Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pilgrimages of Everyday Life

Written for the Sunday Scribblings blog prompt #146 (Pilgrimage). This is also my first post as a contributor to the team blog Write It! Publish It! Market It!

In Vivo

Photo is inspired by the Flickr Moleskinerie discussion, "Show us your desk or writing space with a photo,". In November 2007, my journal notes in the open book were ruminations on the sixth book in my Deviations series. For more info about Deviations, click here.

pilgrimage. 1. a journey, esp. a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of devotion. 2. any long journey, esp. one undertaken for a particular purpose, as to pay homage.

-- The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, 1975.

Sacred places abound for a writer. For me, they've been as close as the journal notebook on my desk and as far as halfway around the world. My journeys have included regular walks to my post office box, about two miles round-trip. Or the roughly 13-mile drive to my writing critique workshop at the library. Or a short jaunt to a retention pond.

Ibises 17

Beverly Hills, Florida, April 2007. In all, I counted 155 ibises and one female cattle egret. You can see the full flock here.

Lately I've been on a pilgrimage back through time. A creative nonfiction essay, now in submission, took me to entries originally penned in old journal notebooks about twenty years ago.

Journal Series
Thanks to Armand Frasco for soliciting this photo series and accompanying commentary for posting here on

Writing in a journal captures the moment and the mood. It describes places and people. For one practicing a devotion to writing, it makes every journey a pilgrimage and every location a sacred place, no matter how long or how short the trip. It is a way to collect what I call "raw data" that can later be retrieved and tweaked, transplanted into a story, or used to generate ideas.

Reed, Issue 60, 2007

In 2007 my creative nonfiction essay, "January 1985: A Day in Lawrence, Massachusetts," appeared in Reed #60. The piece grew directly out of a journal entry.

Contributor's Copy of Unspeakable Horror

My story "Memento Mori" appears in the anthology Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (Dark Scribe Press, 2008). I write my fiction drafts almost exclusively on computer nowadays, but "Memento Mori" is an exception. In my author bio I thank the Cambridge Women's Center in Massachusetts, whose "Women Writing" free-writing group I attended in the mid-1990s. In what I remember as the group's only take-home assignment, we were encouraged to write something for a meeting that would fall around Halloween. I scribbled a vignette in my journal notebook, where it sat for more than ten years before being exhumed, polished, and ultimately expanded into the story in this collection.

Wagner College Alumni Magazine Article

I travel with my camera in addition to carrying a journal notebook. My article in Wagner Magazine (Fall 2007; more legible in the large view) includes the story of my near-arrest for photographing a moth.

A pilgrimage is also a voyage of discovery. A few days ago I spotted this moth outside my local supermarket:

Iridopsis Species

Iridopsis genus. I'd almost missed it because of how well it's camouflaged. In writing parlance, I would call it an excellent representation of metaphor.

Spy Pond, Arlington, MA, 1988

Reading is another form of pilgrimage because every book is a journey. I forget what I was reading when this photo of me was taken in the summer of 1988. On that day I had also made a one-mile-long pilgrimage from my apartment in North Cambridge to Spy Pond in Arlington, MA. Early in the morning I had hauled the Intrepid, my "six-foot inflatable yacht," over my shoulder in a duffel bag down Massachusetts Avenue. Once in the water, I had tethered my yacht to an overhanging branch and settled in for a relaxing read.

Thanks go to Shelby Dupree, who included my 1987 journal entry-turned-blog entry "The Old Men of Revere Beach" in her list of "1,000 posts to read before you die." Thanks go also to Gene Wilburn, who established Creative NonFiction Writing Forums just a few days ago.

I also make the occasional pilgrimage back to the prompts and entries at Sunday Scribblings, which is maintained by Meg Genge and Laini Taylor.

-- Elissa Malcohn

Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders,,,, DEAstore,,,,, Powell's Books, and Target. The Deviations page has additional details.


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