not till we are lost

“Not till we are lost, in other words not till
we have lost the world, do we begin to find
ourselves, and realize where we are
and the infinite extent of our relations.”

— Henry David Thoreau


Photo ©2019, Jen Payne. For more on death, grief and finding a way to dance, please purchase a copy of my new book WAITING OUT THE STORM. Click here for details.

22 – And Yet We Do

The humility of the artist is this:

there is nothing new under the sun,

not even Morning Air.

But our brilliance is this:

we do it anyway.

Image: 17 Drawings by Thoreau, John Cage. (Read More) Poem ©2018, Jen Payne, upon reading Thoreau’s reflections on mornings from Walden. National Poetry Month #22. If you ilke Thoreau, you’ll love Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind! BUY THE BOOK

WOW! Women on Writing Interviews Jen Payne

WOW! Women on Writing
by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
(Click here for the WOW! Book Tour Launch and Give-away)

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book Evidence of Flossing! What was the first book you fell in love with? And why?

Jen: There are two books I remember loving as a kid. One was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It’s about four orphaned children who end up living in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. It seemed so idyllic…living in the forest, eating wild blueberries for supper, making cool things from found objects. The other book was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis—oddly enough also about four young children who have magical adventures in the woods!

I had a big imagination as a kid, and parents who insisted I play outside. Plus I grew up along the shoreline in Connecticut, and there were always places to explore: beaches, marshes, trails through woods. So, I pretended I was like the Alden children living in the woods, or Lucy finding her way to Narnia.

Sprinkle in a little Winnie the Pooh and Emily Dickinson, then later in life Thoreau’s Walden, and I guess you could say I always looked to the woods and nature for inspiration.

WOW: Sounds like we would have made excellent friends as a kid! We had similar tastes in books! So, when did you know you wanted to be an author? What was the first thing you wrote that made you feel inspired to pursue writing?

Jen: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. My dad traveled a lot for business, and we used to write letters to each other when he was away—I think that’s where it started.

I had a ton of pen pals, too, back when you still did things like that. There was a television show called the Big Blue Marble. I belonged to their Pen Pal Club and wrote to kids in England, Belgium, France, Trinidad, and Korea.

And I’ve always written that way… not made-up stories, but real life experiences. I wrote for my high school newspaper. Studied journalism at UMass. My first job was writing press releases and advertising copy. So, my writing is very much based on that nonfiction foundation, though more creative nonfiction, or nonfiction prose.

WHEN did I know I wanted to be an author? I used to talk about writing “the great American novel” but I could never figure out how my writing fit that genre. Then, about six years ago, a friend of mine suggested my blog writings would make a great book. That’s how LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness came about—that’s the book I published in 2014. It’s a collection of my blog posts.

WOW: I really love that you turned your blog writing into a book! Your blog turned out to be quite the muse for you! What are your books about?

Jen: Both books, really, are about reconnecting with nature, about appreciating the gifts of our planet. LOOK UP! tells the story of my own journey. It’s organized like a journal, and includes a collection of my essays and photographs, plus a bunch of quotes by famous naturalists, philosophers, and writers who have considered the same topics of mindfulness and our connection with the natural world.

Evidence of Flossing is what happened next. After the journey. It’s an examination of the contradictions and tragedies of our everyday world compared to the organic rhythms and beauty of the natural world. But this book is all poetry—73 original poems—plus a quirky series of photographs of discarded dental flossers and other original photos.

WOW: I love how you merge both creative outlets in your book – photography and poetry. Let’s talk time management – you own a graphic design company, write books, find time for poetry reading events, book launches, etc…how do you do it all and how do you do it with a smile on your face? What advice can you give to others who struggle with time management and juggling it all?

Jen: Good question! I have a smile on my face – most of the time – because I truly love what I do. I love my day job and I love my writing life. They feed me. I think it’s easier to make time for things that feed you.


My secrets? I get up super early – like I don’t want to tell you how early. And for me, those quiet, early morning hours are the best time to get good work done.

Coffee. Also a good thing. (And always from a Wonder Woman mug.)

Yoga or a long walk in the woods—please, yes.

And then, I eat frogs.

Have you heard of this? It’s a technique from motivational speaker Brian Tracy, who says that if you tackle the most difficult things on your To Do list first, it creates momentum for other things to get done more easily. A friend shared the video with me a few years ago ( and it’s really changed how I approach my day. Especially when I am up-to-my-eyeballs busy!

My advice to others? Oh dear, well…find your super powers (like getting up early), go for a walk, invest in 3×5 cards, drink coffee, and eat frogs when necessary.

WOW: I will most definitely have to look up the eating frogs idea later. You’re all about conversations (me too) – so imagine the current you is having coffee and conversations with the teenage you…what advice would you give yourself?

