when guests arrive for open studios, when the board arrives for a meeting. What was today? Turns out they were yesterday’s flags still flying. Lucky me. 

Soft air. 

The smell of boxwood.

Warm hugs from Carolyn Angus, David Grant, Valerie Miner, Bea Booker.

 

 

IMG_0983

 

 

A walk along the back road to find for the goats I love.

 

 

 

My studio with a view to green, green grass and green, green leaves on trees. Maine is still bare and brown. A book on a shelf inside: Writing Between the Lines, an anthology of war and its consequences. In the book, a poem by Lloyd Schwartz, “Gisela Brünig.” The opening lines: “Why should I remember now? More than 20 years …The Paris Opéra. My first trip to Europe.”

An unwritten text between those lines, Nazi Germany, Jews, the Second World War.

And this is why I am here, to fill the white space between the essays I am writing about war, Jews and Vichy France, to find the connective tissue, to make these essays into a book.  This is the mystery and the magic– but not without hard, hard work.  

 

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A Reading in Lynchburg

Posted on by Sandell Morse

Would be lovely in anyone is in the area. Please stop by. Inline image 1

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Not Alone

Posted on by Sandell Morse

551506_10205037432549731_8727745507968798766_n-1I drop down over the lip, my skis slipping sideways as I look for my first turn around a large awkwardly shaped mogul. In all of the years, I have been skiing at Sunday River in Maine, I’ve waved goodbye to this trail, my skis crossing from west to east. I’d stop at the Peak Lodge warm up, and then go on. But this is the year of New England snow, three major storms in three weeks, piles and piles of snow. If I was going to ski the Monkey, this was the moment. And, today, I was not alone.

I’d met Lynne the week before. She was skiing with two other women. I was skiing solo, waiting for all three to slide into position for the chair. She waved. “Come ride with us.” As I sat back onto the chair, all three women introduced themselves. How nice to be picked up by three friendly, chatty women, who would turn out to be dynamite skiers. At the top of the lift, Lynne waved, again. “Come ski with us.”

This was my winter of decision. After years and years of skiing together, my husband was tired, out of shape and still smoking. I’d lost my ski buddy. Skiing is a social sport, much more fun when you ski with others. For the past few winters, I’d been skiing mostly solo. I loved the sport. I was skiing strong, and I wasn’t ready to give it up. What was I going to do?

“Come ski with us any time,” Lynne said. “We meet at the Peak Lodge at ten.” She gave me her number, and I pressed it into my phone.

*

The Flying Monkey is never groomed. It is the eastern most trail in the Land of Oz where trails have names like Lost Princess, Tin Woodsman, Emerald City and Ruby Palace. Here, the snow is always natural. Often unskiable. Surprisingly, Lynne who spends her winters at Sunday River hasn’t skied the Monkey either. She is off to my right. Down the hill, Rick, Lynne’s friend, picks his way. He knows this mountain. The challenge of the Monkey is a glade of dead trees, gray poles sticking up from the snow. And rocks. And of course the moguls. But today, the snow is soft. I look for my next turn, point my skis, and then drop down into a depression at the bottom of the mogul. I slide through. Another pole plant, another drop and slide. I am skiing slowly, my whole body turning and melting with this mountain. My mind empties. I find my rhythm. I pause and listen to the silence. Both Rick and Lynne are out of sight. I am alone, but not alone. To my left, a sharp drop. I move right and begin, again, planting my pole, sliding around and through. I am the dancer I used to be. I am a skier.

At the base of the trail, Lynne, Rick and I click poles. I give Lynne a mittened high five. Now, lunch. Or at least a break. But on the chair, we change our minds and head toward Blind Ambition, a gladed run with live trees and a very gentle slant. Again, we ski natural snow, turning and gliding through glades.

I love the challenge of skiing through woods. I also love speed on smooth, steep groomed runs. I love that feeling of emptying out, my mind and body becoming one. Decisions can be split second, a chunk of hard snow, and I quickly lift a ski, the sound of another skier or a boarder, and I glance up the hill. When the trail is clear, I am pure light and energy, skiing sure. Skiing fast.

At the chair lift, Lynne, Rick and I slide into position. We travel west to east, passing the top of Flying Monkey. We stop for photos. After a quick snack at the Peak Lodge, Lynne picks up more friends. The sun drops low in the sky, and now, she and I are alone. I turn right. She turns left and calls back. “Let me know when you’re coming again.”

I end my day as I began, skiing solo down South Paw. I am alone, but not alone.

 

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Contemporaries

Posted on by Sandell Morse

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. We met a few years ago, at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), an artists’ retreat in Amherst, Virginia. We joke that we are the same age—if she adds twenty years and if I subtract twenty. But that’s the way it is with composers, painters and writers, age melting inside of something intangible that we share. At this moment in a coffee shop in Kittery, Maine, we fork up lettuce, feta cheese and olives—a Greek salad. We have come together because we are lonely inside our busy and full lives. At home, friends and family surround us; yet, each of us longs for a different kind of companionship. That is why she has driven seventy miles to see me and why she will drive another seventy miles back to her home in Massachusetts.

