As the World Turns…

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Roaming By Design and there’s a reason for my absence. My writing life has changed since I began this effort four years ago next month, and rather than letting this blog, which once thrilled me as a place for a means of expression, languish without explanation I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to now and to direct you to the place where I feel I’ve finally created my online writing home.

You can now find me blogging about literary adventures on the Improvateur blog and on Sharktooth Press, an indie publishing imprint I have recently co-founded with Gerard McLean. I hope you will stop in one or the other (or both) and have a read!

Here are a few links to a few of my most recent favorite posts:

The Old Familiar Faces

Dante and Shelley at the Duomo di Milano

Horace Walpole Shops the Decorative Fair


I’d like to take this moment to express deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me in my writing career over the years, both in print and in the virtual world. I truly enjoyed all the subjects and cities I covered here for the four years I posted. I had the privilege of staying in some of the world’s most incredible hotels, including the Hotel Principe di Savoia (right in the midst of the area that would soon host the World Expo 2015 when I was there), the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice (covering their coveted Le Meurice Prize), a number of W Hotels and The Betsy Hotel.

I’ve experienced wine tastings in Buenos Aires and interviewed Chef Gordon Ramsay in Tuscany. I walked through the Centre Pompidou with hot French designer Patrick Jouin and saw original Gibson Girl drawings by Charles Dana Gibson at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine (though I still have yet to hear a loon in person)! Thanks to the Dorchester Collection during a trip to London, I had the great privilege to see the Paul Gauguin show at the Tate Modern. I had a profound moment standing alone in the study of Honore de Balzac and walked the same streets as Madame de Pompadour while in Paris!

It was the rare moment when I didn’t have my writer’s notebook with me (and it travels with me always so I feel there are many more adventures to come)!


The Room by the Sea

The view from my terrace at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine.

I’m in Maine, enjoying the hospitality of The Cliff House in Ogunquit, perched above the sea on a wildly gorgeous stretch of rocky coast. Being able to drink in the surroundings has been one blessing from my opportunity to stay; having access to the same stretch of shoreline that wooed May Sarton when she lived a few miles from here is another. Having her words has brought my experiences greater depth and has intensified this writer’s pleasure beyond words.

As I’ve watched flotillas of waterfowl bobbing in the tiny coves created by the jagged outcropping below my terrace, I imagined Sarton at Wild Knoll. She wrote about living there in a journal she kept during 1974. It was published in 1976 as The House by the Sea. She described her first taste of the landscape in the book: “…once I had stood on the wide flagstone terrace and looked out over that immensely gentle field to a shining, still, blue expanse, the decision [to move there] was taken out of my hands.” She describes this part of Maine as a place “creating the atmosphere of a fairy tale, something open yet mysterious that every single person who comes here is led to explore.”

The waning light paints a resplendent portrait of the end of this day.

The blue expanse Sarton wrote about has a powerful presence that infuses every part of the day with altering moods. While having a glass of wine as the sun slid away to the west, I studied the view from the terrace from an al fresco table holding a bright red umbrella like summer’s promise of glee. The scene revealed a swath of water turned the color of liquid mercury, crimped in spots where the wind touched its surface.

The sky, palest blue and powdery pink except at its meeting point with the water, seemed to want to emulate the blue notes from the strip of darkest hues where the ocean met the horizon. A boat cut a wake, marring the serenity and leaving an indelible blue line drawn in the liquid sheen. The mark became ruffled as the rising tide nudged it to shore. Caught in the movement, it splashed above boulders and slabs of striated moss-laden rock until it was picked up by the breeze and dashed heavenward. Puddles of water formed erratically shaped mirrors reflecting the waning daylight, mercurial in contrast to the wet darkness of the seaweed-draped stones.

Sarton wrote, “I have slipped into these wide spaces, this atmosphere of salt and amplitude, this amazing piece of natural Heaven and haven, like a ship slipping into her berth.” Like Sarton, I came here seeking a place to write, and I have found it. The staff here has been attentive but respectful of my desire for solitude as I scribbled in notebooks and slashed pieces of writing long needing my attention while “real life” made it impossible for me to give them the concentration they deserved.

