Friday, January 11, 2019

Why I Love Writing...and Proofreading

Notes pertaining to my enjoyment of... and desire to do more of...the above

I am the great-granddaughter of a man described  as both "the dean of proofreaders" and "a walking encyclopedia". His name was Samuel Rutan, and he was the typographer at a newspaper in New York City called The New York World. Wikipedia says "The New York World was a newspaper published in New York City from 1860 until 1931, and played a major role in the history of American newspapers. It was a leading national voice of the Democratic Party." My father told me his grandfather had three favorite books: the dictionary, the Bible, and Aesop's Fables (from the latter of which he used to read to Dad.)

I grew up in a family that loved reading. Both my parents were born in the early years of the 20th century, one in 1902, the other in 1906, and both were unable to afford college and went to work shortly after high school. It was the early part of the Depression. My mother passionately wanted to attend Cornell University where her best friends were enrolling as Freshman. Her father, Louis Fleming, was an excellent book illustrator who also did magnificent lettering for books and advertisements, but his income was always freelance during all the years my mother and her brother and sister were growing up. (Papa enjoyed what he did but it still was a wonderful thing that happened when later in life, at age 50, he became Art Director for Conde Naste Press and Harpers Bazaar,  where he continued until he retired at 76.) During those early years, Papa had some wonderful clients, including Mohonk Mountain House, for whom he did, for years, all their printed matter: brochures, menu covers and other suchlike. I have pictures (black and white, no color photography then) of Papa and my grandmother visiting up there in New Paltz every year for him to sketch and take photographs for the the illustrations he would do at home on his drawing table in Freeport.  The first image here is one of the Mohonk illustrations; the second one was done for Texaco.

So my mother, when she finished high school, Cornell and other colleges inaccessible, enrolled in a free teachers training school in Queens, and after two years, began teaching at a grammar school in Springfield Gardens in Queens. In high school she had written poetry, and had thought of becoming a journalist, would have dearly loved to go to Cornell, but in the long run, she was the essence of a self-educated person. Reading always, and as I particularly remember, not only doing the NY Times crossword puzzle every Sunday but also the Saturday Review of Literature puzzle, which appeared in that magazine monthly but which was a highly complicated one with not only the customary crossword box array at the top but another linked puzzle below. And the words that ended up filling the completed puzzle above were quotes from a well-known author whose name would be spelled out in the puzzle below as well as the piece of writing the quote came from. Mom and her sister Connie, my wonderful aunt, would conquer the complexities of this sophisticated puzzle and compare notes about them when Connie would visit us. Weekly trips to the library to reserve books were part of my growing up.  My father also went to work directly from high school at age 18 at a brand new company in those years: the New York Telephone Company. With another couple of young men at his job, he drove every night after work to Pratt Institute's School of Engineering in Brooklyn, where he received a certificate in electrical engineering. Dad was very smart and capable.  He was also a terribly nice person. His mother, before she died at the age of 43, told my mother that she had raised Leighton to be chivalrous toward women. When he was ill, in the few months before he died, he came out to the cab where the girls and I had traveled from the Long Island railroad station, and tried to carry our bags into the house. He was a hero of goodness and genuineness to me.

And as to my mother's self-educating nature, when my sister and I were kids, my mother frequented the little library in our town. It looked like a fairy tale house: brown shingled, white trim, and leaded glass windows. My sister and I would hang out in the children's department, choosing books, or playing with a dollhouse installed to entertain the kids, and Mom would be reserving books she had read about, later receiving postcards announcing their arrival at the library. She and Dad would read at night, when time permitted at the end of a day. Mom read a lot of things, but they both enjoyed rather good mysteries, which I myself do now as well. Mom also bought wonderful books for years and years, exceptional ones, which resulted in collections we each of us have in our homes, my daughters and myself. We so much appreciate her wonderful taste in books, and likewise, my aunt Connie's. During the Depression, Connie also went to work after a short business school course, first at one of the pulp magazines of the 1930s, Adventure Magazine, then on to her beloved long time job: Secretary and sole employee for the esteemed two-man literary agency: Russell & Volkening (Henry Volkening and Diarmuid Russell.) Connie also loved books. Both my mother and Connie were the biggest readers in our family. But I also want to mention that Mom, Dad, Connie, and all their siblings automatically had had Latin in their school days. And I fervently wish now I had had Latin as well.  I took French, as my sister had, which I quite liked, but now understand how germane Latin is for grasping all the underpinnings of the English language.

