Midwinter Masque

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin1491782_10201811969594893_1408112862_n (1)

Many of the things I write in this journal, I write to remember. Not just as a place to preserve moments and photographs for the future (although there is that), but the very act of writing it down is a way to relive the experience, transferring it onto the page.

Earlier this month I went to New York to visit my friend, Nancy Hightower. Part of that visit was a party we had been planning together over the last few months: A 12th Night Midwinter Masque at the fabulous East Village townhome she rents from fellow writer, David Edison.

On our invitation, here’s how we described the evening:

At All Hallow’s Eve, the doorway in between the worlds is opened, beginning a season of magic, of faerie revelry, of dreams and inspiration. With the winter solstice and the lengthening of days, that season of liminal spaces begins to close, marked by Twelfth Night, an end to the holiday season and a final faerie celebration. We invite you to dress in your favorite holiday finery, don a mask (or you can choose one at the door), and enter the liminal space for one final magical celebration.

An air of anticipation swept across the facebook pages of friends. As the date approached, people posted photos of their masks–some elaborate, some whimsical. In the dark, gray space after the holidays, people seemed to be looking for a little magic. I was.

An article by eco-journalist Russel McLendon circulated earlier this winter introduced many Americans to the Danish tradition of “hygge“:

Denmark endures dreary winters with the help of an arcane cultural concept known as “hygge.” It’s not an easy word for outsiders to pronounce — it sounds sort of like HYU-gah — and it’s even harder to translate. Hygge apparently has no direct analogue in English, and related words like “coziness,” “togetherness” and “well-being” only cover a fraction of its nebulous definition.

I love this concept. I love the opportunity to create an inviting space where people can celebrate togetherness and coziness. I like to think that our Masque was a hygge, something many of us need in the cold of winter. Nancy and I had frequent online chats to discuss decorations, ways to transform the apartment into a winter fairyland.

The Forest Room (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Friends made plans to come in from out of town: Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Dallas. David Edison decided to attend at the last minute, flying in from San Francisco. Everything was coming together.

Then snowstorms and freezing temperatures hit the Midwest and East Coast.

After a few hours of delay, I thankfully managed to fly out of O’Hare before the storm hit NYC. That night Nancy and I stayed up until the wee hours hanging snowflakes and stringing white lights, creativity punctuated with much needed laughter (and delirium).

Snowflakes & sparkles (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Other friends had to adjust their travel plans because of the weather, but everyone made it! Theodora Goss came in from Boston and Brooke Bolander made it from Texas.

Prepping in the kitchen with Brooke Bolander (photo by Theodora Goss)

The four us put the final touches on the party: preparing food, setting out drinks, lighting candles.

Nancy Hightower, Valya Lupescu, Brooke Bolander, Theodora Goss (photo by Marco Palmieri)

A few more friends arrived early to lend a hand, and the magic took over.

Ardi Alspach, Shveta Thakrar, Marco Palmieri and D. T. Friedman (photo by Nancy Hightower)

With the snow and the cold, we weren’t sure just how many people would venture out, let alone dress up and wear masks. We hoped that they would all find places to sit and gather, taking advantage of all three floors.

Stephen Segal enthralls his audience with a dramatic reading from Tyra Banks’ Modelland. 😉 (Photo by Marco Palmieri)

Trudging through the snow, on buses and trains, our guests arrived.

Kristen Mangione, Devin Poore, Rajan Khanna, Veronica Schanoes (photo by Marco Palmieri)

Nearly all were bemasked. Many arrived already in costume, while others came bundled up with clothes to change into.

Mikolaj Habryn, Brooke Bolander, and Liz Gorinsky (photo by Nancy Hightower)
Rajan Khanna, Theresa DeLucci, and Pritpaul Bains (photo by Nancy Hightower)

The doorbell kept ringing and groups kept appeared at the door. Like the TARDIS, David’s apartment seemed to swell inside to accommodate everyone.



Marco Palmieri, Cam Rob, and Myke Cole.

After most people arrived and settled in, Nancy and I could finally relax and enjoy the company assembled, and what a fabulous, motley group it was!

Shahriar Shadab and Katelan Foisy (photo by Nancy Hightower)
Ellen Datlow, David Edison, Christopher Michaud (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Hours flew by in a glittery haze of masks and laughter, eating and drinking, talking and sparkling.


As our guests left, we invited them to take a key and write upon the attached wooden tag what they would like to unlock in 2014–a small way of bringing home a little of the magic of the Masque, a talisman for the year ahead.


Then, in the early hours of the morning, those who remained sat on the softest of rugs and finished off muskat and marshmallows, chocolates and vodka.


The Masque was a wonderful gathering of writers, editors, artists, musicians, witches, and wanderers; and together I think we succeeded in transforming the apartment into an otherworldly realm.

For those of us who so often dwell in the fantastic landscapes of our own imaginations, it was nice to have a cozy space where we could gather together with our creative tribe to escape the winter.

In Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White writes, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Such true words in that children’s book. At the Masque, I had the good fortune of being in the company of several people who are both of those things. For that I am so grateful, and I look forward to the next time we are together.

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Letting Go

Happy Holidays, 2013.

