Creativity Storytelling

Memory Vended


Downstairs, along a neon-lit hall of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, there’s an Art-o-Mat. From it, for $5, you can purchase small, original works of art. But I confess, my fascination with Art-o-Mats is more about their past lives than their brilliant creativity. You see, their artwork resides in old cigarette vending machines, and with each purchase I am transported to the Route One Dairy Queen, 1984. That very first pack of cigarettes. The sound of quarters dropping, the brazen pull of the lever, the musical-mechanical delivery of Marlboros on the offering plate below. The light. The smoke. Magic.

For more about Art-o-Mats and where to find one near you, visit

Creativity Storytelling

Silly is as Silly Does


I met a man in the woods. He was going for a walk with his frogs…two Sonoran Desert toads, actually, along the green trail on a rainy afternoon. He had them in a cat backback, facing forwards so they could see as they went past the pond and around to where the stream crosses the trail. “What if he lets them out,” I ruminated. “They would die, it’s too cold.” “But is it? Gloabal warming.” “What if he’s conditioned them? Got them used to colder weather.” “This is silly.” “More silly than a guy on a hike with pet toads?”

Storytelling Writing

Hindsight is 2020


In my version of the 2020 apocalypse, I lit incense and whispered fervent prayers to Saint Anthony and Ganesh. I started meditating. He bought a gun safe. It’s as definite in his living space now as the altar to Buddha is in mine. This should not come as a surprise. I have loved on the cusp of the yin and yang all my life, and it has been no different with him these past seven years. Of the first gift I gave him, he wondered: Speartip? Pestle? Arrowhead? “It’s a heart shape rock,” I swooned, our end-time a forgone conclusion.



What a fun surprise to see this awesome display about zines at my local library! Special thanks to the folks at the James Blackstone Memorial Library and Katy McNicol, Associate Librarian for Development & Outreach, for doing such a great job on this…and for featuring MANIFEST (zine).

My favorite part of this display is the short essay WHY ZINES MATTER, from The Bindery website. I LOVE this!


Culturally and historically, zines have served as a powerful outlet for content considered to be too niche, risqué, or outside of the mainstream, in terms of more traditional/commercial forms of publication. A zine can be produced with the simplest of tools, and easily distributed low-to-the ground, outside capitalistic or potentially oppressive systems: amongst friends; in local gathering places or homes; at fests designed to celebrate them!

Zines provide a safe, independent platform of expression for underrepresented and marginalized voices: Black, Indigenous & People of Color, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ(+) community, persecuted religious groups, and people with limited economic resources.

Essentially, zines can be a little hard to define—but that’s what makes them great: they’re a glorious mash-up of art, letters, story and emotion; just like the brains, hands and hearts of those who produce them. Their small, simple format belies their unique ability to speak creatively [and loudly] for even the softest voices. (And ain’t that worth celebrating.)

Stop by the library today to see this awesome display and to learn more about zines. PLUS you can borrow copies of MANIFEST (zine) to check it out (literally!) or…


MANIFEST (zine) – A Quarantine Zine

Manifest (zine) #5 – Refuge

This special “quarantine zine” features the words and images and thoughts within which we found REFUGE last year. The literal and figurative reflections, the comforting quotes and laugh-out-loud memes that kept us breathing all those long months, and helped us regain our sea legs when it seemed like the worst was behind us. Includes a full color, 36-page booklet, fun inserts, a curated Spotify playlist, and more! Cost: $6.00.

The Annual Subscription rate of $20 includes four issues of MANIFEST (zine), and starts with the September issue REFUGE: A Quarantine Zine.

Part lit mag, part artist book, part chapbook, MANIFEST (zine) is the eclectic creation of writer / poet / artist Jen Payne. Consider it a hold-in-your-hands art installation featuring writing, photography, and artwork, along with bits and pieces of whatnot that rise to the surface as she meditates on themes like change and transition, solitude, time, storytelling, and finding refuge in these turbulent times. Each issue also includes a curated Spotify playlist. Layered with colors, textures, meanings (and music), the result is a thought-full, tactile journey with nooks and crannies for you to discover along the way.

You can pay through PayPal using a PayPal account or any standard credit card. If you prefer the old school approach, please send your check, made payable to Jen Payne, P.O. Box 453, Branford, CT 06405.



There is a time to act, and a time to wait, to listen, to observe. Then understanding and clarity can grow. From understanding, action arises that is purposeful, firm, and powerful. — Charles Eisenstein

Photo ©2021, Jen Payne


Soggy Poems & Dead Ends

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
a poet, a pawn, and a king.” — Frank Sinatra

Like Frank, I have been many things. I’ve called myself a writer, journalist, author, poet, blogger. I am all of those things and, lately, seemingly none of them.
I’m not writing. I haven’t had any great ideas. When some bit of inspiration does trickle in, it lands with a thud at my feet and doesn’t even bounce.
Last week in the woods, a poem showed up. It was so insistent, I sat down on the trail and wrote words in my notebook, but by the time I got home, they were stale and soggy.
Is this writer’s block? A pandemic pause? A crisis of faith?
In my darkest moments, I worry I’m a hack, that readers have been humoring me all this time. That my lack of pedigree makes me and my work irrelevant. That I have overstayed my welcome and should just shut up and find something else to do — like paint my nails or make bundt cakes for the neighbors.
Oh, I know most of that isn’t true. In the light of day, anyhow. But at night, when I toss and turn and wonder about what comes next? I get nothing but pieces of soggy poems and dead ends.
That’s life?
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

This too shall pass.
(I hope.)