Finally, I have some other literary relatives: my father's sister, Renie, (Irene Kittle Kamp),  who, like Connie, worked at various jobs in New York City in the 1930s, becoming eventually a Drama Critic for Cue Magazine, Editor of Glamour Magazine, then Editor of Seventeen Magazine. And she also wrote a series of short stories in the 1950s for the Saturday Evening Post along with her husband, my uncle, Louis Kamp. They were a writing team, and I remember when we visited them where they lived in the summers in the 1950s, in Hampton Bays, NY, that they had part of the manuscript of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" printed in reverse, dark blue like a blueprint, which Louie had made into wallpaper in their bedroom. He was also a painter and and made very nice small wood structures of boats out of wood scraps that he painted and posted over all the doorways. Renie wrote a lovely little short short story about him, when they first had met and were to meet in New York City at some prearranged place, and what happened when he first didn't turn up, and then when he did.  Titled "Just Remember That, The Short Short Story", it appeared in Colliers Weekly, May 4, 1946. (It can be read on The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection, Content Archive of Printed Periodicals and Books.)

Renie went on to become a screenwriter for movies including "Paris Blues", "The Lion", and  "The Beguiled". And she wrote a play that was produced on Broadway in 1966, "The Great Indoors," It did not stay open for long, but my family and I were happy to have attended the opening night. She and Louie both wrote plays over the years, of which I have a few manuscripts which Louie sent us when Renie died. I have many fascinating letters each of them wrote to us in the family. And to go back to my first paragraph above, it was in one of those letters Renie wrote to Mom and Dad that she said Samuel Rutan was described as "a walking encyclopedia."

So this above is about my family background, but as to my own experience with writing:

I had a very interesting long-running job when I lived in New York City, which was to work for Hannelore Hahn, the founder and director of the International Women's Writing Guild. Hannelore also published an award-winning memoir about her childhood in Dresden, Germany, prior to World War II, "On the Way to Feed the Swans."  It was while working for Hannelore and her small staff of people that I had done quite a bit of proofreading of the Guild's magazine: Network, which is how I developed such a love of it. The sense of clearing away anything that obscures the forward flow of thoughts from the page to the reader...that's how it seems to me, whether one is reading someone else's work or one's own.

Since moving to Connecticut, I have helped some writers with memoirs, and one with a collection of short stories.  And something I particularly liked doing, having a strong interest in science and nature, was transcribing interviews for two Scientific American television series: The Human Spark and Brains on Trial. The transcriptions were for the producers to use in editing the film, and as Alan Alda was the interviewer in each series, this was a pleasure, as his questions and the scientists' responses were both fascinating, and not surprisingly, very funny at times. There were a great many of these transcripts to be done, and I often ended up working late at night, sometimes tired, but finding the subject matter so enlivening that I found myself sorry when they ended.  My interest in science/nature also stems from an earlier job: working for Fritz Kunz, the editor of a superb magazine called Main Currents in Modern Thought. I will add at the bottom of this post a list of some of the remarkable articles which appeared in that magazine over the years it was published, the titles alone will give an idea of the wonderful range of subject matter.

I love proofreading, and think maybe when I am doing it (and enjoying the process) my great-grandfather Samuel Rutan is hovering over my shoulder.  I also have favorite books, and one is also the dictionary!  I love moving words around till they feel comfortable on the page. Please do contact me if you have any projects needing help:

Proofreading, editing, or transcribing, email:

My website, with paintings and drawings:

Instagram, where I post paintings, photos, and bits of writing: @Aksellon

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My Favorite Place: The Metropolitan Museum Medieval Galleries

The image posted above was a drawing done in the Medieval Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was done as I looked into one of the many lit glass cases of treasures there. It is what they call a roundel, quite small, made of Cloisonné enamel, with gold inlaid lines: the face of St. Pantaleimon, a doctor, a healer, and an inspiring figure in both the East and the West in the 4th Century, A.D. This is one of many beautiful findings in the Medieval gallery, where I have often gone to draw the images I've then painted at home.

