Tuesday, December 08, 2009

midwinter dream

I arrived home after Starbucks locked up, arms full of research papers to read and grade, and I noticed my daughter’s knitting on the windowsill—but my arms were full. I didn’t wash my face or make tea, just sat to read more papers until sleep overtook me. Then the nocturnal creature we call our pet found some sort of hockey puck to slide mercilessly around the floor. One a.m. I took the hockey puck-object. Three a.m., the running began and of course it was Madeleine’s ball of “eyelash” yarn, strung around the furniture and massed into something unrecognizable. But the children's knitted polar bears were not attacked, thank goodness, though they were left clearly within reach of the cat, on the dining chairs. Six a.m. my husband began the new regime of turning on the lights so children can wake up slowly. The bed is covered with the furry bits of eyelash yarn which clung to my pajamas after my late night yarn rescue.

I am considering a move to an igloo—a dark igloo lined with bearskin rugs, somewhere near Starbucks, where no one turns on lights half an hour early, and no one shreds yarn.

My teaching semester ends soon, and Christmas break begins in a week and a half. Bits of snow remain on the nearby rooftops. I keep promising to bring the Advent candles down from the attic, since we are ten days into Advent. Soon. I found the Christmas music, with which they torture me. I like some of it-- the hymns, the traditionals sung traditionally, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

And it’s time for another cup of coffee. Reflection, later. Grading, now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

november sunlight

The laundry chugs and the dishwasher steams. I washed two skeins of handspun yarn, and “finishing” the yarn requires slapping the wet skeins against the deck railing, twenty or thirty lashings. The neighbor glances at me curiously, then remembers: I slap wet yarn against the deck railing from time to time. Somehow two rows of muddy shoes have gathered on my porch, waiting for somebody to tell them what’s next. Not for me to say, today, as the sun streams in the window. I place the skeins in the sun, on the windowsill.

I love teaching. But I’ve spent 9 hours grading and catching up with student grades, this past weekend. It seems I never have time to read anything but class texts. I’ve submitted my past writings to literary journals, but I’ve only written a little. I am teaching two classes, not even a full load. I am not teaching during the spring semester, and I solemnly swear I will waste no time, but instead I will rush to the writing every morning, as I’ve rushed to the writing most mornings in the past three years. Much to catch up on, many stories to get back to.

Huffington Post published a two-part interview with writer Mary Karr, who says she finished her memoir “Lit” four years behind schedule. When asked why the rewrites, she says she painted herself too dark, and the other characters too light, that her memoir didn’t feel “true” in its earlier versions. Somehow I find great encouragement in her comments. My drawer is filled with stories mulling and fermenting, waiting, ripening, and I can’t wait to get back to revision and re-imagining these sketches. My friend Allison cut a long meaningful passage down to a potent poetic passage, for publication in a journal that only publishes short-short works. My drawer is full of possibilities.

Today, in the workaday laundry and dishwashing and the sun-filled window of drying yarn, I’m remembering my earliest dreams of writing: I will fill a box with writing. Then I will find a group of writers to talk me through my box, to sort and sift and tell me what is good and what sucks. Such a simple equation! Somehow I didn’t consider rewriting, reworking, hammering on these stories. I’ve just begun to learn—the stories themselves teach me patience through annoyance, beauty through chaos. I don’t blog much anymore because I am learning to wait, to consider before posting.

Except today, when I am posting without much consideration, as I brew a second cup of coffee. I read the Arts section of the Sunday Globe, a decadent reward for such long hours of grading. I am still not caught-up with classwork. But I’m writing in my journal, in the window, with a pen. I wish my income from this job extended through spring, but I’m eager to get back to my calling, and I’ll figure it out as I go, as I always do. I love teaching but I can’t wait for the next thing, all over again.

Monday, November 02, 2009

journal note from August

I can tell the months have been busy: 168 pages in my journal, and this small ringbound edition lasted from early August through October. At other times in my life I've filled a volume per month, but much of my writing happens at the keyboard, these days, and much of my writing time aims toward revision.

When I reach the end of one journal, I draw a nameplate on the next edition, and leave a page for to-dos. Then I cull the filled journal for stuff worth follow-up. Here's a note from early August:

Inside my glorious $10 purse (my graduation purse, the basket purse from Floating Lotus), the lining is filled with loose glitter from a birthday invitation for my daughter. As I dig for change for the parking meter, my fingers sparkle. A quick shake of my hair and glitter rains. In the mirror, a stubborn speck of glitter shines from my the arch of my eyebrow.

