Saturday, December 29, 2007

beach cartoon


"We should probably think about heading back to the city."
--favorite New Yorker cartoon, crinkled carefully by living on our refrigerator door

Thursday, December 27, 2007

avgolemono

I'm down with the flu, after a lovely Christmas-- the bug held off until after dinner on December 25th, thanks be to God. I found this in my draft file, though, from a few weeks ago.

The narcissus begin to open. I purchased a small basket at the beginning of Advent, maybe six bulbs total, but the stems are prolific, more than ten bunches and only the first two pungent sets stretching out today. The advent calendars came out late, after my papers were turned in for the quarter, but flower bulbs are all about waiting, watching, stretching upward.

I haven’t tended my neighbors for a long time, disappearing in plain sight for the past few months, but when I pull my minivan into its space, Wayne pops out of his door to offer “lemon-chicken soup—I have too much.” (The last time he spoke to me was to taunt me about my car maintenance again, because I could’ve prevented that rust, tsk, tsk… Soup gifts, now that’s more like ‘neighborly’.)

I open the container, hungry, to find it’s avgolemono, not merely lemon-chicken soup but something really hard to do well, a taste I’ve not enjoyed for more than a decade, and still I remember it. I warm it gently, to not curdle the frothy layer on top. As it warms I think of the Greek restaurant in Vancouver, the window view on the busy street where I’d wait for my friends to finish with classes so we could visit, 1989 I believe, the place to finish with rose-petal jam on ice cream.

I pour the bowl too full and slurp it from the rim, my bowl of luxury this day.

I planned—really planned—an excursion to the outlets, an hour north, for underwear and pajamas, for my children who insist they truly want underwear and pajamas for Christmas, along with toys. The weather report seemed daunting, but it’s never to be trusted, honestly. I found myself oddly resistant to leaving the house, and sure enough, the snow is pummeling, now, beauty dropping from the sky, my reward for sluggishness today. While a sluggish homebody, I’ve begun to read three books for the next quarter—it begins in January, but ten books in ten weeks is too much of a challenge, so I’d best get a head start. Besides, this stack of books is irresistible.

I am counting blessings, reading email, glad for no looming deadline, when a bitter, bitter taste fills my mouth—and I spit out the hull of a genuine lemon seed. I need to eat other people’s cooking more often. Even the bitter is a delight: real. This soup is real.

The snow builds—I’d best find layers and boots and all the acoutrements. Scraper? Hmmm. Shovel? Adventure. The bowl goes to the sink and I’m off to find the wool socks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

this world is wild as an old wive's tale...

I memorized the last stanza of this poem from a Christmas card from 1985 or so... each year I swear I will look up the rest. Here you go.


The House of Christmas

G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Monday, December 17, 2007

winter sunrise

the winter window by morning and night

The arc of the sun is so small these days—I watched the sunrise at 7:20, while I hustled children into snow pants and checked for lunches, admonished children to finish breakfast. By seven-forty I needed to turn off the heat, the morning sun blazing in for my morning cup of coffee.

Children left for school and I headed north for The Big Shopping Trip: I make one trek per year to the Hanna Anderssen Outlet, a little more than an hour away, just past the border of Maine. No traffic, beautiful snow-lined highways, a gorgeous day for driving. While a minivan on the highway is not the best way to take in sunlight and sky, some days it will do. I arrived today to find everything I touched listed as “an additional 50% off,” so I doubled the quantities of children’s underwear, socks, tights. I meant to buy pajamas but the clothes were actually cheaper than pjs, and likely as comfortable.

I looked up from the parking lot of The Gap Outlet and gasped—I come here once a year, maybe twice, and I’ve never noticed the town is located alongside a beautiful tidal river. What a sad waste of beauty, this world of parking lots. My two shopping hours were over, though, so I left the river and the parking lot with my stash of practical goods.

Of course, I have a parking lot, too, and it’s useful. My kids are sliding on the ice below, now dragging the sleds up the stairs. I just dropped three cups of navy beans into the pressure cooker with a half a gallon of ham stock, frozen from last Easter. When the whole pot is cooked I’ll see if I need onions and carrots, cloves and orange zest—or if I put in good flavors long ago, in which case it will need nothing but cornbread. We’ve eaten luxuriously over the weekend, and I’d like nothing better than this simple soup. Others may hold different opinions.

The last of the winter-pink sky is nearly gone—it’s five p.m. The moon shines brighter than the last remnants of sunlight, still glowing to the right of my window perch. The pressure cooker hisses and the window steams. Time to call them up, to begin the daily rounds of drying out boots, mittens, snowpants, socks. Tomorrow when they leave for school I will see how my stuff stacks up, what treasures I've collected through the year. Treasures from my Santa Fe trip for each child, from August. Other treasures hidden from view while I shopped in Indiana, right beneath their noses, in October. I need to learn to tune a ukelele for a girl who likes to sing (shhhhhhh! Don’t tell!), and how to hide the paucity of gifts for mama and daddy, always a challenge.

Five-ten p.m. and the sky is pure night, now. Kids moved to the snow in the backyard, unwilling to let the day go. The soup smells like perfection to me, though it needs another twenty minutes or so. If my nose is any judge, I added the good flavors at stock-making time. My mother would laugh at me asking "what kind of wine goes with ham and bean soup and cornbread?" (My mother would say, there's no such thing. My answer is, the bottle that is open...) Time to preheat the oven and set out ingredients for kids to make cornbread. Time to set up things for the evening routine of baths, violin practice, homework, and construction of Christmas gifts.

I’m unwilling to let the day go, too, it seems, sitting here typing into the dark. Red wine, shiraz, that is the bottle that is open, and a good choice to go with winter dark and smells of home.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

the window that frames the view

THE window.

Madeleine sketched our windowsill, with all the fun details: dried orange pomander on the upper right, solar-spinning prisms on the pane itself, and the terracotta pot of rosemary, spearmint, parsley. Soon it will be strung across the top with red yarn to hold Christmas cards, and already the pane is edged with paper snowflakes crafted by Brendan.

On the other side of the window, I see below, I see all ten buildings in my neighborhood. I see businesses to the sides, savory and unsavory, and I see Main Street. Through the open window I hear the hiss of tires on wet pavement, half a block away. Beyond the street is a boat lot, and beyond the lot is Gloucester Harbor, alive with boats at all hours of the day. Seals, sea gulls, lobstermen in bright orange waders on their green boats...

I watched children from my window this morning, sledding down the front terrace and hurtling into the parking lot-- the third "two-hour snow delay" in two weeks. The house is filled with drying snowpants, coats and mittens, while they wear "the other set" of snow clothes to school. I've used up all the milk for rounds of hot cocoa, all the bread for cinnamon toast to go with the hot cocoa. I love how it makes them happy. And now I love the quiet, the break from watchfulness for a few hours.

I love snow. Which is good, because the policeman said we are no longer allowed to park our minivan in front of our house when it snows-- some local ordinance about car size and street corners. I'm fond of my parking space. It'll work out. But for now I better go watch for the snowplow and make sure he doesn't have me towed...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

the writing group: a glimpse

We gather to write, every other Tuesday for two hours. But we hem and haw over the coffee, over our coats, over the weather. You’d think we were performance artists suddenly gone shy: do we want to write, or don’t we? Why does it take so long to get settled? Where are these nerves from? We start other topics of conversation until the silence becomes embarrassing. We refill coffee.

The timer is set. A prompt is read aloud and five women write furiously until the bell rings—usually five minutes. We read our writing aloud, each writer taking notes on the other. What emerges is not usually “finished” work but interesting beginnings. The highest compliment is to be forced to read the same few paragraphs a second time.

My writing group consists of one MFA graduate, one MFA wanna-be, one woman who mysteriously writes crime scenes, though she is mother to three young children and has an MDiv from Harvard. And one other writer, and me. All are amazing, funny.

Here is a slice of five-minute writing from last week. The prompt was a line from Seamus Heany, “on one side under me, the concrete road.”

My friend Linda graduated from MIT, a fact she needs to reiterate on any possible occasion, not to show off but to apologize for the scars of anal-retentiveness rewarded far too well. We are driving to a nice dinner, for a break from lengthy seminars. She wears a pleated skirt and silk blouse and her mad desire, when the rear tire blows, is to fix it herself. Because she is from MIT, she is an engineer, and if she can fix it then by God she should fix it, pearl necklace be damned.

Unfortunately, Linda is fast, exiting the car by the side of Topsfield Road at dusk, and I find her emptying the trunk of my Jetta, to find the jack. The two women in the back seat are equally mortified, but it’s my car, and she’s my passenger, and it’s me who must go challenge the merry glint in her eye. I lean down onto the shoulder and whisper firmly, “Linda. Get up.”


I stalled, stalled, stalled right here, distracted by banana bread and gloves on the table and a curl of metal, by the name “Fred” mentioned earlier and all the Freds I have ever known, by the shadow of my writing hand on the page, cast by the angled sun from the French doors. The shadow is blurred because I’m ignoring my eyes as they call for my glasses.

Distraction is my love. Eliot complained of it, but I rejoice. Bread (warm). Coffee (strong, good). A ball of yarn. The scratch of five pens on five sets of paper.

Who cares about my friend Linda, the anal-retentive one?


Me, me, me, cried my friends as I read the last line. They demanded to know more, just when I thought I was very boring. I still think it’s very boring. Writers! One claimed she “was not crying, that’s just banana bread in my eye.” She liked the part about distraction. Writers. We are a strange lot.

We do this three or four rounds, the writing, the reading around the circle, and then we leave, caffeinated and exhausted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

a shard of a letter

this is the beginning of a letter to a writing friend-- I decided to write a different letter to that friend, and this one hates to be abandoned.

Writing from my other writing paradise: home when no one is awake, when the coffee is brewing in the French press, the sun is about ten minutes from tipping over the horizon—the most brilliant colors have just passed, while I wrestled to get an internet connection (sigh—still have not figured out that “wireless” box over there, on the list of problems to solve, along with the loosened dryer vent hose…) Regardless of how many broken things need attention in our little treehouse, this is the best light on earth, and I’m ready for the morning blast of sunlight, when it comes.

Karen's funeral was the fruit of long preparation-- seventeen years after the diagnosis of some terrible illness, after strokes and near-blindness and crumbling bones and suffering, her family was eager to have her released from pain. Adult nieces and nephews transformed to their ten-year-old selves to marvel again at their crazy auntie, and I could see again her sadness about having no children: they adore her. One nephew has been her attorney for years, and her impractical dreaming charms him despite harrowing details. They recount the time Karen let them overflow the bathtub, nearly destroying the house, and how no one could stay mad at her, nor could she stay apologetic for long.

No one was surprised when I mentioned Karen's insistence on applying for dual citizenship in Ireland, from the hospital bed she left only to shower and to go to the bathroom. "That's our Kaz!" they laughed. Her dreams, kept alive by sheer will and dreams.

When I met her, she was extraordinary, but slowed by the limitations of illness and recovery. I've always wondered what she was like before. "She was like you. Vibrant, like you," her niece said. I wondered the same, a year ago, if she saw herself in me, in some ways. But I'd never heard it spoken.

I was wrong about the bright color being passed-- magenta and periwinkle clouds blooming all colors outside my window, gulls and starlings wheeling.

It's a different day, overcast but still winter-beautiful. The lady at the 1-800 number was helpful and my new wireless router is set up-- one more box to the attic, one more chore done and my administrative work for writing will be just a bit easier to manage.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

the quarter is finished

... and I promise some writing, soon, when my brain is a little fresher. I need a walk, some sun, anything but this keyboard and desk.

I'm plotting a trajectory of non-master's level reading, pulling the spinning wheel and fiber out of the closet, assessing holiday needs (wow, is it late! but I'm mostly done...). And sighing. Breakfast next, sitting in the sunny window without a book, maybe.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

next chapter in the Karen story

My friend Karen, the partially-blind woman I worked for from April 2006 to May 2007, died yesterday morning. I was spending the morning working on yet another chapter of the story of my work with her-- about her insight, her perception, her vision, and her support of my writing.

Many of you have mentioned that my stories about working with Karen have been your favorite pieces of my writing. Many of these stories are filed under the category "All in a Day's Work," though I've continued to write pieces for my graduate work, and I've not posted the newer ones.

I'm still learning from her.

the waiting room

What I love about the low-residency masters program is that my work written from the waiting room of the dentist’s office—the hygienist interrupts me to say she doesn’t think we need to worry about my daughter needing braces just yet—looks exactly as 8 ½ x 11 double-spaced scripted as my writing from a desk with a stack of books nearby.

I fight through layers of essays, like leaves of paper, back to the surface to meet the eyes of the dark-skinned woman speaking to me. Was I supposed to be worrying about braces? Why should she need braces? Did I miss the memo about parents worrying about braces? Am I a bad parent that I never considered this? She told me not to worry. Didn’t she know I was already not-worrying? And now I worry. When she tells me not to.

I don’t think that’s what she intended. Are her parents Pakistani? Central American? Her dark glossy hair is pulled back in a practical barrette, a ponytail that falls straight down the back of her scrubs in spring green. The other hygienists wear spring green, too—do they plan this? I nod and say thank you, and yes it doesn’t surprise me that Madeleine is behaving perfectly in the dentist’s chair. In the fog of leaves of paper I remember her first visit to this dentist, how panicked she was, how I brought the camera and told her Daddy wished he could be here for her first appointment, too, and could she please smile from that tipped back chair? Her blonde ponytails, her yellow flowered dress, her nervousness fading away with the animated conversation of the calm and sweet man who is our dentist.

Thank you for the information about the cavities in her baby teeth, which do not need filled. I nod.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was writing my evaluation of my first quarter of graduate school, some 8 ½ x 11 form, and for just one last minute I wasn’t worrying about if my daughter would ever need braces. I wasn’t worrying, when she interrupted my homework session and suddenly I knew I’d also need to be thinking about dinner, about the sleet falling outside the window and if I still remember how to drive this enormous minivan on icy roads.

This will now mark the last moment in which I did not worry, at all, about whether my daughter needs braces. I’m so glad the woman in green was pretty and calm and her intentions were so apparently kind-hearted. I shake my head at her youth. She clearly does not have children, and doesn’t understand the scars of worry, and the psychology of writers is not her business. The oath says to do no harm, and I’m sure she meant none.

What I appreciate most? I write through everything. There are deadlines, and the writing continues despite moods, despite interruptions, despite weather setbacks and driving conditions and growling stomachs. I do my 8 ½ x 11 best, and bury myself beneath the leaves again when the spring green young woman retreats back through the swinging door.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

doppelgangers of Diana and Katherine

I think I saw us today—three women crossed the footbridge to Good Harbor Beach, two dark-haired and one red-head, and two of them wore baby front-packs, while a third pushed a sleeping child in a jogging stroller. The sand had washed out from the ramp, so all three moms stopped to engineer the careful drop of the stroller to the beach.

“She’s not turning over as well as she should,” said the red-haired mom. “I’m concerned that she’s not where she should be, developmentally.” I looked at the infant sleeping in her front carrier, who seemed like any other baby girl.

“Have you spoken with your pediatrician?” the stroller mom asked, focusing hard on her task and on the question.

The third mom frowned in concentration. “Are you sure? There’s such a wide range of normal, you know.”


Turning over! Remember when the big worry was the baby turning over? I know it was all-consuming, and I know we were all so sleep-deprived and exhausted from nursing, but doesn’t it now seem dreamy to be worried of when a baby turns over? She’s not mean to her classmates, she doesn’t claim to hate math, she does not battle over what she will not eat for breakfast. You don’t need to demand that she brush her hair.

I almost said hello to them, needing to pass along the same footbridge they were maneuvering, then I realized they didn’t see me at all, as if they were blind to anyone without a newborn attached. I smiled to myself, instead. I was passing us, after all, or our trio of doppelgangers, ten years younger. So earnest—so absorbed. As I’m sure we were.

I miss you, Katherine and Diana. Congratulations on our children’s tenth year. I’ll be thinking of those two New Year’s parties, the night before at Katherine’s place overlooking The Headlands, and the day after potlucking at Martha’s house: the line of three infant carriers, and Brent turning green over Maxine’s diaper. There’s a lot NOT to miss about those days—but there is also a lot to miss. I’m glad we’re all off to other adventures but I want to pause a moment to honor us, as we were.

drop by

In my professional life, some nearly-lifetime ago, each day swarmed with people, with energy, with playfulness and the unexpected pleasures and needs of living with college students. Their age meant most of them were purely beautiful creatures, their souls transparent, their faces alight with possibility. My life on college campuses required planning ahead—a five minute walk across campus could only be executed in five minutes if I saw no one, spoke no greetings, hugged no students, avoided the temptation to dive for falling pine cones crashing through the limbs. The tall pines were prone to hoarfrost in winter, fog in summer, startling beauty that slowed my hurried feet. Always and everywhere there were students with affection aimed in my direction, hearts open.

My job was to make room for them, as many of them as possible, to connect with the shy ones prone to hide their hearts away, to tempt with dorm programs and cookies until they opened dorm room doors and came out to socialize. I exhausted myself with the hostilities of a few, true, but mostly I exhausted myself with love of them all. I thought that was the way life was supposed to be—all while craving a little quiet.

I’ve not experienced anything like that social peak again. Instead of a little quiet I find myself nearly alone, most of my working days.

When my neighbor locked himself out and needed to phone his roommate, I found myself wishing for twenty neighbors to do the same—not to need me, but to sit in my life for ten minutes, to talk about coffee. He needed mental quiet, it seems, and to look out the window at my diamond-view. I needed to type to give him space to be alone—surprising how good an arrangement it was, merely the solace of existing on the same planet. Remarkable how pathetic I am, or at least how tuned to “company,” as we used to say when guests were expected.

Ramone’s roommate arrived and honked, and I waved goodbye as he walked out the door. We agreed on a cup of coffee, some other time when he needs to visit my window view, when I’m not working on homework. Then I went right back to work and forgot the whole incident. Here it is, under “drop by” on my laptop, hmmmmm, right next to the essay I was working on...

Friday, November 30, 2007

tangle

In my writing, I’m pursuing two stories involving loss of sight, and one about kindness and hospitality. I’m also pounding away at two essays by David James Duncan. I’m at the end of the quarter and need to edit, edit, edit my work but on my way I’m making a note: At some point I wake up and all my story lines intertwine in a confusing tangle. My blind friend offered life-changing hospitality, making workdays a joy. Duncan asks “how to see more?” how to peel back the layers of blindness. Even the story about the depths of the ocean, and mortality, is also about the perception of light. Sight and seeing, simple thoughtfulness and the willingness to see truly with such sight as one has, to see, as Duncan suggests, with the ability to illuminate, to see in such a way that gives light and even to see in a way that brings healing.

I ask myself, now which of these stories needs to include that line from Bruce Cockburn?

All the diamonds in the world that mean anything to me
Are conjured up by wind and sunlight sparkling on the sea…

And the answer seems to be, all of them.

My work is due in less than a week, and I couldn’t wrangle all of these story lines to converge, even if I wanted to. I just letting you know: it’s one life, one story. I’m writing pieces as best I can, reading as well as I can. It’s good to wake up in a tangle.

Now I need to pick one strand and get to work.


Annotations nine, ten, and eleven are complete. One more book and its accompanying annotation is due, but I CAN’T READ ANOTHER THING until I work on the REAL writing.

Draft two of critical essay is still not remotely meaty enough. (I swoon instead of critiquing. What good is a swoon? If readers want a swoon, they’ll read David James Duncan for themselves!) And at least two of my three essay lines need Massive Overhaul. I’m thinking I’ll get physical, print them out one essay at a time and use scissors to cut pieces and rearrange them on my new floor. In college, I used to write longhand on legal pads for my college courses, and I’d often run out of tape, crafting long scrolls for the (poor) typist and hoping my papers contained “enough.” It might work, who knows?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

secrets of a sneaky mom

I spread the newspapers on the table, and place the rolling pin in the center, with the dry bundles of spearmint stems Madeleine picked last week with her friend Merry. I start the tea kettle and set out the willow-ware teapot and cozy.

“Wait! Are we making the tea from my spearmint? I WANT TO DO THAT!”

“Oh, you want to crush the tea leaves? Okay. Grab an apron.” I hand her the rolling pin. The first fish is reeled in, ah!

In the calendar of the children’s year, the weather has turned and the clocks have turned. The light lasts for perhaps an hour after we arrive home. We watch for pretty sunsets at four-thirty, then light a candle or turn on low lights. It’s the season for hands-on projects—without an on-going project, each child degenerates, forgets all house rules, begins practicing the high kick with slip-on shoes and giggling heartily at whatever breaks in the process. Without projects, I find a girl shrieking that her brother is shoving her, and he swears he did not (he’s been arguing that he is NOT pushing for all the years since he could talk, often arguing even as he is evicting whole families of people from warm and cozy beds or favorite seats on the couch.)

I tend to speak needs clearly—this is what I’ve been trained to do in the adult world of communication. I state. But as a mother, I state and I state and I state, and clearly I am talking to myself. I ask. I tell. I repeat and I raise my voice. When I am lucky, I remember the futility of this method before I launch.

My children are not direct-eye-contact beings. They are not, primarily, rational beings, though they do reason fairly well in some instances. They are Not Suggestible. They will tell you all the reasons “why not,” to exhaustion. As it has always been, if I accidentally ask “would you like to?” the answer will be a resounding NO. Projects must be employed, but a certain amount of stealth is required. When I am lucky enough to forget my communication training, I turn. I tempt. I sneak up. I appear, as if from nowhere, with a chore that is no longer a chore but instead A Great Mystery.

Within minutes, Brendan insists it’s his turn to use the rolling pin and I interrupt the bicker by placing the mortar and pestle squarely in the center of Brendan’s work space. The rolling pin is trumped and somehow a trade agreement is worked out by both children. I take a spoonful of the crushed leaves into the teapot and pour hot water, cover the teapot with a cozy, right next to the table. I set out the honey and three tea cups.

I lift the newspapers and aim the pile of crushed leaves into a small jelly jar. Plenty of leaves remain left to be crushed, so I spread the papers again and pour cups of tea laced with obscene quantities of honey to reward my sweet-toothed workers. Two armloads of spearmint leaves fit easily in the jar. Some of the mint is actually crushed into dust, lovely green dust that rubs into the aprons and skin and the children still smell of mint for the rest of the evening.

Madeleine skips off to find fabric scraps and scissors, and the jar is then “capped” with a pretty floral cloth and a rubber band. She haphazardly writes “Mint Tea” in silver Sharpie pen on the former jelly label, and a late afternoon is saved by an hour and a half of good-smelling work.

Scott looks at me to offer a silent “thank you,” and I think of other ways to rope them in, after dinner. I set up a shallow bowl of soapy water and the basket of cookie cutters for Madeleine, while Brendan takes a bath—we agree that she can experiment with my loose wool to craft ornaments for Christmas gifts. When Brendan emerges from the bath, he is eager to choose cookie cutters and do the same project, “felting wool inside a form,” which I wrote about for Living Crafts. He crafts several ornaments from a house-shaped cookie cutter and she crafts hearts and Christmas trees, while they sing Beatles songs.

Scott made the mistake, last weekend, of reasoning instead of tempting—he announced he needs button replaced, and stated clearly where he would put the shirts. I will remind him of the trick, soon, of baiting hooks and placing them carefully for small imaginations: put out the button bin, a threaded needle, and make convincing gestures that you are about to do the work yourself. Then disappear for twenty minutes. Stealth doesn’t work every single time, but often enough, I get lucky.

I place sandy shoes on newspaper beside my son’s workbench this morning, with an old toothbrush. I start to remove the dirt imbedded in my sneakers, tsk and move onto making breakfast. Sure enough, I look up and sand is everywhere, but he is vigorously at work, happily scrubbing off the sand and soil before his breakfast. When I ask Brendan “for a favor,” he answers “first I have to know what it is,” and he invariably says “no” or asks how much money he can make from this. (I’m a cheap date—I often offer a quarter if all the million socks are folded and put away, or a penny per towel folded.) But there is no argument today. I get three pairs of shoes cleaned enthusiastically and thoroughly, because it sort of looked like fun.

When I am thoughtful with stealth, I become Tom Sawyer and harbor my own desires secretly, and instead of words I focus on gesture, temptation, disappearance, mystery. Alas I cannot fish them into folding towels or other non-mysterious tasks, but for some things, baiting and waiting is just the communication I need. I need to think ahead for the evening and consider what project might reel them in, today.

I put the idea in the back of my mind. I need to sneak up on myself and get some work done.

Friday, November 23, 2007

the scorecard

It’s nine-thirty in the morning before I realize my watch is fastened upside-down. I started to read a fascinating article on Puritans and the practice of the Thanksgiving “public day” (which involved fasting as the centerpiece, and feasting as more of an afterthought). Want to read? Here. Then I needed to send it to half a dozen friends. Then I needed to serve orange juice and find a handkerchief…

The sound of a penny dinging around a wooden case is not exactly musical—Brendan is home with a cold, and he’s playing his favorite “penny hockey” on the couch, practicing the little finger flicks to hit the goals just right, between sniffles and nose-blowings. He hopes to be well enough to go to school tomorrow for the long and delicious Thanksgiving assembly, with its music and class presentations. So today we will finish crafting chicken stock into hearty soup to heal the weary boy, and we’ll finish off the roasted pumpkin into puree or pumpkin butter.

I turn on the folk radio station to cover the sound of penny on wood clickity-clicking. I prefer quiet, but this boy needs a constant something. Thank goodness for wood and pennies. I settle in for a moment with the laptop here, another there. I can’t seem to keep that small cup of coffee warm.

Grad student deadline-terror update:

In ten days, I need a five-page critical paper, four annotations of books from my suggested reading list, and twenty pages of creative writing, preferably polished writing.

Yesterday I crafted a DREADFUL first draft of my critical essay assignment, just to get that first draft out of the way and to dig into the material. At some point, I’m just happy to have my subject matter set, to type in the quotes from the text I’m studying. (I’m looking at two or three essays by David James Duncan, a contemporary writer with fresh and unorthodox views on religion and the environment. His writing carries the unmistakable scent of the Pacific Northwest, edgy and compassionate and furious. I set out to do a close read of the first two essays in My Story as Told by Water—sitting at the tea shop with a small pot of vanilla rooibos on Sunday, I ended up re-devouring the entire book.)

I finished Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and quickly zipped off an annotation. Annotations are “like a writer’s journal, but thoughtful.” I’m not sure I approach “thoughtful,” but I tend to revise after a few days.

Four texts to go for this quarter! Ten more days, and most of my time needs to be for writing that paper and editing my essays from earlier this quarter. I hate “speeding” so, but it must be done and at this point I need to simply go for the numbers and get the list done. (That’ll be TWELVE books this semester, most of them enormous and packed with the work of thirty or more writers.) My suggested reading list includes many old favorites right here on my bookshelves—I step into Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water like a warm bath. (I have a poor memory for content of books. I forget everything but the flavor within a few years of reading, and it’s been more than ten years since I read this volume. The sticker inside assures me I bought it from Byron, and it’s inscribed with my maiden name. I can’t wait to see my notes in the margins—Hey! I read this twenty years ago!) I’m hoping to quickly read (alas, but it must be done QUICKLY) and update my thoughts on Buechner’s memoir or possibly my dear Capon, to finish the total number of texts required.

But first, today. Pumpkin and chicken soup and a boy who is now listening to audio books of Winnie the Pooh, holding the tiny texts in his hand. He tells me that some of the stories are dumb (um, okay) and he doesn’t work too hard at following the sentences with his finger. He smells of Vick’s VapoRub and tea with honey. I’ll make a new cup of tea for us both, then pack my L’Engle and my boy to go to the dentist. We’ll be back for soup soon enough, and another go at the paper or editing, if the boy is quiet enough.

Note: I wrote this “diary” on Tuesday, finished L’Engle on Wednesday. On Thursday, I produced large quantities of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas in cream sauce and homemade cranberry sauce (from LOCAL cranberries, picked by my children), and potlucked for Thanksgiving at the tiny farm, with some of my favorite families.

I also read four essays from Gregory Wolfe’s The New Religious Humanists, while cooking. Challenging and interesting reading. I’m working my way through more of that book’s essays, today. THAT LEAVES ONE MORE title. Then one week to dig, dig, dig into the next edit of the critical essay and the next edits of my creative writing.

IT’S DO-ABLE. I think. If I keep up this pace for one more week.

I also started to knit a pair of gloves, if for no other reason than “because I needed to.” I only knit when I am waiting or listening, and never when I could be reading. Halfway through the first glove, I stop and ask myself if I wouldn’t prefer fingerless “mitts” to allow me to type and read with warm hands… regardless, it’s beautiful yarn. All goes well.

Friday, November 16, 2007

day in the life of a student

The pumpkins are roasting (finally) and the boy is bathing. The girl practices violin. We finished the last of the ice cream for dessert and Scott should be home soon. And we finally have a new floor, which looks GREAT.

In two weeks I need to produce a five-page critical paper (my first literature paper in twenty years) and four book annotations (which means I need to first READ the four books) plus twenty-five more pages of creative writing. I just turned in nearly fifty pages of fresh creative writing in the past month.

In the past five weeks, I traveled 2000 miles by car, with children, then disassembled my house for two weeks. I was named “contributing editor” for a gorgeous magazine. I’ve yet to catch up on laundry. And I’m about to complete my first quarter of full-time graduate work.

It’s going to take some time to figure out to do this well—I’ve not touched knitting or spinning, and I only crafted one felt project under duress. I need to MAKE THINGS, and I need to read fiction, and in this three month quarter, there’s been no time for either. I’m not volunteering at the children’s school fair, and I’ve made nothing to sell, for the first time in a decade. It’s okay, on one hand, but I miss the satisfaction of handmade things, and my tiny wallet will miss the satisfaction of Christmas spending money.

When the door opens, Scott will man the kids, the stove and laundry for awhile and I’ll rush to help set up the candle-dipping room for the fair. Tomorrow, whether or not I am signed up to volunteer at the holiday fair, I know I’ll be cutting wicks and listening to musicians in the warm little room with the melted beeswax. Each year I wonder how I could write of such intoxication, and then I don’t even try—it’s too sweet, too quiet, too sedative. We will eat pumpkin soup (not mine) and fresh bread, and children will shop for gifts for parents and friends.

Then I’ll come home and read, and write some more.

On my turntable, by the way, is We Walked in Song, Innocence Mission, highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

weather report: Atlantic commute

Each moment I stay in my house, the workman blocks off another vital pathway to my desk, my purse, my kitchen, and with the aroma of industrial flooring glue, I finally grab my sweater, my book bag, and thread my way through the maze to my door. Neither the workman nor I know exactly what the day holds, but we are each doing our best. Perhaps tomorrow most of the new floor will be installed—that is the hope. Perhaps by the end of this week, I’ll be ready to turn in my next round of homework. I head for my borrowed studio on a stormy Tuesday, on the Atlantic.

A road detour winds me through back streets, but right past my favorite independent coffee shop. Dorothy, the owner, waves to me as she pokes her head out of the drive-up window to assess the line of cars waiting. When it’s my turn, we chat only long enough for her to pour my coffee—the wind promises rain, any minute.

And then I have a hot cup of coffee in my hand, and the road detour threads me past my favorite beach for watching surfers. Just as I’m hoping no one is crazy enough to be surfing in this tempest, I see the flashes of bright blue and green, swooping and jerking—two kite-surfers! Twenty cars line the beach-side of the narrow road, spectators alongside the parked cars of the wet-suited athletes. Usually, the surfers walk calmly by to their cars, but today the men scamper like children to tell tales to one another, faces alight and hands gesturing, like boys describing a soccer game. The two closest men are my age—one balding and one who looks like a handsome college professor I remember. I wonder at men so in love with the sea and the weather.

After I study the joy on their faces, they haul boards across the footbridge, and I turn to the kite-boarders again. As far as I can tell, the rider wears the kite’s harness around his waist and rides a board that attaches to his feet. One kite-surfer rides the shallow edge of Good Harbor Beach back toward me as far as he can come, then cuts wave after wave in the opposite direction down the mile of shoreline. At several points the surfer flies in the air—more than twenty feet into the air—then “lands” again on a wave and rides. He is leaning back hard on his kite-lines and nearly touching the water with his back. I can’t imagine the training necessary to evoke this confidence. I drink my coffee until I see one kite surfer walking onto the beach, wrestling his kite to the ground and folding it. The other rider walks ashore, too, and the first runs to help the second fold his kite. I imagine their faces radiant, like the men who just passed me on the footbridge, and their hands and storytelling as they pack their cars and maneuver the heavy wetsuits. Will they be going to office jobs, next? It’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Perhaps they will sit at a desk by ten.

The road detour takes me along the rocky Atlantic coast for another mile. Drivers rubberneck to see the grey-green curls of wave, veering toward my half of the two-lane road. I drive carefully through the sea spray until I find Edgemoor Road. I take a right once again and familiarize myself with the house numbers. The owner of a boutique in town told me he’d introduce me to the new residents of T. S. Eliot’s childhood summer home. The boutique owner is charming and lonely to talk books and reading, but also he is lonely to tell me how atrociously Americans use the rules of grammar, how shallowly American literature compares to European. This makes me self-conscious of the looseness of my childhood education, the Midwestern drawl and rhythm that won’t be parsed into sentence diagrams. I have little desire to defend my literary loves, but he is an interesting character. I’ll offer him a cup of coffee some winter morning when I can be patient. I believe it’s 3 Edgemoor or 5 Edgemoor Road. I consider pulling into St. Anthony’s By-the-Sea—surely someone there would know the answer to this question, and perhaps hold insight as to why Eliot named his road Edgeware instead of Edgemoor in his poem. Edge-Where? Edge-More? The crest of homes does overlook what could be called a moor, I suppose. I decide not to pursue this question today, either. I need to write.

I make a left onto Eastern Point Boulevard and within five minutes I open the car door to the sea howl and the foghorn. The lock gives way without a struggle this time. I climb to the third floor with my book bag (Eliot’s thin volume is in there, along with a Cowley Brothers book of meditations on Eliot) and laptop, find a blanket and settle into the eaves. I begin writing at nine-thirty in the morning in a stormy paradise.

The kite-surfers have me wondering—perhaps writing is like that, though with less muscle. The surfer rides one ocean with his feet, one weather system with his arms, one unpredictable self inbetween and from the looks of the faces after, I can only imagine how fully engaged he is. The call to writing, as I am learning, is to become more vulnerable, more in touch with rawness of feeling, and more persistently in pursuit of truth. Harness the wind of a story, ride the undercurrent of the deep, be ever aware of all the unpredictabilities of weather and self. Watch for dangerous rocks. If you are not a writer you might think this description is self-indulgent—and it might be. I am sitting in a chair, after all, not feeling the wind and rain on my face.

But I’m playing just as hard as they are. I joined this writing program to change my writing, with no thought that my writing may change me. Like those surfers’ faces on the footbridge, perhaps I will be changed, if I do it well. Who could possibly encounter that tempest and still be the same?

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I wish I could take credit for this project-- found this in my summer files. She made it at camp.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

unfinished thoughts

I’m trying to find words for:

… what hospitality feels like.

When you walk in a door and find that someone thoughtfully considered every detail, for you, good smells of good food, good music you’d choose yourself, good warmth and a readiness for good conversation.

… what a great celebration feels like.

When something as right as a hard-working marriage covenant is forged from the ashes of sorrow, and when the goodness of the wedding ceremony itself causes people to say, “yes, that’s the truth. That’s the way it is.” When the bride and groom are bold enough to have Ezekiel’s dry bones as a metaphor, to admit “we were dead, and it would take a miracle for us to breathe again.” And they do breathe, and everyone witnessing wipes their own eyes, weeping like weeping is contagious.

…what dressing up feels like with young kids and corsages and shiny shoes and suitcases.

… what reunion feels like, seeing fifty people I’ve not seen in decades, about sitting on a ledge with my good friend Keith, swinging our legs and chatting merrily as we used to, though we are dressed as middle-aged people and not as kids barely out of college.

… hospitality of total strangers, what a difference it makes to be welcomed sight unseen.

… what it feels like to fail at some things, to be unable to restore order and repair to my home in the way I would like, to feel unable to create a hospitable place for myself and others, to feel at a loss for beauty and peace in my own living room.

… what it feels like to be welcomed simply and easily by my extended family.

I’m trying to find words but rushing to manage other words, for homework, for the work involved in the next few days of parenting. The theme of hospitality is stirring in my mind so much, when the “cup of cool water” offered is actually a warming cup of something life-giving and heartening…

Monday, October 29, 2007

which is worse?

... the Hallelujah chorus with the syllables "Mah-Su-Za-Kah!" or a kazoo version of Dona Nobis Pacem?

And why must we stop at only one musical horror when both could happen at the same time?