The light was dim, the floor a soft amber tone where footsteps did not seem to enters the past and is greeted by eyes of great softness, eyes and faces carved into marble and limestone, filled with the best of human nature. One mother and child is matched by many another, where the child is confident and comfortable, held by a mother whose face reflects both determinations and caution. And always, between the mother and the child...a great tenderness.

I first felt enamored of these Medieval rooms and their inhabitants as a student at Pratt Institute, when we were sent there on a field trip to draw.  I walked right up to a glass case where resided the loveliest mother and child figure, about 14 inches high, of carved wood, with a coloring described as was so sweet, so perfect, so exceptional. The mother's head was tilted back with a gentle smile as she holds the baby up to look at him, and he is smiling back, and his little hand is under her chin...a tenderness such that I have gone back again and again to see it, as well as to bask in the wonderful humanity that seems to fill all the space.

(I will post a picture of this first-encountered polychrome madonna at the bottom of the post...both the photograph of this actual figure, as well as my decades-old chalk drawing of it.)

But to continue: all of the painted works and the sculptures of stone or wood exude a feeling of patience and forbearance, as though they had some knowledge that difficulties will abound but goodness and good people can redeem all. I think it seemed to them then, and seems to me now, to be something badly needed in a harsh and difficult time.

Here are some more of the Medieval galleries' inhabitants...some are photos from the Met's website, and some are my ink drawings and paintings inspired by them:

And now, my favorite of all the collection: a Madonna and child in lovely blue and red garments, which picture I recently found on the Met website. Below that is a photo of my own olive-green chalk drawing of it, done back in 1958 when I was freshman at Pratt Institute. As was customary in those days, we students carried large (18 x 24) newsprint pads everywhere we went on field trips, and this particular drawing is now hanging here in my living room, framed very kindly by my mother many years ago, which preserved it from disintegrating. The newsprint which once was creamy white has aged to a kind of soft brown but the image prevails and the tender gesture of the baby's hand under the mother's chin and their eyes softly regarding one another also remain.

So here is my favorite:

And here is the olive-green chalk drawing from that early-days trip to the Met Museum and its Medieval gallery...

And here's my signature at the bottom of the picture on now-amber-toned paper.

For anyone who might want to go and see it, here is how to find the "Devotional Statuette of the Virgin and Child" at the Met, and all the information about its origin in France:

Date:                                    ca. 1250-70
Geography:                          Made in Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Culture:                                French
Medium:                              Oak, modern paint
Dimensions:                        15 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches
Classification:                      Sculpture-Wood
Credit Line:                          Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:              17.190.725

It is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue, in Gallery 304

Friday, May 5, 2017

I Like To Draw In Ink...

When an art student at Pratt Institute, I used to buy a wonderful India Ink by Higgins called "Eternal Black", using it with old fashioned pens with removable nibs one dipped into the ink, messy yet yielding bold lines and a certain drama. The Eternal ink was exactly that: very profoundly black, yet it could provide a variety of washes - from softest cloud grey to the deep rounded shadows of the nighttime sky. But now I've come to love the Pigma pen, permanent ink, easily transportable, and ranging from size #005 (a very slender line) to the largest, the #8. With the ink source always black, I have also stayed with watercolor in small tubes, in early years always buying Winsor & Newton paint, now finding another favorite: Schminke. (I was pleased to read on Schminke's website that Oskar Kokoschka was a customer of theirs a century ago.) As to the colors I buy, it has always been Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue and Prussian Blue…from these four coming every possible permutation, this despite the large number of rare and special pigments, whose names often have an innate poetry about them: Naples Yellow, the "Lakes" (mauve-like colors said to be "fugitive", or susceptible to light), Burnt Sienna, and one bringing to mind the favorite red in many a Toulouse Lautrec painting: Vermilion. 