At Starbucks today escaping THEM and their rambling summer schedules, their bickering, their need. Ran into Matt-who-lives-at-Starbucks and I told him no one has called about this teaching job at the college. Matt teaches the class I want, and he tells me I'd be perfect for it. I know. Why don't they call? I hope I haven't killed off my chances with enthusiasm.

Glitter on my eyeglass case. Glitter on my pen. They need to call me NOW.

Blessed. The worry-scowl lifts a moment with each sparkle.

Reading Brothers Karamozov today.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

be careful while reading: Holy the Firm

I've been eager to post some of my book musings from grad school, since I am so swamped with other kinds of work now.

I hope to write more of my encounter with Annie Dillard, beginning with a phone call I made to my physician. When I told him I could not afford the time to come to his office, I was working on deadline, he asked me to walk to a mirror. "Just tell me if the nose is straight." Blue, swollen, numb, yes-- but straight.

Ever since I accidentally sailed through The Dry Salvages, inadvertently studying mortality and loss of dignity, I’ve learned to be more superstitious about my literary life and my daily life. So I should not under any circumstances read Holy the Firm while away from my natural environs, should not be walking anywhere near falling planes or moths and open flames. Or banana peels in my pathway, or the rake resting in the grass with the tines pointing upward, waiting.
I should know. The possibility of irony is so vast, if one is foolish enough or lucky enough to read sixty-two books in two years—the possibility of overlap, of time warp linking past writing to current moment. I’ve read too much, and anything could happen.

So I pack my car with sleeping bags and stuffed animals and mud boots and farm clothes and third-graders for a three-day trip to a farm in New Hampshire, and I pack Holy the Firm. I’ve read excerpts, but not the entire book. And the forecast calls for rain. The children run off to milk cows and build a shed and dig in the garden, and I open Annie Dillard, to read about a landscape nearly like my own, watery and full of strange islands, a room full of windows, a small skull of a place to live. The dreamlike quality of the first essay tugs me in and out of tangible realities and we are talking about days and gods and I’m not sure exactly what burning thing the cat drags in at the end of the chapter, but Dillard is fearsome like that cat.

In chapter two, the plane falls from Dillard’s sky and a child is burned beyond recognition—the child, the burning god that the cat drug in. Dillard launches into questions about the nature of God and gods, about angels and fire. And she says, “The joke of the world… is the old rake in the grass, the one that you step on, foot to forehead.” Any properly superstitious reader would immediately slam the book shut and utter prayers like, “is not, is not, is not…” with squeezed-shut eyes, but did I do that? No. I went on to drive the car to the store to buy marshmallows for third-graders to roast in the woods. We found the head of a horned steer rotting on a shelf near the old cabin, and dry wood underneath the old cabin, and we started a fire even in a heavy mist of a rain. And no one’s eye was put out, even though the possibility was right there. We were playing with fire. Or as Dillard might note, we could see clearly the fire we were playing with, though we are all playing with fire every minute of our lives.

I got up the next morning and walked kids to the barn, where we learned to milk a cow, and we waved to the kittens, and I asked about the steer’s head in the woods. The farmer wanted the skull, you see, and he didn’t want coyotes or bobcats to be attracted to the barn with the scent of rotting meat. And he did want the woods creatures to eat away the flesh of the steer, leaving the bone. We listened as we brushed the milk cow and calmed her, as the barn cats lapped up the first bowl of cream.

I thought the threat of Chapter Two had passed, so I read more about Julie Norwich and fire, and prayer, and rakes. “You wake up with a piece of tree in your skull. You wake up with fruit on your hands. You wake up in a clearing and see yourself, ashamed.” With this reading I see Adam and Eve, and a Tree in the skull, the Fall. Dillard lives in a skull of a room, she writes, and the tree is right there with her. It all comes clear.

I am careful while walking on this farm, a Waldorf farm, which means anything could kill you any time because we do not over-protect children. And that is why an enormous coping saw lies out on the big stump by the volleyball net, and lengths of sodden plywood forms a ramp for bicycles in the woods. I watch for the saw, for the ramp, for the obvious, for the rake, and meander through those questions of evil and innocence, while getting muddy with third-graders. The volleyball disappears and I find seven boys inching closer to the electric fence, the ball on the other side. The ground is wet and I catch one boy reaching out a hand… I tell him there is nothing to be done, that the volleyball game is over now. The boys shrug and walk away, looking back over their shoulders at the blue volleyball in the green field, on the other side. No one is killed, again and again.

Day Three on the Farm, parents arrive and the sky clears and we hike North Pack Monadnock, eating our bag lunches at the summit. The nine-year-olds rush back down the trail. Two of us parents decide to hurry down the mountainside to catch up with the boys, since most injuries happen during descents—we talk about this. I worry about my toes—my sandals are athletic, but the toes are open, and I don’t want to be stupid. I grab a sturdy walking stick to help with the rough terrain. The stick helps more than I would suspect and I pick up speed.

