A few weeks ago, I was able to spend a morning visiting with Phyllis C. Johnson in her beautiful riverfront home on the banks of the Elizabeth River. Phyllis is an author, actress, poet, mother, Gigi to beautiful grandchildren, and so much more. Tea, biscuits, chocolates, and conversation with a fellow creative...how much better can a cold, winter morning get? Well, it gets better- I had my camera and baby with me!
The general theme of our conversation was "inspiration"; we talked a lot about being inspired, how it feels when we lose a bit of that inspiration and fire, how to get it back, and what exactly it is that inspires us. Phyllis is a true artist. So, I asked her, "Where does all this begin? Tell me your story."
She answered me by pulling a book from her bookshelf and saying that one of her earliest memories is of her father reading her a book of children's poetry when she was just a little girl. She always felt drawn to the lyrical flow of poetry.
It's funny how books can be so intertwined in who we are and engrained in our memories- becoming our friends, our escape. And for Phyllis, a book of poetry is where her story began.
She has authored several books (including co-authoring the suspense novel, inkblot) , written countless poems, and is currently working as a journalist at The Virginian Pilot. She has acted on stage and on television in FBI Files, Diagnosis Unknown, New Detectives, and Psychic Investigator, among others. Several years ago, she appeared in the independent film Sweet Good Fortune that aired at the Naro, right here in the heart of Hampton Roads.
I ordered a copy of her book, Being Frank with Anne, prior to our meeting. I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank as a young girl- I was in 4th grade the first time I read it. As a lover of books, I can tell you that every so often, you will come across a book that imprints so deeply in your soul that it changes a little part of you. You can't be the same person after reading it. Anne Frank's diary was one of those for me.
Naturally, I was looking forward to reading Phyllis' book. Being Frank with Anne is composed of un-rhymed poetic verse, each page an interpretation of each entry in Anne's diary. Phyllis' poems are beautiful and thought provoking, leading you deeper into Anne's heart.
I dog eared several pages, but I wanted to share one in particular:
Thursday, July 9, 1942
in heavy rain
Shades of joy
and a secret passage
to a new life.
Plain grey door
to a plain grey life.
Colored by hope
that the Secret Annexe
wouldn't be forever.
Unexpectedly, one day Phyllis received a package in the mail containing a copy of her book. Upon opening it, she found a very special note inscribed on the first page from Miep Gies. Miep was instrumental in helping to hide the Frank family. She actually found and kept Anne's diary safe until the end of the war when her father, Otto, returned. Miep passed away in 2010, but what an honor to have her read the book and reach out to Phyllis! It gave me chills, ya'll.
Oh, and earlier I mentioned that we talked a lot about inspiration and what inspires us. By the end of our morning together, we had come to the conclusion that as creatives we are naturally inspired by the world around us. We see joy, love, sadness, pain, heartbreak, and kindness- but in it all, we see beauty. We thrive off of spending time with other artists, feeding off the energy that seems to buzz around in our brains. And when we aren't busy creating, we seek out that companionship and inspiration-because we feel a bit lost. It doesn't just "turn off". Phyllis told me that she gets a nostalgic feeling looking over the work she has produced over the last 15-20 years. Thumbing through old notebooks filled with hand written notes ideas, poems, and scribbled down thoughts- sometimes a bit of "grief" sets in, she says.
The take away? Keep your eyes and your heart open. Actively pursue your craft. Appreciate the art that's all around you. And if you can't find any around you, go to where it is. Go to an art museum. Go to a poetry reading. Visit a gallery. Listen to a lecture. Just don't stop creating.
Phyllis' website: https://coastalartcollective.com/
Being Frank with Anne on Amazon
Just Me: 100 Monologues for Teens on Amazon
inkBlot on Amazon
in the pursuit
of what sets your
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.