So with just my favorite four tubes, and a couple of Pigmas, I can travel forth on trains or a jaunt from my car to the harbor here in Branford, needing only a nice watercolor pad and some old and favorite brushes (Chinese brushes that are very simple yet with a kind of brush-intelligence about them) and I am completely happy, no need for easels or turpentine or canvasses, just the small world of a page that can hold a wide sea on it, or the stretching sky or a bunch of leaning tree branches.

Over the years, I've done many ink drawings, storing them in archival boxes so they are clean and pristine until the time when it feels as though a particular one could bloom forth with color. Then I take out watercolor tubes and my favorite Chinese brushes,  feeling a slight unease at the outset, like a cook about to do a familiar recipe but with some trepidation, and find myself enjoying what happens when water and paint encounter one another. Like a rhododendron bud holding its color within until time and warm weather release it, there seems color implicit in an image even while still black lines on paper. First, a sparkling mix of water and paint, then a fluxing as color swims in the water and starts to dry, taking on a shape not designated by me exactly but influenced by chance as the water dries. The result, then, is a surprise: something has “hatched.”  The artist, who thinks to be in control of the process, has collaborated with another creature entirely: nature!


More to come, of ink drawings and color thereon...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Department of the Absurd" and "Memorabilia"

This has to do with spell-check and the intervening "mind" of the computer which is ever trying to figure out what one is saying, or wants to say. But it also very much has to do with people talking to one another in letters: the results, all these years later, treasurable.

I was writing my daughter an email in which I said I'd found two such letters in my family history boxes, each written by a different aunt. One was sent to me by my Aunt Connie (actually a card, not a letter) and one was sent from my Aunt Renie to my mother. Each box in the stacks of boxes in my bedroom is titled with the names of different pairs of wedded couples going back in time, just a way to put interesting communications like these in some place where I know I can find them again.

The first is a card Connie sent me, in which she'd enclosed, typed on a piece of paper, a beautiful quote from George Eliot:

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."

In the card, Connie said she was sending it to me as that's how she felt about's not hard to think that I would say the same to her. When I was a little child, I didn't know that once I was a grownup I would see things very much the way she did. I'm going to type below another excellent quote I found written on a scrap of paper among Connie's photos, clippings of poetry from the New Yorker, etc., all of which I keep in the box called "Connie & Larry".

This quote is Ambrose Bierce:

"History is an account,
  mostly false,
  of events,
  mostly unimportant,
  which are brought
        about by rulers,
  mostly knaves,
  and soldiers,
  mostly fools."

I don't see it as saying the soldiers are fools, but the rulers and knaves, definitely!

I typed it here exactly as she had written it on the piece of paper, with the spacing intact...I love it!

Here's where the absurd comes in:   in the email to my daughter, I'd said "Also found a very nice letter Renie wrote to Mom!"  But spellcheck changed "Renie" to "Renoir"!

In a minute, will tell what Renie's note to Mom said...

But first wanted to mention three earlier posts with more about the two aunts, and the Family History boxes...go to the bottom of blog and click on Earlier Posts until you find these dates and titles:

1.   My Aunt Connie & Adventure Magazine                        May 25, 2013

2.   Family History                                                                June 23, 2013

3.   Everything and its Opposite...                                        December 2, 2013

After providing something from Renie's note to Mom (and maybe Renoir's as well)...I will post photos of Connie and Renie...both were about the same age. I also found a lovely note Connie wrote to her sister (my mother) of which I will enjoy providing some excerpts (it was written during WW II.) I note that people seemed to write lots of frequent quick notes to others, the same way people email and text now...the stamps were I think 1 cent or 2 cents...perhaps the telephone not used as lavishly as now. (One of Connie's notes to Mom said something about taking the train out to Merrick, our town, on the coming Saturday.)

I must say I wish this were my job: to write this painting/drawing, it's a great pleasure and must be reward enough...but still, one can dream!

