Writing and the Human Face

This summer, as I was kneeling among a thousand other pairs of knees in a chapel nestled into the heart of a monastic community in the rolling hills of Eastern France, I gazed on the faces of each of the monks as they glided into prayer. Their white robes billowed, covering everything but their faces. Even the tips of their fingers were swallowed in the robes. Their wrinkles seemed to be etched deeper, their ears larger, their eyes so much more vivid, as if I was looking into a body of water for the first time: the deep green lake, the hazel mountain stream, the blue-green oasis of Caribbean water.

There truly is no end to the poetry residing within the art of the human face. Olivier Clément, a French theologian, once said: “Contemplation of the human face introduces us to a drama, in the light of our origins, then the night and waiting for an eternal sun. Every face, so worn as it might be, almost destroyed… as long as we see it with the eyes of the heart, it remains unique, unrepeatable, escapes any repetition.”

It was then I wanted to link this brilliant uniqueness to words. For it to become a challenge to writers anywhere: to portray the impossibility of repetition within a human face. In one of the brothers’ workshops at the monastic community, Taizé, he focused on the human face, showing slide after slide of human faces captured by ten of the top photographers in the last century. For anyone wanting something fresh to write about, something that pulls the poetry out of you, look up these photographers and write about the stories their faces tell.

Here are just a few: Dorothea Lange, a US photographer. She was a photographer during the Great Depression that I’m convinced captured the heart of people more than any other human could. Within this photo, “Migrant Mother,” how many images, stories, and emotions can be described? 


Or take photographer Lalage Snow, for instance. He did a series of photos of several different people, mainly soldiers and some military nurses, that took place before, during, and after the war. 


French photographer and solider for the French army, Marc Garanger, was required to take pictures of the  Algerian villagers for their new ID cards. Olivier Laurent, in the British Journal of Photography, wrote that “in less than a year later, Garanger’s images of shamed and angry Algerian women would become a symbol of French oppression over its Northern African colony.” 


So, to all writers experiencing writer’s block or needing something fresh, you have a world of photography at hand. It’s a great tool for writing because it is often disconnected from our own memories, and the emotional and weighty personal baggage doesn’t weigh down the poem or story. Here are some other photographers: Marcel Imsand (Switzerland), Jean Dieuzaide (France), Josef Koudelka (Czech Republic), Roman Opalka (Polish-French), and Benoit Lange (Switzerland). Find images, faces, social situations that speak to you. Then start writing.

“…Sometimes the eyes are not only the vision of light but a donation. In the undefined prisons of this world, the face is a breach, it constitutes a gap of transcendence.” –Olivia Clément 


The Importance of Food and Drink

It is 11:23 on a Thursday morning and a large plate of pumpkin spice chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are basking in the sunlight that has been strolling through my open kitchen window. I have a bushel of apples waiting to be sliced and diced for some apple cider pies, and warm baguettes waiting to be slathered with honey goat cheese and pumpkin butter. There are pumpkins to be carved and seeds to be roasted and toasted with cinnamon, salt, and oregano. It is a morning perfect for getting lost in the world of literature, for feeling the fall breeze dance into the room and help stir my pen.

This is the season that begins months of a holiday love affair with food and drink. Take a look at any writer: I am sure most all will be able to sit and describe for hours their favorite food and drinks. For anyone wanting to dive into some of the favorite dishes and drinks the top literary authors and poets have mentioned in letters, books, or interviews, you have to check out the blog Paper and Salt. With cherished recipes including Agatha Christie’s Fig and Orange Scones with Devonshire Cream, Robert Penn Warren’s favorite cocktail recipe, and even Wallace Stevens’ Coconut Caramel Graham Cookies, the blog won’t let you down. Let’s zoom in on Stevens for a minute, whose “humdrum evening routine consisted of eating a cookie while reading the paper.” To all of us with a sweet tooth, Stevens is a dear kindred spirit. Nicole from Paper and Salt writes:

On his doctor’s orders, Stevens repeatedly tried to cut his dessert intake, but when a friend sent him a bottle of coconut syrup that reminded him of his beloved caramels, it all went out the window. “God help me, I am a miserable sinner,” he wrote, “and love being so.”

I am sure there are many jokes out there about “drink” being the true “ink” in a writer’s pen, but it is necessary to stop and reflect on various drinks for a minute. For writers in general—but poets especially—there is nothing more stimulating than good conversation accompanied by wine paired with the right cheese. See The Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide at Winemonger for suggestions.

And last but not least, what about those of you who love actually entering into the literary world and experiencing their own food and drink? For those of you who want a nice warm butterbeer on a cool fall evening without having to migrate to Orlando for the world of Harry Potter? I recommend including Guinness in your recipe, because what’s the magic in making butterbeer if you don’t tweak it to your own taste? Add a little Buttescotch Schnapps and research your own recipe! Seriously. Make your own magic, folks. (Except for the under-21s, only cream soda and butterscotch syrup for you!)

Or perhaps you want a fresh drink, something for a picnic, don’t forget to look up Anne (with an E)’s recipe for Raspberry Cordial. If you’re feeling extra silly, you can even re-enact dear Diana’s encounter with the “Raspberry Cordial.” Or just drink some currant wine yourself.

So writers, readers, lovers of food and drink: dive into the culinary world. The world of scents and flavors. Savor the spices, the aromas, the textures. Nerd out with your favorite literary recipes. Research what your favorite authors liked to eat and drink. Don’t forget to check out the Paper and Salt blog, and plunge into the best part of writing: eating and drinking.