Title Image
JUNCTURE NOTES 63
date: December_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: Beth Kephart
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: The Year That Was
Looking back, with you, on 2021

Time grows increasingly unkempt—the days working themselves out in fractions, the weeks clumping and stuttering and spiraling and doing whatever the heck they want to do. Sometimes intensity rules. Sometimes the hour is a long stare through a rain-splashed window, or the song that won’t quit in my head.

 

But there are absolutes that rise to the surface about the year just passed. High among them: our gratitude for all of you, fellow seekers and tellers of truth. So many of you have joined us as readers of this newsletter or as participants in our first online Juncture Series, the sweep of our Read/Write program, and the bi-monthly group manuscript critique sessions. We’ve had the privilege of watching your thoughts bloom in what I like to call our poetry chatrooms, your questions inspire the work of others, and your manuscripts take remarkable shape. We’ve taken great joy from the happiness many Juncture family members have expressed upon the publication of their words and art. Judy Bolton-Fasman’s gorgeous family memoir (and detective story), Asylum, was released in August to deservingly exquisite praise, while Tracey Yokas’s Bloodlines is all dressed up and ready for a May 2022 launch from She Writes Press. And Ruta Sepetys, a dear Juncture friend, looks ahead to the release of her already critically acclaimed cross-over novel or Romania, I Must Betray You.

 

I’m just scratching the surface here, of course. We are all on a journey, and wherever we are in our dreaming, conjuring, inking, pausing, redrafting, or simply and complexly being is cause for celebration. Our life is our story, no matter when and how we find the words. Our life is weather, wisdom, song. Our love speaks of and for us.

 

For us, 2021 saw the release and kind critical reception of my first memoir in so many years, Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays (Forest Avenue Press, with illustrator William Sulit), an Henriette Wyeth picture book (And I Paint It, Cameron Books, with illustrator Amy June Bates), and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class (Juncture). I explored new approaches to the essay form and am so grateful to publications such as Catapult, Upstreet, Literary Hub, The Raven’s Perch, Epiphanyzine, The Rumpus, CRAFT, Brevity, The Curator, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, Halfway Down the Stairs, Cleaver, Nurture Literary, Covey Club, Tiny Spoon, Blood and Bourbon, Cagibi, Causeway, Entropy, and Phi Beta Kappa Forum Magazine for giving me room to experiment. I played with poetry, just because. I read science and history and big fat novels, searching, always, for new ways of seeing and teaching this thing called memoir.

 

In 2021, I also turned, increasingly, to handwork. To paper, color, needles, thread, glue. To cork, leather, canvas, khadi paper. To handmade paper and paper quilts. To the making of travel journals and kitchen books, prompt-embedded writing books, and structures that feature the art of Juncture’s better half, William Sulit. In September we launched our ETSY shop, BINDbyBIND, and few things make me happier these days than hearing from those who are writing their memories, recipes, and possibilities into those pages. Making the blank pages un-blank. Sparking story.

 

So much is uncertain in our world. True stories, and community, ground us. To our Juncture family we extend our (fervent) wishes for peace and good health as this year ends and another begins. We can’t imagine where we’d be without you.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

BINDbyBIND:

We hope you’ll consider visiting our handmade books and journals shop and treating yourself or a friend to something that speaks directly to you. Our books are only complete when another writes into their pages. We do take custom orders.

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In our next Read Write workshop, we’re focusing on joy—and what it sounds like on the page (it’s not just child’s play; it isn’t sentimental). Short essays/extracts from Brian Doyle and Ross Gay will be our guide. For more information, go here.

Additional Memoir Learning Opportunities:

Small Group Manuscript Sessions for 2022

During 2022, we’ll be offering a series of group manuscript critiques—Zoom events limited to five writers. Participants will submit up to 2,500 words of an essay or memoir-in-progress. Two weeks ahead of each session I will distribute the manuscripts to other group members, provide an editorial letter in response to each manuscript, and manage a group conversation during which each writer will receive thirty minutes of focused response. Each critique session will begin with a thirty-minute craft lesson. The cost will be $290/session. The sessions will be offered at dates/times mutually convenient for the members of each group. If you are interested in such a session, please let us know by writing to us here. We’ll be assembling these sessions on an interest basis.

 

Recent Publications

My interview with Leslie Pietrzyk about her new book, Admit This to No One, at The Rumpus, November 12, 2021.

 

“Brief and Continuous Encounters with Brief Encounters,” Epiphanyzine, November 2, 2021.

JUNCTURE NOTES 62
date: November_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: Of Writing Now, for Then
The Wisdom of May Sarton

These are, for many of us, stoppering times. Our imaginations suspended by the bewildering news cycle. Our personal desires, disappointments, and dreams all at risk of feeling small in light of/as opposed to/when measured against the wars/rumbles/dangers of now.

 

Friends write to say that their big writing projects have grown elusive. I write back, make the same confession. I can write 1,000 words, or maybe 2,000, but that is it, the size of my capacity, the tentative metering of me in the world.

 

I had allowed myself to think that my quiet writerly paralysis has been borne of this unique moment in time. But then my friend Ruta Sepetys sent a note my way that propelled me to buy a copy of May Sarton’s Journal of A Solitude. A novelist, a poet, a gardener and journal keeper, Sarton is surprisingly, refreshingly fierce in this book—unstinting in her assessments of herself and others and fearless in naming her worst traits, in cataloging her outbursts, in acknowledging the terrible personal contradictions that shadowed her every day. She could be charismatic and she could be, well, awful. She could yearn for solitude and then feel lonesome. She could want acclaim and then declaim the very idea of fame and fortune.

