Looking Back, Looking At

December 5, 2008

I don’t know why looking back should show us more than looking at.
                                   — Amy Hempel, b. 1951
                                       American fiction writer 
                                       from the short story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried”

Today is the official start of Holidailies, although I’ve been using the logo beside the date since Monday. I was the tenth journaller registered for this year. I kept looking at the list from last year (which was up on the page until the new list started) and then at the growing 2008 list.

It’s a community for me like the one I’ve built in six summers of going to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. We’re together for a certain amount of time, and it’s wonderful and energizing and enriching, and when we leave we promise to keep in touch, but day-to-day contact dwindles. But my awareness of the community and my connection to it never goes away, and when August comes again, bam!, there we are as if a whole year doesn’t separate us.

The same happens with Holidailies. I read the work of new members and old favorites, some of whom I read only during this period. I read the “Best of” choices, I comment on others’ pieces, and my traffic spikes. Then January comes, and even though it’s easier to keep up with the portal participants than it is with my Bread Loaf friends, because so many journallers write frequently and publicly, I turn to other concerns and other projects. But now here we are again, and just as I feel when I sit on the porch at the Bread Loaf Inn the first evening of every conference period, I’m feeling excited to greet old friends and make new ones as well.

I’ve decided on a pattern for my Holidailies participation this year. I’ll provide links to all the Holidailies pieces I’ve done before, going back four years. Re-reading my own work has, as Amy Hempel suggests, shown me more by looking back than I considered when I was looking at whatever I was writing about. I’m going to comment in someone else’s piece at least once each day, and I’m going to try not to repeat myself, because my perennial posting of why I watch the 1953 Christmas Eve episode of Dragnet is sure to turn up more than once anyway,

The portal provides prompts for those who might want to use them, and the first day calls for an introduction. I realized today that my site has no real “About” page, just a page that explains the genesis of the the blog’s title. So even though I’ve been online for almost ten years, maybe I do need to introduce myself.

Here’s the “under 200 words” biographical statement that I wrote for one of the artists’ centers that recently extended me an offer:

After graduating from college in 1969, Margaret DeAngelis began a teaching career that spanned nearly thirty years. During those years she deferred her desire to produce personal writing. She began writing fiction and narrative nonfiction seriously again in 1982, when a visit to a cemetery in Berks County sparked her imagination and she began work on a historical novel about domestic life among the nineteenth century Pennsylvania Germans of that place. In 1989 she attended her first summer writers’ workshop, completing her first short story. In 2000 she was awarded a grant by the National League of American Pen Women for research into a historic quilt that had a connection to the Berks County family she studies. In 2003 she was accepted as a contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College’s mountain campus. She has been accepted every year since then, with 2008 marking her sixth consecutive year. In 2007 she was awarded a month-long stay at the Jentel Artist Residency in Sheridan, Wyoming, where she worked on her current project, a contemporary novel. In addition to her fiction work, Ms. DeAngelis publishes personal essays at her website, Markings: Days of Her Life.

That, of course, says nothing about my personal life, about my empty nest in a neighborhood I have lived in and loved for almost thirty-three years, about the daughter who is feathering her own nest (we’re visiting tomorrow to see her first Christmas tree), about the church I belong to and its Thursday morning women’s group I never miss, about the Friday night Weight Watchers meeting where I am, for the first time in many years of off-again, on-again membership, feeling some community and support, about the friends, online and off, who enrich my life every single day.

I guess maybe to find out about those things, you’ll have to keep reading!


A year ago, I gave a reading at a public llibrary in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Two years ago, I reported on the beginning of a great career, after a lunch that turned out to be the beginning of a great friendship.

Three years ago, I had nothing to say.

Four years ago, I was likewise silent.

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