Then I slip on a wet slab of granite, and as I fall my walking stick gets caught between a tree trunk and my foot and the fat stick slams me in the face: the tree, in my skull, the sudden awakening in the twinkling of an eye. You wake in a clearing with fruit on your hands. The man who’d been rushing ahead to help children hike safely, returns to say, “well, we need to find something to wipe the blood from your chin,” and a ten-year-old boy tells me the vampire look is “in” this year, as he passes me to join his younger brother below. “Is my nose broken?” The man thinks not. I stagger to find flat ground, to get my bearings. My teeth and jaw are numb. The other parents make me take caution down the last miles of the mountain trail, me hanging with the people at the back, mopping occasional blood from my swelling lip. I mutter something about rakes and enlightenment and being knocked into next week.

I feel certain the moral of the story is to never read Annie Dillard. “Teach my thy ways, O Lord,” is the kind of prayer one ought to know better than to pray, as she implies. But the temptation is far too great. Some people read crime novels, or horror stories, because they can’t help themselves. I read dangerous books about fire and angels and pieces of wood flying at skulls. I’m building a tolerance for the next whack, I suppose. I am asking the same questions, why, how, how come, and I feel fortunate it is my bloody nose and aching teeth, and not some child on fire. The parents pull me aside to tell of mishaps over the past year, a bruised hip, stitches, a broken nose. They remind me that we heal, albeit slowly. I add an ice pack, rinse with salt water, spit blood.

I should be more careful what I read. Too bad. I can’t, and I won’t. I’ll just be mindful of the tree in my skull as I read of seraphim bursting into flames for the love of God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

quiet October morning

The weather is startlingly cold for October, but my condo by the sea responds well to sunlight. I will open the windows, soon.

Many student papers to grade. Also soon.

Much to tell, but I am swamped with work and deadlines. I'm also recovering from a hip injury-- I fell while hiking in New Hampshire in May, and my back remains stiff since then. I've been working hard with a chiropractor and an Alexander teacher, trying to work the kinks out. Monday was my first pain-free, stiffness-free day, and Tuesday was not so bad, either. All to say I spend a surprising number of hours on my back, on the floor, daily. And this means I'm neglecting you and my poor, poor blog-- can't blog very easily from the floor. I'm seeking a comfortable reading chair, which might remedy this situation. For now the floor is the only place my back tolerates well.

Many stories brewing in my head.

I must grade! The sun shines. The coffee is hot. The pencil is sharpened.

Will write more soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I park the car in front of my empty house. If I pick up the mail I might miss this small window of time to write. I don’t pick up the mail. I stuff the wrappers from last night’s dinner (three cheese sticks) in the walking shoes I did not wear today. My purse holds the ingredients for tonight’s dinner: organic fresh mozzarella, a loaf of rosemary-garlic bread, a small bunch of basil. I climb the stairs, open the door and set out my treasures. Jennie left me two fresh tomatoes. It will be a sandwich above all sandwiches, dripping with olive oil and feathered with thin ribbons of basil. A marked improvement.

Teaching is wonderful, when I feel effective. Last night’s class erupted like a carefully built bonfire, one thing on another on another, a sea of inspiration from beginning to end. I opened the class with “interrupted free-writing,” asking students to list things they feel passionate about, favorite foods, people they miss, things they talk about. I asked them to circle three or four items on the list, and to keep the list handy. With a few sentences on thesis statements, and a few items from the syllabus, we listened to several examples of NPR’s “This I Believe” essays, evaluating each for tone and subject matter, beginnings and ends. Then we rearranged the classroom into small groups and worked on revising our own thesis statements in a recent essay. I offered a handout on beefing up thesis statements, and teams went to work. We listened to one last NPR essay, and the class was over.

Tonight’s class is the more introverted section of students, and they will not be played with, will not argue with me. I need to give them more structure and tuck away some of my enthusiasm. They are not convinced they need a class in order to write better. They are not convinced they need a book to help them write college papers. They are not convinced (at all) that revision will help their writing. In truth, they are okay writers, with passable skills—but what I see as “passable” will not get them through college. How will they learn to write with excellence, if they don’t see their own need? It’s a harder sell, all around.

The first bite of my sandwich is AMAZING. I can’t say how long I’ve been hungering for this little feast—okay, I can say. I’ve been hankering for this sandwich since I saw the first ripe tomato, maybe five weeks ago. But I hate to shop, and I don’t describe “fresh mozzarella” effectively, I guess. Scott and kids went to a cookout at his school, and I dropped by the farmers market, knowing the season is nearing its end.