 

Her honesty feels practically luxurious. Her voice is alive. Her observations are timeless. Published in 1973, Journal includes lines that might well be written today:

The big question … is how to hope and what to hope for. We are citizens of a corrupt country, of a corrupt vision. There is such a sense of death and of being buried under the weight of the technocracy. How to keep cool and get hold of the essential … and, above all, how to recognize the essential.

 

The politics of then were different, the power struggles, the pressures. And yet: How to keep cool and get hold of the essential/how to recognize the essential. It is as if Sarton has peered through my window, looked at my empty pages, and clarified my struggle.

 

But Sarton does not simply articulate the questions. Elsewhere, in Journal, she offers answers—answers that seem to speak for me, and will perhaps speak to some of you:

 

After I had looked for a while at that daffodil before I got up, I asked myself the question, “What do you want of your life?” and I realized with a start of recognition and terror, “Exactly what I have—but to be commensurate, to handle it all better.”

 

What do I want? Exactly what I have. To handle it better.

 

It’s terribly difficult to know how to spend our days, how to extend ourselves, how to feel grateful in the moment, for the moment, especially right now, when trust and truth are imperiled. In “Spreadsheeting the Void,” a recent essay published in The Ravens Perch, I revealed myself to be tormented by an ingrained sense that I am only valuable when I can somehow quantify my value. This, as it turns out, is an issue Sarton also addresses, a conversation she has with her readers:

 

A day where one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever.

 

It is okay, Sarton suggests, to pause. It is okay to rest. It is okay to trust that our stories will, in fact wait for us, that we will, in time, come to understand just what stories we should be writing. There will be pleasures, Sarton reminds us, when we write again. There will be a sense of completion:

 

We are whole or have intimations of what it means to be whole when the entire being—spirit, mind, nerves, flesh, the body itself—are concentrated toward a single end. I feel it when I am writing a poem.

 

I read Sarton after reading a book of poems enhanced by art, Stay Inspired: Shelter in Place 2020; Louise Erdrich’s new novel, The Night Watchman; and my friend Robin Black’s excellent forthcoming full-length critical analysis, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: Bookmarked. I read her after learning how to make new blank books and playing with new materials and completing (with Bill) my bookmaking studio. I read her after I had given my memoir mind space, in other words, after I had stopped expecting myself to learn more, or do more, with the genre (memoir) that has defined so much of my life, the genre that has challenged me during this era of ours, the genre I believe we are all reshaping as we think again about the stories we must tell.

 

I read Sarton just when I needed her, and this, I think, is the hope that must carry us forward in these times—that we will come to find, and write, stories so human and so necessary that they will speak beyond the current moment to unseen readers of the future.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

BINDbyBIND:

We hope you’ll consider visiting our handmade books and journals shop and treating yourself or a friend to something that speaks directly to you. Our books are only complete when another writes into their pages. We do take custom orders.

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In our next Read Write workshop, we’re focusing on place—and the ways that we can make landscape and familiar physical signposts integral to our story. Short essays/extracts from Inara Verzemnieks and Abigail Thomas will be our guide. For more information, go here.

Additional Memoir Learning Opportunities:

Small Group Manuscript Sessions for 2022

During 2022, we’ll be offering a series of group manuscript critiques—Zoom events limited to five writers. Participants will submit up to 2,500 words of an essay or memoir-in-progress. Two weeks ahead of each session I will distribute the manuscripts to other group members, provide an editorial letter in response to each manuscript, and manage a group conversation during which each writer will receive thirty minutes of focused response. Each critique session will begin with a thirty-minute craft lesson. The cost will be $290/session. The sessions will be offered at dates/times mutually convenient for the members of each group. If you are interested in such a session, please let us know by writing to us here. We’ll be assembling these sessions on an interest basis.

 

Free Memoir Presentation
I’ll be offering a free memoir presentation on behalf of the Radnor Memorial Library on November 17. The topic is self-portraiture. I’ll speak as well of Wife | Daughter | Self and We Are the Words. Registration for this Zoom event is here.

 

Recent Publications

“An Interview with Beth Kephart,” The Sunlight Press (Annie Scholl)—in which I address what is next for me following a tumultuous year.

 

“Creative Couples: Beth Kephart and William Sulit: An Interview,” Pantser and Plotter—in which Bill and I answer the same questions, with surprising results.

 

“Anyone Human Must Wonder,” about my great-grandmother, appears Phi Kappa Phi Forum Magazine, special issue on Family, Fall 2021.

 

I was so touched by this gorgeous analysis of Wife | Daughter | Self by Dawn Roode in “Three writers use vignettes to craft moving memoirs,” October 2021.

 

This wonderful review of And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth’s World appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

CRAFT: try this on for size

Write to a future reader

Imagine your words being read by someone fifty years from now. What enduring wisdoms would you want to share? Into what scene, season, or landscape would you implant that wisdom? Write this.

JUNCTURE NOTES 61
date: October_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: Beth Kephart
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: Of Alzheimer’s, Migraines, and Trespass
A father-daughter story, in pieces

They come to us with their many woven pieces: Moyra Davey (Index Cards). Judith Kitchen (Distance & Direction). Deborah Levy (Real Estate). Alexis Orgera (Head Case). They come to us as with incantations, with the sound of yearning, with puzzles that cannot be solved. They come to us to share with us the artists that have shaped their seeing—Jean Genet, Janet Malcolm, and Roland Barthes (Davey); Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, and William Stafford (Kitchen); Marguerite Duras, Georgia O’Keefe, and James Baldwin (Levy); Susan Sontag, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Jeannette Winterson (Orgera).

