Chaos Theory

A woman takes a knee by the side of the road thinks: “Surely the Mourning Cloak I spied this morning is mourning. Having surveyed our condition from its higher vantage point, it must wonder, as I do, if the storm that fell so many trees, that destroyed this holy place, did so on purpose. Barring us from passage. Asking us who we think we are, as Frost wrote, insisting always on our own way so. Our own way. God help us. Who DO we think we are…littering these open spaces with our trash, leaving our detritus and dog shit behind? Dragging our noisy selves and our machineries along paths as if we have some lofty right? Infesting the woods with our toxic nature, our assumed religions, our fabricated joy? Infesting the world with our opinions, our politics, our petty, pathetic proclivities? Insisting on our own way and ever ignorant of the ripple effect, the consequences?”

A woman takes a knee by the side of the road —  butterfly, startled, flies away, a world away a world dies — and we think she is praying.


Random Acts of Writing Turns 12

Twelve pop art Cakes by Wayne Thiebaud to celebrate TWELVE YEARS of blog posts here on Random Acts of Writing. Thank you for your ongoing attention, support, and likes.

“In a time of destruction,” say author Maxine Hong Kingston, “create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.”

And so we persist. With love and gratitude,

Jen Payne
March 13, 2022


The Messy Business of Creating

In her heartbreakingly wonderful book This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart, photographer Susannah Conway explains that writing is “a vocation that pays out twice: first to you as the detective unraveling your heart and then again to the reader who consumes your work.”

This echoes a conversation I had recently with my dear friend Judith who reminded me that the life-changing moment for a writer is not necessarily being published, or even being read. The life-changing moment is the creative spark, that white hot moment of inspiration.

The rest, as they say, is gravy. More or less… (Read More)

Creativity Photography

Connecticut Poets Included in New Anthology of Poems

Grayson Books announces the publication of Waking Up to the Earth: Connecticut Poets in a Time of Global Climate Crisis. Edited by Connecticut’s Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson, this poetry anthology includes work by Connecticut poets, including Guilford Poets Guild members Gwen Gunn, Patricia Horn O’Brien, and Jen Payne.

Each poet writes of their relationships with the earth in a time of climate crisis. The scope of the poems goes far beyond Connecticut to the whole ecosystem we humans share. “It’s hard to believe that the poems in this essential collection all come out of a single small state,” writes Chase Twichell, author of Things As It Is and Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been. “But make no mistake; these are not poems about Connecticut. They are poems about the world—our one and only world—and the damage we inflict upon it. Ranging from expressions of profound love for and intimacy with the earth and its many creatures to grief and rage at our species’ self-destructive blindness, each poem is a testament to our planet’s preciousness and a grave warning of its fragility. Waking Up to the Earth is a resounding wake-up call.”

Guilford Poets Guild poems include “Of Stones and Time,” by Gwen Gunn, “Getting to Prayer,” by Patricia Horn O’Brien, and “When I Call it the Zombie Apocalypse, Neither of Us Is as Scared as We Should Be,” by Jen Payne.

Waking Up to the Earth: Connecticut Poets in a Time of Global Climate Crisis is a 138-page paperback book available through Ingram Book Company, Grayson Books, from local booksellers or from for $20.00. For more information, contact or visit

Creativity Photography

Gotta Create! Gotta Celebrate!

Many years ago, I attended a local chamber of commerce dinner. I was a board member back then, a committee chair and such. Around the table sat clients and colleagues in standard business attire: blues and blacks, a few pops of red, maybe a dark LL Bean green. I wore black pants and a rust-colored jacket that had a turquoise sequined-and-beaded mermaid on the back. “Are you an artist?” a state senator asked when he shook my hand, and I smiled.

I had just re-discovered my Creative Spirit, and she and I were rockin’ that mermaid blazer with much more pizazz than I ever rocked a bored meeting. I think Brené Brown would call that pizazz “authenticity”…

Find out what happens next in our Spring 2021 Newsletter!

• Brené Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living
• Random Acts of Writing Anniversary!
• MANIFEST (Zine) #3: It’s About Time
• Zombie Poetry & More

Make sure you click around. With hidden links, videos, and rabbit holes to explore, this Spring 2021 enewsletter is meant to be savored slowly. So grab a cup of coffee — or a slice of cake — and enjoy!