Each day I follow up a few more things on the list of necessary tasks, phone calls, appointments, calendar stuff, catching up. I hope for a few hours to write and edit, tomorrow, before I get mired in administrative stuff. I’ve been traveling and transitioning for eight or nine weeks, and now I need to pull this writing/teaching life together. Like this sandwich, I don’t want to miss the whole season of tomatoes, or the whole season of autumn and writing.

I may need to write out some thoughts for tomorrow, so I wake up ready. First rule to beat procrastination: start early. I just said that in class.

I pick up the tomato seeds on the tip of my finger, and mop up a few drops of olive oil from the empty plate. Think I need a second sandwich. Look—I left the ingredients out on the counter…

September note

The first week of September passes, and unlike most of my Septembers here, it’s no longer beach weather—by the start of September, a cool breeze blew under even the warmest temperatures, and we’ve turned toward autumn: finding socks, finding long pants, finding jackets. We were left with no time to mourn the passing of summer, and perhaps that’s a good thing. The days go on, sunny and beautiful and just near perfect, but the air chills as the sun goes down, and the skies darken at an hour appropriate to school-night bedtimes. Kids sleep, and I’m grateful.

I am teaching college students how to write—a miraculous fit for my gifts and strengths. I hope to discover how to do my own writing, along the way, since I’m only teaching part-time. So far I’m just keeping up with the grading and class prep. I’m eager to submit essays to literary magazines, and I have one essay 95% ready—it needs one more technical edit, line-by-line, to make sure I’ve cited my source material correctly. Then I’m eager to dig into my story about learning to cook. Then my story about my sense of smell. And I need to keep digging for more new writing.

Soon. Right now I’m just keeping up. And starting the house-shopping process, and parenting, and trying to catch up with the glut of papers and books collected over two years of grad school.

You will see more of me, here. But the weather is too beautiful just now. I’ve been suffering a stiff back and neck, and I’m going to go walk the beach to see if the stiffness subsides. I’m a bit behind on grading, but I’m more behind on walking and sand and breeze.

Happy September to you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

just as I was preparing to be gainfully unemployed...

I've been offered a teaching position at a nearby college!

I will need to carve out time to write-- but it's going to be a few weeks.

Thanks, friends and readers. I'll return soon.


Monday, August 10, 2009

i just turned five.

Dear readers,

In the year 2004 I returned home from a summer in New Hampshire, where my husband worked for a camp and I tended our children in the big green woods. I recall how excited I was to return to internet access, how I immediately set out to find six friends from college, to see if they were planning to attend our 20th reunion. No yeses, but I rediscovered a friend or two or three, and I wanted to tell them how I got here, to find out how they arrived where they are. One especially-dear writing friend suggested I start a blog. I didn’t know what the word meant. He said it was a commitment to write, so I said yes, I wanted a commitment to write.

I wrote a column for Amy, for the alumni newsletter of an organization I loved. Amy was kind enough to let me write articles for two years. When the alumni newsletter changed formats, Amy introduced me to Kirsten at Catapult magazine, who graciously welcomed my writing, though she’d never met me. I drafted a memoir while I worked as a writing tutor for a nearby college. I was tossed out on my ear from the local memoir class—no one would read after me, or critique my stuff, and the teacher said I’d need to move on to something more advanced, even if I felt like a new writer. (She is a lucky find of a teacher, in so many ways.)

Three years ago I snagged my first freelance paycheck for Interweave Spin-Off, a magazine for spinners of yarn, with a six-page piece titled “How to Host Your Own Yarn-Party for Children.” My second and third freelance pieces were for Living Crafts magazine. And I got a job with Ladies Home Journal and then More magazine.

And the last two years have been happily invested in grad school. I’ve worked harder than I thought possible, and my writing continues to surprise me.

Happy Writing Anniversary to me: I’ve been writing for five years. I just graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing, from a program I love, with students and faculty I enjoy and admire. “What’s Next?” is a huge question, with children home on summer vacation, I’m sending resumes, checking around, getting suggestions. Of course, I’m a writer, so what’s next is my writing, after vacation and after beaches and general August behavior. When kid-school starts, I will edit my favorite essay one more time, and submit it to literary journals. And then I’ll get to work on my story about learning to cook, for a food-writing anthology. And then I’ll edit and revise the stories about my work as personal assistant to a blind woman.

That ought to keep me busy.