 

Because no story can ever be perfectly told, they tell their stories, they tell their stories anyway. We fall into the zigzag of their seams.

 

Of the four such intense and intoxicating books I’ve lately read, I want to focus here on Head Case, a memoir-in-poetic-prose that was a finalist for awards sponsored by the Cleveland State Poetry Center, Graywolf Press, Pleiades Press, Subito Press, and Tarpaulin Sky Press before taking up residency at Kore Press; it will be published this December. In the book—a collage of prose poems and medical history, memories and projections—Orgera writes with immaculate precision about the father Alzheimer’s peeled away as well as her own lifelong battle with migraines—visitations of light, cleaving pain, and haunting specters.

 

Bo Orgera was devastatingly young, just 52, when his symptoms first appeared. He understood, at first, that he—strong, imaginative, good, capable of great love—was changing. Orgera writes: “What he hated most about Alzheimer’s was his uselessness. What am I supposed to do? he asked. I tried to give him odd jobs: pulling up carpet staples so I could refinish the original heart pine at my house, raking leaves, painting walls every shade of ridiculous. For the first time in his life, he didn’t finish what he started.”

 

What no one could foresee was just how quickly the disease would take him—scrambling his words, severing logic, breaking him away from himself. Sometimes, at his daughter’s urging, he would sit in the sun and draw; his images, scattered throughout the book, speak as no words ever could about the nature of his dissipating mind:

 

Art making becomes its own language, a way to comprehend and apprehend the world. The imagined world, when imagined well, speaks truth into the void. Dad and I painted and drew together every Wednesday. I thought art would be relaxing for him.

 

Over a period of months, Dad penciled hundreds of thumbprint-sized, broken circles into the pages of a legal pad. An act of obsession or devil’s possession in the starburst of decline: circles in rows, circles with diagonals and zigzags connecting them, a planetary map. Circles growing strands of hair, like nerve cells buffered by synapse or weird cancer cells. Lines from a straight edge. Xs and Os in a deranged game of tic-tac-toe.

 

Visitations, devastations, genetic codes, feared genetic legacies, the history and the science of tangles, plaques, even vascular dementia—it is all there, unsparingly there, in Head Case. Sometimes grammar isn’t big enough to contain the story, and words ram into words. Certainly, chronology has no place in this; bewilderment sets the pace. Still, and always, Orgera is clear-eyed and specific, she is specifically heartbroken, mired at times in her own breakdowns, clawing her way out of migraines and loss. Clawing, and then lifting:

 

It’s here. It’s everywhere. Father and daughter standing in the parking lot of the Senior Friendship Center, both of us too young for dementia but thrust into its arms nonetheless. The sun is so hot that sweat drips from the trees above us. Herons and egrets throat moan. Just-parked cars click and rattle as their air conditioners wind down. We are two wings standing in a cutout of space. Around our bodies, summer air thick enough to drink.

 

We want peace for this daughter as we read. We want peace for her father. Head Case is the stuff of love, yielded by a brilliant weaver-writer.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

Introducing BINDbyBIND:

This past September, Bill and I launched our own ETSY shop featuring handmade journals and books. Each is unique, crafted out of materials like cork and leather, handmade paper and ephemera, painted canvas, hand-pressed flowers, and khadi paper. Bill’s illustrations—portraits of Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Henry Thoreau, as well as fanciful characters and still life scenes—float across many of these books. Sometimes stories get told within canvas triptychs. We hope you’ll consider taking a look at our shop and treating yourself or a friend to something that speaks directly to you. We do take custom orders.

Future Juncture Workshop:

In our next Read Write workshop, we’re focusing on misunderstanding—the ways in which our inability to imagine another’s pain, perspective, or circumstance (or their inability to imagine ours) is often story, if we can tell it well. An essay by Helen Garner will be our guide, as will other writers who help us navigate this terrain. For more information, go here.

Some recent news and publications:

We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class has been blessed by some very generous reviews, Amazon endorsements, and social media encouragements. We appreciate every single one. 

 

Among Beth’s recently published essays are:

“The Hat Was Full Price,” in the Dorothy Parker’s Ashes Wedding Attire issue

 

“Still Life Theater,” in Halfway Down the Stairs

 

Beth also received a wonderful review of her new picture book (with illustrator Amy June Bates), And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth’s World, in the San Francisco Chronicle.   

CRAFT: try this on for size

Find language for art

Search for a piece of art that someone you love has made or left behind—an old Valentine’s Day card, a holiday ornament, a knitted scarf, a drawing. Bring the art to life with words, so that readers might, through your language, see it.

JUNCTURE NOTES 60
date: September_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: The Page-Turning Power of Authenticity
More thoughts on the universal, inspired by the letters of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell

Well, the dear and brilliant Sara Beth West said, how about What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (edited by Suzanne Marrs)? When it comes to literature, culture, politics, innuendo, Sara Beth is never wrong (have you read her reviews or her interviews, have you signed up for her Midweek Dinner musings?), and so I made a note to buy the book, then planned to follow through.

 

She didn’t give me the time.

 

The book arrived.

 

Every friendship is sui generis, alchemically forged by coincidence or luck, pursuit or acquiesce, common interests or common circumstances, the joke that made the other laugh, the conversation that has no honest end. Maxwell was a New Yorker editor and Welty an emerged writer when the two met at a Harper’s Bazaar party in 1942. Their ensuing relationship encompassed business matters, sure (grammar, verb tenses, questions about car mechanics and local spelling), but business was not what bound them. Roses, curiosity, pale fruitcakes, deep reading, compassion, loss, and yearning for and through story did—as did, of course, the honest, non-performative, never preening nor falsely modest, affectionately respectful ways they wrote toward each other.

