I became involved with Wising Up Press because of my long relationship with Heather Tosteson and Charles Brockett, which did not begin with the press but with my relationship with Heatherand her son when she was a doctoral student at Ohio University, where I was also finishing a counseling degree. Even though we were related through my mother and her grandmother (they were the youngest sisters in a large immigrant family from Wales), it was through that period of time in Ohio that Heather and her son became part of my family. Through me, Heather met my friends, including Nancy Pelletier, who had received her MFA from Ohio University. Each year in Marietta, Nancy and I held a Neat Ladies Lunch. Nancy and I had discovered that each of us - she as head of a Humanities department in a community college and I as a family therapist active in community mental health - had wonderful sets of friends in our professional lives who didn't know each other, so we brought them together - and brought Heather in too. I remember Heather so loving the Neat Ladies Lunches, which was perhaps an early version of this women's collectiveWe were ahead of our time - because we were doing it not from any ideological basis, but from a life-saving basis, just because we liked each other and wanted to know each other. If you were at those lunches, you knew everything going on in that town. We were all community focused, involved in the world. We always had the illusion that maybe we could solve some of the problems in our Appalachian community. We were all involved in some way. Looking back now in my mid-seventies, to that time when I had five kids at home and was going back to school, starting a community mental health center, we really did something. We bloomed where we were planted.
Over the years, Heather and I stayed connected - through moves, family crises and celebrations, weddings and divorces. Some of those events - Nancy Pelletier's marriage at age 80 to her high school sweetheart Louis Wymond and my own divorce after 53 years of marriage -inspired Heather to suggest we collaborate on a Wising Up Anthology: Love After 70. Nancy and I agreed. All these submissions came in. We met in Marietta (after Heather did some heavy work and hard lifting in Georgia) to review three identical stacks of manuscripts. We each sorted them separately into yes, no and maybe piles. For me, an avid reader, there was a humbling sense of power in saying, no I don't want this, knowing that the person who wrote it had really worked on it and loved it. Finally comparing our piles in my condo in Williamstown, we discovered that there was a great deal of agreement as to what we liked. And what we didn't. We had a real laugh about a male fantasy (the author, we checked it out on web, was only 50) - ofa man in his 90s entertaining a prostitute dressed as Marlene Dietrich.
Nancy and I created a dog and pony show for Love After 70, each of selecting some of our favorite pieces to read. We came down, with Louis, to Atlanta, where we helped with the Wising Up Press booth at the Decatur Book Festival. We wore matching t-shirts with the cover ofthe book on them, and everyone stopped us to ask about the book. We were the best advertisement going. We also read at retirement centers in Atlanta and had wonderful conversations with our audience, who shared their own experiences, losses and loves. We continue our dog and pony show in our own area - at Nancy's retirement community, a senior citizen center, the POE women's sorority group, and the Washington Community College poetry program. We get a call - Will you come and talk to our group? -and we're off. Marietta Senior Reading Club, which has been in existence for over 146 consecutive years, was the first place we read after Louis died. Love After 70 is quite a sensuous book. We thought that some readers would be put off, but they have been quite moved and have loved the book.
As an adult, I've always been an avid reader. I haven't read a lot of the classics. I feel guilty, but don't have time to read them because I like what I'm reading now. Reading keeps me connected with the larger world. I have belonged for years to theBetsy Bookers book club. We meetonce a month. Each person takes a month, chooses a book of her liking, and we discuss it over lunch (we don't have wine. . . ). The person who has chosen the book has done some research into the author, sought out reviews (positive and negative). Once, one member couldn't find reviews and called the author and interviewed her directly.
As an avid reader, I can see that I read a little differently from the writers in the collective. I draw on my own experience and my own professional interests. I know clearly what I like and don't like and can tell you why, but without anyliterary rhetoric. I can tell you if I like the characters, whether I am emotionally invested in them, whether I would like to meet them. Prize-winning books where you don't care about a single character don't interest me - but I read passionately and with a sense of direct engagement. I love things that are complex, like The Reader, which raises interesting questions about collective guilt, where does our responsibility lie, what would happen to me in the same circumstances. My best friend growing up was Jewish, and I always asked myself what I would do in those circumstances. Same as a therapist in Appalachia, when I listened I always wondered if I could live the lives of the women I was counseling. The gift I gave back to them was how I mirrored how marvelous and strong they were. I expect the same in the books I read.