Frances Curtis Barnhart’s The Beauty of Impermanence: A Woman’s Memoir is not a memoir for women only. “Men like it, too,” she says. “It applies to all of us in this time of uncertainty and stormy transition. So the time felt right to tell a story of personal transformation.
“My journey has been wild with transitions so I wasn’t quite sure about revealing everything to my grandkids,” she says with a laugh. “But I always wanted to know more about my ancestors, so this – good or bad – will be a part of their legacy. Also I had often been told that my story would empower other women.”
And that smile. Barnhart is full of life, certainly enough to write an engaging memoir, and plenty to continue fueling her art and poetry in her eighth decade.
So, credentials. Her work has appeared in MS Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Artemis Journal. She studied painting at the Boston University School of Fine Arts and was the recipient of an Artist in Residence grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.
As for transitions, right after the 9/11 tragedy, she went to a healing workshop in New York City joining teachers, clergy, healers and social workers. That same day she enrolled in The New Seminary. Two years later she was ordained as an interfaith minister, divorced, and went into exile. Later at the age of seventy, she married Maurice Barnhart, her internet romance.
The Beauty of Impermanence incorporates images of Barnhart’s art as well as reflections on a creative life. It was recently nominated for a Library of Virginia Literary Award for nonfiction.
So how did she come to be in Roanoke? No spoilers here. But she did tell us about life in her new place.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: You’ve lived on a houseboat in San Francisco, you’ve homesteaded in Central Maine, and you’ve lived in a new York loft. What about your new home in Roanoke inspires your writing?
Frances Curtis Barnhart: As a transplant from the Northeast I’m enthralled by the mountains and the view from our home near Annie Dillard’s legendary Tinker Creek. I love the Blue Ridge Parkway, the many cultural venues, the ethnic restaurants and the annual Local Colors Festival. I’m inspired by our literary and arts journal, Artemis, and the poetry group involved with its publication.
BCR: What fuels your creativity?
FCB: I am a painter and collagist. I’m a political activist on some levels. I adore my ten grandchildren and now my additional two. I love trees and the food channel. These are my passions.
BCR: That’s a deep well. Those passions alone would keep you busy. Then you toss in writing a memoir. Are there any challenges that you’re addressing in your work and life?
FCB: Now that my book is done I’m taking a little break, but I’m feeling like I should be doing something more, writing more or painting, or running groups. It’s hard to switch from always doing to just plain being, but that’s necessary sometimes – especially when you get older. I’ve had some intense years getting the book done and I know the muse is waiting outside my door. I will welcome her in very soon.
BCR: How long did the memoir take from start to finish?
FCB: Actually it started as a novel. I thought I could make my story juicier by making it fiction but that didn’t work. Then I wrote a version of it in the nineties as a memoir and on the last chapter, “Into the Beauty and Power of Age,” I got diagnosed with breast cancer. It made no sense then, so I ditched it. Not until years later when I settled here in Roanoke did I begin what it was to become. Those years in between were so necessary to gain distance and more experience and to learn what had to be learned for myself in these crazy times we’re now living in.
BCR: What surprised you most about the process? What did you learn?
FCB: I learned that the facts of one’s life are not always the truth of one’s life. I learned that one can lead a totally contradictory emotional life at the same time. Sometimes grief and ecstasy go hand in hand but we don’t even realize it. It’s all about perception and embracing change.
BCR: I imagine many of your readers apply life lessons from your memoir to their own lives. What about other reading? Any book recommendations for how we live today?
FCB: Oh, there are so many. But I’d say anything recent by Marianne Williamson. And definitely The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein.
BCR: Great title. One of my book groups was just discussing reading pairs of books that are somehow connected but are from different genres and by different authors. Pairing the Eisenstein with your memoir might stir up an interesting discussion for some clubs out there. I bet you’d even visit with groups.
FCB: I would love that!
BCR: And Frances is serious about that offer. She can arrange a discount for book groups. Use the form below to contact her. ★