AWP13 – My first writing conference

awp13, awp, writing, conference, boston, 2013

Since we were experiencing shitty weather in Boston and usually not too many people will venture out to visit the gallery when it’s raining or snowing, I opted to spend the weekend at my very first writing conference––AWP13, organized by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

There is a two-fold reason that I wanted to attend AWP:  The first reason is, I like writing and I like reading journals.  The second reason is, many of these literary journals and books are using photography more often on their covers and I wanted to connect with them and introduce them to my gallery and the artists that I represent.

I attended this event on Friday and Saturday, sat through a few panel discussions and cruised through the book fair.  The panels were jammed packed––I’m talking fire hazard packed!  I’m glad I used the coat check––it might have been cold and snowy outside, however it was a heat box in there!

The book fair was well-attended and was located on two floors.  I actually got confused walking through it and realized that I was going in circles.  I took multiple passes on many booths.  I had a good time talking with all of the vendors and made some new friends on Twitter.  I got tons of shwag that I’m still sifting through.

I’m looking forward to my next literary conference in May, Grub Street‘s The Muse and The Marketplace.

It’s National Grammar Day. Proverbs.

tulip, bulbs, flowers, market, jason landry, photograph, proverbs

Jason Landry, Tulip Bulbs, Amsterdam, 2004

It’s National Grammar Day.  Today’s lesson: Proverbs.

‘Good Husbandry’ is listening to your wife when she tells you,
“Jason, I’m going to relax today.  Go for a run or something.”
“Yes dear.”

So during yesterday’s run, Mark was telling me that the tulip bulbs have started to break through the surface mulch in the small garden in front of his brownstone.
“That doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve noticed in the past few years that the proverb, ‘April Showers Bring May Flowers‘ isn’t really the case anymore.  The weird thing is, flowers have been blooming earlier in Boston and April hasn’t been our rainy month…it’s been May.”

“Environmentalists would have you thinking it has something to do with global warming”, says Mark. “The first thing you should check is when and where that statement was first introduced.  When I lived in Virginia, flowers would bloom sooner than in Boston due to it’s geographical distance from the equator.”
“Makes sense.  I’ll do some digging.”

In the mid-16th century, English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser wrote a book called A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry.  First published in 1557, the book included rhyming lyrical poems broken down by the months of the year.  In the April abstract, the famous lines were uttered:

Sweet April showers
do Spring May flowers.

The United Kingdom and the New England states do have similar climates and proximity to the equator.  So this proverb makes sense, however, I’m convinced that climate change has in fact disrupted the seasons.  I think I need to book a lunch with Al Gore.  He’d be able to expound on this topic.

Hanging Out with Dear Old TED

Hanging out with dear old TEDthe hawthorne, TED, TEDx, simulcast, team, food industry

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Boston and I’m holed up in The Hawthorne, a trendy lounge inside the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. Decorated with all original artwork and serving up some of the slickest craft cocktails around, it doesn’t normally open until after five pm. However, on this day in February, some of the staff from Garrett Harker’s Eastern Standard and their sister restaurant Island Creek Oyster Bar have congregated into the lounges’ stone room to watch a web simulcast of TEDx from Manhattan. Inside it’s quiet as the team waits for the afternoon session to start. Laptops are resting on their legs – people are texting and checking their e-mails. Scones are piled up on the bar, bottles of water and glasses are stacked on a cabinet and someone from the kitchen staff just brought in a mammoth-sized bowl of homemade sweet potato chips. Garrett calls out, “Does anyone want me to put in a lunch order?  I can do that.” Last thing I remember before the video feed started again was this comment – Did anyone send out a memo to advise people to bring a sweater…it’s cold in here!

So what’s so important about this particular TEDx that prompted Harker to round up his troops to watch it? The topic was: Change The Way We Eat – quite fitting for his staff, anyone in the restaurant industry, people that pride themselves as being into organic or locally-grown foods, farmers, people into macrobiotics, and we can’t forget the foodies. I don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories and I myself am not a foodie…I’m just an invited guest. But knowing Garrett, the topic wasn’t the only reason that he wanted his staff to see this: Garrett is big on learning, something that he incorporates wholeheartedly into the training sessions in his restaurants. You’re probably wondering how much training is involved. In his restaurants, his staff does research projects. “They have tackled regions of Italy – vicariously, although it inspired a few individuals to make the trip”, boasts Harker, “as well as extensive visits throughout the state of Maine, and most recently, they are researching counties throughout Massachusetts.”

Split into a few different teams that are made up of novice food runners to seasoned servers, management staff to veteran line cooks, they have been traveling to the different counties trying the food, meeting the people, visiting breweries, cheese factories and even museums. Each weekday afternoon a different team would present their findings – essentially educating the rest of the staff about what they had learned. Think of it as their own homemade version of a TED talk, happening on a weekly basis within the confines of the restaurant. “You can have all the ideas you like, but without buy in from the staff there’s little chance of a successful education initiative”, says Harker. “The research projects came out of a restlessness, a recognition that some of our best students had become excellent teachers, and we needed to give them a platform.”

