What’s a Salon, anyway?

Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, c. 1920, Photograph by Man Ray, from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature.

Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, c. 1920, Photograph by Man Ray, from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature.

When I heard the phrase “literary salon,” I thought immediately of Gertrude Stein and her famous Parisian salons of the 1920s. Invited to participate in one of her events, you knew you were definitely hot shit. Couldn’t you see the flapper dresses sway, feel the crisp bite of champagne, and hear Gertrude bark at Hemingway? I’d love to have been there.

Baltimore’s thriving literary and arts community offers so many opportunities to participate in lectures, readings, and openings that one could fill one’s social calendar with one event after another. These modern salons abound, yet thinking of them in terms of Parisian excess, I couldn’t quite figure out what to expect. Who attended these events? How did one dress? Would I fit in?

Oliver's Carriage House

Oliver’s Carriage House

The first Little Patuxent Review launch reading I attended was last January. Snow drifts piled high then, too (though not as impressive as today). Oliver’s Carriage House, a stone edifice, felt welcoming and warm. Voices drifted down from the second floor. I mounted the steps and arrived to find throngs of people gathered. Three groups of chairs, arranged in rows, fanned out to face an oak podium, which stood before a great unlit fireplace. The afternoon sun poured in through high windows, casting a warm glow throughout the room.

As the attendees shed their coats, I observed that they were a mix of old and young, smooth and wrinkled. Some wore scarves and jewels, others jeans and sweaters. Some were shod with L.L.Bean duck boots while others had feet encased in modest pumps. When the moderator spoke, a reverent hush descended. We all anticipated the words to follow.

Poets recited. Essayists read. The audience laughed. We leaned forward, rapt. Tears formed in the corner’s of eyes and were wiped away with the backs of hands. We asked questions and shared refreshments. Contributors received direct feedback about the impact of their work. The whole event felt positive, reaffirming.

In short, salons aren’t the stuffy, by “invitation-only” events they once were. (Sorry, Gertrude.) They’re attended by the curious, the learners, the adventurers, the dreamers, lovers of words and art and song. Everyday people attend. People like plumbers and cooks and lawyers and teachers and parents. Sometimes, there are even teenagers.

We hope you’ll consider attending this Sunday’s salon launch of Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2016 Issue “Myth” or any of the upcoming Salon Series jointly sponsored by LPR and the Columbia Association. All events are free and open to the public.

Still not convinced? Here are a few photos from a recent Salon Series event where guest editor Patricia VanAmburg spoke on “Pulling Adiadne’s Thread.” She discussed myths, ancient images, and symbols using her own photographs. The next Salon Series event is scheduled for February 22 at 7 pm. It features blues singer Denee Barr, who will share her repertoire of songs by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Judy Garland.

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Launch Delayed to January 31

The launch reading of the Winter 2016 “Myth” issue has been postponed due to expected inclement weather. It will be held from 2-4 pm on Sunday, January 31, 2016, at Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD 21044.

LPR Contributing Editor Susan Thornton Hobby will serve as our MC. Light refreshments will be served and copies of this and older editions will be available for sale. Please join us.

Our program will feature the following contributors:

  • Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka
  • Pat Valdata
  • Minas Konsolas
  • Ann Quinn
  • Amanda Miska
  • Michele Wolf
  • Edgar Gabriel Silex (introduced by Patricia)

Winter 2016 “Myth” Cover Reveal

LPR 2016Myth_FRONT cover.sm

Frame of Mind (G) Minas Konsolas Acrylic and ink on canvas, 2015 30 × 24 in.

Myths are not lies. They are the stories that shape and reflect belief systems.

According to artist Minas Konsolas, myths are the truest form of history because they are the stories a culture tells about itself—stories often repeated in oral tradition before the printed word. Konsolas, born on the Greek island of Karpathos, has read and listened to such stories his entire life. He knows that even though a myth can be manipulated as a method of control, truth of the tale will be found in its universal symbolism.