My son says, "that could actually be a little bit 'noying." Um, yeah. 'Noying, that's what I was thinking.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

tilt-a-whirl life

My friend Linda asked me to describe my graduate school program—in the midst of my academic notes from August, I found this paragraph that serves as a nice metaphor:

The dizziness is not the altitude. The dizziness is my world as a tilt-a-whirl, the sudden swing to the side, 360, 360 degrees again and so fast. Long ago, that ride made me laugh and clap my hands, if I was not too crushed into the side of my spinning red car. Perhaps like the amusement park ride, I bought the ticket hoping for the adventure, and am now complaining of my spinning head.

But with a smile creeping up—the dizzy is what I paid for.


My MFA in Creative Writing is just over two years of schooling, including five “residencies,” or ten-day academic sessions. The residencies just happen to be located in exotic, beautiful locations, but that’s another story. (Tell you about the next one in a minute.)

In addition to the residencies, each school year is comprised of a Fall Quarter, a Winter Quarter, and a Spring Quarter. Each quarter is about three months long, with three due dates for “packets” per quarter. Each packet contains 20-25 pages of my creative writing, new or revised from the previous packet, plus any annotations I’ve finished from the quarter’s reading. This quarter I need to turn in twelve book “annotations.” An annotation is “a little bit like a writer’s journal. But thoughtful.” Hmmmmm. I’m still wrapping my head around this annotation-thing.

In addition to the annotations and the creative writing, I write one “critical paper” about a literary issue, 5-7 pages long, each quarter. In total, I’m turning in nearly 150 pages each quarter, and three quarters in a year equals nearly 450 pages, and my program is two years long. Whew!

Some of the books I’ve read and annotated so far:
The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate
Modern American Memoir, edited by Annie Dillard and Cort Conley
Writing True, the Art and Craft of Creative NonFiction, by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz
(these titles are to help me understand the breadth, history and craft behind the great essays and memoirs—I’m reading to see how these writers do what they do.)

In addition I’ve read two “common readings” (books all the MFA students read and discuss together, the poets, the fiction writers, and the folks in my Creative NonFiction genre). Eliot’s The Four Quartets and a wild translation of Genesis by Robert Alter.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does not count, unfortunately (though it did take quite a bit of time and energy, it’s not considered ‘literary’), and I struggled to put down the new fantasy novel Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet. (I heard him read the first chapter in Santa Fe, and I can’t wait until Christmas break to finish it!) Neither can I count my “professional” reading of crafting magazines.

I also read Dillard’s The Maytrees because I was begging for fiction, and I hope to move onto Scott Russell Sanders’ A Private History of Awe, and Reading Like a Writer. In addition, I’m expected to read The Image Journal of the Arts and Religion, and Books & Culture, which I read anyway, and Orion magazine is a favorite, filled with great writing.

My packets of writing are submitted to my faculty mentor, Leslie, and I hope to read her memoir Surviving the Island of Grace this quarter. She lives in Alaska, my school is in Seattle, and I still live north of Boston. As a freelance writer on the side, my magazine editors are in California and New York. It’s a beautiful internet world!

The next packet is due on Monday, then the final packet of this quarter is due in the first week of December. I’m still developing my topic for the critical paper.

In March, my next writing residency is on Whidbey Island, near Seattle. The guest faculty include Patricia Hampl, a notable creative nonfiction writer, and David James Duncan, one of my all-time favorite authors.

I’m still hoping to find a working “routine” for writing, but so far I’ve had no routine weeks! I’m still “unpacking” from a two-week sojourn to the Midwest, with children, and the coming week is filled with two special concert dates, Halloween, a second-grade Lantern Walk and one eight-year-old birthday party. Oh, and then that packet due date. Did I mention we might be ripping up the floor of our condo? After the birthday party.

Up to this past week, I’ve been madly in love with my writer’s life, and though I still am, I’m feeling the sweat on my brow, wondering how I will get this reading done. I miss writing as I did last year, and I need to re-assess that for next quarter, to make sure writing itself feels more central. But that’s all for later. For now, I read, I read, I read, and I look forward to the writing of fresh material, as soon as I get the chance to sit down without a fabulous book in my hands.

How does it feel? It feels great. It feels important and life-giving and like my life is an adventure once again. Go tilt-a-whirl, go. Dizzy, I can take.

Friday, October 19, 2007

morning report: return from road trip

I’ve just poured the first cup of coffee in my own home, after waking in my own bed from a pretty good sleep—my first morning following an eight-day road trip with children. As we drove in last night, children opened windows to “smell for home” and Madeleine announced she smelled salt air half an hour from the coast, her nose curling her whole body into a smile. I woke to the sound of geese migrating, to the smell of ocean and fishing, and I feel the same.

The trip to Pittsburgh and Indiana is richer than I can describe just now. Again and again I wanted to turn myself into a sponge to soak up goodness, laughter, affection, and I wanted to turn myself into a camera to memorize landscapes, sunsets, the subtle colorations of fog and starlight. Even a long moment being lost in Cincinnati found me gazing into a sickle moon, just before it tucked behind a rain cloud. (I found my printed out directions—which were honest-to-God strategically located for half of my visit—under a stack of children’s books, which was under a pile of jackets and raincoats, in the passenger seat of the car. And after being lost for far too long, I walked into a house where the table was set and the dinner smelled like heaven, a warm welcome.)

A large package on my desk turned out to be a dozen gorgeous copies of Living Crafts magazine—I open the first copy to find my two articles and I see I’ve been listed as “contributing editor,” complete with a photo and short description! The magazine is BEAUTIFUL from cover to cover, and if you have any inkling of craft love, go ask your bookstore to get you a copy.

Now I’m off to pour my second cup of coffee and make my favorite breakfast, then to address the vast collection of luggage, housing bathing suits and turtlenecks and craft supplies and everything in-between. Kids are home from school, toodling quietly (so far) with books and baseball card collections, just happy to be out of the car for a foggy day by the sea. Thoughts and images will settle out soon, as the clothes and travel necessities find their ways into drawers and closets and notes take shape in my journal, next to the coffee mug.

Monday, October 15, 2007

road notes

Wednesday, I obsessed over my 45 pages of homework, a “packet” of creative writing and book annotations, and after six hours of work I hit the “send” button. Whew! The next deadline is in three weeks.

Thursday I packed a car for ten days of travel, including a wedding weekend with formalwear duties, including cave trip gear, including everything that I can think of. It’s the most unplanned car-packing that’s ever been, and the car looks like an explosion of kid-stuff inside. Scott removed a suitcase to fly home, today, and it’s great to have extra space to fill with the sweaters and jackets and stuffed animals.

The wedding weekend—so much to say. The two words floating in my mind are “transcendent” and “gutsy.” Then I skip straight to “the new heavens and the new earth.” I’ll see if I can write more.

And now sitting in a friend’s home, getting ready to visit Farmland later today. My father is not well. I’ll see my brother, spend time with my grand-nephew. My kids’ open hearts charm me—I said something about us staying with “my friend,” and they corrected me by saying “our friends, now.”

Wish me luck. October is the month to travel in the Midwest—so beautiful. But October is another word for “homesickness,” too, some longing that won’t be fulfilled this trip, either. I want to find a way to feel it, to not ignore it even if I’m tending children and managing maps. I’m praying for a heart wide open, for fearlessness, for God’s spirit to rush through, for healing, for peace. Farmland. Praying for a good time in Farmland.

Then there’s more road trip, too.

Much to say—not much wherewithal to say it this morning, but I hope to catch you up soon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

homework

I'm pulling together thirty to forty pages of work-- it's my first "homework assignment" in ten years, my first literary reflection in twenty-five years... cross your fingers...

Meanwhile the days are eighty degrees, in October, which means weather perfection: cool breeze, hot sand, beach full of surfers nearby. We spent Thursday afternoon at the beach, with pizza for dinner as the sun retreated into a hazy sunset.

more soon...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

poll

What is a blog for? What is my blog for?

Three years ago (yikes!), my writing friend Dave sent me a link to set up this blog, with the explanation “a blog is a commitment to write.” Dear reader, you would laugh if you read my spiral-notebook journal: when I write to me, I rarely finish anything and I mostly rant and whine, or I write long descriptions of the place where I am sitting. I write myself into nowhere, often. My journal holds a few exciting flashes, but nothing like the pieces I write here. When I write with a sense of audience (you), I write a letter. I think of a dozen people I love and I write with a purpose, with eyes and ears open to gratitude. I find I have stories when I write for other’s ears. I begin and end sentences and I avoid muttering. Writing clarifies, crystallizes thoughts and feelings for me, and there’s joy in it.

This blog, then, has been my school of writing, a first step beyond writing letters. I joked at the beginning about writing “for me and my six friends,” but now there are a number of readers who check in with me regularly. Several readers link to me on their own blogs. I enjoy sending people here to find my stories—though I do need to weed a bit from the archives.

As an MFA student, now I’m in a different school of writing with some different (um, enormous) requirements. One of the cautions offered by respected faculty mentors is the caution about “sending ‘work’ out before it’s ready.” When Dave suggested a blog initially, he cautioned, too, “treat it like a publication.” Revision and polishing are not my strong points as a writer, and I’m often eager to post what is going on right this minute. I err on the side of sharing too much. So my blogging—which has been my writing strength—is now a potential weakness, at least as a student in a masters program in creative writing.

You, dear readers, have been my writing strength and continue to be so. I write with your ear in mind. Want to help me wrestle with this?

Rightly, my respected and affectionate advisors suggest blogging might detract from “serious” writing. There’s the “before it’s ready” temptation. In addition, I currently work-for-pay online, so it’s possible to spend way too much time on the internet (which I can do without even looking at my blog) instead of “serious writing.”

But on the other hand, there’s you. I gotta confess, here—I’m not losing this blog. That’d be crazy. I have readers! Writers need readers. The respected and affectionate folks mentioned above want me to do my very best, but no one is absolutely insisting that I ditch my wonderful blog. (I call it wonderful because you are here, not because I am enamored of all-things-me.) I’m in the process of “holding” my writing longer, revising and polishing and asking for professional feedback. That’s why I’m posting less frequently. And (sigh) that’s why I’m not posting my “best” writing. This is not an easy change for me.

I’m jealous of my blogging friends who get a zillion responses to each written post, and sometimes I wonder why I don’t get more comments. I hope I’ve not put you to sleep.

I wish I had a guest book! Would you like to weigh in? To sign in? I know some readers read my posts via RSS feeds, so I don’t get to see your visits on my sitemeter. Would you like to say “hi” to remind me you are here? Any insights on this question? What is my blog for?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

drive by

With the turn of the ignition, it’s clear something is wrong, not with the engine but the ventilation—does my minivan not understand that ventilation is everything in summer? Sigh. I’ve already packed the backseat with a spinning wheel and a large bag of spinning fiber, with my current knitting project and a few felted pieces to show and tell at the craft gathering in the next town over. I’m already running two hours later than I planned.

Still, I recall the last time the same problem occurred with the ventilation, it was a fuse. It’s too hot to wrangle fuses, and I’m too late. But I remember the last time—it was the day of Karen’s housefire. I remember that car breakages are often signs, in my life at least. I’m solo today, and I can handle looking at what once was my friend’s sweet condo with a view of the sea. I drive up the steep road, with my car windows open wide, once again.

The house is progressing, with no signs of soot or damage. I crane my neck upward so I can see. New window casings replace the charred triangles. There is still no ‘for sale’ sign, and I can see through the windows that the ceiling is being reconstructed. The patio door is propped open and I wonder if the owner is inside. I don’t want to meet him. A dumpster still occupies my usual parking space, with No Trespassing signs posted above, possibly to ward off any of Karen’s friends.

I call Karen’s sister-in-law again to leave a message, remembering patience as I recall how inundated with phone calls she must be. “It’s Denise, from Gloucester. Please call me and tell me where Karen is, how she is, how I can reach her. I know she’ll want to catch up with me. Is she able to see visitors?” Immediately I remember my own mantra: she could’ve died already, it wouldn’t be my fault, as she’s been crumbling since I met her.

It’s been almost three months since the fire. The last time I talked with her was eight weeks ago, when my children were still in school. She’s changed hospitals twice since then and last I heard her body was rejecting skin grafts. Each time I think I can’t bear to see her, can’t bear to see her hurting any more than she was already hurting, I imagine the friends who knew her when she was strong and vibrant in body as well as spirit. She was a chef, and married to a chef, living on the Vineyard and throwing all-day parties each Sunday, upscale potlucks for twenty or thirty or how every many people would fit. Twenty years ago perhaps?

Karen is fifty-six, a shut-in, perhaps to be living in some sort of a healthcare facility for the rest of her life, now. All she wants is fresh organic food, fresh air, and enough hours of solitude to meditate quietly. All she wants is a really good cup of coffee in a real mug. She can tolerate the loss of the use of her hands, and she can tolerate the creeping blindness that leaves her just a little light. She can tolerate more pain than anyone I know. But she can’t tolerate lack of independence, and being away from the ocean. At least, she can’t tolerate it forever.

It’s Karen who I’d talk through this last month with, more than anyone. Like my mother’s year of crumbling health at the end of her life, Karen’s ears and imagination crave description after description, the details, and she paints connection after connection, adding insight and delight. I remember vaguely a quote from Jesus about weeping with those who weep and dancing with those who dance, and it was about Pharisees and important theology, I’m certain, but Karen, better than anyone, knows how to dance and weep with others, for others. Like my relationship with my mother in that last year, I find myself saving up scenes to describe for her. If someone wants to live vicariously through another person, I am a good choice. If someone wants to locate the plotline in my long ramblings, I am also well-served. But I wouldn’t choose just anyone.

I close my eyes in the driveway and remember the rhythm of my once-a-week workdays: a deep breath and up the stairs. An exhale of relief as I hear her voice in the bedroom door. “Good morning, Karen” is followed by “I’m making coffee,” is followed by her calling “please make a cup for yourself when you bring it to me. I want to hear everything.” Everything! Imagine! To the kitchen to see if the new coffee pot remains unbroken or if I need to find yet another one. Hum and check the laundry, the trash, the state of the refrigerator and what kind of good leftovers remain from Suzanne, the regular caretaker and my good, good friend. Pull down Karen’s favorite mug and my favorite mug, pour a dollop of maple syrup in hers and some cream in mine, and set a tray with napkins, apple slices, a small vase of flowers. Will she want to talk today, or will she be eager for work to be done? I want both, each day, also.

For a month or so last winter, before the hospital bed arrived but after she’d fallen badly enough that she spent most of her time in bed, Karen and I held our morning meeting in her queen-sized bed, propped up on pillows. It was my job to manage mugs of steaming coffee as we pulled the blankets up over our knees in the winter draft. I said something about being in my bed with my boss and she laughed and laughed, her right hand hooked carefully around the mug handle—any loss of concentration and the mug would drop, and the bed would need to be changed again.

I wouldn’t call Karen my best friend, even then, and I hesitated to call her my friend, only, because we knew each other only in order for me to work with her. I believe I dropped by once or twice in my off hours, to drop something off, over the course of a year’s worth of work. I deliberately worked to hold thoughts of Karen only for my workdays—her physical needs are so huge, it seemed I’d worry about her all the time if I got started worrying in my off-hours. And yet to whom on earth do we commit hours of conversation time, outside of our spouses and children? Karen took in more of me than my friends could possibly schedule. It has been work, yes. But she said from the first meeting, “Oh, I knew you were a writer from the first time you spoke. I bet you are a good one. Tell me how I can help.” She’s been an inspiration and a helpful organizer of my thoughts, while I cook her lunch and keep her coffee cup filled.

How will I manage not working for her? I worked for the small hourly wage, but the money was so inconsequential—she paid me her with her heart and soul and her good ear. She gave me everything she could in this astounding year.

I’m afraid when I see her that she’ll be greatly altered, that my Karen will be long gone, deep in pain, medicated out of her alertness. She’s lived a long life with many friends, and time closes when geography changes—I need to be prepared that she might not remember me at all. She might not be conscious. She might be locked in a psychological hell that is in some ways well-earned.

I don’t know how it will feel, but I need to see her. If she is bad off, I’ll stroke her hair like a baby, she’s been so good to me. I think back to her last seizure, how I drove in from the bookstore and held her hand, thinking she didn’t even know it was me, but she wouldn’t yell at me like she did her sister—she was terrifyingly docile, not arguing about the ambulance coming. (The sweet EMT said “ma’am, I don’t see anything wrong with her” and I replied, “sir, my blind friend could knock you across the room with her bad arm on a good day. She’s a fierce woman, not a quiet invalid.”) I’d like to think she’ll be well enough to take in a real mug of really good coffee, which I will bring with me, just in case she is strong enough to hold it in her crooked right hand and trade stories like precious secrets. If she’s unable to take it in, she will appreciate the gesture. Or I will, if that’s all.

The car gets too hot as the minutes wear on, and it’s time to show up at the craft gathering. I said I’d be there, and there is nothing to do here at the empty condo on Witham Street. I take a last look to make sure the place is as empty as it feels, and pull the sizzling minivan out of the driveway one last time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

book report: art of the personal essay

The Aaaaaaht of the Puh-sonal Essaaaaay...that's the way my children repeat the title of the fat book that keeps sliding around the dash of my car, in their best mock-Brahmin voices. Here is my grown-up book report. I need twelve such reports this semester, and yes, all of the books are huge. I'm on book six, I believe.

A year ago I sat at my local coffee shop with a journal and a pen, an Orion and an Image Journal, and proceeded to write for several hours, interspersed with reading. In the overstuffed chair opposite me sat an older gentleman with a herringbone tweed hat next to his stack of books. After a break to refill coffee cups, he asked what I was writing and I said memoir. “But I don’t have much of a sense of what I’m doing. I just write like I talk, mostly.” He suggested I might like to look up The Art of the Personal Essay. We let each other write in peace, with an occasional break for a comment or two. For some reason, I thought the book would be a “how-to” rather than a “best of,” and while I wrote the title in my journal, I never managed to pick it up until now.

What a delight then to discover an anthology of great essay writing! It’s a feast! A month ago, I was despairing over those lucky fiction writers who get to read FICTION, but I feel certain these essays are some of the most honest writing on earth, and honesty is perhaps even better than a good story. (Did I really say that? Remind me I said that.)

While I love good reading, my current need is to learn terms and categories to help me understand the writing craft. Though I’m capable of a scathing and particular movie review, I’ve read purely for content, somewhat conscious of style, rarely for form. I know I love a piece or an author, but I can’t name why. Phillip Lopate offers several ways to look at essays, ordering selections first by historical era, then by topic, such as “City Life,” “Hatred and Opposition,” “Thresholds.” I will list some of these headings in my writing journal, common human themes and possible beginnings to my own stories.