The afternoon TEDx Manhattan session began. It started off with one of the speakers making a blunt and direct statement, “It’s easier to raise healthy children than to fix broken men.” Does this make sense to everyone? It should. I’m guessing that the speaker was directing this message to the millions of over-weight citizens in the United States who have a battle with the bulge every year. But let’s go back to the first key word in the quote: children. It starts with them. Guest speaker Anne Lappe took the stage to talk about the impacts of marketing junk food to children. One of the first statements that she presented was that ‘two billion dollars are spent each year on marketing junk food to children and teens’. That is a staggering number if you think of it. Lappe continued by discussing dieting concerns and facts such as ‘diet-related illnesses are on the rise’ and are at ‘downright dangerous’ levels. And it doesn’t help that some of these junk food companies with brands like Oreo are using marketing tactics like sponsoring curricula in schools to maintain its message.

On a positive note, I was happy to hear that ‘Maine was the first state to pass a law banning marketing junk food in schools.’ Bravo, Maine! My favorite quote of the day, one that might really help the younger generation, would be if McDonald’s would just ‘Retire Ronald’. It might be a fast and cheap food, but it’s highly unhealthy – where’s Oysterman or String Bean Boy when you need them?

I worked in the restaurant industry as a adolescent youth and from past experience, I was never educated about the foods that we cook and eat, where it comes from, how it’s grown and the true impact it has. I find it fascinating that Garrett goes out of his way to make sure his staff has this continuous learning experience – that he’s investing back into them in hopes that they learn something valuable. As a patron, it brings me pleasure in knowing that they are well educated about the food that is served. A happy server is a knowledgeable server. “There is the discovery and knowledge, the confidence that results, a respect for hospitality as a profession, and most importantly the magic that happens when you see your peers stretch themselves and grow right before your very eyes,” expresses Harker. “A thoroughly engaged and knowledgeable staff is one of the hallmarks of Eastern Standard. It’s important to continue to enrich the environment so that everyone feels the connection of a team committed to learning and growing. This knowledge is available to our guests, but at their pleasure. They may drink and dine as often as they like at Eastern Standard and enjoy it for pleasure’s sake.”

If you ever find yourself in one of these restaurants and someone from the staff is educating you about something on your plate that was either locally grown or harvested or caught or brewed, just know that what they are explaining to you wasn’t some quick pep talk they got from one of the chef’s during their staff meal – they quiet possibly had to research it themselves.

Harker concludes, “If we can impart some sort of knowledge or understanding, that certainly goes toward creating and making your whole dining experience memorable and come alive.”

The Drunken Indecency of a Sculpture at the Boston Public Library

boston public library, bpl, glen scheffer, panopticon gallery

Glen Scheffer, Inside the Boston Public Library.

The oldest public library in the United States is the Boston Public Library.  The main branch is located on Boylston St. in Boston’s Copley Square section and is the length of one full city block.  Besides housing a plethora of books, John Adams personal library and early works by William Shakespeare, it also has some nice exhibition spaces throughout.

I myself am drawn to the private courtyard in the center.  It’s quiet and it has a beautiful fountain with a bronze sculpture titled Bacchante and Infant Faun in the middle.  There’s a back story to this fountain too.  The sculptor, Frederick William MacMonnies wanted to give this sculpture to the architects that built the B.P.L.  There was a public outcry about it.  The fervor was over the nude nature of the sculpture and its ‘drunken indecency’.  I’m not sure if the ‘drunken indecency’ part has to due with it being nude, or the fact that the sculpture was in honor of Bacchus, a.k.a. Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry.

The library took a pass on accepting the gift.  What we see in the B.P.L. courtyard is a copy.  The original is located at The MET in New York and a second casting of it is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

On a nice, summer day when you sit in the courtyard reading a book or writing, you almost feel like you have been transported somewhere else – like Italy!

My introduction to Grub Street

Now, let me clarify.  There are two Grub Streets – one is a website about restaurant and dining suggestions – (a foodie’s wet dream), and the other is a literary haven for people who are interested in writing.  I am writing about the latter.

Grub Street, located on Boylston St in Boston is a non-profit organization that hosts writing and publishing workshops for people of all ages.  They make people better writers and assist writers who are set on making writing a career.

I was introduced to Grub Street by my friend Debbie Hagan, former Editor-in-Chief at Art New England Magazine.  She knew I was very serious about my writing and knew I was looking for a little guidance on my memoir.

Last week I attended my first two workshops at Grub Street.  The first: So You Want to Be a Writer in 2013 and Beyond with Ethan Gilsdorf (twitter = @ethanfreak)

The second was: Writing the Killer Nonfiction Book Proposal with Katrin Schumann (twitter = @katrinschumann).

The classes here are small (8-12 students) and run the gamut with students who were just starting out and others who have finished manuscripts and needed direction.  I fall somewhere in between.  Both classes were great and were led by published authors who had real world experience.  Since I have already gone to school and earned a B.F.A and a M.F.A. I wasn’t planning to re-enroll in another degree-seeking program.  These workshops are designed to give a lot of information in a short amount of time.  The first workshop was only three hours long, while the second was six hours long.  Listening to my classmates talk about their books got my creative juices pumpin’ and I am ready to get back to work on mine.

I dreaded writing my Master’s thesis and that was only twenty-two pages long.  I’m guessing that it had to do with the structure because the content – photography – is my passion.

I’ll be posting more on Grub Street in the future.  It was cool to see this as soon as I exited the elevator onto their floor.  I knew I was in the right place!

Grub Street