 

Maxwell and Welty were, their letters underscore, at ease in each other’s company—free to meander around an idea, to tie childhood history to the present moment, to offer advice that always sounded more like hope, to memorialize a moment. Here’s Maxwell, for example, describing his infant daughter’s crying—a description he makes abundant with tangents:

 

She cries only in the early evening, beginning about six-thirty as a rule, which as anybody knows is a very melancholy time of day; Emmy (Maxwell’s beloved wife, whose own letters to Welty make an appearance in the book) regards her crying as a reproach, which I’m sure it isn’t, because the baby is gaining weight, and says it is like a knife through her head. To me it sounds more like Ravel. And like a loon that used to inhabit Gust Witt’s pond, about two miles down the creek from Bonnie Oaks, where I did part of my growing up, in Wisconsin.

 

Here’s Welty, swerving from the proposed elegance of rubber cement to a note about her writing process:

 

Long ago when my stories were short (I wish they were back) I used to use ordinary paste and then put the story together in one long strip, that could be seen as a whole and at a glance—helpful and realistic. When the stories got too long for the room I took them up on the bed or table & pinned and that’s when my worst stories were like patchwork quilts, you could almost read them in any direction.

 

Aren’t there lessons for memoirists in this—the ease of the prose becoming the power of the prose, the not-plot becoming the story? It’s the trust these friends have placed in each other that makes these pages not just endearing and authentic and historically important, but actually page-turning. It’s the implicit authenticity that makes the writing urgent. It’s how no one inside this friendship ever tries to steal the limelight. Welty and Maxwell are two people living. Their living is a story.

 

How might we, in writing our true stories, demonstrate our authentic interest in the readers without whom our words would remain dormant? It’s a question that has, as many of you know, haunted me since I first began to write and teach memoir, a question I recently addressed again in this Catapult essay, which I adapted from We Are the Words. Reading these Welty/Maxwell letters, the question engages my thinking again—this idea, this possibility that we might write our truths as if imagining a future correspondence, as if our memoirs are letters we are waiting to have answered.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In our next Read Write workshop, we’re focusing on regret—yearning for the past, for a different outcome, for a better choice. An essay by Megan Stielstra will be our guide, as will other writers who help us navigate this terrain. For more information, go here.

Future Juncture Workshop:

We are finalizing plans to launch a nine-person, nine-month, group-critique-plus-art-infused-extras program, to begin in April 2022. Details to come.

Some recent news and publications:

We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class has been blessed by some very generous reviews, Amazon endorsements, and social media encouragements. We appreciate every single one. Here I’ll share words from the prolific author, James Beard Award-winning cookbook writer, and former restaurateur Crescent Dragonwagon: “It is infused with her deep love and understanding of the form, her keen analytic eye, and her encyclopedic knowledge of the range of themes and styles brought to the genre by dozens and dozens of cited memoirs.”

 

“The Memoir in Pieces,” Creative Nonfiction Online, August 25, 2021 (also appears in We Are the Words).

 

“A Memoir Should Be a Conversation, Not a Monologue,” in Catapult, adapted from We Are the Words, August 16, 2021.

 

“On the One Side. On the Other.” nominated by Nurture Literary for Best of the Net.

 

“The Chin I’m In,” Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, August 9, 2021.

CRAFT: try this on for size

Your memoir as the start of an imagined correspondence

Write a letter to a person with whom you feel most at ease. Write to them about something curious that you have lately noticed—and make room for them to answer back with a story of their own.

JUNCTURE NOTES 59
date: August_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: Humble. Curious. Creative.
Practicing Wonder

My friend Katrina Kenison has many gifts. Writer, editor: those gifts you likely know. Gardener, winged-thing tamer, photographer. If you have ever visited her blog, you know this, too. Mistress of threads? I wrote about that here. But when I think of this friend, whose cards and letters from years ago I have lately rediscovered, I think about her talent for wonder. Look at the sky, look at the rain, look at the shells, Katrina says, has always said. Her images and words are gifts, and not advertisements. They say, Wait. They say, Breathe.

 

I was thinking about Katrina while reading Julia Baird’s new book, Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When Your World Goes Dark. I’m not certain that I would call the book a memoir, but it is a collection of essays about the ways in which this writer and broadcaster has hunted for glow, celebrated silence, and found shelter in kind thoughts and quiet appreciations. Baird has undergone cancer surgeries and recoveries. She swims a mile most mornings off Sydney’s Manly Beach. She has children she loves and friendships that have been enduring. She believes in the light we carry with us, the legacy of the sea.

 

Baird writes of making room for awe. She suggests that awe-seeking is not simply a nice way to live. It is, she suggests, the way to live.

 

From an early swimming essay:

 

Something happens when you dive into a world where clocks don’t tick and in-boxes don’t ping. As your arms circle, swing, and pull along the edge of a vast ocean, your mind wanders, and you open yourself to awe—to the experience of seeing something astonishing, unfathomable, or greater than yourself. Studies have shown that awe can make us more patient and less irritable, more humble, more curious and creative—even when just watching nature documentaries.

 

Humble.


Curious.


Creative.

 

Time and again, Baird urges her readers to get out of themselves and into the natural world. To stop, kneel down, and see. She worries that “wonder seems to be on the wane, or we tend to wonder mainly about ourselves, instead of allowing wonder to lift us up out of our own self-interest and help us to understand others and the natural world better.”


In a recent Read Write workshop, we turned our attention to Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s snail—read together and thought through the opening pages of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. We thought about the iterative ways Bailey unfurls the senses, how she startles us with sound, how she arranges sensibilities, how she—slowly at first, and then with force, as if her very life depends on it—opens herself to the snail that has been brought into the room where she is recovering from, sometimes barely surviving, a devastating illness. We asked ourselves how wonder progresses and deepens throughout the pages of Bailey’s book. We thought about what happens to us when we stop long enough to connect with the world beyond ourselves. When we stop to name all we can see through the nearest window. When we write, with clear and elemental language, about the natural beauty we once claimed as our own. Might still claim.

 

Like my friend Katrina, and like Bailey, Baird urges us to walk away from machines—to extend ourselves toward the world so that the world might find us.

 

Opening ourselves is where story begins. We write with open hands, and not with fists.

 

August is now upon us. In the mornings, now, before the heat grows too intense, I go about the house opening windows. I let the new air in, wait to catch a semblance of a breeze. With my crazy morning hair, I stand, waiting for the world to reach me.

 

Humbled, I am curious. Curious, I am creative.

 

One final note. I was recently asked how all this teaching that I’ve done affects the ways in which I write. No one had asked me that question before, and I had to stop and think. My response can be found here.

 

These Juncture workshops, these years of teaching Penn, these monthly Notes—they have shaped me. To all of you, I’m grateful.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In our next Read Write workshop, we’re focusing on the empathetic imagination. An essay by Charles D’Ambrosio will be our guide, as will other writers who teach us how to reach, forgive, imagine, even love those who might seem like strangers to us. For more information, go here.

Some recent news and publications:

We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class is out in the world. Judy Goldman, author of Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap, has said, about it, “This is—hands down—the best book on writing memoir I’ve ever read.”

 

“The Sum of Which Parts,” Upstreet Number 17, July 24, 2021.

 

“The Funny in Memoir: Alison Bechdel, Dinty Moore, and Trey Popp,” Cleaver Magazine, July 24, 2021.

 

“Overjoy Cruise,” Tiny Spoon, July 23, 2021.

 

An excerpt from Cloud Hopper, in the wonderful The Milk House: A Rural Writing Collective, July 22, 2021.

 

“The Art of the Moment Memoirs,” an excerpt from We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class, on Jane Friedman’s blog, July 21, 2021.

 

“Teaching to Write,” Women Writers, Women(‘s) Books, July 19, 2021

CRAFT: try this on for size

Writing Wonder

“… we have the ability to find, nurture, and carry our own inner, living light—a light to ward off the darkness,” Baird writes, in Phosphorescence.

 

Remember and write of a time when you were deeply aware of the light you carry and of the darkness that you conquered.

 

Now remember and write of a time when you felt yourself to be rescued by the world beyond, by the wonder you chose to seek.

JUNCTURE NOTES 58
date: July_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: Cover Work
Launching We Are the Words

The first time I ever saw my husband’s art it was floated across a drafting board of an architecture studio. I was the firm’s marketing coordinator. Bill was the guy who had swooped in for a three-month design-and-drafting stint between travels in Europe and graduate school. I was delivering mail. I stopped beside his pencil lines. That, perhaps, was it.

 

A few weeks later I was at Bill’s makeshift desk in his third-floor rental watching him render fantasy landscapes out of fluid color. How did he do that? Later it was his three-dimensional models I pondered—the delicacy of the fabrication, the ferocity of the intent. In time, Bill would build clay vessels that—in their geometries and integrity—carried his architectural instincts forward.

 

In the pandemic months, Bill returned to the media he had first studied as a teen—oil painting. On small gessoed panels he worked color into faces and landscapes. One day he emerged from his garage studio with a painting featuring some of my handmade books and a very quiet, feather-fashionable bird.

 

I knew in an instant: This was the cover of We Are the Words. In time Bill was persuaded.

 

We Are the Words, inspired in part by the first online Juncture series, is about how we find and tell our own true stories—strategies, techniques, telling details, scenes, obsession vessels, time management, form testing, supposing. But it also casts a wider net to reflect on the vicissitudes of the writer’s life. The uncertainties and vulnerabilities, the pleasures and the hopes, the necessities and the battles we face, and the value of the book. Virginia Woolf sometimes raises her hand. Exercises and question cascades emerge. More than 100 memoirists and truth-tellers are noted (and included in an index)—Michael Ondaatje (of course), Natalie Kusz (also of course), Margo Jefferson, Helen Macdonald, Philip Connors, Sonja Livingston, Hilton Als, Casey Gerald, Megan Stielstra, Sophy Roberts, Inara Verzemnieks, Terry Tempest Williams, Richard Ford, Kathryn Harrison, Helen Garner, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Mark Doty, Jenn Shapland, Judy Goldman, and Margaret Renkl, among them.

 

The pandemic forced us all to rethink the ways we interact, do business, spend our time. It sent me back to my wall of truth books so that I might teach myself memoir newly. I have changed my mind about some matters. I have resurfaced with new ideas. I have been honest. That cover bird that sits on the cover of my handmade books understands that life is fleeting, and that our stories matter, and that, on some days, we will feel ourselves soaring while on others we will need to nest.

