Seaweed farming, radical homemaking, and about that book I wrote…

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I recently wrote a piece for To Market magazine about seaweed farming in New England. It was a real pleasure to research and write this feature—even though it did involve going out on the water off the coast of midcoast Maine in the middle of December on a day so cold that my phone turned itself off and my hands stopped working—mainly because it focused on a topic I think it incredibly important: food sustainability.

I’m reading a book right now called Radical Homemakers and I can’t stop thinking about it. The author, a PhD who lives on a farm in rural New York, makes the argument that the best way we can save our planet is through turning our households from consumer spaces to production spaces. When we grow our own food, mend our own clothes, build our own barns, we free ourselves from needing as much money (and from buying as much junk that’s designed to fail). It’s an obvious argument, yet I am still so caught up in the make-money-buy-things cycle that I occasionally feel defensive when I’m reading it. Which is probably a good thing—it’s shaking me up. That’s good.

Anyway, this does relate to seaweed, and to my book, Handcrafted Maine (due out this summer!) because these are all ways of approaching sustainability through creative means. Homemaking is a creative act. Seaweed farming is creative, innovative, and totally fascinating. And every person profiled in Handcrafted Maine is contributing to our state economy in intentional, beautiful, small-scale ways.

I really believe that intentional, small living is the way forward for our planet. I believe small farms are the future, homemakers are onto something, and the things we do with our hands are just as important as the things we do with our heads.

Pre-order Handcrafted Maine here. 

See more images by photographer Greta Rybus (who shot both the book and the To Market seaweed feature) here.

Buy Radical Homemakers directly from the author here. 

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Why I read, why I write: Making jewelry for the inside of your head.

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My work is incredibly important to me personally. It brings me joy and it brings me life and it brings me meaning. It doesn’t necessarily have to be important to the people who read it. It would be nice if it did bring them life and meaning, but it doesn’t have to. It’s not their fault that I wanted to be a writer. I just want to do it because I like doing it and it’s a pleasure. I always quote Tom Waits, because I had this amazing experience of getting to interview him and every single thing that he said was so Socratic—he’s just biblically wise about the arts—and he said something like, “You know, it’s not that important what I do. I’m just a guy that makes jewelry for the inside of people’s heads.”

OH GOD Elizabeth Gilbert nails it, all of it, in this very long, very wonderful interview with The Rumpus. Most people know her from Eat, Pray, Love and  many “serious” writers and readers tend to dismiss her because of the chic lit nature of that particular book. But she’s so much more than that! She’s a wonderful nonfiction writer (The Last American Man is one of the most fascinating true stories I’ve ever read) a sharply funny fiction writer (Pilgrims, her short story collection, is also worth a read) and one of the best TED speakers ever (seriously, go watch this right now—it’s awesome).

I’ll stop fan-girling now and stick to the facts. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert makes me feel better about getting rejected, because that’s just a fact of writerly life. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert recognizes the value of hard work and fights against the whole idea of genius, a toxic concept that’s killed plenty of genuine creativity. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert also recognizes that writing isn’t truly that important. It’s not! It’s a wonderful thing to read and a wonderful thing to write, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. It’s one way of addressing the existential despair and the turtles-all-the-way-down nature of the unknowable universe but it’s not life or death.

And, once you recognize that slightly uncomfortable fact about our work, there’s no excuse for not having some goddamn FUN with it.

Above image: sculpture by Ellen Jewett, a Canadian artist who creates fantastical and otherworldly animal pieces.

Why I read, why I write: Kurt Vonnegut edition.

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Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Kurt Vonnegut is such a boss. Here are his eight tips of writing short stories, a list that includes “be a sadist” and “every character should want something.” But the above quote is my favorite. Write to please one person. When I’m teaching writing to kids, I call this their “dream reader” or “fantasy reader.” Who is a person who you admire, who you most want to read your work? When I write, I think about a professor I studied with at Bard. I write for him, because writing for everyone is exhausting and impossible. A fools errand, just like trying to be liked by every person at the party.

Image by Ana Teresa Barboza, who creates amazing embroideries of plants and bodies and other natural things. Check out her website here.

Eat radical: Inside Vinland, the only 100-percent local restaurant in the world (located here in Maine!)

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In Portland, farm-to-table restaurants with eat-local missions are more common than a pair of Bean Boots. So perhaps it was inevitable that our neighbors to the north would push the concept even further. Chef David Levi’s passion project, Vinland, which turns one this month, features 100 percent locally sourced ingredients—which means that citrus, black pepper, and olive oil are all banned. With the exception of wine and coffee, everything used at Vinland comes from Maine.

I had a wonderful time hanging out with chef David Levi for this article, which was just published in the January issue of Boston Magazine. I really love writing about food—almost as much as I love eating it. That turnip soup? It’s fantastic. Tangy, rich, comforting, fresh, so good (no wonder it’s Levi’s signature dish). Read the full piece here. 

