On the River

In the last week of August I learned to scull—to row in a boat with very long oars balanced on a tiny hull that skims along on top of the water, an aerodynamic that results in speed but uncertain equilibrium. Most days I go down to the public boat house at sunrise or sunset to exercise but mostly to experience the quiet in the middle of the river as life hums all around the edges.

For me that river is the Potomac in Washington D.C. (The Charles River in Boston, featured on the homepage of this site, has also been central in my life, but that is another story.) Every day in the skies above the Potomac helicopters hurry off from the White House to somewhere, maybe the Pentagon or from the Pentagon to the White House; airplanes sweep in and out of Reagan National Airport nearby; many are shuttle flights to and from New York and Boston; next to the river hidden by trees, cars rush into and out of Washington on the George Washington Parkway. I hear all these sounds dimly, but I am on the river with its silences and with the ducks swimming along beside me. I am gliding in a single white scull with my back to the direction I’m going, glancing over my shoulder so I don’t run into anyone, feeling the fragile fulcrum of the boat, rather like riding down the river on a pencil. With time I’ve learned to settle the scull under me and learned to guide it with the oars and to balance it also with the oars. A crucial and comforting piece of information I was given early is that if one returns the oars to starting position, lying flat on the water, the scull will regain its equilibrium, and it won’t tip over.

In a way I am returning to starting position with this website which features books that have been reissued, books whose characters I still care about. I hope to feature my new books here too, but whether or not the new books appear soon, I hope you will enjoy those at hand and the stories in the anthologies.

As I’ve made my way down the river these past months, I’ve picked up speed, pushing off with my knees and pulling the oars with my arms all the while thinking, thinking, considering what will come next, watching the sun illumine the river and the sky as it rises or turn the sky a deep pink as it sinks behind the trees into the cars on the parkway. I am surprised every day by the river’s new face as I sweep under Key Bridge, past Georgetown University, past the three sister islands, then cross the river and head back towards the boathouse on the other side, towards the Kennedy Centre to Roosevelt Bridge, then across the river again. I land with increasing, but not yet perfect, grace at the dock.

I have been captured by this sport, I think, because I can be active and at the same time think with nature all around me in the middle of the city. Much of my writing has occupied that kind of space. I’ve been engaged with issues as a journalist, a fiction writer and an activist and yet also removed a bit so I can write about them.

You’ll find on the Advocacy page a list of organizations whose work I’ve been involved with over the years. I’m not listing all the organizations, but those on the front lines of human rights and freedom of expression worldwide. Freedom of expression is important to all writers, whether or not a writer works directly on the issues or just writes, for a writer can open the space of imagination and extend the territory of thought.

By the time this site launches, winter will be setting in, and the boat house will close, and I will have to get off the river, but I’ll be waiting for spring and in the meantime writing each day.

Please enjoy this website and the books and this new form—the blog. I’m still getting used to writing in a form that is both noun and verb, but learning something new…well, that is also what sculling on the river is about.


  1. Ciel F. Lagumen on February 11, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Your admiration and experience on the Potomac River, the vivid imagination of beauty that goes within the river that changes on a day to day coupled with the activities that occur, affecting the nations political life is sublime.
    My friend Xenia and I (like you) do share the admiration of the river–as we drive through each time we cross the bridge–especially at night. It is a beauty in itself.
    I can’t wait to get a hold of your book.
    You are simply amazing and cherish knowing you.

  2. bonnie raphael on August 1, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    PERSONAL Dear Joanne–Thank you for your thoughtful email about Jackie’s singing. She is now fully involved in her new career, but I too hope she will one day sing freely again. She wrote of of the songs “In another Lifetime,” for her Dad. He was only able to produce one song with her (the first track) and then he “moved into a new place.” She went back in two weeks to the studio and finished the next tracks without him. Talk about chutzpah! His precious loss evolves so that she is creating helping others through psychodynamic therapy. It is hard work with much stress–but she does love it. This would not have happened had he stayed on earth. Please send news on how to purchase th glass beads.

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