Community of Writers: Anita Kline

Anita Kline manages Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion. She has a background in English education and academic publishing and has been a keen participant in the Writing Space community author group since its creation in 2015.  In a conversation with Princeton Writes, she reflected on the experience of being a writer working at a university in a non-academic setting, and offered up a short piece of her own, entitled “Running Amok with Art.”

What draws you to writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl. A lot of my teachers assumed that I would be a published writer by this time, you know, and they’d watch for my name on the bookshelves and all those things! And that has not happened [because] life gets in the way for a lot of people. And also, I don’t think they really supported me much other than to say: “You go, girl!” [So] I have found it just so enjoyable to be in this group: to know that other people have similar downfalls about making one’s self sit at the table and do the daily writing, but also the joy of getting something done and recognizing that it’s really pretty good.

Who is your audience?

I tend to send my writing to family. They appreciate it; they expect it from me. So I am a published writer, in that I send it to the aunts and uncles, and they’re glad for me being a bit of a historian, a bit of an essayist for the family… publishing it, printing, cutting the pages, stitching it together with yarn and a needle! So very old-fashioned. [Given] those parameters, other people say, “Oh, I’m a published writer too!”

What is your writing process?

Deadlines really do help. [And] I read about authors who get up and do it! They just know that that’s their day: they sit down at 8 am and they get up at 2 pm, or whatever their thing is. I have just not become that disciplined, so I’m glad for groups to be in.

What is it about the world you want to capture through writing?

I’m trying to make people stand still for a moment and look at the grass that’s in their way, pay attention to small details, pay attention to the poetry that just is wherever we go. Not be so busy, not have a sense of urgency about getting the mundane and pedantic things done.

Who are your favorite writers?

Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman. Of course, Toni Morrison. I love how she writes about smells and tastes; I find that enticing to try. [Also] Maya Angelou. Mostly women!… I think in each of the cases I mentioned, of the women, I think it’s their innate sense of body, along with their feelings and thoughts. Their body is just not a difference: it’s not separate, but constantly in their writing.

Interview: Elizabeth Durham

Photo: Anita Kline

Running Amok with Art

“Leona,” I say on the phone to my long-distance sister after we’ve both whined about our general malaise these days compared to those earlier decades filled with children, and now with just closets. The closets, particularly, full of left-over art supplies. “I have a theory about why we’re not starting or finishing crafty projects lately.”

The little thoughtful, creative, inexpensive-yet-provocative gifts we would give to nieces or to daughters of old friends, I muse. We used to feel good about pulling out yarn scraps to knit a set of placemats, or to crochet some simple bibs and burp cloths for a new baby. Maybe a dolly-sized crazy quilt with fabric pieces from home-made Halloween costumes. A tiny water color sketch on the edge of a thank-you note. Tuna Surprise casserole for the community pot luck, served in Grandma’s Haviland china dish, the burnt crisp edges blending with the old gold rim. Cupcakes for the Third Grade classroom, mad dash of sprinkles atop the frosting swirl, abandoning all elementary decorum, yes, but sure to impress the homeroom mom-of-the-day.

Remember the sugar cubes you helped decorate with tiny frosting flowers for Emmy’s wedding reception? Now, that was over the top, even for the early 1960s: how the farm ladies took a break during their harvest to take you-the-young-bride-yourself under their wings, knowing, since they couldn’t travel that far, that you and their sugar cubes would represent them well at the event that they would have to miss. Think of that: our middle sister moving away more than two thousand miles, leaving – after all those ladies had done for her – to marry a man who wasn’t even a farmer. Turns out Emmy’s new ocean-side community was impressed, admitting they had had no idea that middle American agrarians would know how to wield such wee brush strokes and vibrant colors for a tea table. Remember how those new neighborhood women scrambled to gather wild flowers off the bluffs for the reception hall and decorate the bare tables with amber glass fishing floats and abalone shells? Your sugar cubes sparkled like diamonds in the sea-tinged light, and your elegant pillbox hat and red lipstick – plus Emmy’s gauzy gown from Chicago, oh my! – announced without a doubt who was setting new standards in that town.

But lately, when I’ve wanted to play with art, looking at internet craft sites for ideas to make, say, an interesting hand-made greeting card, I am fully intimidated, faced with instructions first on how to make my own paper. No, really first, I’m linked to a site to learn how to sharpen my own axe to cut the wood — to-mash-the-pulp-to-gather-the-berries-to-make-the-dye — and then turn to making the paper itself. Home-made pen and ink optional.

If I want to use Mason jars for my backyard picnic hurricane lamps, the craft sites urge me first to clean the jars, of course, of all traces of last season’s preserves; drop into each one a candle I’ve prepared from my own bees’ wax and handspun wicks; for hanging the lamps, braid together ivy vines and rope (hemp rope twists well; you know — wink-wink, nudges the internet — where to get the materials for hemp).

If I wanted today to recreate Emmy’s ocean-front wedding, I’d be instructed to scour the beaches after storms for alluring flotsam to decorate the drift wood tables, which I will be shown how to build (click here for directions), to bake clams, steam crabs and fashion flower vessels from their shells. Your sugar cubes (yes, I know you still have some in Aunt Daisy’s old tin) would be allowed to encircle the display of honeycombs on the beverage table. The astute host will also have found patterns for knitting wraps from kelp for each one in attendance, to hold the ocean breeze at bay.

The diamond ring, though, and the dress: do you think they would be vintage, or maybe just the vows, full shine and shimmer, the promise of eternal glow enticing us all?

But back to my own recent itch to create: I do have guests virtually at the door. I’ll light the lamps, spread the picnic table with one of Grandma’s quilts, drape clusters of heliotropes down the middle, make room for the shared covered dishes, pour a bit of Uncle Milie’s annual brew, and then – we deserve it, right? – we’ll “go and smoke now, those that smoke.”

Post projects, post party, I’ll call you again. We’ll catch up on The Kids’ lives, compare the linings of each other’s empty nests. Now I’ll let you go. Before bed, though, remember to soothe your hands with hemp butter.  I’ll text you the recipe.