by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto from WOW! Women on Writing
CRYSTAL: First of all, congratulations on your book Evidence of Flossing! What was the first book you fell in love with? And why?
JEN: There are two books I remember loving as a kid. One was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It’s about four orphaned children who end up living in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. It seemed so idyllic…living in the forest, eating wild blueberries for supper, making cool things from found objects. The other book was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis—oddly enough also about four young children who have magical adventures in the woods!
I had a big imagination as a kid, and parents who insisted I play outside. Plus I grew up along the shoreline in Connecticut, and there were always places to explore: beaches, marshes, trails through woods. So, I pretended I was like the Alden children living in the woods, or Lucy finding her way to Narnia.
Sprinkle in a little Winnie the Pooh and Emily Dickinson, then later in life Thoreau’s Walden, and I guess you could say I always looked to the woods and nature for inspiration.
CRYSTAL: Sounds like we would have made excellent friends as a kid! We had similar tastes in books! So, when did you know you wanted to be an author? What was the first thing you wrote that made you feel inspired to pursue writing?
JEN: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. My dad traveled a lot for business, and we used to write letters to each other when he was away—I think that’s where it started.
I had a ton of pen pals, too, back when you still did things like that. There was a television show called the Big Blue Marble. I belonged to their Pen Pal Club and wrote to kids in England, Belgium, France, Trinidad, and Korea.
And I’ve always written that way… not made-up stories, but real life experiences. I wrote for my high school newspaper. Studied journalism at UMass. My first job was writing press releases and advertising copy. So, my writing is very much based on that nonfiction foundation, though more creative nonfiction I suppose.
WHEN did I know I wanted to be an author? I used to talk about writing “the great American novel” but I could never figure out how my writing fit that genre. Then, about six years ago, a friend of mine suggested my blog writings would make a great book. That’s how LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness came about—that’s the book I published in 2014. It’s a collection of my blog posts.
CRYSTAL: I really love that you turned your blog writing into a book! Your blog turned out to be quite the muse for you! What are your books about?
JEN: Both books, really, are about reconnecting with nature, about appreciating the gifts of our planet. LOOK UP! tells the story of my own journey. It’s organized like a journal, and includes a collection of my essays and photographs, plus a bunch of quotes by famous naturalists, philosophers, and writers who have considered the same topics of mindfulness and our connection with the natural world.
Evidence of Flossing is what happened next. After the journey. It’s an examination of the contradictions and tragedies of our everyday world compared to the organic rhythms and beauty of the natural world. But this book is all poetry—75 original poems—plus a quirky series of photographs of discarded dental flossers and other original photos.
CRYSTAL: I love how you merge both creative outlets in your book – photography and poetry. Let’s talk time management – you own a graphic design company, write books, find time for poetry reading events, book launches, etc…how do you do it all and how do you do it with a smile on your face? What advice can you give to others who struggle with time management and juggling it all?
JEN: Good question! I have a smile on my face – most of the time – because I truly love what I do. I love my day job and I love my writing life. They feed me. I think it’s easier to make time for things that feed you.
My secrets? I get up super early – like I don’t want to tell you how early. And for me, those quiet, early morning hours are the best time to get good work done.
Coffee. Also a good thing. (And always from a Wonder Woman mug.)
Yoga or a long walk in the woods—please, yes.
And then, I eat frogs.
Have you heard of this? It’s a technique from motivational speaker Brian Tracy, who says that if you tackle the most difficult things on your To Do list first, it creates momentum for other things to get done more easily. A friend shared the video with me a few years ago (https://youtu.be/0W7GB5Fh2XM) and it’s really changed how I approach my day. Especially when I am up-to-my-eyeballs busy!
My advice to others? Oh dear, well…find your super powers (like getting up early), go for a walk, invest in 3×5 cards, drink coffee, and eat frogs when necessary.
CRYSTAL: I will most definitely have to look up the eating frogs idea later. You’re all about conversations (me too) – so imagine the current you is having coffee and conversations with the teenage you…what advice would you give yourself?
JEN: That would be a LONG conversation, probably involving a little finger wagging—don’t start smoking; more books/more writing/less boys; travel not chachkies. The usual hindsight things.
And then…there is a great parable in Ram Dass’ Journey of Awakening that tells the story of a king who asks his people to come up with something that would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy. The winner presents the king with a ring, the inscription reading “This Too Shall Pass.”
So, that: Don’t worry. Be happy. This too shall pass.
CRYSTAL: I’d definitely be telling myself something similar if I could sit my teenage-self down over coffee! So, what’s next for you? You certainly aren’t the “sit around and wait for life to happen” person – so where can we expect to see you next?
JEN: You’re right there! Actually, I’ve been thinking about publishing a short story I wrote called Water Under the Bridge. It’s an epistolary novel told through a series of emails.
But more immediately, I want to do an art exhibit of the (dental) flosser photos from Evidence of Flossing — maybe in the spring. I just think they deserve their own time and place outside of the book. They have a story to tell.
Don’t we all?
CRYSTAL: We do! I truly believe that. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today and we can’t wait to see the feedback come in from the book tour about your book Evidence of Flossing!
JEN: Thanks Crystal – it’s been great to talk to you!
The contemplative life
of the kitchen spider
on the eve of the
blue moon full moon
yet neither made a sound.
The spider –
in the horror of invasion
and slow death –
The moon –
in its rare and wild
traverse across heaven –
Yet my mind chattered endless –
what small worries creep?
what large burdens travel?
what of death? and heaven?
This contemplative life
aches for the enviable silence.
IMAGE: Blue Moon, Terry Frost, 1952. POEM ©2018, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month 2018, #1. If you like this poem, you can buy a whole book of them today! CLICK HERE
by Lucy Gellman, Editor, The Arts Paper
(Arts Council of Greater New Haven)
Jen Payne remembers the first one that she saw. And the one after that. And after that. Tiny, single-use dental flossers, discarded in parking lots, and beaches, and wooded hikes around her hometown of Branford. Each cast off in nature with no explanation, and no owner.
She started photographing them as a series, more flossers catching her eye every few days. At first, she didn’t know what the series would become: A friend joked that one flosser photo looked like a book idea; another met with her to talk about them in the context of an exhibition.
Now, the flossers — and four years of writing that they accompany — are fodder for Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, a book of poetry and photographs out this fall from Three Chairs Publishing. What began as a project distinctly about nature and the environment has transformed into something larger, what Payne pinpoints as a sort of environmental meditation on our place in the universe.
The 8am sun
aligns just so
from my window view
that it illuminates
the morning casts
of the spider
out for a spin.
What could be more important
than this here-now moment?
this instance of begetting,
when artist becomes god?
The great horned owl
She knows my secret.
I have spied creation
the alpha, beginning
of a masterpiece.
If you love this poem, then you’ll love EVIDENCE OF FLOSSING: WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.
It was, really, a rather ordinary house. Small and sufficient. Big enough for him and for her and children, at some point, I imagine. Red with white trim. A small yard out back.
He would sit on the front stoop and wave if you happened to walk by – a neighborly greeting, no matter your relation. You would often pass her on the sidewalk on your way to the Post Office right next door.
Every year, the arrival of spring was broadcast up and down Park Place by the grand display of two magnificent magnolias. Standing guard at the front walk, they enveloped the home in luscious pink blossoms. Their breezes whispered of age and history and time passing.
Today, a dumpster sits in the yard, overflowing. Sections of the linoleum she paced upon at suppertime, faded wallpaper from the den where he read the paper, the staircase they walked each night, together. And on either side of the front walk, two lifeless stumps broadcasting for all to see – change.
A dentist’s office I hear. Bright and shiny. Ordinary.
If you love this poem, then you’ll love EVIDENCE OF FLOSSING: WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.
By Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer, Shore Publishing
No doubt about it, Jen Payne has a way with words. From her place among invitation-only Guilford Poets Guild to her newest book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, the shoreline author and artist brings together words and images to champion the natural world and remind us of what she terms “our divine and innate connection with nature.” The book also provides telling social commentary and photos showing “evidence,” warning of a growing disregard for nature’s gifts and for each other. (Read More)