Jen: That would be a LONG conversation, probably involving a little finger wagging—don’t start smoking; more books/more writing/less boys; travel not chachkies. The usual hindsight things.

And then…there is a great parable in Ram Dass’ Journey of Awakening that tells the story of a king who asks his people to come up with something that would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy. The winner presents the king with a ring, the inscription reading “This Too Shall Pass.”

So, that: Don’t worry. Be happy. This too shall pass.

WOW: I’d definitely be telling myself something similar if I could sit my teenage-self down over coffee! So, what’s next for you? You certainly aren’t the “sit around and wait for life to happen” person – so where can we expect to see you next?

Jen: You’re right there! Actually, I’ve been thinking about publishing a short story I wrote called Water Under the Bridge. It’s an epistolary novel told through a series of emails.

But more immediately, I want to do an art exhibit of the (dental) flosser photos from Evidence of Flossing — maybe in the spring. I just think they deserve their own time and place outside of the book. They have a story to tell.

Don’t we all?

WOW: We do! I truly believe that. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today and we can’t wait to see the feedback come in from the book tour about your book Evidence of Flossing!

Jen: Thanks Crystal – it’s been great to talk to you. Thank you for helping to launch the book’s blog tour today!

CLICK HERE for the WOW! Book Tour Launch and Give-away

This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!


Discover the Magic of Nature: Just in Time for the Holidays!


Offered as an antidote to the fast pace of our lives and the toll it takes on our minds and spirits, the book LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness is a clarion call to get up and get out — to look up from our work, our distractions, our routines — and to find our way back to the simple pleasure of being in Nature.

– – – – – – – – – – 

“LOOK UP! asks us to pause for a time, look around us and breathe in all the magic in our world. This is a book to keep close by and re-read again and again.”

– Margaret Iacobellis, Poet/Writer

– – – – – – – – – – 

Written by Connecticut writer Jen Payne, LOOK UP! includes 75 essays and poems, 100 original, color photos of the woods and shoreline of New England, and quotations of philosophers, poets, naturalists, and treasured writers. CLICK HERE to learn more about LOOK UP! or order from our Etsy shop now!

A perfect gift for friends, family,
and those who love to be outdoors!


For local orders, please contact us directly to save on shipping costs.

Pilgrimage: Walden Pond


Such is a pilgrimage to Walden…


in which we take time to note the formation of clouds,


marvel at the patterns of sunlight,



witness the subtleties of color and contrast,


adjust our depth perception,



consider the craft of balance,


imagine the space of simplicity,


find inspiration…


and love.


Thanks Melissa and Jon for a wonderful day! Photos ©2015, Jen Payne, Walden Pond and REFLECTION at Walden Woods.

At My Funeral


When I die…

Do not read Psalms 23.
(When the priest asked what he should read at my father’s funeral, it was the only thing I remembered, but found no comfort from it.)

I always think we should have played Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World.
Dad would have liked that.

So sing! Go ahead, sing at my funeral.
But no dirge please, and no nonsensical lyrics about heaven and angels, thank you very much.
For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Sing Green Day I hope you had the time of your life!
Or Simon and Garfunkel Time it was, and what a time it was…

cause every little thing gonna be all right

Read a poem.
One of Emily’s perhaps — she wrote often and unfearfully of death.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

Charge my mourners as Thoreau charged:

that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of
our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world

Carve Edna on my tombstone:

I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain

Or spread my ashes beneath a stalwart, old maple,
so its roots can comfort me in sweetness,
and I resurrect each spring:

From my rotting body, flowers shall grow
and I am in them and that is eternity.

Then drink! Drink whiskey, my friends, and say Amen.

Look not too far ahead! But go now with good hearts! Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves, Men and all the Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!

• • •

In order of appearance: Genesis 3:19; Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), Green Day; Bookends, Simon and Garfunkel; “Because I could not stop for death,” Emily Dickinson; Journal entry, February 28, 1840, Henry David Thoreau; “Renascence,” Edna St. Vincent Millay; From my rotting body quote, Edvard Munch; translated quote, The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien.

Photo: Ghost Town, Terlingua, Texas, DeLinda Fox, 2004


To Actually Be Present


A friend and I were talking over lunch last week about life and health, work and family.

“Best to make the most of it,” I said.

“You could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” she added with a smirk.

We do smirk when we say that, don’t we? As it leaves our lips, it seems clever, but at the same time, we understand its tragic humor: our time here is finite.

As much as we think we can plan ahead, as much as we worry about tomorrow, as often as it feels like we must hold all of that in place for ourselves, the truth of the matter is, all you really have is right now.

I have a daily reminder of that here on my desk — a photo of my dad, my sister and me at a cousin’s wedding. It was taken two weeks before he died — August 31, 1995 — when he was, almost literally, hit by a bus.

