Her art is on the cover of the anthology, Mothers Creating Writing Lives: Motherhood Memoir along with her chapter, “Ekphrastic Mama” inside. With one child married, one in college, one in high school, another in junior high, one in elementary school, a toddler, and a new grand baby—she experienced all phases of motherhood simultaneously, and lives to write about it. In her defense, she quotes beat poet Alice Notley: “I didn’t plan my pregnancies. I’m an experimentalist.”
Every May, Lori leads May is Motherhood Memoir Month—MaMoMeMo—taking writers on a wild ekphrastic ride where you don’t have to be a mother to have a motherhood story—it’s where you begin...
She is currently finishing a novel of historical surrealism, An Ear to Hear, the journal and sketchbook of the woman to whom van Gogh gifted his ear—a surreal act of ekphrasis; “Gifts Bestowed” sprang from this work.
Read Lori's story here and then return for an interview with the author.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Welcome, Lori, and congratulations! This is such a unique idea for a flash fiction story. You mentioned in your bio that “Gifts Bestowed” was inspired by a larger historical fiction novel you’re working on. How did you first get the idea to explore this time period featuring Vincent Van Gogh?
Lori: I read most of Vincent’s letters, studying and analyzing their forms during my undergraduate years at UCSD; many follow the same literary construction as the Pauline epistles. Vincent’s father was a pastor, and Vincent himself was a missionary to the miners in the Borinage. I was touched by how he cared for these poorest of the poor, getting dirty as he went into the mines to care for these people. The church withdrew their support because Vincent couldn’t keep himself clean and set apart as a clergyman. I fell in love with the heart of this misunderstood artist and writer. I wanted to see him through the eyes of the woman, Rachel, to whom he gave his ear, to hear her story since she must have known things others didn’t. Her mother ends up in Saint-Remy with Vincent, so it is also very much a motherhood story. (See drawing below, part of the ekphrastic novel).
WOW: I love that every May you invite writers to join you on May is Motherhood Memoir Month, or MaMoMeMo. Could you share with our readers how this works and how writers participate?
Lori: Taking a cue from Nanowrimo, I deemed May Motherhood Memoir Month. You don’t have to be a mother to have a motherhood story- it’s where you begin, since we all came from a mother. Even an absent mother creates a story; it’s your story, how you came to be. I encourage people to write their stories by offering prompts and encouragement, and I post some of my examples. Unlike Nanowrimo, there’s no pressure to write a certain number of words each day. Each person sets their own goals. MaMoMeMo is a lot of exploratory fun. https://mamomemo.com/2018/04/welcome/
WOW: I love this! My oldest child is heading off to college this fall three states away and it's brought out quite the wide range of emotions. I'll have to check out some of the prompts. What are some of the revelations you’ve had when writing about your own unique experience with motherhood?
Lori: We are all in process. I am such a different mother now than I was with my first child forty years ago. I just got back from a trip to Paris with my youngest daughter, age 14 (I had her at 47, big surprise!). We have such an easy-going relationship that allows for lots of laughter. Some of this might come from maturing as a mother, but my youngest daughter also sports a very enjoyable personality. For whatever reason, it just works now in ways it didn’t when I was younger, raising my older two daughters and three sons. My other revelation is that even though my mother is dead, I’m still working on myself as a daughter. I used to think that a relationship ended with death, but writing a memoir about my difficulties with my mother changed my view. Relationships live on in our thoughts and therefore continue to change and grow. Being able to process relationships through writing brings clarity while fostering empathy. In essence that’s what I write about, whether I’m exploring a historical figure like Vincent Van Gogh or journaling for my own deeper understanding of our roles in the world.
WOW: Could you explain to us what ekphrasis means in regards to your writing and creating works of art?
Lori: Ekphrasis is Greek for “art that speaks out.” When we tell a story or give a speech the most important thing is to create an image in the mind of the listener or reader so they are following right along, living it in their own mind. Ekphrasis was used by Socrates to teach effective speaking because it involves vivid description. In teaching, I ask students to reference a piece of art, which could be a simple photo. They begin by describing the image which naturally leads to ideas and stories. College students who never enjoyed writing discover it is easier than they ever thought possible and more enjoyable using ekphrasis as an entry point for an essay or story. In my writing I begin with a piece of art such as one of Van Gogh’s paintings. Many of his lesser portraits have become characters in the novel. Rachel, my protagonist who receives Vincent’s ear, is an aspiring artist and model. Her journal is also her sketchbook, so as she studies the artworks and recreates them in her sketchbook they come to life in the novel. Drawing is not only a way to study a piece of art, but it becomes a meditation that leads one deeper into the story behind the drawing or painting. In this way ekphrasis can work from both directions; a vivid description can inspire a piece of art or an art work can inspire vivid description. The novel I’m writing is an ekphrastic novel, inspired by art, but also inspiring art as in the sketchbook drawings. (below is Rachel's mother)
WOW: Speaking of creating, you constructed a life-sized giraffe in your yard using driftwood. What did that project teach you about trusting your intuition and flowing with the creative process?
Lori: Often we get ideas but are unsure how to bring them to fruition. I had this vision of a life-size giraffe I wanted to see out my window, but I didn’t know how to build it. I was also working to finish my first novel. Building a giraffe from driftwood might seem like a procrastination move, but in the end one project facilitated the other. I didn’t realize this until I texted my oldest son a picture of the giraffe after we’d assembled it from pieces of driftwood we’d collected for years. He commented, “The wood looks like it always wanted to be a giraffe.” I thought of my novel and all the disparate scenes I’ve written, very experimental and mostly from prompts employing ekphrasis. Building what turned out to be the laughing giraffe gave me faith to trust my creative process, to believe that all the scenes could coalesce into the novel I’ve envisioned, or at least the one that wants to be written. You can see the juxtaposition of the two processes on my blog, Ekphrastic Mama. And if you ever want to build a life-size giraffe from driftwood, you can see the process laid out in photos.
WOW: Thank you for such a rich conversation today, Lori! We look forward to immersing ourselves in more of your work in the future!