As a child, Alice Persons loved to write and draw. Like a lot of people, when she reached adulthood, she kind of grew out of those things. Not for long though, at least when it came to writing. In college, she was an English major and followed up with a master’s degree in English Literature. After teaching high school English for two years, and realizing it was not for her, she found herself at a crossroads.
I thought, okay, should I get a PhD in English and try to become a professor? Hard to do that. I’m way too squeamish for vet school or medical school or dental school. I don’t really want to get an MBA because that sounds boring. I know. I’ll go to law school! When I look back it was a very unthought through decision.
She was living in Boston at the time, so applied to law schools in the area.
At the time, I didn’t even know that Maine had a law school, but I got a letter from them saying, hey, we got your LSAT score. Do you want to apply here? I thought, okay. They gave me a scholarship that was such a good deal I couldn’t pass it up. So, I moved from Boston to Portland to go to law school.
While she appreciated the intellectual challenge of law school, overall it wasn’t the experience Alice expected. She thought it would be more like grad school which she enjoyed a great deal. Let’s just say it was three years of character-building.
Even with a scholarship, she had to work — in the office at the law school, at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland, and in a memorable position at Smith Farm in Gray. She was a singing waitress.
It was owned by Parker Reidy. He was a rather eccentric fellow and decided that he wanted to have singing waiters and waitresses in the restaurant. So, some of my friends from law school and I said, hey, let’s apply. We had to go and audition. It was hilarious.
It was a really hard job because you had to run around and be a waitress and then you had to go up and perform. Then you went back and ran around being a waitress, but we got great tips.
We had to sing what he wanted us to sing. He liked country music, so we had to sing a lot of John Denver. Country Roads, that was his favorite, and we had to sing some Patsy Kline. It was so much fun singing. Yes, it was so much fun.
Alice got her law degree in 1986 and never, not once, practiced law. Instead, she landed other jobs that suited her much better and that she would never have gotten without the degree. After graduation, she was hired by the country’s biggest and oldest publisher of legal books. Her job was to teach people in the legal field how to use a powerful online legal research program called Westlaw.
They’d be like, okay, I’ve got 30 minutes, I’m a tax lawyer, so teach me how to do tax research. I had to really be on my game. It was a great job. I got to work from my home, and I really enjoyed it because it was basically teaching and training. I would do it in classes or one-on-one. I’m happy to say that I trained Angus King one-on-one. Sometimes I got to train judges and that was fun, and sometimes they would send me to law schools.
It was a great job for 17 1/2 years but then the company downsized and Alice’s position was eliminated. Fortunately, she was also teaching business law at the University of Southern Maine, which she continued for 35 years. She also worked as a paralegal.
Another skill that she honed in her law school days tapped into her creative side. Alice wrote poetry. She became friends with another student, Nancy, who also wrote poetry but struggled to get published. Twenty years ago, in 2003, they launched their own poetry publishing company, which they named Moon Pie Press.
Getting published is really hard because there are so many poetry books out there and nobody in their right mind wants to publish poetry because there’s no money in it. Anyway, one day we were having a drink and Nancy said we should start our own poetry press. I’m like, okay, why not? So, we started Moon Pie Press and started out publishing what are called chap books, little stapled books. About fifteen years ago, I started doing bound books.
Nancy and I both grew up as southern kids eating moon pies. We were trying to think of a cool name and Nancy said, nobody up here will know what moon pies are, they’re all about whoopie pies. But I said let’s just call it Moon Pie Press because it’s kind of poetic. And so, they did.
Nancy left the press after three years, but Alice has kept it going strong. It’s a lot of work and she barely breaks even, but she says it’s extremely rewarding.
It makes people happy. If you submitted a manuscript to me and I said, I’m going to publish your book, you would be like, oh my God, I’ve been trying to get this published for five years, 10 years, whatever. It makes people really happy, you know?
Moon Pie Press has published 124 poetry books, and Alice is proud to say that they have never been affiliated with any academic institution or supported by anybody or any grant money.
It took a while for the press to establish and prove itself, but some books it has published have won awards. One of Alice’s main poets won a Pushcart Prize a few years ago, which she says is a big deal in the poetry universe. The awards have helped give the press legitimacy. So has Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, which has mentioned particular poems and poets as well as the press several dozen times over the years.
You’d send him a book and then wait and wait. If you were lucky, you’d hear from his assistant saying Mr. Keillor would like to use this poem on the Writer’s Almanac. He would send a hundred dollars to the poet. And you got to be his anthologies, which are good hardcover books by Viking. He’s no longer asking for new poems but often repeats poems he’s used before.
The Writer’s Almanac has been great for attracting poets who want to get published — Alice gets about five new manuscripts a month. On top of being a publisher, she also started writing a blog ten years ago. It’s about a particular poem and maybe some other things. In the vein of The Writer’s Almanac, she calls it freshmoonpie.
As you can see, Alice has stuck close to one of her past loves — writing. And in 2018, she revived her passion for art. It wasn’t buried too deeply. She’s always enjoyed designing the covers for the books she publishes.
And then, after she retired from working (not publishing) Alice took an art class. Something she hadn’t done since middle school. It was a lot of fun and she wondered why she had waited so long.
You can get in your own way saying, oh, I’m not Pablo Picasso. I shouldn’t be painting. I say just do it. Enjoy it and don’t compare yourself to other people. And don’t worry about whether you have talent because you’ll hit on it.
My mother didn’t start painting until she was 70 and she’d never had an art class in her life. She got so into it, she enjoyed it so much, she entered some shows and wom some prizes.She kept painting until she was almost 90 and it brought her so much pleasure.
For Alice, painting is entirely different from writing. It’s a different way of looking at things and expressing herself. She says she notices things and colors more than she used to. And any stress melts away when she’s painting.
It’s very absorbing, unlike writing, which can be kind of frustrating if you feel like it’s not going well. Of course, sometimes the painting isn’t going well, but that’s another thing I had to learn. It’s okay to throw it away if you do a crappy painting. You can be thrifty and try to paint over it, but I’ve actually thrown some away because I couldn’t stand to look at them.
One of the important things Alice has learned is that it’s never too late to try new things and to start at the beginner level. She recalls taking a pottery class with her ex-husband a few years ago.
Oh, my God, it was hilarious! He was a very talented artist, and I was so bad. I was the worst person in the class. A kindergartner would’ve been embarrassed at the stuff that I made. But I wasn’t sorry I tried it because it was kind of fun, like playing with mud. And once I tried a jewelry making class because I thought, well, maybe this will grab me. You have to allow yourself to be lousy at things.
Since she retired, in addition to painting and running Moon Pie Press, Alice has also taken up bird watching, which she was mildly interested in before, and now has the time to pursue, gardening, and volunteer work. She’s also on the board of the Animal Refuge League and recently signed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which she did when she was in law school.
I’m so busy. There are so many things you can do when you’re retired. To me, it’s a world of possibilities. You just have to keep trying until something grabs you.
Resources and inspiration
If you’d like to write poetry or paint pictures or do something else creative, in addition to her advice to “just do it”, Alice suggests looking for groups of people who are doing what you want to do. You may find groups in your community or online that speak to you.
If you have a book of poetry you’d like her to consider publishing, you’ll find submission requirements on her website.
And finally, if you can feel that creative spark inside you but haven’t been able to light it yet, here’s one last piece of advice. Be brave — you never know what wonderful, exciting things you might discover!
Alice discovered she loves to paint.