Meanwhile I hope to write letters, if I can, and post some of my graduate annotations while I pull together my blogging-self once again. I started this blog as an exercise in gratitude, and in gratitude I continue.

Thanks for being here. You are very dear readers.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

since the author just visited my blog: Bewildered Travel

I typed this annotation a year ago, or more-- then the author of the book FOUND me, here! I am so very lucky. He likes my pictures of yarn...

...bewilderment is not usually fun. Confusion is what we don’t want. Knowledge, information, clarity and good sense are what we cling to and seek. And yet… p. 3

I wonder if perhaps all writing is travel-writing: a character gets from “here” to “there,” even if the “getting-to” is as slow as Proust and even if the locale changes as little as a Flannery O’Connor tale. I read to look for a shift, and to shift my view of the world. I wonder if all reading is travel-reading…

Frederick Ruf suggests that we travel because we seek danger, because (like a Flannery O’Connor character) we need a violent shaking up. He suggests we love the failures we endure in travel, noting how we highlight travel’s hardships after a long trip. And he suggests we travel because we seek that odd state of altered consciousness that can only be found when moving, that we seek a form of “trance.” Ruf’s writing style evokes this same trancelike quality, a kind of readerly hypnosis, a loss of the outside world, and I can’t for the life of me define “how” or “why” just yet.

Bewildered Travel is not notable for form, and in fact reads almost formlessly. Most parts of the seven chapters could easily be dropped into another of the chapters without seeming out of place. There is no chronology, no plot, no narrative. The essays themselves meander, window-shopping around the globe and throughout the history of travel writing. The book is not systematic. I’ve no idea how Ruf decided to end the book, how he felt satisfied. I’ve not decided for myself if the book is really “finished.” Each little portion of the book raises a thousand new questions, exhausts me.

Ruf’s language intrigues on a sentence level and paragraph level. The book is so full of sentence-puzzles and subtle repetitions, reworkings of theme. More than once I’ve lost my bookmark, and just as I’m swooning over something utterly “new,” I realize I’ve already read that section, though it seemed fresh and urgent all over again. I can read each paragraph over and over. How does he do that?

First, Ruf asks questions about human nature. Why do we leave home? Why do we “go” anywhere? What is it we hope to find when we walk away from the nest we’ve so carefully feathered? Frederick Ruf suggests that our home lives form a surface, and the purpose of travel is to trouble and “rupture” that surface. Bewildered Travel asks why, what we are seeking, why this human need to leave and to rupture, what purpose is served by travel, and Ruf turns the question a myriad of ways. Is it a pilgrimage? What holiness does pilgrimage serve? Is it “commerce with the ancients,” as traditional travel writers assumed? How much of the goodness of travel is achieved by the “trance-state” of altered consciousness of driving or flying? What do we hope when we meet strangers? How does the experience of travel affect our experience of our own bodies?

Throughout Bewildered Travel, Ruf surveys travel writing from Matthew Arnold’s earnestness, to the first travel guides, to Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. In his theory that we travel to rupture surfaces, Ruf pulls in the writings of Flannery O’Connor (though she doesn’t travel) to say perhaps we are looking to get knocked in the head, to forget who we once were, to be transformed. Perhaps we love danger, secretly. Perhaps we are coming to terms with death just by walking onto a plane.

Some books are so quirky as to be endearing—take a book like Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. Ruf’s work asks similar questions, but without the humor that provides Percy with a safe distance from the reader. Ruf’s heart is deeply mired in mystery in an intimate way Lost in the Cosmos could never approach. I see Ruf’s shyness, his reticence when a Cuban woman motions he should step down a dark hallway with her—he doesn’t go, but he wonders if he’s missed something. He envies another travel writer who encounters strangers “by touch.” He describes being mugged less than half a mile from his own home, saying “travel” needn’t be any further than one’s own threshold.

I can’t say what is so compelling about Ruf’s writing. Perhaps it’s an artful formlessness that is so like travel itself. He suggests we travel for the trance state, for the delirium, and I like his writing precisely because it evokes that mystery he names so well. Though I’ve finished reading the book, I’ll continue reading the world Ruf names, to ask questions of my surfaces, ruptures, and what about travel makes us rise to occasions and thrive on disruption.

In commentary, I continue to wonder how to describe writing residencies for my non-student friends, what enlivens me and why. I hold closely Ruf’s notions about the surfaces of my home-life being ruptured like a violent knock in the head, of the travel-trance of sleeplessness, of being “other,” and the questions about travel and, essentially, strangers, though I come to know these students well. What is this odd thing I hop on a plane and fly “away” to? Why the excitement to pursue hours of academic content, for heaven’s sake? Must I fall in love with everyone? My neighbor Jennie came to The Glen Workshop this year, and she tells me maybe she’s never really met me before. I tell her everyone is much bigger at residencies. “You touch everyone here,” she exclaimed. “And they like it,” I replied.