I had a wonderful massage yesterday and as Julie gently rocked me from side to side, causing tears to spring to my eyes from the gratitude of having someone create such a lovely experience just for me, I thought about how the theme of this stay is about being touched. Not just by her knowing hands, which helped to relieve the tensions brought on by the world; but by Christian’s carefully selected wines; by a staff eager to please; and most gloriously by a powerful landscape.

Christian Bahre shared with me a delightful Moscato D’Asti from Italy.

Thirty-eight years ago to this day, Sarton intended to take an afternoon nap; she found herself caught up in the surrounding natural activity instead: “…unable to fall asleep, I amused myself listening to all the summer sounds—the leaves stirring like the rustling of taffeta; beyond it the gentle steady roar of the sea, tide rising; but what surprised me was how many birds were singing at that hour, two in the afternoon…I lay there for a half hour, listening, and got up refreshed.”

I am being given the same opportunity for refreshment as I let the magic of this place wash over me. Thanks to Patrick, Matt, Brenda, Cheryl, Courtney, Christian, Birget and Julie for making my stay so peaceful. You have helped me to achieve what Sarton sought when she wrote, “I mean every encounter here to be more than superficial…”

[This post was written on July 10, 2012, in Ogunquit, Maine. I have been given comped stay and services by this property but the generosity has in no way swayed my opinions expressed here.]


A Notebook Of One’s Own

Saxon Henry's Favorite Notebooks are Moleskines

My Favorite Notebooks are Moleskines

I had an amazing day at the annual conference of American Society of Journalists and Authors this past Friday—speaking with agents in the hopes that one of them would be interested in helping me to try to publish my memoir, The Road to Promise. I’ve been posting it online, bit-by-bit, since December, and I mention it here because the post I put up today describes the inspiration for my first (of many) writer’s notebooks—the ultimate roaming tool for anyone who wants to record ideas, perceptions and details while moving through life.

My first writer’s notebook was a steno pad, and I “graduated” to a loose-leaf binder in 1986. It was made by Boorum & Pease, and I filled seven of these notebooks with ramblings about whatever caught my eye during a seventeen-year stretch that took me from Belize and Costa Rica to a handful of Native American reservations. Since 2003, I’ve been using a Moleskine notebook—preferred by authors like Ernest Hemingway and André Breton. I love the creaminess of the paper in these books over any others I’ve ever found. My pen just seems to glide along the surface effortlessly. (I just found out there’s a Moleskine community here!)

It’s amazing how personal the preferences for notebooks can be. I remember a conversation with the poet Tom Absher, one of my professors when I attended Vermont College, during which he said that he’d routinely spend hours pouring over notebooks and pens in the stationary store (I have my own pen obsession!). I thought about Tom as I read the book Writers and Their Notebooks, edited by Diana M. Raab. In it, she presents essays by writers working in a diverse mix of genres—from Sue Grafton and James Brown to Tony Trigilio and Kathryn Wilkens—about their relationships to their notebooks.

In the foreword, Phillip Lopate cites Sei Shonagon, a tenth-century courtier from Japan, as keeping one of the earliest writer’s notebooks, which she called The Pillow Book. Peter Greenaway made Shonagon’s entries into a moving movie of the same name in 1996, and it remains among my favorite titles all these years later. Lopate writes, “Now considered an indispensable classic, Shonagon’s The Pillow Book was also, if you will, an early blog.” I’d never thought about it as such, but he’s right! In her notebook, Shonagon wrote about her experiences in the court and visits from her lovers. She also recorded random notes about things she’d seen. One of her entries is “Elegant Things”: “A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat. Duck eggs. Shaved ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl. A rosary of rock crystal. Wistaria blossoms. Plum blossoms covered with snow. A pretty child eating strawberries.”

Lopate compares writers’ notebooks to the finger exercises done by pianists, and he declares, “No one can expect to write well who would not first take the risk of writing badly. The writer’s notebook is a safe place for such experiments to be undertaken. In her preface, Raab likens a writer’s notebook to an artist’s sketchbook, calling it a writer’s studio and workshop. I agree with James Brown, who wrote in his essay: “I believe you discover what it is you want to say during the writing process. In fact, what you originally thought you wanted to say, and what you actually end up writing, aren’t always the same thing.”