©2020, Jen Payne
book review Books

My Year in Books 2020

I must confess, it doesn’t surprise me that this is the first time in five years I did not meet my personal reading goal of 50 books. There were long stretches of time in 2020 when sitting still was next to impossible, nevermind tasks that required focus and attention-spans.

Which is not to say I wasn’t reading at all or didn’t have a stack of books at the ready. There was always an active book or two — bookmarks holding my place until I returned — and a patient pile of bookshelf finds, Amazon impulses, and contactless library pick-ups sitting in wait.

At some point, I was able to settle back into a fairly regular reading habit — all 10,466 pages of 40 books according to Goodreads’ annual “My Year in Books” report (see below). At some point, I even slogged through The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt), only because I was determined to read the book before watching the movie.

As usual, my annual accounting of reads is a hodgepodge: old favorites, some young adult novels, poetry, a few lifestyle/inspiration books, and plenty of escapist fiction.

My favorites of the year? Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens), The World That We Knew (Alice Hoffman), and The Conference of the Birds (Ransom Riggs).

My least favorite titles didn’t make the list, because I’ve implemented the Page 29 Rule which gives me permission to put down a book sooner rather than later.

I think it’s funny that I began this long, hard year reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Ottessa Moshfegh) and The Book of Speculation (Erika Swyler), and ended with Bryan Washington’s Memorial, about findings oneself at a crossroads.

Aren’t we all at some kind of crossroads, here at the end of 2020?

The good thing is that there will always be books. Come what may, there will always be that patient pile waiting for us, that bookmark holding a sacred space for when we return, the character who grabs our hand and says come with me for a while…and we do.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading.

Creativity Photography

Because Things Grow: Hope

Last year, my holiday postcard wished friends and family “a twisted, imperfect New Year.” Was I psychic?
And while I certainly did not wish 2020 on anyone, I am still of the mind that twisted and imperfect makes for a life LIVED. Twisted and imperfect is the dark, rich compost from which things will grow…

Read more in our Holiday Newsletter

With hidden links, videos, and rabbit holes to explore, the Holiday 2020 Newsletter is meant to be savored slowly. Enjoy!

©2020, Jen Payne

Vision’s Hard to Come By when It’s 2020

About 10 years ago, I took a workshop about Vision Boards with the lovely Lisa Lelas. If you’re not familiar with Visions Board, they are a great way to set your intentions, to work with the Law of Attraction to manifest your goals and dreams.

They’re part collage and part meditation, part craft and part reflection. You cut out pictures from magazines, add words and phrases, and include meaningful symbols to create a picture — your vision — of what you would like to see come into your life.

One of the exercises in the workshop was to think about the things that brought us joy as a child, and ways we could bring that back into our lives. I happily remembered my days as a little girl, always playing outside and exploring the woods near my house. To represent that, I cut out a woman walking outside with a contented smile on her face. The other thing I remembered was enjoying reading books and writing stories, so I cut out a picture of a desk with a stack of books and a typewriter.

Fast forward four years, and there I was, with not only a daily woods-walking habit, but publishing my first book, LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, about the experience of reconnecting with those things that brought me joy as a child!

Vision Boards can be powerful tools that way. For years, I recreated mine every December — see one version, above — setting my intentions for the new year ahead: write, travel, create, love, meditate. For years, I loved my Vision Board. Paid it daily homage with incense and incantations.

But then my best friend died suddenly, and the Universe started regularly walloping me over the head with unseen circumstances —philosophical, spiritual, political, technical, medical. And my beloved Vision Board just wasn’t cutting it.

As a matter of fact, I started to resent it.

This past December, I was telling my friend Judith about my Vision Board conundrum — surely the daily exercise of cursing my goals and dreams was not manifesting positive outcomes. That’s when she said the unthinkable:

“Take it down.”

“Take it down?” I was shocked, but I let that idea sit for a while.

And a while more.

And then, one day in January — I took everything off the Vision Board. I took down my visions of traveling, of writing and publishing, of being a yoga warrior and mediation maniac. I took down Thoreau’s reminder to “go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” because even his encouragement had been falling on frustrated, deaf ears.

At first, I felt a great loss. As if letting go of those visions was somehow letting myself down or giving up on myself. Giving up on hope, perhaps.

But then, there was a sense of relief. Like some pressure had been released or the volume turned down.

As if, for a while, it was OK to just be.

As if it was OK to just get up and attend to the day as the day presented itself. To live in the present.

I’ve been reminded of this exercise lately, as we settle into this new way of being in the world, as we learn to let go of our visions and our dreams for our immediate futures here in 2020. As we change our expectations to match these strange, crazy times.

It is OK to just be.

For now, it really is OK to just be.

Today, five months after my Vision Board experiment and almost three months into the Covidpause, my Vision Board sits nearly blank on a wall in my office. Nearly blank except for this: Anything is Possible, Gratitude, Be Happy, Play.


Essay ©2020, Jen Payne. Anything is Possible by artist Melissa Harris.


In Which Emily Got Baked and More…

I hope you are healthy, doing well, and able to adapt in some manner to our current day-to-day.

It’s interesting to me that while we are all going through the same thing, this COVID-19 pandemic, each of us is experiencing it in different ways. Our physical health, our mental health, the well-being of our family, our finances, the lack of social interaction, how we feel about uncertainty — each of these contributes to our unique, personal experience.

So how are you dealing with your experience of COVID-19?

I will tell you that I have one friend who is cooking and gardening daily. Another has been purging and decluttering since March. One has filled every moment of every day with physical activities — yard work, house repairs, minor construction projects. And another is simply comatose.

I’m somewhere in between all of that — a hodge-podge of creative projects, housecleaning, attempts at self-care, mask-covered errands, and deep, deep, dream-fill sleep.

“My grandmother once gave me a tip: In difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.” – Elena Mikhalkova, Midwives of the Soul

hodge-podge /ˈhäjˌpäj/ noun 1. a muddled-together bunch of stuff; 2. a dialectical concept in Discordianism that posits that the tendency for restriction and control in society is matched proportionately by a counter-resulting tendency for chaos and randomness, and vice-versa.

Hodge-podge, also: an unorganized group of items. Like this newsletter…in which I thought I’d just pull together some odds and ends for you to consider…

Emily Got Baked

In celebration of National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo I wrote a poem a day. You can read all 30 of them here, then join me as I cap off the celebration by baking Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Quick Break. (recipe)

Barefoot in the Kitchen

This extended pause in our regularly scheduled programming has found me more and more in the kitchen. Emily’s cake is the most recent creation. But I also tried my hand at some of these recipes you might want to check out yourself!

Mango Cocktails
Coconut Cake
Balsamic Roast Beef
Coffee Cake
Parker’s Beef Stew

Red meat, alcohol, and cake – a holy trinity.


Ina Garten is my go-to food guru, as you can tell from the number of her recipes above, but I confess…I have more recently been inspired by Mr. Stanley Tucci. As you may recall — see “Waiting for Stanley Tucci” — I’m a big fan.

Apparently, so is the whole rest of the world now, after this yummy video of Mr. Tucci’s evening cocktail hour.

Negroni anyone?

Combine equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass; stir gently and garnish with an orange twist.


Speaking of vicarious…This month, on Random Act of Writing, we’re taking a little Road Trip. Want to get out of the house and take a trip vicariously? ROAD TRIP: BIG BEND starts up on Monday!

Final Realizations

We are seven weeks into this pause, with at least three more weeks to go before things slowly begin to open back up.

These are difficult times, certainly. But if you’re able to — savor them and remember them. Remember the time spent doing things you enjoy, that extra time with your loved ones, the pleasure of making a meal or taking a nap, the inner strength you found to deal with your circumstances.

Because before you know it, that big machine is going to start churning again, and we might be seduced back to the way things were before…maybe.

Or maybe we’ll start to make some changes…

“In the bad, we find the good,” writes British performance artist and poet Tom Foolery, who created a thoughtful video called The Great Realisation.

I’ll leave you with that to think on as we step bravely into the next month and into our next chapter.

Take good care and be well…

If you’re looking for something new to read, my books (now available in print and as ebooks) can be purchased from my ETSY SHOP. Bonus: they come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.