Thursday, March 3, 2011

Guest in Progress: Catherine Keefe on Community and Connections

I ranted about the importance of saying “thank you” in the writing life here. One of the nice results of that post is that many people emailed to thank me for writing my blog (I promise that’s not why I ranted on thank yous). Another nice result is this guest post from Facebook friend and friend-of-a-real-life-friend (remember how I said that the writing world is SMALL?) Catherine Keefe, who offers her haunting and personal take on the importance of finding ways to connect.

How Hard Is It to Say Thank You? Redux
by Catherine Keefe

The hand-addressed white envelope is square, greeting card size, so it literally sticks out from the stack of business correspondence I pull from my p.o. box. Kim Sloca. I recognize the last name on the return address label. Lee Sloca is a writer, a man I never met, who contributed a poem, "Leftover Ingredients" to the first issue of dirtcakes, a literary journal I launched last June. I sent all the contributors a personal thank-you note tucked into the print journal and I smile at the thought that maybe I've created an old-fashioned pen pal.

I rip open Sloca's letter, read the gold "NOEL" and chastise myself for waiting so long to check my mail.

Ms. Catherine Keefe,
Wishing you
a wonderful Christmas
and a very
Happy New Year
Kim sloca
FOR: Lee M. SLoca

P.S. My son, Lee M. SLoca passed away quietly at home June 2010. Thank you for your kind words toward Lee. I'm creating an album about Lee. If you can please wrote about Lee and send it to me I would appreciated!

I reread the card once, twice, then a third time. His mother must have received my note, seen her son's words in print, within days after he passed. I sigh, then touch her card to my cheek. A mother's sorrow accompanies the mail on my short drive home. When I arrive, I immediately pull out my copy of the journal and search through contributor photos to see if I can discern any clue as to what might have killed the man. Is he old? Ashen? Do his eyes portend imminent demise?

Damn! It had been my cockamamie idea to enhance "The Hunger Issue" theme by cropping photos of our writers to reveal only hands or mouths.

Lee's lips are full, beautiful really. Silent. They are closed, barely; it seems as if he's about to speak and that his voice might be soft. His bio says he worked for Obama's campaign and now is "seeking work compatible with the President's philosophy of community."

I reread his poem and marvel again at the images he wove together.

LEFTOVER INGREDIENTS: gelatin of a sunset, 2 sugarless Vietnamese ladies, with artificial flavors of dehydrated husbands, saltlick of a past war...

I really, really, really wish I'd had a conversation with him about that poem, rather than an e-mail correspondence beginning with praise and congratulations, then devolving into necessary permissions and deadlines and a silly photo request.

I also have a "philosophy of community." The desire to create a circle dedicated to words and art is a prime motivation for editing dirtcakes. The light I turn toward each time I open the mail - either electronic or paper - is the faith that I'll find another human who eloquently offers a world vision where similarities are more pronounced than differences. My writers become part of an imaginary table around which I dream of breaking bread, discussing world issues, and laughing not a little. But ultimately I, like most who practice the craft of translating life into letters, find the warmth of community mostly imagined, as writing is a solitary pursuit, which culminates in a mute paper artifact.

As an antidote to a certain type of isolation, I suggested in the editor's letter of "The Hunger Issue" that "when you're finished reading, invite someone over to share dinner."

Aloneness is something Lee Sloca also wrote about:

"...confectioner's glaze of friendship, to modify the starch of emptiness..."

Maybe I'll take my own advice and answer Kim Sloca's Christmas card with an invitation. Google Maps tells me she lives only 64.6 miles away.

I'll bake a cake. I'll ask her what flavor glaze Lee might have liked. And then we'll have our fill talking of emptiness.

You can read Lee Sloca’s poem here:

About: Catherine Keefe is a writer, editor, and writing instructor. You can read more about dirtcakes at


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.