Today, K. wears her usual black along with a maroon cardigan sweater and a jaunty black beret. She has pulled strands of her blond hair from under the beret toward her face. She fingers a curl. “The virtual contact doesn’t do it,” she says.

Always, she has a way of untying a knot inside of me. I’ve been in contact with my artists’ community on line, particularly, a photographer and a writer, not the usual casual emails, but something deeper. Still, I have been feeling isolated and alone.

So what is it about an artists’ colony that feeds our work and our souls? At the VCCA, my life is on hold, a cloud floating and storing appointments, the dentist, the hair dresser, a trip to the supermarket, a meeting of my book group, phone calls, grocery lists, plans for supper or a movie. I don’t even walk the dog. I pour all of my energy into my work. I am alone, but not alone. I am in community, sometimes silent, sometimes, not. Always, in my life, I’ve felt a little off, as if people don’t get me. They nod. They try. But really, they want to know what I’m doing at my computer for all those hours every day. Am I still writing that essay? Where’s my book? What’s taking so long?

At an artists’ colony, everyone understands, as my friend, K., understands, that art is long, and that a book, a painting or a musical composition takes as long as it will take. Three years of constant work before K.’s book took shape. Three years and finally, my book is taking shape. But that doesn’t mean we’re finished. We nod. We smile. We carry cups to our table, espresso for me, tea for K. And two peanut butter cookies. More than two and a half hours go by as we talk writing, talk books, talk life. In these moments, we have stepped back inside that place where we met, the VCCA, my friend, who was not yet my friend coming up to me and introducing herself. She knew my work. And now, I know hers. Generations apart, we are contemporaries inside the spaces where we create.

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Hiking Solo on Christmas Day

Posted on by Sandell Morse

For nearly two years now, I have been avoiding reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, pronouncing her name Stray-ed. She was too young, too smart, too talented and she’d written a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, solo. Here’s what I knew about the Pacific Crest Trail. It had something to do with John Muir; it was on the opposite coast from where I lived. It was and wasn’t like the Appalachian Trail, portions of which I hiked on my day trips into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I, too, loved to hike. And like Strayed, I was a solo hiker. When Wild came out, I’d just written a failed memoir. She’d just written a highly successful memoir. I was jealous. And spiteful, the kid of whom my mother used to say, “You’ll cut off your nose to spite your face.”

But how was I supposed to get a memoir like Wild that out of my boring, conventional, and yes, now, long life? My mother hadn’t died when I was twenty-two. I hadn’t spiraled down into drugs and sex. Besides, I was sick of abuse and trauma memoirs—probably because I didn’t have one to write.

Now, the movie was out, and friends were making plans to see the film on Christmas Day. Usually, I spent Christmas Day hiking, Mount A,  the small mountain in the town where I lived or away with my family. But this Christmas my family headed out west ahead of me. My choice. I was staying home with Sam, my beloved Standard Poodle, until my dog sitter returned from Christmas with her family.

I made plans with friends. We’d hike Mount A, then order Chinese food. It’s what we Jews do on Christmas, eat Chinese food. But the forecast was for rain. My friends decided to go see Wild. No hike. I can’t see a movie without reading the book first. I read for two days. I loved the book. I loved Cheryl Strayed. I am writing a book of essays about Jews and Vichy France, weaving my own story into that story, and Cheryl Strayed gave me a gift. She spoke to me in her honest, clear voice, and I saw my own work in a new way. I’d thought my subject, which touched on the Holocaust,  had come to me out of the blue, but reading Wild, I saw that Jews and the Second World War were inevitably mine. I just needed to dig deeper in my life to find the connections, and they came to me as I read.

So today, on Christmas morning I finished Wild. I called my friends. I would not be seeing the movie. I loved the book too much. I needed to savor it and to let it work on my imagination. I would hike rain or shine. But now, the rain has stopped. Sun lights the grass. It will light my trail. Others want to join me. I’ve said, no. Today, Sam and I will hike solo. We’ll join them later for Chinese take-out.

Posted in creative nonfiction, hiking, Jewish, Jews, memoir | 3 Comments

“The Memory Palate” in 1966, A Journal of Creative Nonfiction

Posted on by Sandell Morse

Kelly Gray Carlisle, editor of 1966, A Journal of Creative Nonfiction, has just announced the online publication of issue #4. I’m pleased to say that my essay, “The Memory Palate” is included in the pages. In this essay, I am cooking in France with a French chef when memories of my grandmother’s kitchen spill back. The essay moves back and forth in time. Kelly has been a wonderful editor, patiently waiting as I mulled the ending over and over.

The piece begins: “At the open market, Francis Compte chooses ecornet, squid, for salad, our first course, two chickens for the main course. He passes a yellow squash, then a zucchini under the finger pads of his touch…

Here’s the link. http://1966journal.org

Posted in Auvillar, creative nonfiction, memoir, travel | Leave a comment ← Older posts Newer posts →
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