In the blink of an eye — in a mere 16 seconds, according to the accident report — all of his planning and worrying and place-holding became irrelevant.

My dad did a lot of that — being on guard for the future. It is why he worked so hard and so much. It is why he was rarely home when I was growing up. It is why, in one of the last conversations we had, he admitted “I think often about quitting my job and just working at McDonald’s so I can punch in and punch out and be done.”

At the age of 52, he was ready to live in the moment. To actually be present in his life.

There is a confluence of that message for me lately — about being in the moment, about being present, about appreciating this right here.

It is a hard lesson to learn. And to remember. It was crystal clear to me, eighteen years ago. But it fades in and out, tangible, then shadowed.

Clear again right now, on the anniversary of his death, as I find myself reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are.

“If we are to grasp the reality of our life while we have it, we will need to wake up to our moments. Otherwise, whole days, even a whole life, could slip past unnoticed,” he writes, as if to remind me of the thing I already know so well.

In this gentle, heartfelt book about meditation and mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn writes:

“It is about stopping and being present, that is all. Mostly we run around doing. Are you able to come to a stop in your life, even for one moment?…The funny thing about stopping is that as soon as you do it, here you are. Things get simpler. In some ways, it’s as if you died and the world continued on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would immediately evaporate. Their residue would somehow get worked out without you. No one else can take over your unique agenda. It would die or peter out with you just as it has for everyone else who has ever died. So you don’t need to worry about it in any absolute way.

If this is true, maybe you don’t need to make one more phone call right now, even if you think you do. Maybe you don’t need to read something just now, or run one more errand. By taking a few moments to “die on purpose” to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By “dying” now in this way, you actually become more alive now….The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance”

Throughout the book, Kabat-Zinn speaks often of Henry David Thoreau, with whom both my dad and I shared an affinity. Perhaps it is no accident I have found my way to this book in this moment, and found a way to share it with you, today?

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

• • •

©2013, Jen Payne

Excerpts: Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hypeiron, 1994.



A phone call this week took me askew, suggesting I reconsider my direction. I was dizzy for a minute and kept walking.

A decision this week took me askew, suggesting I rethink the thinking I’d already thought. I was slowed but did not falter.

”When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “…submit myself to my instinct to decide for me….”

• • •

Photo ©2013, Jen Payne

Thoreau, Henry David. “Walking,” The Portable Thoreau. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Luddite, Lemming or Just Listening to a Different iPod Playlist?

On my dining room table sits a brand new iPhone, still in its packaging.  “You have to hand it to Apple,” I said when it arrived. “They sure do know design.” The box, the compartments for accessories, the origami-folded envelope with instructions, the sleek iPhone — so distinctly Applesque.

But so far, that’s the only positive thing I’ve had to say about the newest member of my burgeoning arsenal of things that go beep, whirr, and ding.

A friend affectionately called me a “luddite” recently — someone opposed to increased industrialization or new technology. In my mind, I see Gary Larson’s “lemmings”—unthinkingly joining a mass movement headlong. If I’m feeling particularly snarky I may mutter “resistance is futile” in my best sci-fi Borg impression.

Surely there is some middle ground. I am neither one who is completely opposed to technology — my very livelihood is dependent on it — nor am I one who has ever blindly or willingly followed the crowd.

The truth is, I have been happily typing and creating and designing and otherwise enjoying Apple’s inventions since before many of you even thought to own a computer in your home. I am an email addict, a devout blogger, and a writer and artist who relies on the internet and software applications to bring my ideas to fruition on a daily basis.

And yet…

And yet I am having a hard time being enthusiastic about this new wave of technology that we find ourselves caught up in — iPhones and iPads and iPods and iYeyYey.

I would not go so far as to agree with Albert Einstein, who said “I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” There is great potential in our technology to connect us with each other and with amazing and beautiful things.

But I just think we need time to catch up. Technology has far surpassed our current mores — our manners and etiquette, our boundaries, our budgets, our expectations. It has far surpassed mine, anyhow.

Last week I lost power for several days due to the hurricane that invaded the east coast. I suspect I was in a small circle of folks who celebrated the opportunity to be completely off the grid. I read a book. I did yoga. I napped. I went for two walks a day. I wrote in a spiral-bound journal.

“You know you can do those things any day,” a friend reminded me.  But can you? Can you when there are more and more and more distractions to plug into? Like the iPhone that is still sitting in its box on my dining room table? I don’t know.

I am reminded of a quote I read many, many years ago in high school when I felt as much out-of-step with my peers as I sometimes do now.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden. “Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

They tell me there is an app for that:

• • •

©2012, Jen Payne with appreciation to Gary Larson (The Far Side) and the Star Trek franchise for the accompanying artwork.