Photographs by the amazing Greta Rybus

“Prose is a window onto the world.”

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The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation.

― Steven PinkerThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Photograph by Michael Rougier for Time magazine.

Instagram on my wall.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 3.27.34 PMSometimes people email me about products they want me to write about. Usually, to be totally honest, I delete the emails or send them a quick “thanks but that doesn’t fit” note (I’ve been trying to respond to PR pitches more, especially after reading this great piece about gendered work and the public relations business from Jacobin, which made me think twice about clicking delete). But anyway, I was recently contacted by the folks at Instantly Framed, and because I’m an avid instagrammer I decided to try out the app (you can find my Instagram account here… in case you were wondering).

And I’m super glad I did! It took about five seconds to pick a photograph from my phone and order a framed print, which was delivered in two days. While I admire minimalist decor, I’m truthfully a maximalist myself; my apartment is covered in prints and pictures, weird textiles and pointless knickknacks. But I wouldn’t have it any other way (what are walls even for, if not to cover in pretty pictures?!).

Today I hung the above picture on my wall. I took that picture myself (on my iPhone… obviously). It’s the view from the top of Mount Kineo, a mountain that is located on a small island in the middle of Moosehead Lake. Up north, Maine is wild and green, scarcely populated and full of larger-than-life moose that chill out by the water as if they’ve got nothing better to do. (Did you know they have hollow hair, which enables them to swim, despite the fact that they’re big, huge, heavy, actuallykindofscary animals?) I love it up there. I often wish I lived further north, though I know there are few jobs to be had and a lot of economic depression. It’s a hard place to make a living, and though Maine is amazing, it’s still a state with a lot of issues. But I consider myself lucky to live here, and fortunate to have access to so much natural beauty. In the summer, I drive north whenever I can, to camp out at Lily Bay State Park and spend my days soaking in tea-dark lake water.

But I’m getting off topic. This is a cool app. I would never recommend it on my blog if I didn’t really, really like it. So, if you need some new wall art, you should check it out. And if you use the code CIKELLEHER10 you’ll get $10 off your first order (though December 15). Cool, eh?

Workin’ on my night moves: Writing about the graveyard shift at Sugarloaf Mountain

mainesugarloaf2I want to share one of my recent pieces (and one of my favorite assignments) from Maine magazine. Last winter, I spent a night driving around in snowcats with the Sugarloaf mountain groomers and snowmakers. As anyone who has worked the late shift knows, there’s something uncanny about the routines we form when everyone else is asleep. The world becomes quiet and intimate, your field of vision shrinks, making everything seem at once bigger and smaller.

mainesugarloaf3This night was like that—full of big machines and big mountains and small, sweet moments of conversation and connection. Vast sublime views and odd little human details: snippets of This American Life played over an iPod, off-record conversations about marriage and love, day-old pizza boxes pushed out of the camera frame.

Mainesugarloaf1Even though they wouldn’t let me drive a snowcat (which, given my driving record, was probably a good call), I still had a blast. Here’s the full piece. All pictures by immensely talented photojournalist Fred Field. Words are by me, with quotes from the smart, funny, cool guys who work at Sugarloaf Mountain.

 

Hope Gangloff has been spying on me.

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It’s been a strange, exciting, unnerving couple of weeks. I took up smoking again, I quit smoking again. I stopped drinking, then I drank all the wine. I followed my gut, and I ended up dizzy, sick, happy, relieved.

But seriously, on the whole, things are going really, really well.

I made the decision a few weeks ago to leave my full-time job as managing editor at Maine magazine and strike out into the world of freelance. Not because I didn’t love my job—I did, which is what makes leaving so crazy and hard—but because I love writing even more. I’ll still be freelancing for the magazine (hurrah!) and I’m also going to have more time to work on personal projects, like my short stories and my poetry and this here blog (double hurrah!).

But being home all the time also means I spend most of my day in various states of odd-dress/undress. It means I slouch around in sweatpants for hours before deciding suddenly that it’s time to break in that pair of heels that never fit. Too lazy to put on an outfit, I end up in heels and a quilted down vest, chewing on the end of a honey straw and trying to decide whether it’s worth it to put on pants (the answer is usually no).

I was going to say something more profound about Hope Gangloff’s languorous young ladies, but it’s late and I do have work to do tomorrow. Instead, I’ll just let them be.

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She’s talented, that’s for sure. Check out Hope’s website here.

Making it: paper flowers.

I’ve started doing a lot more crafting lately, and here is my latest project: DIY Paper Peonies! So pretty. I made this batch with my friend Emma to help spruce up her brand new Inman Sq. apartment, which is so pretty and spacious and nice it makes me die a bit. It’s also right near my favorite bar ever (Trina’s!) so extra jealous.