More coming shortly...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My cards with pictures and words, each speaking the same language...

Butterfly in Tones of Blue

This post will gradually show a small group of my greeting cards, each of which has, on the front, one of my watercolor paintings or an ink drawing, and, on the back, a small story that pertains to the painting. The stories are much like my blogposts but abbreviated, the aim of which is to fulfill the essence of the picture.

This is what is written on the back of the card:

  Two of its wings are the blue of the ocean in the clear days of
  summer, and two are the watery blue of the sky in spring. One
  would think a butterfly the most fragile of creatures, yet I heard
  that Monarch butterflies migrate like birds, and travel up to
  three thousand miles to the same winter roosts, often even the
  very same tree.

  It seems almost unbelievable, yet is convincing of the mysteri-
  ous intelligence embedded in all life.
                                                                                  - AKS

In the process of looking up things about blue butterflies, I found two wonderful articles, published at around the same time, in the New Yorker and the New York Times:

The New Yorker, "Nabokov's Blue Butterflies", written by Erin Overbey, January 26, 2011

The New York Times, "Nabokov's Theory On Butterfly Evolution is Vindicated", written by Carl Zimmer, January 25, 2011

The blue butterflies Nabokov studied are the Polyommatus blues. I somehow thought a blue butterfly something rarely seen...and was so glad to find these articles and the remarkable things Nabokov knew about them, such as their ability to travel the long distances referred to in my story on the back of the card.

Here are links to both the articles mentioned above:

Sunset Flowers


Sunday, September 18, 2016


Beginning with a photo just taken this morning, these are the significant underpinnings for a small bunch of plants or rootings that need repotting and are sitting and waiting, on various shelves, window sill and countertops of my kitchen.

The image appears in a post done earlier today on my Instagram site. Instagram is an institution I've come to love, not only as it affords a chance to say and show things one cares about, but it also enables one to read and see the same from others...many of them far far away geographically but often in tune with and enhancing one's own perceptions of life...images speaking very well among human beings!  On Instagram, I am @aksellon 

Words that accompanied this photo:

"I just bought some of my favorite marbles from Jordi's, the toy shop in Guilford...for repotting plants. I usually put them at the bottom of the soil in any pot without a drainage hole. You will see that they are all the clear type with a strand of color running through...I like their waterlike quality for the plant's roots to be near. When I got home with the tiny paper bag, I wanted to soak them a little bit in hot water before using and looked for a small bowl to put them in...this is the bowl I found, and note how there was just enough room in the bowl for the number of marbles I had bought! Apropos of washing the marbles, have always washed any flowerpot am going to re-use as well as any implements (scoops, plastic knives, etc.), anything that comes in contact with the roots, as heard once on Channel 13, said by their then gardening expert, a sort of Julia Child of houseplants, that one should even sterilize used terra cotta pots by putting them in the oven briefly, to kill off any fungi/plant diseases...will look up and find her name and supply it here up ahead."

I tried to find the name of that British gardener who had a regular show on Channel 13 during the Julia Child era, but wasn't able...however, I did find lots of information about my favorite gardening writer from the New York Times, Anne Raver. Below is a tiny excerpt the Times had in their listings of all her columns (many of which I saved over the years, clippings in my own "archives." ) Note that each of the Times' listings of her columns has a small paragraph like this below, or a caption, that you can click on and then read the whole article...there are lovely photos as well, but just the range of things she wrote about is marvelous. Here's the paragraph, which one can find in the New York Times archives and then read the whole column.

The Wisdom of the Trees
It was a chilly gray day when I left the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and headed west on 42d against the wind. Usually under such circumstances, you keep your head down, but the trees pulled mine up. You can't help but look at those London plane trees, as you walk by Bryant Park. they, too, lean forward - all 200 of them - like rugged New Yorkers bending into the wind."
March 15, 1992

This, the first paragraph of that column, appears among the Times' listing of her articles from the 90s through 2015.  This was from March of 1992, when I was still in New York, and I think I must have saved this one, among many others!

The link to Anne Raver's "In The Garden" columns in the New York Times: