No doubt about it, Jen Payne has a way with words. From her volunteer “pet project” as web designer for the Branford Land Trust (BLT) website for nearly 20 years to her newest book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, the Branford author and artist brings together words and images to champion the natural world and remind us of what she terms “our divine and innate connection with nature.” The book also provides telling social commentary and photos showing “evidence” warning of a growing disregard for nature’s gifts and for each other.
The crafting and completion of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind will be the subject of a special book launch celebration on Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15, hosted by the Martha Link Walsh Gallery, 188 North Main Street, Branford. A launch party takes place Oct. 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. followed by an artist talk/book reading on Oct. 15 from noon to 2 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
In many ways, members of the public motivated Jen to produce Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind (which follows her first book, LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness/Three Chairs Publishing, 2014). In no small way, that public group includes those anonymous members of society who discarded the tiny plastic dental aids, flossers, that at Jen photographed across the local landscape. In another, more positive way, it also includes those who follow Jen’s online posts and those who have shared their own photographic “evidence” or words of support as her book project progressed.
While Jen is quick to note discarded dental flossers indeed inspired the book’s title, she adds the book investigates so much more, using 73 poems, “illustrated by a random, absurd, and heartbreaking assortment of original and vintage photographs.” Jen describes it as “part social commentary, part lament,” and “an investigation of the human condition and its folly—politics, religion, development, technology, consumerism...juxtaposed to a series of poems about our natural world and the possibility of divine connection.
“I do not pull punches,” says Jen. “It’s social commentary. It talks about the environment we’re living in; it talks about politics and consumerism and technology...and the dental flossers are symbolic of that. For me, it’s symbolic of how we have no regard for nature, for the environment, for each other. We’re doing personal hygiene in parking lots—what’s that about?”
A Branford resident since 1991, Jen is the founder of Words by Jen, a graphic design and marketing company in Branford.
“Next year will be 25 years for me being in business in Branford,” says Jen.
She got involved in giving back to her community shortly after moving to town by offering to design the BLT website.
“I’ve done the BLT website as one of my long-term volunteer projects. I do that to this day; it’s been my pet project for about 20 years,” says Jen, who also volunteers with Branford Compassion Club and the Community Dining Room.
“When I started my business, and still today, I’ve always felt really blessed to do the work that I do, in the way that I do it,” says Jen, who also owns and operates Three Chairs Publishing, which has published both of her books. “So I feel like need to give back to the community.”
It was in her community that Jen also found her first evidence of discarded dental flossers, and an idea for a book began to form.
“I was at Branford Supply Pond in July of 2014 when I took the first photo of one, and I posted it on my Facebook page with a caption that said, ‘Evidence of Flossing,’” says Jen. “It just grew from there. I started to see them in parking lots, on nature trails, outside dentists’ offices. If you pay attention, you’ll start to see them everywhere. And then somebody, somewhere along the line said, ‘Are you writing a book?’”
A writer at heart, Jen says she’s “always” used essays, poetry, and creative writing to express herself. A few years ago, Jen began blogging to share her writing, because, as she says, “I decided it was time to put it out there.”
As a prolific poet (she’s a member of Guilford Poets Guild), Jen says while working on Evidence of Flossing, she was also finding “my poetry kind of took a turn toward social commentary as our world changed, like during the recent presidential campaign.”
The photos of discarded flossers also seemed to her symbolic of that social shift, showing “a general disregard for what’s appropriate, for what’s good, for what’s right,” she says.
Jen’s creative talent is evident in Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. The book also includes vintage photos and her own nature photography to enhance her free-form poems.
“The photos of flossers are just a part of it. They’re sprinkled throughout the book with other photos,” says Jen, adding, “I’ve stopped looking for flossers. I made myself stop, because it was just getting ridiculous. I was sitting in [a pharmacy] parking lot one afternoon [last] January, and someone had dropped Lifesavers on the ground, and sun was hitting them in way that they were glowing, and I said, ‘I’ll bet there’s a flosser there,’ and sure enough, I found one. And that’s the last photo I took of one.”
The book also includes a few bits of photographic evidence submitted by others, of discarded flossers spotted in locations well beyond Branford.
“Once I start talking about flossers, people started to see them. The book includes a two-page spread of photos from others including some found in Mexico, Colorado, Boca Raton [Florida], and Austin, Texas,” says Jen.
The ubiquitous plastic pieces in those photos are also symbolic of a world that still has a long way to go when it comes to fully understanding the impact what we use and discard.
“If you look at the photos, almost all are of different styles of flossers. So not only are we using these things, but we’re producing hundreds that are thrown out and put into landfills. It seems a little silly, and kind of disgusting, but it speaks to what I think is the overall intention of the book,” says Jen. “There’s actually a poem in the book, ‘The Grand Intention,’ [about how] we were put here on this planet by whatever you believe we were put here by, and we’re supposed to be caretakers, and we’re just not doing a good job of that—with the planet, with nature, with each other.”
Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind by Jennifer Payne (Three Chairs Publishing, Oct. 2017) is available online at www.3chairspublishing.com, at local booksellers, at the Martha Link Walsh Gallery, and at Rock Garden LLC in Branford; or online at Indiebound.org, Amazon.com, or barnesandnoble.com.