Louise Glück is my favorite living poet. Snippets of her poetry appear throughout this blog and on my tumblr. I love the music of her language, her mythic sensibility, the beauty and raw emotion contained in each collection of words.

I woke up thinking about this one, her poem “Twilight.” It seemed perfect for the end of the year:

“I open my fingers— I let everything go.
Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.”

As someone who is nostalgic by nature, I reflect on the past quite a lot, from the ancient history to ancestral stories, from childhood memories to pivotal moments in adulthood.

Something that they all have in common is their fleeting nature. Time passes, and we are left with stones and echoes. Children grow up, relationships change, celebrations end, mentors die, buildings are constructed and torn down, books are written, read, and shelved, the seasons change, the wheel of life turns.

We have these shining, glorious moments in our lives. Big ones like anniversaries and life-changing introductions; and small ones like sunrises with friends and wine enjoyed in the Spanish sun. Then the moments pass, and we are left with memories and sometimes a relic or two.

But what treasures are those memories! I think about the ones shared by my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my friends. We learn about a past we did not know, we recall share experiences, we remember those who are no longer with us. Memories are some of the most magical stories, because they bring the past back to life.

We live in such a time of technological abundance, and I wonder about the future of memories. It seems a contradiction, because if so much is recorded, surely the memories will be too.

When I was a child, my grandparents had just a few photographs, a family album, with delicate photos of great-grandparents or relatives, yellowing photographs of a distant ancestral home. They were treasures, but they told us  little. The gaps were filled in with their stories. The stories were even more precious to me than the photos. The stories are what I take with me no matter where I am.

Earlier this year, I was sitting with friends in the hotel bar at the 2013 World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (LoneStarCon 3) in San Antonio. Gary Wolfe was sharing a story about a writing workshop in Chicago that he visited a few times whose members included Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin.

As if on cue, George R.R. Martin walked over, and we asked him if there were any photos from those workshop days in his Chicago apartment. In typical dry, Martin-style, he said something like this (this isn’t a quote exactly; I’m piecing it together from memory):

You know, back in my day, we had these machines that were large and boxy and took some effort to carry around. They were called cameras. They were carried by these people called photographers, who would use them to take photographs of notable events and people. The rest of us, we did other things, like writing.

Today we have so many lenses by which we view the world: photos on phones, videos, texts and tweets. Will technology leave us with enough gaps to be filled in with stories? What will we remember looking back on those photographs and relics 25 years from now? Were we taking pictures and videos? Or were we doing other things, like writing?

Were we paying attention–to the smell of the air, the touch against our skin, the taste of the cheese and the wine? Or were we so preoccupied with the documentation, that all we have are the photographs?

I’m an optimist, so I’d like to believe that there are ways to use the gifts technology offers, while still being present. I like to believe that the real memories will endure, but I still worry.

So on the last day of 2013, I think about the year that is ending, so many moments that gave the year shape. I think about the relics that will remain, the photographs of our journey, the stories I hope I’ll remember.

We stand on the edge of 2014, and we can’t take everything with us as we make the leap into the new year. We need room for the new things to come in. So what do we hold onto? What do we let go of as we move into the next unknown?

In 2014, I hope that you find yourself in circles sharing memories and making new ones. I hope that you meet someone whom you admire, and I hope you find someone who believes in you. I hope that you have moments of glorious laughter and reverence. I hope that you sleep well and dream big. And when we circle round again to the end of 2014, I hope that you feel a part of something and have had a year filled with the best stories.

Blessings to you and yours in 2014.

Happy Holidays, 2013.
Happy Holidays, 2013


Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.
Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.

I left the house early to run errands, and as soon as I sat down in the car, one of my favorite songs came on, the acoustic version of an oldie. I love it when that happens; those songs always feel like gifts–little touchstones to launch me into reverie and remind me of people and places that are often no longer in my life.

Maybe it was the music, or the way the wind felt on my face, or the way the air smelled, but I felt like I had slipped into my childhood skin. Do you know that feeling? One part deja vu, one part daydream. It hits at random times: stepping into an empty classroom, visiting an ice cream shop in a vacation town, waiting for someone at a restaurant, swinging on the swings in an empty park. I love the sensation, like time folding in on itself to give us a peek of something past.

Even after I returned home with groceries, unpacked them, and got into the business of the day, I felt residual nostalgia. Things I touched felt like allusions to other things, more so than usual: my broken rainbow coffee mug reminded me of my circle of girlfriends, Nutella brought me back to eating crepes on the Fressgasse in Frankfurt, cider evoked sitting around a campfire, and so it went all day long–little wisps of the past.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, one of two days during the year when day and night are in balance (the other is the Spring Equinox). I started writing this at dusk, on the threshold of light and darkness. I love thresholds. I  believe that there’s magic in those in between spaces, so it doesn’t surprise me that the past was slipping in all day– looking to be remembered.

As I finish this, the sun has set, and the balance has shifted. This next half of the year belongs to the darkness, to cooler temperatures and the landscape of nature dying, to hearth fires and candles, to blankets and loved ones, to stories and dreaming and everything that keeps us warm.

Blessings of a bountiful harvest to you and yours.