Regarding universal themes and symbols, Native American poet Edgar Silex reminds us that we have identified “some ninety-plus essential human stories” retold in multiple time periods and places. Why do the peoples of the world tell such similar stories? Theories range from very predictable—the influence of migration—to fantastic speculation about star seed or genetic hot-wiring. For Silex, who is a mythology scholar and teacher, similar stories evolve from our shared human experience—causing symbols and themes to be “engrammed in the universal subconscious.”

Stories and poems in this issue echo ancient works even as they search for images and narratives applicable to current events. Readers share the “drunken joy” of kings, madwomen, slippery gods, and mermaids. They witness crusades, war, persecution, and discrimination on multiple continents. They are privy to the pain of infertility, insecurity, addiction, and other human conditions. They are invited into city apartments, suburban garages, and the roots and branches of trees where the occupants live between heaven and hell in conceptualized beauty, sexuality, or even reality.
Some of us may be able to read present, past, and future in the entrails of a crow. Many of us will remember that the world remains the same even as it changes: snakes are still some of our favorite shapeshifters; apples can be poisoned in many ways.

Thank you, Little Patuxent Review staff and contributors, for sharing this “mythic” adventure. It takes the experience and stories of a village to make a journal happen.

—Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg

Online Editor’s Note: Be sure to join guest editor Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg at the Winter 2016 Launch Reading on Sunday, January 24, from 2-4 pm. 

The darkness most feared

Ann BrackenLittle Patuxent Review contributing editor Ann Bracken participated in New Day Campaign’s Book Club on December 1, 2015. Peter Bruun purchased in advance several copies of Ann’s memoir-in-verse, The Altar of Innocence, and provided them to women in recovery. These women attended Ann’s reading and participated in a lively post-reading discussion.

Little Patuxent Review: The New Day Campaign’s mission is to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction, making the world a more healing place. Share with us why participating in this campaign was important to you.

"The Altar of Innocence," By Ann Bracken

“The Altar of Innocence,” By Ann Bracken

Ann Bracken: As someone who has dealt with depression in the past, I think it is critical to normalize the experience.  Many times feeling sad, overwhelmed, or stuck is a normal response to extremely challenging experiences. Many times when someone has experienced some abuse or trauma, the psyche needs a break and going into what I call a “down-mode” offers you a chance to reflect and restore.

As for addiction, I think of addiction as experiencing a hole that can’t be filled — sometimes due to some trauma or abuse, again. One seeks to fill the hole with something that will temporarily take away the pain. The “something” could be food, gambling, sex, shopping—it doesn’t have to be drugs in the traditional sense. Almost anything in excess can give you a temporary rush of serotonin and dopamine(the feel-good chemicals).

The New Day Campaign aspires to create safe spaces where people can talk about depression and addiction. I think the more we can all share our experiences in safe places and talk about what has helped us, the more we can move towards both personal and societal healing.

LPR: Peter Bruun said of New Day, “we create a space of safety and acceptance out in the public realm, where more often than not shame, blame, fear, and judgment prevent those who hurt from speaking of their hurt and vulnerabilities.” How important was this safe space for you at this point in your journey?

AB: I’m not currently suffering from any depression, yet I know it well and can remember how the darkness can isolate you. When I read from my memoir in verse, The Altar of Innocence, and share my experiences of depression and recovery, people often find hope for themselves in the story of my struggle to overcome depression. Writing the book and sharing my poems has helped me to let go of shame and find healing for memories and past hurts. I hope that the New Day Campaign’s efforts can offer that same healing to others.

LPR: What did you find helpful as you worked through your depression or melancholy?

AB: Part of feeling depressed involves feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness. One way that I worked to overcome those feelings was by pampering myself. I chose a sensory treat that I could appreciate throughout the day. For example, I used to buy the least expensive body lotion in the grocery store—usually with very little fragrance. But after reading about the importance of being kind to yourself, I decided to buy my favorite rich, vanilla-scented body cream. I realized that every time I put that cream on my hands, I had an instant sensory treat. The lush fragrance and the rich cream served as reminders that I was worthy of a treat. Treating myself well in a small way helped me to begin to establish a much healthier regard for myself.

