As you can see, BOOKWORM is participating in another blog book tour courtesy of WOW (Women on Writing). Today’s guest is Jennifer A. Payne, author of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. Today I’m posting an interview, Q and A style, that I conducted with Ms. Payne so that you can read her thoughts about her calling, her choice of direction for her writing, and her thoughts about mindfulness. I’m also posting a review of her most recent work “Evidence”. Enjoy.
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my books with you and your readers!
- How long have you been writing/ what made you decide to write?
I don’t know if I had a choice, really. Writing is how I’ve always communicated with the world. My earliest memory is writing letters to my Dad when he was away on business trips when I was young.In grade school, I used to write short stories, but I also had a dozen pen pals I kept in touch with regularly. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and studied journalism at UMass. My first job was writing press releases and advertising copy, before I started my own business doing the same. I published a zine in the early 90s, and graduated to blog writing about 10 years ago.
I’ve been writing all my life!
2. What made you take this direction for your writing/this work?
I think those early days of communicating real-life stories and experiences to my Dad and pen pals have kept me pretty firmly rooted in non-fiction writing. You can see that on my blog Random Acts of Writing (http://randomactsofwriting.net). Over the years, it has hosted everything from my food writing, travel journals and book reviews, to photo essays, social commentary and poetry.In the past couple of years, I’ve been writing more poetry, mainly because that is how my muse has been talking to me. But also, I was invited to join a local poetry group, the Guilford Poets Guild, and they have inspired and encouraged me a lot!
Both of my books, LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness (2014) and the new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind are direct results of my work on the blog. LOOK UP! includes essays, poetry, a collection of quotations by philosophers, naturalists, and famous writers, plus 100 of my original color photos. It’s a journal, really, that narrates my own journey from working 24/7 to reconnecting with our natural world, finding balance and mindfulness in the simple act of going outside. Evidence of Flossing is a follow-up to that concept. It features 73 of my poems and 80 original and vintage photos that continue a conversation about our divine connection to nature, and how important it is to find our way back to that.
3. What is it about mindfulness that interests/fascinates you?
By day, I run my own graphic design and marketing business. By night (really in the pre-dawn hours of the day), I do my creative work. My brain and I work at a very frenetic pace – as you can imagine – but somewhere in all of that, there has to be some downtime. Some quiet. Some peace.
I tried traditional methods of meditation – sitting on pillows, candles, oms, guided groups, recorded sessions. But nothing really “stuck.” I remember one group meditation…there were 10 of us in a small, candlelit room. We did some breathing exercises, and then the facilitator guided us on a meditation…down a path, into the treetops, up into the sky. I spent the whole meditation frantically running to catch up, because I couldn’t breathe right, couldn’t visualize right…couldn’t get out of my own way!
About that same time, I had started taking regular walks in the woods. There is a nature preserve near my house, and I can do a nice, easy 2-mile walk in a space that feels very far away from everything. I remember this one day very clearly. I’d been walking for about 20 minutes with lots of busy thoughts in my head. But then it was suddenly quiet. All I heard were my footsteps on the pine needle path. I wasn’t aware of my thoughts or my body, just the sound of footsteps, like a heartbeat, and breathing.
It was brief and wonderful.
I think of it now as my “ah-ha, so this is meditation” moment.problems, inspirations for my writing, connections to some mystery I wouldn’t have had time for if I wasn’t allowing myself to disconnect from busy and reconnect with nature. It’s that simple…and that complicated, I suppose. Perhaps that’s what so fascinating about it, and why I write about it. The difficult part of mindfulness is getting there—stepping away from our busy-ness, allowing ourselves that time to reconnect. But once we do, it’s really quite simple. It’s really quite amazing.
4. Use this space to give yourself a shameless plug?
I was at a workshop last week, and the hostess came over to me and pointed to a copy of my book on her coffee table. “I keep your book here,” she said. “In a place of honor. That way I can pick it up and read something from it whenever I want. Which is often. I just love it.”
She’s not alone. People seem to really connect with these books, with the writing and the photos. I think it’s because they talk about our collective concerns about our society in a way that is heartfelt and thoughtful. They’re smart books that you can skim for meaning, or dive into for a deeper understanding as they apply to your own philosophy and spirituality, your own experience. But they are both easy reads – you can read an essay, read one poem, open to a page and meditate on a photo or quote. They allow the reader to take that moment of mindfulness, to stop and consider…maybe…a better way to move about in this world? I hope.
Evidence is a combination of street photography and poetry. It’s actually a followup to a prior work of Ms. Payne’s called LOOKUP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness. Most psychology majors probably remember mindfulness as a Buddhist concept that is used in clinical psychology to help alleviate depressive symptoms. It involves bringing one’s attention to experiences that are occurring in the present moment through meditation or other disciplines (like writing). Discarded dental flossers are featured in most of Evidence’s street photography. To me they seemed to point to the commonalities of mankind. Even though there are differences between our global cultures, it is our humanity that gives us common ground. What’s is more of a sign on humanity that flossing? For the author they also ask the question “What is our legacy?” “What will we leave behind?”. I like the way her poems are formatted because there’s no formal visual presentation (prose, haikus). So they force whoever’s reading them to ponder and meditate on their meaning. Her writing is definitely in keeping with the mindfulness concept. I look forward to reviewing even more of Ms. Payne’s work.
Evidence of Flossing and LOOKUP! (as well as Jennifer Payne herself)can be found online at: