Gratitude: a Retrospective, 2011

This year is waning fast, so I wanted to reflect a moment and try and find some final thoughts before the book is closed on 2011.

Like most years, 2011 was a year of bitter and sweet. It had its tragi-comical moments, but ultimately I find it a year that was full of creativity. What more can I ask than that?

* In 2011, I developed this blog. My father suggested several times that I write a blog, but my first attempt was lame and half-hearted, because I didn’t know how to write the blog I wanted to read. This time around, I visualized it better. I wanted a place on the internet with beautiful music and art, one with interviews of people I was curious about, a tiny spot of serenity where true hearts could feel at home.

Arthur Rackham, Feeling Very Undancey

I wanted a blog of unabashed romanticism, one that celebrated the beauty in the world, one that put words to the yearning that all lost souls feel in this increasingly mechanized and digitized world. I hoped these people would find my little watering hole. And they did. Because of my blog, I got to interview such kindred spirits as writer Sarah J. Stevenson, writer/artist Paul Ramey, poetess Shaista Tayabali, writer/marketing guru Frances Figart, humorist Gordon McCleary, writer Alissa Libby, sculptor Cynthia Cusick and musician Ananda. If you have not read the 3QV’s of these amazing people, please go do so. They make the world a more beautiful place.

You can also see our Facebook page or enjoy our whimsical bits and bobs on Tumblr.

* I started writing for, which has gotten me published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer regularly (such as my Elegy for Amy Winehouse), as well as giving me opportunities to interact with such luminaries as Neil Gaiman.

* I gained and lost pets. My sweet Pippa ran away, scared off by feral raccoons. I thought I found her again, but instead it was Sephi, her doppelganger (Read more: Little Cat Feet). I found Sephi a good home. My dear old boy Ramses is staying with my friend Paul for the moment, because I know he is having a happier life there.

As well, we lost Salvador this year, my dearest kindred spirit in canine form. (Read more: Remembering Salvador). There can be no replacing of animals like these. All you can do is bid them adieu and marvel at the fact that the universe sent them to you at all. Paul Ramey wrote and illustrated Zen Salvador, a beautiful tribute to Salvador that all animal lovers would enjoy, and the proceeds benefit the Jacksonville Humane Society.

* I discovered Twitter. I am embarrassed to admit my social media snobbery and it’s all Sarah J. Stevenson’s fault (@aquafortis)! On Twitter, I discovered a whole interlinked community of artists and writers that I would never encounter on Facebook because they would not be in my circle of acquaintances. I couldn’t possibly list all of my favorite Tweeters, so instead I did a Wordle of you all. Click to make larger.
Wordle: Favorite Tweeters 2011

* In a related note, I also attempted National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. After years of forgetting about it till Thanksgiving (oops!), I finally committed to doing it…as though life in November weren’t exciting enough with a retail management job. I did not win it, but I did write 20,000 words on a new manuscript that super excites me. That itself is a major win. I don’t believe I’ve written 20,000 words of fiction in my life, let alone in four weeks.

More exciting, I have developed a writing habit and now actually do write on a semi-regular basis. NaNoWriMo was not without its fallout (almost no blog posts). Given that the main reason that I started the blog was to force me to write on a regular basis, it seems like success!

* I revived Super Secret Spy Girl. She now has a Facebook page. You can go there and like/comment to receive your Super Secret Spy Name. Burn after reading.

To close, I am grateful for all my new friends and experiences. You each contributed to my year. Thank you so much.

Shall we continue on this road together?

3 Question View – Frances Figart

This post is the fourth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three.”) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Frances Figart
Writer, Editor and Marketing Consultant

Frances Figart

One of the focuses of your freelance writing and promotional work is eco-tourism, responsible tourism and sustainable travel. What drew you to that specialty and how do you define these terms? Why does travel writing in general attract you?

One of my professional incarnations placed me in the role of magazine editor for a mainstream travel industry association. I was attracted to that position because of its three-fold offering of people, places and publishing: the extrovert in me loved meeting the people who made the travel industry go ‘round; the adventurer in me loved exploring new places and learning new things; and the editor in me loved being able to publish a monthly full-color magazine. In that role, I met an industry mentor who was like the Edward Abbey of ecotourism, and he started educating me about responsible forms of travel: ways of traveling that ensure there are environmental, social and economic benefits, what we call the “triple bottom line.”

There are many definitions of ecotourism, but it boils down to environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features, both past and present). It promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local people in the areas visited. Most ecotourism is by its nature also sustainable, meaning it can be maintained over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place.

Once I started learning about these forms of travel, I was no longer interested in supporting most mainstream types of travel because they were not taking into account the environmental and social aspects of the triple bottom line, only the economic aspects. So from then on, I dedicated myself to responsible travel. The type of writing I do to support these forms of tourism, much of it being marketing oriented, interests me because I feel it allows me to make a difference not only to the consumer choosing to travel responsibly, but also to the ecosystems and local peoples benefiting from their visits.

Since you write for a living, what are some of the techniques you use to keep your writing fresh and inspired? When on a deadline, how do you stay focused? Do you have any advice for aspiring freelancers?

I think both reading and writing keep things interesting for me. The types of works I like to read most are biographies (especially of musicians and poets) and inspiring psychological, spiritual, philosophical or sociological studies laid out for the intelligent lay person. I have never been the voracious reader that some folks are because I am slow at it. This is because I hear each sentence and paragraph as if read aloud by an eloquent and graceful narrator—and that is what has provided me with the “voice” one needs in order to truly write with a style of one’s own.

I cannot remember ever having a day when I didn’t want to write something. Even when I do not take the time to read, I am always writing. Even when I am in between assignments, I still want to write, and I sometimes go all creative and write something totally different to amuse myself. Never a poet or creative writer in the modern sense, when I do wax poetic (which is quite rare), I tend to want to emulate the conceits, meter and rhyme schemes of my favorite English Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. Here is an example:

Spring Separation

How fast the moon binds lovers held so far adrift
That, would she shine on both at once, they would be free!
One soul made two, split by fate and geography,
They seek an end to this eternal-seeming rift.

The long center of night bids wood spirits awake:
A sharp white silence mingles with the joyous knell
Of one lone bird whose bold and throaty warblings tell
Of thirst for female company he longs to slake.

This avian knows every other’s every note
And he recites the chortles, chatter, pipes and trills,
The songs of night jars, jays, hawks, thrushes, whip-poor-wills,
Spring’s every winged voice he one by one doth quote.

Yet his own song he saves for her alone,
That mate he waits for with expectant breast.
Until she comes, his script is set in stone;
Until then, this performer knows no rest.

Behold eternal nature that propels this beast
To lark and nightingale its moonlit night away!
My own lament now rallies at the very least
To recollect my spirit for nigh-breaking day.

But hark, a new and stranger melody arises
From out the repertoire (one swiftly recognizes)
For she has come! The two souls join as one again;
The soloist has found his own unique refrain.

And so, we lovers each to each will sing
The song that no one else but we shall know.
Together underneath the moon we’ll go;
Like mockingbirds we’ll be, my fairy king.

May 25, 2008, Frances Figart

Deadlines are an integral part of a writer’s existence, and one without which we cannot function. Quite simply, if someone expects something of me, no matter who they are, I cannot abide the notion that I would let them down, and so “focus” merely appears of its own accord as the sole priority of the moment and I simply get the job done – usually ahead of schedule.

To those who aspire to freelance write for a living, I say: Combine your literary talents with a specialization that is very… specialized. The more scientific it is, the more money you will be assured to make. And do not get into this business unless you truly love your specialization and unless it can truly be said of you that to write is to breathe.

For many writers, your job would be considered a dream job, to be paid to write. What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What would be a dream assignment for you?

Before I begin to write, there is an incubation period, when ideas swirl around in a primal chaos until out of the murky waters something that really excites me rises and takes form; then I can begin and everything starts to flow. What I love most about writing during the process is that flow, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) defined as our experience of optimal fulfillment and engagement, whether it be in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work or spiritual practice—a deep and uniquely human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation. There is nothing more fulfilling. After the finished product is complete, what I love most is receiving positive feedback from those who find the writing in some way helpful, educational, inspiring – or from those whom it benefits directly because it promotes their business and their own contribution to the world.

The challenges are the same as anyone’s, really, in this economy: trying to keep one’s head above water and have enough financial stability to continue enjoying the elbow room and exhilaration of entrepreneurship. Travel writers have to be careful to make sure that others are paying for their travel… or else it’s easy to find yourself just breaking even. Flexibility has been my forte since I started freelancing many years ago; and now, it’s more important than ever. For instance, one of my alternate income streams over the past few years has been to take on others’ social media management. Facebook is even more fun when you are getting paid to post pictures of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, kayakers amid icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland, and yoga retreats at eco-resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

My dream assignments in the travel industry are those that allow me to visit places I already love, or where I can have new and exciting experiences in a natural setting, and write about them to promote sustainable and responsible forms of tourism. For example, I’ll be going out to Portland, Oregon, in a couple of weeks to participate in a “fam” tour, a trip designed to familiarize a writer or tour operator with a tourism product. I have been to Portland a handful of times and love the city and region, so I will be learning lots of new information about this area and can help to promote it through one and maybe two articles for a publication about group travel. However, I am always all about expanding my horizons, and so I also welcome new types of writing assignments outside of my field that will challenge my skills and allow me to grow in new wacky and wondrous ways.

Thanks again, Anna, for this opportunity to share. It has allowed me some great reflection time that will no doubt lead to yet another unexpected escapade.

Visit Frances’ blog, the home of marketing support for sustainable travel professionals worldwide:

If you would like to contact Frances, you can reach her at