Books Memoir

Everyone Needs a Guide

Dale and me at the launch of my first book, Look Up!, in 2014.

The first time I met Dale Carlson was in 1996 over coffee at the Hidden Kitchen in Guilford, Connecticut. She was the first person to call Words by Jen from the first yellow page ad I ever purchased.

And while we would both tell you that we were not really sure we really liked each other that day — and many days after that as well — we would go on to make almost 30 books together under the name of Bick Publishing House.

Ask me today what inspired me to write books and how I came to start my own publishing company, and I will tell you about the 25+ years that Dale and I worked together: the long hours of editing around her kitchen table, selecting art and cover designs, developing a house style, and promoting her books. All of the things I do for my clients’ books and my own books now, I learned from Dale.

But she wasn’t just a client. Dale was my long-time mentor and spiritual guide who helped me understand my family dysfunction and my mother’s mental illness, who taught me about meditation and the many faces of god. She showed by example that you can create a life on your own eccentric terms, and how it is to move around in the world in the body of writer.

Often, our approaches to life were vastly different — how we saw the world and how we coped as different as our backgrounds and ages. But in so many ways, we were kindred spirits who could complete each others sentences and easily nod in agreement more often than we expected.

We talked just recently about our work together and our long, enduring affection for one another. “It is so lovely,” she said, “to know how entwined we are! Love you, dear one.”

I love you, too, Dale.

Dale passed away on January 23, 2022. You can read more about her life here, or from her many books that are still available online.

Creativity Writing Zine

Spinning Jenny

Volume S of our 1976 Encyclopedia Britannica collection did not have much to say about the Spinning Jenny. What it was: an early machine for spinning wool or cotton. Who created it: James Hargreaves from Lancashire, England. When: 1764. And a short sentence about its significance in the industrial revolution.

I can still see the two-sentence paragraph description and its line drawing of the Spinning Jenny sitting on the page. What I could not see at the time was the 500-word essay being requested by my 6th grade social studies teacher Mr. Jacobson.

So I did what any good writer would do. I improvised!

What is a spinning wheel used for? How does it work? Where does the wool and cotton come from? What was life like in Lancashire? What was life like in 1764? Who was James Hargreaves? What was the industrial revolution?

Et voila! Essay.

Pulling from different sources, I spun together that essay and earned an impressive A- for my effort.

Ironically, one of the reasons the Spinning Jenny was so important is that it allowed a worker to use multiple spindles of material in the forming of thread.

Fast forward 40-something years, and I am still spinning. Still pulling from multiple sources to form threads of thought that get woven into my writing and creative work.

I love the experience of that process. Going down the rabbit hole of “what do we have here?” and finding winding paths to all sorts of unexpected discoveries.

I love the organic nature of those discoveries — what reveals itself as I walk along those paths. A bit like Alice, I suppose, wandering and Wondering in that strange, unexplored land.

I love the challenge of digging deeper to find some key piece of information that completes the story. I love doing research and following breadcrumbs.

The best part, of course, is when it can all finally come together. Tie off all of the threads, weave the ends together. See the conclusion of the hard work: the poem, the book, the zine, this essay.

I suppose, if you think about it, that make me a Spinning Jenny, wouldn’t you say?

©2021, Jen Payne, but only 360 words. For more good words, check out my Etsy Shop now!