 

The great joy I have in this life is partnering with Bill. I can say this because I am not the painter here: I deeply love the cover art for We Are the Words.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In the upcoming Read Write workshop, to be held on July 18, we’ll be talking about the writers who turn their attention to the intrinsic beauty of the world. We’ll read a few pages (sent in advance) of Elisabeth Tova Bailey, ponder her process and decisions, and pause for in-the-moment exercises and questions. Our first two sessions in this series have yielded remarkable chat-room poetry as our writers respond to memory prompts in real time. To join us, go here.

Some recent news, work, and conversations:

Wife | Daughter | Self is a Buzzfeed “18 Amazing Small Press Books to Add to your Summer Reading List” selection.

 

“Spreadsheeting the Void,” in The Raven’s Perch, June 8, 2021.

 

My conversation with the spectacular Alisha Crossley, on the Imperfectly Polished Podcast.

 

“Feather White,” In Blood and Bourbon, No. 8, Grace, downloadable here.

 

My conversation with Ken Jones on KBOO.FM, here.

CRAFT: try this on for size
Design Your Own Cover

I’m in the early stages of something brand new, and I’m having trouble with the framing. This always happens, and I always get frustrated, and I always (finally) remember not to panic.

 

There is time, I remind myself. Moreover, easily framed books may not, in the end, be interesting ones.

 

In the publishing world we often don’t get to control our covers. Still, it can help, I’ve found, to imagine a cover for the story we are shaping. To resolve questions about the project’s mood and tone and purpose by imagining the first thing a bookstore patron will see.

 

And so that is my prompt for you this month. With whatever media you have near—a box of crayons, a set of colored pencils, a tin of watercolors, collage materials and glue, origami papers, wood and nails—construct your best idea for your book’s cover.

 

What emerges? Is it bold or subtle? Is it graphic or illustrative? Does the title shout or is it quiet? Are you pale peaches and greens or reds and blacks? What does your cover tell you about the project on your desk?

JUNCTURE NOTES 57
date: June_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: As I … What?
A Few In-General Thoughts Provoked by a Book I Did Not Love

I am not going to name the new buzzy memoir I just read. If I had loved it, I would name it, but love was not in the air. I did, however, have thoughts while I turned the pages, in-general thoughts that I’ll now share, should you be at work on your own writerly projects. Perhaps you’ll agree. Perhaps you won’t. This is a conversation.

 

Thought Number One: Is it possible (I think it’s probable) that a memoir loses its pizazz when flecked throughout by the As I’s? As I thought about… As I researched… As I interviewed… As I remembered… As I sat down to write… As I concluded… What a barrier this As I throws up, especially if the stale construction appears countless times throughout the text. The As I, within this context, says Watch me work. It says, This is me, the writer wielding writerly ways. It says, I worked hard on these very pages.

 

The As I, deployed suchly, gets in the way of the story. Nothing is lost by removing the phrase and so much is gained.

 

Thought Number Two: There is a place for memoirs that sidestep scene in favor of philosophy, history, inquiry, literature, experiment—consider, for example, Anne Boyer’s The Undying, a fierce, bracing meditation on cancer in which the people in the author’s life—the people who helped take care, the people who helped with hope—are very rarely seen.

 

But when the subject of the memoir is the memoirist’s flock, when the focus is on resurrecting someone dear, scenes—real scenes—are necessary. We readers want to believe that we, too, have spent time in the company of the memoirist’s beloveds. We crave the three-dimensionality of well-rendered moments. Merely listing shared activities or family anecdotes or systematically-researched lore cannot hologram the subject into view. Summaries are the death of essence, the death of soul.

 

We readers deserve essence, and soul.

 

Thought Number Three: Something magical can happen when a memoirist sets aside the word “report,” (I am reporting on, I am collecting a report, I am writing a report) so that she (or he, or they) might focus on the evoked, the suggested, the suddenly discovered. A report is a deliverable. It is an exercise in documentation. It is set before the reader: Look at this.

 

But isn’t a memoir an invitation? Shouldn’t there be a little give and take?

 

Shouldn’t we write well past the report, using words and methods and means that generate a spark of mystery?

 

Let me end this conversation with a few lines from a very different book, a book that I have loved and will therefore name. It’s called Seed to Dust: Life, Nature, and a Country Garden. It’s by the British writer/gardener/former mole hunter, Marc Hamer, and it’s a collection of days, organized by the seasons. Hamer offers reflections on living and dying, on choosing and waiting. He finds his way, quietly, weaving us into his spell. He widens our world with his. He writes so very far past the report. He delivers scenes. He does not announce his process.

 

Here he is, writing of his beloved:

 

When we met I was a wild thing, barely socialised, and she was a wild thing too, having grown up wanting to run away from the mountain in Wales and the lonely cottage in a field near a lighthouse where she lived and played and read fairy stories alone. We vibrated with a similar frequency, so we moved closer together like magnets, and made children. They came into the world and they were like both of us, but were new and like neither of us, strangers who we came to know and love.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:

In the upcoming Read Write workshop, to be held on June 27, we’ll be exploring the world and work of Mary-Louise Parker, an actor, yes, but also a tremendously talented writer. We’ll read a single short Parker essay together, talk about Parker’s relationship to the stories she writes, and pause for in-the-moment exercises and questions. To join us, go here.

In other news:

 

On August 12, 2021, our new craft book, We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class, will be available. We are so happy to share the cover here, featuring an original oil painting by William Sulit.

 

And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth’s World has been released by Cameron/Abrams Books, to positive reviews. Illustrator Amy June Bates and I launched the book at the Brandywine River Museum of Art by taking listeners beyond the scenes with photographs, art sources, stories. Our conversation can be found here.

 

“The Distance of Awakening,” an essay about Isabella Stewart Gardner and my father, appears in Tigershark, May 2021. Download the issue here.

