Saturday, September 29, 2007


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


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.

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.