LPR: What words of encouragement would you like to offer others who are currently experiencing depression?

AB: Hold on. You will make it to the other side. It’s so important to let people know that there is an end to the feelings of sadness. In addition, I think the most important lesson for me in the midst of my depression was the notion that depression is more than a dark hole, that there is often a gift in the darkness if you can ride the rough waves of sad feelings. David Whyte expresses this idea beautifully in his poem “The Well of Grief” when he says:

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

LPR: You became an expressive coach. Tell us more about that.

AB: Because poetry, journaling, and the arts played such vitally important roles in my recovery, I decided to pursue training in using poetry and journaling for healing and personal growth. As a result of that training, I established my practice, The Possibility Project. The poetry and journaling workshops I offer are suitable for both adults and teens. One of my original programs, The Three Pillars of Hope, is designed for women in transition and features a combination of sessions composed of poetry, journaling, and arts-based reflections.

LPR: When the inaugural New Day Campaign has ended, what would you like to be different?

AB: Actually, I’d love to see an end to the term “mental illness.” How about melancholy instead?  Or normal sadness? Why is anxiety seen as illness in the face of the pressures of modern life or the presence of huge challenges? Why is the most common way to deal with depression to offer a pharmaceutical remedy when what so many need is someone to talk to that can guide them through the darkness?

People need to know that there are many effective alternatives to medication, particularly for people who suffer from mild to moderate depression or low-grade anxiety.  According to the latest research, non-medical alternative interventions for depression—including placebos—are just as effective as the so-called chemical cures. In my case, poetry and cognitive-behavioral therapy did more to help me heal than any medical intervention. I’d like to see these non-medical interventions become just as well known to greater numbers of people.

LPR: Thank you, Ann, for your courage and example. 

Online Editor’s Note: Please visit New Day Campaign (http://www.newdaycampaign.org/) to see a full list of exhibits and events, which run through December 31, 2015. 

Resources of interest:

Meet Lisa, gardener of flowers, words, and love.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill could have been looking ahead, thinking about Little Patuxent Review’s volunteer staff. Each works tirelessly behind the scenes to read your submissions, edit the draft and design the final printed journal. In other words, it means something to them when your work gets published (almost as much as it does to you). As review continues on the Myth issue submissions, let’s continue to meet our volunteers.

Lisa BiggarLisa Lynn Biggar began reading fiction submissions for Little Patuxent Review in 2013.  She received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently marketing her first novel, We Were Here. Her short fiction has appeared in The Dickinson Review, The Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, Roadside Fiction, The Little Patuxent Review, and is forthcoming in The Minnesota Review.  She currently teaches English at Chesapeake College and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.

What’s your process for going through submissions? I give each quality submission an honest read. Sometimes a piece that starts off slow can surprise me in the end.

When you’re reading a submission, what draws you most about a piece? There is no one thing, but I do like character-driven plots, be it realism or magic realism.

What turns you off immediately when you read a submission? Rambling for the sake of rambling, not the story.

Who has informed your reading tastes most? Why? Virginia Woolf and Milan Kundera—such a musical, meandering flow to their work, but nothing beyond the stories at hand.

What’s on your nightstand right now to be read?  One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Are you also a writer/poet? If so, tell us more. If so, tell us more.Yes. I have an MFA in Fiction from VT College and write and publish fiction and poetry. I am currently marketing my first novel, We Were Here.

What’s your Six-Word Memoir: Gardener of flowers, words, and love.

Do you have any superpowers? If not, what do you wish you had? I wish I could jump into the skin of other people and feel what it’s like to be them for just an hour or so.

Online Editor’s Note: You stay abreast of Lisa’s writing, publication, and speaking schedule by visiting her website: www.writinglisa.com. A reminder that LPR’s Summer submission period is “open.” We welcome your creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and art.

Pushcart Nominations

pushcartprize1If you’ve been reading along this year with Little Patuxent Review, you know we’ve had an incredible bevy of talent from which to pull our annual Pushcart nominations, due today. Our entire staff and volunteer readers shared their feedback to create a comprehensive submission.

Congratulations to all our nominees!

Matthew Westbrook, “The Family Gathers in Memory of the Military Son Who was Murdered in the War on Drugs and Spent His Last Night at a Football Game” (Poetry)
Stephanie Dickinson, “Emily and the Cookstove” (Fiction)
Rachel Eisler, “It’s Lovely to Watch Young Women” (Poetry)
Adam Schwartz, “Cedar Creek” (Fiction)
Steve Coughlin, “The Next Thirty-Two Years” (Non-fiction)
Nandini Dhar, “Carnival” (Fiction)
Online Editor’s Note: The submission window for our Summer 2016 “unthemed” issue opens today. We’re in search of excellent poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Who knows? Maybe your name will appear on next year’s Pushcart nomination list.

When Love Leads and Art Heals

Peter Bruun.

Peter Bruun.

Peter Bruun arrived in Baltimore in 1987, a recent art history graduate of Williams College. He enrolled in graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where he earned a master’s degree at MICA’s Mt. Royal School of Art. He’s been a fixture in the Baltimore cultural scene since and is recognized as a community activist, educator, and curator. For example, Bruun worked in 2011 with Marian House to create 30 Women, 30 Stories, an art project highlighting the success stories of 30 women whose lives had been transformed by Marian House, overcoming addiction, trauma, incarceration, homelessness, mental illness and poverty to build independent, productive lives. Perhaps this project planted seeds of deep empathy within Peter which he would need.

In February 2014, Peter received a call every parent secretly fears. His oldest daughter Elisif was dead.  Heroin addiction plagued his beautiful and talented 24-year old and proved too strong, despite her best efforts to heal. He channeled his grief into a blog post on Bruun Studio’s website called A New Day. From this outpouring, Peter grew a 2015 movement called A New Day Campaign, featuring 16 exhibits and 63 events over 92 days. It’s an initiative using art to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction, making the world a more healing place.

Extraordinary circumstances often lead individuals to create sacred spaces and change the conversations we’ve been having. Such was the case when Peter took action, as he has before many times before, to create A New Day Campaign. He is showing an entire community how to shine light in our darkest corners, ferret out shame, talk openly, and love one another, unconditionally. Little Patuxent Review is deeply grateful for Peter taking time amidst the An New Day Campaign activities to share his thoughts with us.

Little Patuxent Review: You organized A New Day Campaign, pulling together artists, writers, poets and thought leaders, with the mission to make the world a more healing place. What kinds of conversations do you hope will be happening 95 days from now?

Peter Brauun: What do I hope to happen after the Campaign? Well, the main thing is I hope there is still a conversation, for that’s the key: talking about it. So long as we’re talking about mental illness and addiction, and recognizing that those who suffer are not choosing their pain or behaviors, and then we’re on the way to the culture shift I hope to see. The new day.

LPR: Will you share with us the types of events falling under New Day Campaign’s umbrella?

ANDCPB: The overall purpose of the Campaign is to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction, making the world a more healing place. This calls for a diverse range of experiences. We have events that are about bringing people together to connect with one another, to gain some new understanding, to support advocacy, and to provide opportunities for healing. We have everything from book conversations, where those who have written books that shed light on mental illness or addiction engage in conversation with a small audience, to opening receptions celebrating art exhibitions, with hundreds in attendance, to a film series with conversation, to a variety of theme-based gatherings where those who either are experts by training or experts of their own experience come together to dig into an issue. Some of our events are elaborate half day affairs with multiple presentations that include information, performance, sharing, and conversation. We also have a number of what we call “healing experiences,” where folks come together and actually engage in some sort of healing activity. So there is great diversity. If there is one common denominator to what we do, it’s that we create a space of safety and acceptance out in the public realm, where more often than not shame, blame, fear, and judgment prevent those who hurt from speaking of their hurt and vulnerabilities. But time and time again, we have had events where people speak without fear and with confidence that those in the room bring compassion and care. That’s been the most beautiful thing about the Campaign: the public intimacies. The sense of fellowship. I believe we are modeling a kind of new day.