 

“House as Home: Writing the Places That Raised Us” appears in Brevity, May 17, 2021.

 

An interview with Naomi Milliner, on memoir, fiction, and the writing life, appeared on May 11, 2021.

 

“Moving the Type,” a Virginia Woolf and Common Press story, appears at The Curator, May 10, 2021.

Words-Cover-sm2
CRAFT: try this on for size
Honor the essence

Write about a stranger you have come to know and love. Don’t allow yourself to slip into mere reportage. Yield, to your reader, this stranger’s essence.

JUNCTURE NOTES 56
date: May_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: Beth Kephart
“Kephart’s wife | daughter | self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: In Times of Blankness
Seeking the Writer Self

For many months in this pandemic year I could not read, and because I could not read, I could not write, and because I could not write, I made blank books. In the half blue light of winter. In a room remade for solitude. Beneath the gnarled gaze of the felt puppet I had bought on the Charles Bridge in Prague, where I had gone to learn what writer is from Jayne Anne Phillips, William Gass, Gish Jen, and Carolyn Forché.

 

In the shadow light of the pandemic, I sliced, I glued, I sewed. I knotted buttons into paper embedded with foreign flowers. While I worked, I considered my multitude of selves. Iterations of me as defined by opportunity and apostrophes. By curiosities, vulnerabilities, spontaneities. By innate traits and acquired ones. Myself in the crowd, myself alone. Myself in the sun, myself asleep. Myself beside my father’s grave, myself beneath the doctor’s gaze. Myself forgiven and forgiving, young and now not young, teaching others and desperate to teach myself.

 

Into the valleys and peaks of the blank books I sewed, pondering these iterative selves and wondering, too, as I so often have, if a writer who isn’t writing is in fact a writer self.

 

It was Deborah Levy who shook me out of my not-reading haze—Levy’s slender true-life tales, with their stark sentences and sly storytelling frames, their talk of life but also process.

 

“I did not know how to get the work, my writing, into the world,” she wrote in Things I Don’t Want to Know. “I did not know how to open the window like an orange. If anything, the window had closed like an axe on my tongue.”

 

“It was calm and silent and dark in my shed,” she wrote in The Cost of Living. “I had let go of the life I had planned and was probably out of my depth every day. It’s hard to write and be open and let things in when life is tough, but to keep everything out means there’s nothing to work with.”

 

In her true stories, Levy presents herself as a writer trying to write. As a writer who finally does write. As a writer who decides to open the windows, the doors, the gates and reckon with those things that make life tough.

 

Levy’s books made me want to write. To un-inoculate my writer self.

 

“So this is how you write,” says Jo Ann Beard in the essay “Now,” from the new collection, Festival Days. “You let the writing lead and you simply follow, letting the memories and the images and the language take over; you’re the writer, you get to decide…”

 

Follow the memories, Beard says, follow the words. Reckon, Levy says, with the life that gets tough. There is always something new to say because we carry forward so many iterative selves. We thread the needle. We knot the knots. We pierce the peaks and valleys.

 

We stop. We wait. We work again.

 

And often, as we work, community helps. Another voice in our ear. A companion. Another writer suggesting a new path or simply demonstrating the power of not giving up. With the hope of creating just such a community for our Juncture writers, Bill and I have launched a Facebook page accessible to those of you who have joined any of our Juncture workshops—virtual or in-person. Already some of our memoirists are there, on that page, speaking about books they are reading or controversies they are following. Some are posting their work. We’ll use this space, too, for those who have joined our Read Write series to share work that is emerging from those classes.

 

Because we know it gets tough. Because sometimes our pages are all blank. Because we read to write and write to share and can be uplifted by a community forged with trust.

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:

Nine separate sessions focusing on nine separate elements of craft, each uplifted by an essay or excerpt easily found online. Over the course of these 75-minute presentations, Beth will take a deep look at the central essay, discuss the tools of craft and wisdom the writer brought to the pages, and apply that wisdom to the participants’ own work, with prompts and suggestions. Among the topics: On writing childhood with Terrence Des Pres, On Writing the World with Elisabeth Tova Bailey, and On Writing Joy with Brian Doyle. More information here.

In other news:

 

Cloud Hopper is a co-winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, 7 – 12 grades.

 

“Make New Memories, Our Story is Enough,” an essay in Catapult about a sudden memory blink, March 30, 2021.

 

“Shattering the Frame: A Conversation with Beth Kephart,”The Adroit Journal, April 9, 2021.

 

Art + Words, a conversation about collaboration featuring a slide show of Bill’s art, at Hidden Timber books, with thanks to Christi Craig, March 2021.

 

“Meet Beth Kephart, the Main Line’s finest writer – we’d say “arguably the finest” but we’d be lying – through the pages of her new memoir: Wife| Daughter| Self. It’s intimate, unconventional and altogether fascinating. You’ll learn about her marriage to a Salvadoran artist and why she never learned his native tongue; how ice skating, of all things, informs her writing; about her personal struggles with perfection and insomnia and so much more.” — Caroline O’Halloran, Savvy Main Line

WifeDaughterSelf
CRAFT: try this on for size
Animate the Inanimate

“You let the writing lead and simply follow,” Jo Ann Beard tells us. Still, we need a place to start. If you’re stuck today, tomorrow, sometime next week, begin by describing a single object that lives within the room where you work. That fossil on the window sill. That feather on the shelf. That eraser that was once so white and smug. That framed painting still sitting on the floor. How long has it been sitting on the floor, and why?