So tell me, have you been here before? Experienced writer’s block or a creative pause? What did you do?

CLICK HERE to read the complete Random Acts of Writing Fall 2021 Newsletter

Creativity Memoir Travel

We’ll have memories for company, long after the songs are gone

Grammy-winning folk artist Nanci Griffith dies at 68 — The Guardian

I first heard Nanci Griffith while driving on the Boston Expressway one night. It was three in the morning, actually, the Expressway before the Big Dig, 30 degrees with the window down, and a beautiful, unnamed voice on the radio. She seemed a kindred spirit, someone who somehow understood the loneliness of that newly heartbroken and somewhat lost twenty-something.

I’ve been workin’ in corners all alone at night
Pullin’ down whiskey
Keepin’ my eyes away from the lights
I’ll never be a fool but I will gamble foolishly
I’ve never let go of love
Till I lost it in my dreams

The moment was out of place and time, and remains in my memory to this day more than 30 years later.

I held onto those lyrics in my mind for years before I found out who sang them. Hoping to hear them again, recognize her distinct voice that still haunted me.

When I met my friend DeLinda in 1991, she knew the song. Knew the musician, too —  the two of them born and raised in the state I would come to know and love over the years.

Nanci Griffith, born July 6 (my birthday) a world away in Texas, was a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, who grew up in Austin. She was an up-and-coming folk/country folk singer when I first heard her that night in Boston. A popular guest on the PBS show Austin City Limits in the late 80s, she won a Grammy in 1994 for her album Other Voices, Other Rooms, and went on to produce more than 20 albums, including the first one I ever bought: One Fair Summer Evening.

I remember the day I found it — that first album — at a shopping mall record store mall, in the G bin. A cassette tape that played in my car for years and years, every song and note connecting to my heart in old soul ways I can’t explain.

One Fair Summer Evening sang me through that early unrequited love. Lone Star State of Mind connected me to my soul mate and my heart space. Flyer helped me grieve my father.

I saw Nanci in concert once, at Edgerton Park in New Haven. It was October 2001, a month after 9/11. To this day, I am not sure if I was more shocked by the sight of planes in the sky again or by the pure and crystal sound of her voice in the starry night air.

The New York Times wrote that Nanci Griffith “may just be one of America’s best poets.” She was, I think, many of my great loves in one voice…

I found your letter in my mailbox today
You were just checkin’ if I was okay
And if I miss you, well, you know what they say…

Just once… in a very blue moon

– – – – –

And when we die we say, we’ll
Catch some blackbirds wing
Then we will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring

– – – – –

These days my life is an open book
Missing pages I cannot seem to find
These days your face
In my memory
Is in a folded hand of grace against these times

– – – – –

There’s a pale sky in the east, all the stars are in the west
Oh, here’s to all the dreamers, may our open hearts find rest
The wing and the wheel are gonna carry us along
And we’ll have memories for company, long after the songs are gone.

Workin’ in Corners, Poet in My Window; Once in a Very Blue Moon, One Fair Summer Evening; Gulf Coast Highway, Little Love Affairs; These Days in an Open Book, Flyer; The Wing & The Wheel, The Last of the True Believers. Photo from the album cover of Intersection, Griffith’s last album.

Creativity Writing Zine

The Latest News Zine

Back in the early 90s, I created a newsletter called The Latest News as a way to keep in touch with college friends and family. It had essays, quotes, photos, bits and pieces of personal news.

I didn’t know it was a “zine” until I read about the zine phenomenon and learned about Mike Gunderloy who reviewed and cataloged thousands of zines in his publication Factsheet Five. I sent him a copy of The Latest News and he reviewed it, and the next thing I knew — BAM! More than 350 people had subscribed and were reading my little 4-page, photocopied newsletter zine!

And then more BAM! The New York Times interviewed me about zines. And Tom Trusky, a professor at Boise State University invited me to be part of a zine exhibit called Some Zines: American Alternative & Underground Magazines, Newsletters & APAs. And later, The Latest News was featured in several retrospective books about the zine phenomenon: Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and The World of Zines: A Guide to the Independent Magazine Revolution.

Flash forward…I hate to say this, OMG…30 years, and BAM! MANIFEST (zine) showed up on my creative radar.

It’s been 12 months since I launched this new project, and I can’t tell you how amazed I am at the response. Folks from all over the planet have read about Divine Intervention and Cat Lady Confessions, they’ve discovered It’s About Time and what one does about Crickets. And they’ve been enthusiastic and supportive about what comes next.

I don’t know what comes next…or should I say which idea comes next, because I have a bunch! I hope you’ll stick around for the adventure.


  1. Factsheet Five
  2. New York State Library, The Factsheet Five Collection
  3. Some Zines: American Alternative & Underground Magazines, Newsletters & APAs, Tom Trusky
  4. Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, Henry Jenkins III, Jane Shattuc, Tara McPherson, Duke University Press Books, 2003.
  5. Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, Stephen Duncombe, Verso, 1997.
  6. The World of Zines: A Guide to the Independent Magazine Revolution, Mike Gunderloy and Cari Goldberg Janice, Penguin Books, 1992.
  7. Want to know more? Check out a Zinefest near you!