There is no adequate explanation of residencies. Bewildered Travel is the best approximation to date, of how astonishing and beautiful this low-residency study pattern is, how bewildering, how disruptive, and how good.

In the first, second and third drafts of this annotation, I find myself repeating “I don’t know what it is Ruf does to write like a snake charmer.” I look for clues in the balance of scene, summary and reflection. Ruf chooses distinct, powerful scenes, but most of the book is reflection. Much of the reflection is repetitive, turning phrases like one of those colored-cube toys, about the disruption of surfaces. I think also about disrupt and rupture, the abrupt sound of the words (“abrupt,” too, I know…) and I think of the smooth sound of “surface.” Often he summarizes an incident mentioned earlier in the book, or stops to fill out a scene painted earlier in the book, to puzzle it against a new scene. Well-crafted reflection is a peculiar art, and since I tend to write more as a story-teller, I’m envious, intrigued, and I want to see more. I’ll look at the book again—it’s truly too good to put down, even after several reads. Like those colored-cube puzzles, I find I can’t keep my hands off it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

thursday evening Santa Fe

Hey, my MFA residency is going well-- and sleep calls.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

road trip: from Spokane to Newport, Idaho to Billings, Montana,

In an hour we will be back in the truck... Billings, Montana to Vernal,Utah today.

Friday, July 17, 2009

delayed summer creates new laziness

They read, now. They sleep, too. They quietly hunker in their beds, waiting for the day to call them, but the day is subtle and they are slow to hear.

When my children were infants, I learned the adage, “never wake a sleeping baby.” Never assume a schedule takes precedence over these small bodies, small universes crafting their own timing. Hungry for quiet, myself, I made my own schedule a liquid one. If they were restless, rummaging for things to do, I could find them the right project. If they hadn’t eaten, a snack would appear before they thought about it. If they were quiet—especially if TWO of them were quiet, or napping, I was quiet, too.

Last summer Madeleine and Brendan would wake quietly, early. I’d walk into the living room at 6 a.m. and find children playing with paper dolls or blocks, the floor covered. Brendan, the younger, would say, “hi Mama. What should I do today?” And he’d come ask me the same thing, every ten minutes or so. They would tussle over toys and floor territory by 7 a.m., and that’s how I would wake, to whines or yelling matches or someone claiming the other was unfair, or the Chinese water torture of a boy asking for something to do.

This summer, our schedules shifted to fit nighttime little league games and my children discovered nighttime. As parents, we’ve grown slack in the bedtime department. They stay up late, and they sleep in, for the first time ever, every day. And when they wake, they do not eat or brush teeth or dress or brush hair. They read. Endlessly.

Sometimes these children can be enticed to do chores, fantastical chores like cleaning the grill (blasting the pieces with water from the hose) or mopping the floor (he doesn’t know I HATE mopping the floor and would avoid it far longer than I should). Madeleine helped me cut out fabric for window shades, and iron on the backing. She’s baked twenty loaves of bread this summer, finding just the right recipe after all those rainy June days. I say, “let’s wrap presents for Shauna,” and she rushes to the attic to find the supplies. All the while, piles of stuff mysteriously stack up on the kids’ shelves and desk, and the kids’ floor sprouts piles of papers, art supplies, half-finished projects. “Astounding chores” are completed. Everyday chores are ignored.

For their sake, I worry about energy levels, muscle strength, vitamin D reserves, sugar lows, and the general lack of industry for anything but reading. I worry that perhaps they are not moving because they are dehydrated. I worry because I don’t want to DEMAND that they get out of bed and interact with the world.

On the other hand, dear friends, I am still a grad student and I still have work to do. I am packing for a long journey, and preparing a lecture and a reading. My reading is about 15 pages too long, and “cutting” pages is hell for me. It requires concentration. I’ve collected plenty of material for my lecture, but it’s not yet completely organized. I need to print hundreds of pages of workshop material from other writers, and my tickets and itinerary, (and the TSA laws for carrying knitting needles).

I wonder if I ought to be doing something differently, if there will be a price to pay when we adapt to the school schedule again, if letting them be lazy is negligence on my part. In my small-town youth, I slept and read books. Not much was required of me. My mother was working in the garage, or thinking through her day, or writing a letter. Sometimes I’d wake to find no one at home, a note on the table saying where I could find her. I’d rustle up some breakfast and talk to the cat and open a book.