LPR: How did you determine what kinds of art, writers, poets and thought leaders would be included in New Day Campaign?

PB: That itself is more art than science. There certainly is no single way. So much of it is about the opportunity: who wants to share something, who has something to share? It’s definitely not simply about the art: it needs to have a story to it. As for writers and poets, pretty much whoever has come along has found a voice in the choir… literature is not my personal strength (visual art is), so I’ve not dug deep into that world, but where I have I’ve liked who and what I’ve come across, and found a place for them. As for artists themselves, some are more involved than others, because they are true stakeholders in the issues, and they are powerful, compassionate people themselves. As for what you call thought leaders, again I’m looking for a range of expertise, philosophy, and kinds of thinking or experiences. And I have to say, even though there are artists, poets, writers, performers, and thought leaders who are foregrounded in our programs, in the actual events the field is very flat: there is virtually always a community conversation component and all are welcome to speak up – we’ve had writers, poets, artists, performers, and thought leaders emerge from the crowd that way, and it’s been lovely. This touches everyone, so everyone is welcome.

LPR: What happens after this year’s events have concluded?

PB: I rest, we reflect, and we figure out what to do next. There are no current plans other than to get our breath and analyze what worked and what didn’t. Then we’ll see where opportunity, resources, and interest lie.

LPR: Your daughter Elisif is the inspiration for A New Day Campaign. About her death last February to a heroin overdose, you wrote, “My daughter was neither weak nor morally flawed. She was beautiful and strong, and she succumbed to a tragic affliction.” Who was Elisif and what would you like people to remember or know about her?

PB: I really don’t know what to say to this one. Elisif is so much to me, and whatever she means to someone else, I’m happy to have that be so. If her light is positive, I’m glad.

LPR: What would Elisif’s reaction be to A New Day Campaign?

PB: She would absolutely hate that it is about her. She would absolutely love that it exists. She’d be proud of me. She is proud of me.

LPR: You’ve long been a community activist, catalyzing others via art. How do you envision the arts impact on challenging the stigma associated with mental health and addiction? 

PB: It’s what I do, but I know its real impact is small. “Intimacy” is a word included among our values in the Campaign. So it probably has an impact only on an intimate, small scale. But it’s what I do, and it’s a good, even if small. At best we can hope to be casting a bunch of seeds in the field, or pebbles in the pond. I’m doing that, and I think the arts do that.

LPR: In your “A New Day” blog post (February 27, 2014), you wrote about Elisif having genetic testing done and the discovery of a predilection toward opiate addiction. “The play between genetics and environment in behavioral health is still a new field, but there is no question: substance abuse and its accompanying destructive behaviors is more sickness than choice.” Can you share more about these findings in general terms?

PB: There’s nothing so dangerous as a little bit of knowledge. I know only a little about this, and as I’ve learned more, I’ve learned just how little we know, and how far we have to go. But no doubt: genetics and better understanding that can only help us move further away from a world filled with shame and blame.

LPR: Share with us your thoughts on how support might look under a humane system.

PB: You know how we treat people with cancer, or Alzheimer’s? That’s how.

LPR: Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

PB: Thank you for sharing. That’s all.

LPR: Thank you for your courage and example.

Online Editor’s Note: A list of A New Day Campaign’s upcoming events can be found here. LPR’s Ann Bracken shares The Altar of Innocence at NDC’s Book Club Series on December 1. You can read an excellent interview with Peter called, “Good Grief” in this month’s Baltimore Magazine. Please consider visiting A New Day Campaign’s website to learn more and become involved.