 

Write the what of this thing in your room. Animate the inanimate. Remember. Let the writing lead so that you can follow.

JUNCTURE NOTES 55
date: March_2021
words: Beth Kephart
images: William Sulit
“Kephart’s wife | daughter | self: a memoir in essays passes the whole of a life through the prism of intimate relations and the result is revelatory: a memoir that assembles itself as we read, until all its parts are shimmering with meaning and that most sought, most elusive treasure is revealed: what it means to be human, and aware.”
Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True
Art: Seeking Urgency and Song
What’s happening now

In Between Two Kingdoms, Suleika Jaouad writes of the cancer that intercepted her life when she was just twenty-two—leukemia, with a 35% chance of survival. She’d been trying to make a life in Paris, following graduation from Princeton University. She was newly in love. She harbored dreams of being a war correspondent. But a hellacious several years were now in store, as she began to fight for her life with a succession of medical teams. Jaouad endures uncertainty, fear, pain, exhaustion, numbingly difficult procedures. She struggles to hold onto those things, and to the people who matter most to her.

 

Invited to document her experience for The New York Times, she does. Her readership grows, compounds. When she emerges as a healthy young woman whose body will forever hold the trauma it endured, Jaouad does not know who she actually is, nor who she is meant to be. Sickness has been her way of life. What does a well young adulthood look like? She doesn’t know, and so she takes a trip, driving 15,000 miles with her dog Oscar to meet some of the people who have corresponded with her through her Times column.

 

Smoothly written, chronologically set forth, Between Two Kingdoms is life set down in the order in which life happened. There’s nothing episodic about it. There are no urgent compressions, no languid poetries, no surprising juxtapositions or blinding lights of white space. Between Two Kingdoms, an immensely important story, presents time ticking as a metronome might.

 

I read the book just after I read Megan Harlan’s Mobile Home, a brilliant, deeply universal memoir in essays about Harlan’s peripatetic childhood and her desire to understand that word “home,” a book about how one finally inhabits the world, inhabits one’s life. I read it just before I’d read Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat, a book that electrified me with its urgencies and poetries, its melding of domestic life and historic yearning, its coupling of the known and the unknown, the never found and the quested (see my Cleaver Magazine review here).

 

I realized, as I read Between Two Kingdoms, that I was slowing some things down in my head and speeding some things up because that is what I do now when I read or write memoir, that is what I seem to need—true stories as attuned to pacing as they are to content. True stories that stare time in the face and wrestle time’s constraints and indignities, freedoms and whishhhh as deliberately as they wrestle with what happened.

 

In a new essay in Craft, I write about time and how we might manage it as memoirists. The essay arises from one of the recent Juncture Workshop programs, but of course and mostly it arises from years of slotting and unslotting memoirs into all kinds of categories.

 

“When we ask where a story begins, we calculate time,” I write in the essay. “When we merge the act of remembering with the memories themselves, or make our prose stand breathlessly still, or work that much harder to more artfully see, we slow time down. When we rush the days or years, favor the tell over the scene, make the white space speak for the untold things, or let the experiences swirl, we put the wind at time’s back.”

 

A thought that took years to formulate, a thought I did not have, more than thirty years ago, when I first started reading and writing memoir. A thought that predominated as I wrote Wife | Daughter | Self: a memoir in essays—wrote it, rewrote it, neutered it, started again, until it sounded like time to me.

 

What do you think about time in memoir? How do you manage it? How does it escape you? What beats do you hear in your own head while you are writing? What beats do you seek in the memoirs you are reading? We all carry different memoir music in our bones. Do you know what yours is? Are you honoring it?

JUNCTURE NEWS
What’s happening now

The Juncture Read Write Series:


Nine separate sessions focusing on nine separate elements of craft, each uplifted by an essay or excerpt easily found online. Over the course of these 75-minute presentations, Beth will take a deep look at the central essay, discuss the tools of craft and wisdom the writer brought to the pages, and enter into a conversation with the participants about their own experience with the work. For each session, Beth will offer a single “five-minutes, five-sentences” prompt and then listen as a handful of writers share their newest sentences. Among the topics: On writing childhood with Terrence des Pres, On Writing the World with Elisabeth Tova Bailey, and On Writing Joy with Brian Doyle. More information here.

Among Beth’s recent essays and interviews are these:

 

“Time Stamps: Eleven Ways of Managing Time in Memoir,” Craft, March 23, 2021

 

“Stitch Work,” an essay about a plain sewing sampler and my deeply loved uncle, in Lines and Stars, March 22, 2021

 

My conversation with Jacinda Barrett at the Free Library of Philadelphia, about Wife | Daughter | Self
Audio
Video

 

A conversation with Jackie Shannon Hollis about Wife | Daughter | Self at The Rumpus, March 3, 2021

 

“Her Room. Ours.,” Entropy Magazine, March 1

 

My conversation with Leslie Pietrzyk, at Work in Progress, about Wife | Daughter | Self, March 1, 2021

 

“Finding Quiet in a Chaotic World,” Covey Club, March 2021

 

My review of A Ghost in the Throat, by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, in Cleaver Magazine, March 21, 2021

 

My podcast conversation about memoir and the writing life with Matty Dalrymple at The Indie Author, here, March 9, 2021

WifeDaughterSelf
CRAFT: try this on for size
Time Lapse

Identify the ten most compelling events, discoveries, or moments that live within the essay or book that you are writing. Limit yourself to ten. Write each element onto a single index card. Arrange the cards with an eye toward speeding things up, and write that story. Arrange the cards with an eye toward slowing things down, and write that story. Which story feels most true?