Lopate’s introduction names two features of the personal essay especially helpful to me: “the hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy” and “at the core of the personal essay is the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience.” (p. xxiii) Whether an author conveys intimacy or convinces the reader of unity of human experience—these become means of discerning whether personal writing “works” for a reader. Lopate further delineates writing as “conversational,” honest, and notes author’s penchants for what he calls contractions and expansions of the self, irony and “cheek,” and he explores the inner workings of writers and the dance of privacy. Lopate’s interest is in “the tradition” of the personal essay, the “greats” to which other essayists pay homage, and a peek into some of the ways essayists quote earlier essayists by way of that homage.

Reading his selections for myself, I enjoyed Seneca on quiet and on slaves, Plutarch’s letter to his wife, and Sei Shonagon’s Hateful Things, then found myself skimming ahead to Chesterton, an old favorite, reading my children to sleep with the cadences of A Piece of Chalk. While the sparsity of women is frustrating, and Lopate defends his selections, I find myself gravitating toward the women writers immediately. Perhaps it is that notion of universality—I feel slightly more likely to resonate with human experience voiced by a woman.

Virginia Woolf’s Street Haunting begged to be read first to my husband and then to my children at bedtime, also, with the same effect of mesmerizing even my two quizzical children into a trance of rhythmic reading, so beautiful are the words that there is no time to slide a question in edgewise, and my great joy in reading swept them up. They chimed in weeks later, remember the story about the pencil? Does anyone care what Woolf is writing about? In comparison to the way she writes about it? If the melodic writing were not enough, the sudden stops before sinking too far into a stranger’s story are breath-taking. From shopping for a pencil, Woolf takes a plunge into the deepest of questions—am I my physical reality, or am I my imagination? And the beautiful reason behind this dilemma charms me:

…it is nature’s folly, not ours. When she set about her chief masterpiece, the making of man, she should have thought of one thing only. Instead, turning her head, looking over her shoulder, into each one of us she let creep instincts and desires which are utterly at variance with his main being, so that we are streaked, variegated, all of a mixture; the colours have run. Is the true self this… or that…? Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give the rein to its wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves? (261)


(This is the point during which I am jumping up and down reading, announcing she’s writing about a pencil, when she dives to question the whole enterprise of imagination, and the whole of the question is embodied in the very act of meandering in her shopping task.) I love her obvious joy describing her own irritating shopping habits, and the circle back to her home, with her pencil, reconciled.

This is my first Virginia Woolf and I can’t wait to find more.

Fascinated with one description of a hashish trip and another of political fasting, I continue headlong into Natalia Ginzberg’s Him and Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days, rich descriptions. I’ve always thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald as someone entirely “other,” and yet I find myself reading “in the dark night of the soul, it is always three a.m.,” over the phone to a friend.

While my eyes skim quickly the other essays, I’m interested in those with pull, with Lopate’s described intimacy and humanity. I’m also fascinated by how the writer gets from here to there. “Frisson,” (p xxvi) for instance, “which all lovers of the personal essay await as a reward.” I’m fascinated that there is a way to move a reader through a story, beyond simple storytelling. When Lopate names lists of “how the world comes at another person, the irritations, jubilations, aches and pains, humorous flashes, (p. xxvii),” I begin to see what to look for, what works. And with the simple phrase “the capacity for perception,” (p. xxxiv) at last I see myself, not lost but in the right place. Craft is the issue for me, but I possess the eye, and in the editor’s discussion of idleness, I see why the perceptions bubble to the surface differently in the past three years: I felt my role to be so very important when I lived in the professional world. I’ve felt utter delight in being “useless” by all societal standards, and what Lopate terms idleness has been the gift to play with what I’ve perceived.

So, half the task of the reading up to this point has been to find my way into this world of writers, to find a way to use the word “we,” and own it, about myself in this lineage. Perception, writing intimately, finding ways to build frisson, these all seem quite possible. On the other hand, Woolf makes me wonder how I can ever seriously use the word “we” about writers again. I might need to find all of her non-fiction and use it to reward myself for writing tasks completed. I’ve been married to Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay for three weeks, it seems, breakfasting with F. Scott Fitzgerald and lunching with M.F.K. Fisher, reading in the passenger seat across many states and reading while listening to a local band play. I’m surprised by the delightful writings of Seneca and Plutarch, as well as the Eastern writers completely new to me.

As of this moment, I’ve not moved to the most modern of the American essayists. The names are quite familiar and I will certainly continue, but it seems necessary to Annotate and move on today. I’m familiar with Dillard, Saunders, Berry, and I’ll be reading more of them, soon. I’m encouraged, excited, daunted. And while I’m still stretching to see craft and form as means of conveying a story, I’m exceedingly well-read—and I’m just getting started.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

last day as a church hedonist

written on a sweltering Sunday two weeks ago-- church school started last week.

I sit by the window this hot, hot morning in church, glad I dressed in lightweight layers—a pink camisole I don’t wear often, covered with a tunic of sheer silk, the floral skirt and plain sandals. I take these summer church services as a personal retreat into who I once was, a worshipper undistracted. In my pew by myself, I forget anyone else exists for stretches at a time. I sing “like a charismatic,” as one Episcopal friend puts it, head thrown back and happily lost to all but my one great love.

I come alone to church in summer, just for this.

During the fall, winter and spring, I teach church school for ages nine to twelve. I do my best to do justice to the children and the material, and I fail sometimes, but they know I love them. When I finish church school, I rant a little to anyone in the kitchen as I get a glass of water and I try to shake off the tensions, the frustrations and the power struggles. Afterwards I arrive in the sanctuary late, rattled, thinking what I will do differently next week—I do not arrive in a meditative state. During the worship service, I’m aware of my oldest child and all the other children from my church school classroom: are they paying attention to the sermon? Are they antsy and needing assistance?

When the schedule shifts in summer months, then, my husband attends the eight a.m. worship service and I attend the ten a.m. service, while the kids stretch out on the floor at home and toodle with toys, and skip church entirely. Parents “tag team;” children lounge. Our congregation offers no church school, no childcare for children over seven in the summer. I know I could easily “make” children attend worship, but then I would lose my retreat.

Will I pay later for this choice? Am I passing along the wrong message? I LOVE GOD. More than anyone or anything else. It’s not a message to anyone, against anyone. In summer I experience God, truly for me. Quite honestly it’s the most selfish thing I do all week, go to church. I walk in slowly, sit down slowly. I pack my journal and noodle around a bit before things start. I sing with gusto. I cry inexplicably.

And toward the end of the service on this hot, hot day, I sit with my back against the arm of the pew, kick my sandals off and place my shoeless feet on the pew to sit and listen to the postlude. I close my eyes and pretend it’s just me. Something tickles my foot and I jump—I look up to find a white-haired friend from the pew behind me, with his finger curled a few inches away from my foot, laughing merrily. “I couldn’t resist!” he whispered. “You remind me so much of my daughter.” His wife slaps him in the shoulder, but he is busy being bemused, obviously thinking his actions worth the cost. I laugh at him and shake my head, then close my eyes again and return to the lovely fugue.

When the organ solo ends, Charlie’s wife quickly exits, scandalized. Charlie shrugs and apologizes, still smiling at his church mischief. I brush off the apology and ask him how he is, how is his wife, how are their children. I’m an easy target for flirting, in my summery clothes, radiating happiness. I know Charlie enough to know he is harmless and kind-hearted and there is nothing at stake except his wife’s pride. Nowhere else do I get this treatment but my church, and at times it’s given me as much life as it gives my favorite old men. I am not the same kind of pretty I once was. I weigh too much, and my forehead sports a grid of deep creases. Everyone here knows my husband, my children, my reputation as a teacher and my happy summer arrangement. I am harmless, too. My regular flirt, Dan, is out sailing today, his own summer schedule, and perhaps Charlie thought I’d be lonely. No matter. I hope his wife will forgive his indulgence, but he couldn’t care less, just now, wrapped in his own merry orneriness.

We are both worship hedonists, today, then, me and Charlie. I’m coming back next Sunday, too, my last hedonist Sunday before church school begins. I only wink at my man Dan, but I’ll smile at Charlie if I see him, and I’ll make it a point to talk with his wife about kids and houses and weather, to make sure she knows I’m not embarrassed or put off by Charlie’s impishness. Not at all. I wish him joy, while summer lasts.

Monday, September 17, 2007

distraction

The story I want to post today is trapped in my laptop-- I can't find the blue cordy-thingy and I don't have a wireless modem, etcetera, etcetera. I promise I'll post soon. But for now, here's a fun hand-colored xerox-copied photo from when I was twenty-seven... that's pretty much what I looked like, blurry and starry-eyed.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

a saturday breath

Any minute now the door will swing open and my children will stumble from their bedroom. A friend tells me of a Polish mother’s proverb that says “one is none, but two is a million,” and mine will sound like, feel like, precisely one million, entering into my Saturday morning quiet.

But not yet. For now it’s me and the gull cries and the prowling cat, so pampered and pretty. The rainbow-throwers hanging on the window have Satchmo stalking, stalking those shimmers through the house. The white haze tells me the day will be hot. But not yet. For now, breakfast and coffee, in quiet, celebrated.