That was certainly the case with The Road to Promise, which I thought would constitute a conversation about the cultural impacts of organized religion and actually turned out to be the odyssey of a young woman determined to become a writer at all costs.

A new book by Nobel laureate José Saramago, titled The Notebook, records a year of his ruminations, which began on the eve of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. On page seven, the entry dated September 18 and titled “George W. Bush, or the Age of Lies,” reads: “I wonder why it is that the United States, a country so great in all things, has so often had such small presidents. George W. Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all. This man, with his mediocre intelligence, abysmal ignorance, confused communication skills, and constant succumbing to the irresistible temptation of pure nonsense, has presented himself to humanity in the grotesque pose of a cowboy who has inherited the world and mistaken it for a herd of cattle…”

Writing this post has brought me a great deal of satisfaction because it has helped me see ways I can broaden and deepen the use of my notebooks. Like Shonagon, I have many entries that represent vignettes of beautiful things that have caught my attention. Like Saramago, I have a fair amount of president bashing in my book, though no entries as eloquent as his. Quite simply, I’ve seen by reading what other writes have written that it’s time for me to up the ante in my own journaling!

While I was bumping around online, looking to see if the Boorum & Pease notebooks I used to love are still made, I came across this blog. I thought it would be a good companion to this post and provide a little “roaming” around the World Wide Web! Happy gallivanting, and don’t forget to take notes!


Voices of a Vernacular

I’m heading to the Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, this evening to present a poetic riff on my new book Four Florida Moderns. The idea was inspired by the ever so brilliant Joanne Molina, who I came to know and love during her days as the Senior Arts + Culture Editor at Interiors Magazine. She’s also the artful arbiter behind the intelligent site The Curated Object, and it was for an article she ran on the site—written by another perceptive writer/editor JoAnn Greco, whose site The City Traveler is one of my favorite regular reads—that spawned this “take” on the architecture of the four moderns featured in the book. I hope you enjoy what I believe these buildings might say if they could! If you have a different voice in mind, feel free to join the conversation by leaving your riff in a comment box below the post.

Alberto Alfonso’s Lake House 2

Albert Alfonso’s Lake House 2: What frolics below the surface of my heart is pure poetry. Serene I am in my confidence that I share the earth’s breath with no one. There’s little room for diffidence in a world that builds walls instead of avenues. My crown is not the most eloquent of my attributes: it’s the tangle of my voice as it whispers, “move.”

KARLA by Rene Gonzalez (photo by Jose Zaldivar)

KARLA by Rene Gonzalez (photo by Jose Zaldivar)

Rene Gonzalez’s KARLA: So, you think you have me figured out: all delicious glow and disdainful shimmer? Look closer. No, closer. Yes, you see it now, don’t you? I am the elemental that comes before and after the most fundamental of all. Who else could make the tree dance, its arms entwined toward heaven? Its reach is love’s heartbeat for itself.

Chad Oppenheim's Villa Alegra (photo by Ken Hayden)

Chad Oppenheim’s Villa Alegra (photo by Ken Hayden)

Chad Oppenheim’s Villa Alegra: Ah, I adore how the water needs me. Without me, its surface would be flat and empty like a page untouched by alliteration. Look at my lines, so strong in the captivity of the liquid’s sheen. The wonderment of discovery is mine because lady luck set me like a gem next to a pool with a face like a dream.

The Theisen Residence by Guy Peterson (photo by Steven Brooke Studio)

The Theisen Residence by Guy Peterson (photo by Steven Brooke Studio)

Guy Peterson’s Theisen House: As the light wanes toward an inky sky, the spaces within spaces tell their own stories: I’m passing through time, invisibly bold; I’m anchored on a threshold of light; I’m married to the moon. Each precious pinprick of illumination declares, “I was born to shine.” Each fissure in the surface of my unblinking eye makes me a witness to all eternity.