Soon I will be traveling and my crew of childcare folks will bring in new energy. The kids will throw on bathing suits and go outside and do things. No one will need to tell them to move from bed, so many exciting things to do.

Meanwhile, far be it from me to wake the sleeping babies, who are not really sleeping. I will take each of them a cup of raspberries from the garden, in a few minutes. After I get a little work done.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This is flawed boucle yarn-- I still need to assess the damage, but evidently I spun some of the fiber in the opposite direction, not good. I can repair it, but first I needed to clear all the yarn from my bobbins for the spinning project pictured in the previous post.

Still: isn't the color gorgeous? I can't wait to knit hats from this stuff.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

june june june june

June spells an end to the weekly school routine for children, which spells an end to the wake-up-and-hurry routine of sheep-dogging kids through breakfast. Each morning we three luxuriate while Scott finishes another two or three days of his own school.

And my school deadline-schedule is... OVER. I'm still scratching my head over it: I'm DONE? Okay, I still need to read three books (Uwek Akpan's Say You're One of Them, Shusako Endo's Silence, and Some Fabulous NonFiction Read yet to be named). Okay, I also need to construct a craft lecture for my final residency, and I need to read an essay out-loud in 90 degree heat, in a room full of people I enjoy, and the reading will scare me to death because I will sweat gallons. One of my former classmates grabbed the podium like it was the handlebars of a motorcycle, taking off into the story with everyone in tow, and I hope to do the same, not to melt or weep or become a master thespian. All of these are possible. But whatever happens I will graduate in five weeks or so in the glorious heat of Santa Fe.

So I enter this summer differently: I don't need to fight for time to myself, to get school-work done, for the first time in two years. I WILL need to develop a routine of writing, a daily rhythm. But not yet. For now I am weary far beyond bodily weariness-- I've been pushing so very hard, and worrying so much about the future, about money, housing, and the job I want.

I'm repairing household stuff, cleaning up from this past few years of house-neglect. I'm deeply paying attention to these beautiful children. I love their ages, their sensitivities at this age. I love the summer-break honeymoon, for now, and I expect their happy state to last another week or so. We're putting together menus, shopping lists, lists of chores and repairs and garden work. We're making sure every car has a copy of the tide chart, and a bag of bathing suits, and a frisbee.

Little notes: I took a job spinning yarn, for a few hundred dollars and a few hours of work. I'll post pictures.

My magazine job ended unceremoniously on Monday-- which gives me an opportunity to overhaul my schedule and my messy time involvement on the internet. I hope to write more regularly for my blog (yay!) and to limit my time on Facebook and Ravelry, two wonderful time-wasters.

If I could choose any work for the fall, I'd teach a couple sections of Gordon's Great Conversations, but for now the school is under a hiring freeze. And I'd freelance, and write. And revise mightily, which seems to be the real work ahead of me.

I can't face writing a CV today, the only likely quiet day of my week. I'm trying to think how to encapsulate the past decade on a piece of paper that explains why I'm qualified to teach this course, even though I'm confident that I'm perfect for the job. Meanwhile I'm headed to Newburyport's Loom and Shuttle weaving shop, on the way to pick up my family at Canoby Lake Park.

Talk more soon. Happy June.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My thesis is finished.

The kids' school is finished and they are home for the summer.

I just slept in until eight a.m.

This week is reserved for weeding in the garden, cleaning and repairing, helping kids get into some good habits for this wee "summer vacation honeymoon." I have three more books to read, and I need to remember how to plan a menu for summer. But the lettuces are thriving and the pea vines look promising. I'm hauling a stack of books out of the bedroom and onto the living room shelves.

Soon I need to develop a CV and find work, to pay off this masters degree. My family needs a house. Lots of work ahead.

I'll post some more writing, soon.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

work work scribble scribble

Only 31 pages that look like this, for this revision.

Reminder to self: PAPER copies and COLORED PENCIL. It helps. It's more fun to revise on paper than on the silly old necessary-blessed laptop.

Here's where I am-- turned in a complete rewrite of the Karen stories, two weeks ago, and these 51 pages of stories are the ones in search of a narrator. (If you have a narrator I can borrow, let me know.) For next Monday's deadline, I am revising On a Halcyon Day, 31 pages. After letting this story "rest" for nearly a year, I'm excited to dig into it once again, with a fresh ear. Then I need to revise a story about learning to cook from a theology book, and two other short pieces that make a total of 100 pages.