I slept last night—a mercy. I’ve experienced a strange bout of insomnia for the past six weeks, and find myself scrambling, cutting back caffeine, plotting nightly cups of tea laced with a calcium/magnesium brew, following the drowsy instinct whether it hits at eight-thirty or eleven, finding ways to invite sleep closer. My friend Katherine tells me I’ve successfully reinvented myself after age 40, and that I’m just beginning, and perhaps that is the tumult keeping me from sleeping. I don’t feel reinvented—“culmination” comes to mind, though that may seem presumptuous. I’m pulling all the threads together, into one life. I expected I’d uncover a storyline when I started writing. I didn’t expect such an unusual sense of power to it, though. Graduate study, pulling away from other’s needs to serve my own needs, travel, running at freelance opportunities as fast as I can… okay, I’m reinventing my life, while tending the same children, home and husband, in the same tiny condo by-the-sea. Neighbors ask me “what’s new” and I start to laugh maniacally, considering how to respond, how to translate seismic shifts into a “hi, how are you” conversation. “I’m still here. Everything else is new.”

One pajama boy emerges from the bedroom, but one is none. He asks for Daddy and sneaks across the hall for a sleep-in. The coffee is still warm and my stack of books can stay right here on the living room floor. I hope the two of them will find a way to be, together in the next room. The boy can be exceptionally demanding.

One pajama girl emerges, greets Satchmo and she heads to the bathroom. I overhear Brendan asking Scott “why” and “how” questions about baseball technicalities, which means both are happy. Scott’s voice moves steadily and patiently through definitions and fine points of distinction. “Does that make sense?” he asks after each concept. “Uh-huh,” Brendan answers, satisfied, and the questions end for awhile in the quiet of the morning.

Madeleine settles into the couch behind me, with a new book about girls and bodies—her friends are growing rapidly, though she will be a late bloomer like me. There is treasure in waiting, even in being “last,” but I felt left out of so many things as a child, not wanting to change to be like the boy-chasing girls, as I saw them. Madeleine’s childhood is completely different—she is a happy and social girl who makes friends easily, and she is quite comfortable with boys, unlike me at that age. This book is nothing like the book my mother handed me, which covered anatomy and anatomical processes. Madeleine’s growing-up book has colorful illustrations and talks about friendships, differences from one girl to the next, clothing choices, and the anatomical details are tucked in, just like normal conversation. It’s nothing we haven’t talked about already, but as an American Girls title, the book holds some weight of authority. Unlike the book handed to me, this book makes growing up seem quite normal and not catastrophic.

Brendan emerges with a copy of our school’s yearbook, and sits quietly on the other end of the couch. His mouth shows evidence of last night’s dessert and his nails need trimming, both topics to pursue—but not yet. The quiet is all. My back is propped on the same couch, at my laptop. All is good.

One question I hear, in good writing, is the question, “what is at stake?” I understand that some stories are powerful, and I know a powerful story when it is happening to me. Often, though, I want to write and write when nothing is at stake, nothing at all. It’s a strange impulse, I know, but I feel sure it will serve me.

Like this moment serves me, the gulls, two children who are not yet a million, a sleeping husband in the next room over. This day is unlike any other. Nothing is happening. We are just here, contented and the world is open on a quiet Saturday. My friend Kellie tells me, “All I have is this breath.” As soon as I say it, I breathe deeper and taller, hear the whir of the rainbow-thrower and the gulls overhead. I breathe in the scent of pinon coffee from Valerie, the scent of pulled pork simmering in the crockpot for later, and sea salt. (The pork is leftovers, raised to glory—don’t tell my family, okay?) I do not ignore the scent of the compost that needs to be emptied, and I am relishing all scents before the cat is fed, the worst scent of the day.

As a Christian, I have so much more than this breath, the whole created order and all of history… and this breath, right now. Make it a good one, I remind myself, make it good.

Scott lumbers out and moves the laundry along, and the questions about what to do and how we will do it, begin. I don’t say the spell is broken—this breath is all I have, still, though conversations fly and breakfasts need to be addressed, the dryer tosses its contents and Satchmo begs loudly for his fishy-smelling stuff. The million emerge from the no-longer quiet.

And that's alright. I have this breath, and I am ready.

Madeleine L'Engle

A friend, Jeffrey Overstreet, has written a warm tribute to Madeleine L’Engle, who died Thursday of this week.

http://lookingcloser.wordpress.com/

This is the Madeleine for whom my daughter is named, a woman with an imagination as large as the sky. I’ve shaken her hand with a few warm sentences, heard her speak, and when she visited my town, I was traveling for a commitment I couldn’t cancel—the bookstore owner had Madeleine sign a book “for Madeleine or Brendan, whoever is born first.” I stood in her office at St. John the Divine, on a day when she was out of town.

Just yesterday I was rearranging books near my bed, making way for my graduate studies books, when I tucked two volumes of Madeleine L’Engle in, though she’s not on my reading list. I’d heard she was in hospice—I’ve saved these two volumes, as yet unread, to have “fresh word” from her, later.

When we do meet in earnest, we will have more time to talk. I’ve been looking forward to that conversation for a long time.

I plucked A Swiftly Tilting Planet from the shelves of the Farmland Public Library at age 15, and after reading it in a swoon, I kept moving the book to the adult reading section, saying grownups needed this book most of all. For many years of my life, I reread Swiftly Tilting Planet any time my spirits flagged, or my life felt unimportant, or once a year during Christmas break. A recent reading reminds me of the book’s power, which is just the same as when I snuck it across the line between children’s and adult books at my hometown library.

When a date is named for her memorial celebration at St. John the Divine, I will post it here.

Friday, August 31, 2007

ride

The cool foggy morning suits the children well, as they quickly settle into weaving friendship bracelets while still in pajamas. The cat begs, the chores wait—it’s the quiet that matters.

I stretch a stiff foot on my left, crane my neck and roll my shoulders—when I scratch my head, sand sifts to the floor. How many trips did I make through the waves yesterday? Thirty? Forty? Washing to shore laughing, my children astonished to find me at the foot of their growing sandcastle, rolling off the sandy board and into the surf. Brendan would stop long enough to applaud and point to the next swell growing on the horizon. Our teenage friend Sasha is built for this kind of play, her face alight as she shouts “Did you see? Oh my gosh! Am I drowned? There’s the next one… GO!”

My friend Diane wanted only to sit quietly in the sun at the shore, watching her threesome play “tsunami,” children running screaming from each translucent blue-green wave, sparkling eyes reminding that the screams are for drama, only.

Was it an hour? Two? Flopping exhausted on the warm blanket, shaking water from ears.

“What have I done?” I groaned to Diane. “Remind me to be in better shape next summer.”

“Was that as fun as it looked?” she asked.

“More. I’d keep going if there were more easy waves to ride, but the waves have shifted a bit. How’s Sasha?”

“Happy. She’s still out swimming. I’ll watch. Everyone’s good. Lotta good food here. Want a grape?” She tells me stories of her years sailing on the South Pacific, stories of living on Hawaii. This water is too cold for her, but the sun is hot. It’s too cold for me, too, but I remind myself of friends who’d love to ride waves today, no matter the temperature. We congratulate ourselves one more time for our genius, being at the beach for this beautiful day at the end of summer.

“Nothing gold can stay,” writes Whitman, and perhaps parents know this better than anyone.

An hour later I’d stayed too long, savoring the goodness past all common sense, and there’s no need to describe the hell of packing a van, of driving with a howling seven-year-old, even in the company of Sasha, who goes stoic in moments of familial distress.

Brendan thought he could take his promised time-out in the bathtub with bubbles, a brilliant idea I need to consider more often. Madeleine set up an appetizer picnic for Sasha. I grabbed an icy beer in a moment of weak judgement, and edged towards sleep instead of dinner preparation. It worked well in the end, with Scott arriving to slice vegetables and form hamburgers for the grill. I can stand and flip burgers, even in my sleep. Guest dads came by for child pickups, with warm conversations and time to catch up, staying long for burgers and grilled sweet potatoes.

Scott offered to take the kids to the last street concert of summer, leaving me asleep in my clothes and dreaming of waves. I wake feeling rested for the first time in weeks, surrounded by sand sketches on my pillow and hair smelling of salt, ocean and summer. The fog will suit us well today, as we look at the list of chores to address before school next week. The stiffness, too, reminds me Poseidon is good for a visit now and then, but I’d best stick to earthly concerns at least for today, and change the sandy sheets and shower the ocean from my hair until next time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

quick hello

Forgive my quiet! I've been on the road with my family, plus reading while waiting for the circus, writing while waiting for jury "impanelment," reading while listening to a bad cover of Tom Petty (but putting down the book for good covers of Van Morrison-- I'm not that callous!)

1600 miles on the Jetta, green green hills of Pennsylvania, friends in unexpected places, a coffee drink called The Italian Car Bomb (brewed coffee with an extra doubleshot of espresso, for the coffee-starved traveler.) Aunt Peggy and Uncle Irish, two of my favorite people on earth. Tooth fairy requirements while traveling, and a lovely Japanese tune called Sakura, which my children play on their recorders as we turn north off the highway to drive to their PopPop's house. Soon-to-be newlyweds, blessings. Margeritas.

My first Virginia Woolf (Where have I been?) A story swap.

I'll write again soon-- just getting my legs under me with the coming school year. Soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

view from the treehouse condo

Sunrise from the living room window.













Our neighbors' roofs below us, and the sky and the water across the way... This is an older photo, as the camera batteries are waning today. The view is much more charming than the photo shows, and the breeze is magical on these August days.