Sorry about the backwards-photo-- it's my laptop photo-booth and I am zipping along to more work now...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Early May, revising thesis while waiting for the rain

My printer is churning out 51 pages of my thesis, for me to carry and examine and color-code in the revision process—the stories of my year working with Karen, The Not-So-Blind. Next I will assess the other 49 pages of my thesis and see what needs to be done before the next due-date in a week. Then three weeks more of revision brings me to the June due-date and the end of my kids’ school schedule, and I’d better be done with my 100 page creative writing thesis by then.

After the thesis, I develop my “craft lecture” for a presentation in July, and finish up my reading. Five or six more books to read and annotate.

And afterwards I will find a house for us, find a job for me, change my family’s fortune, and read long and irrelevant novels that have NOTHING to do with nonfiction or memoir or magazines or how to write. That’s my dream for now: Dostoyevsky. More David James Duncan and Annie Dillard. I will help my kids make scrapbooks, tend the garden, and be amazing.

In this amazing life to come, post-graduation, I’m trying to figure out what my blog needs to be. I will likely craft some sort of website using my full name, with links to my current publications. It might be awhile before I “write casually” again: "writing seriously" requires more time and effort, and I like the results much more. But I miss the “whipping off a note” experience, and I see that people are faithfully dropping by to check in on me.

I’ve been posting more two-line blips on Facebook and one-line blips on Twitter, to keep from spending a whole morning writing a blog-post. I can’t really say what will happen after my graduation. Much depends on job-finding and freelance opportunity. And housing and kid-schedules.

Weigh in with your ideas, if you wish. My blog has been “my on-going letter to friends and family,” and I’ve written much less to you in the past few months, by necessity. Maybe you should write me a letter back? Or tell me what you miss? And I’ll take that into account as I decide what role my blog plays for me, as a writer.

Now: off to revise.

the revision game

Today’s task: Find the Narrator of Twelve Sections of Karen-Stories

What keeps this story from gelling into ONE story? Excuses:

1. The narrator is fuzzy because I was an innocent bystander and I was dumb, during the action of the story. (Not likely.)

2. Each section of this larger set of pieces has a different narrator, different tone, different tense for writing because I am Just That Many People. It is fragmented because I am fragmented. (Hmmm. Excuse. That's definitely an excuse that lets me off the hook of working at this project.)

3. There is no consistent narrator because I am such a wallflower that I simply disappear into the scenery. (Fun idea. But not reality.)

4. The narrator is all over the place in the 51 pages because I don’t yet know what I need to know. In Vivian Gornick’s terms, I’ve described and developed the situation: I worked with a magnificent and magnificently-broken woman for one year. But I don’t yet know the whole story: what happened, back there? What happened to me? What part of the story is ultimately mine?

Already I’ve learned while writing: she was more savage than she appeared, more self-serving and furious than I could’ve known at the time. This new knowledge doesn’t diminish how generous and warm Karen was, nor her strange ability to be both demanding and endearing, intensely, at the same time. I know the odd circumstances that brought us together, but what really drew us together? What did I need from her that she fulfilled so well?

The blind woman saw me, and took me seriously—I know that. I need to know more. Will I know more before this section of my thesis is due? Probably not. I’m just beginning to understand how long it takes for the writing process to work me over—it really is “the story” working on me, as I allow it. I turn the puzzle pieces over and over, for months, for a year, for more than a year. The story bothers me and nags at me and makes no sense whatsoever. Again.

What a beautiful hassle this is.

Friday, April 03, 2009

april note

Hi friends and readers,

My apologies for being a) absent and b) boring for this past few months. I am just back from a 10-day academic residency on Whidbey Island. I developed a teeth-chattering fever and stuffy head on the plane ride toward Seattle—I can’t recommend “contagious illness” and “commercial airline travel” in the same sentence. So I was intensely sick for the first three days of my travels, and I only really began to recover in the final three or four days. Traveling home wore me out again and I’m just beginning to pull out of all-sleep, all the time.

Where I am in my studies: I’ve chosen a hundred pages of my creative writing for my final thesis, and now I need to revise and edit those pages. While writing new stuff. While finishing my reading requirements. Revision is “the stuff” of writing but I tend to resist revision mightily.

I expected my mentor to kick my butt around, since I’ve been too busy and unfocused this year, with my writing. But he’s very supportive, and tells me the butt-kicking is my job, not his.

Anyway, I will probably be a little scarce for awhile. I will also dive into this blog and hack stuff out, wildly and with abandon, as soon as I get a moment. So read up, now!

If you ask me questions, you know I’ll answer, of course. When I don’t blog, assume I am working.

talk soon,


Friday, March 27, 2009

lost Whidbey Island residency post

The sky rarely “opens up,” here, but this morning the cloud layer lifts a bit so I can see the Olympic Range from my bedroom window. Iron gray, white. Again it will not photograph well against the gray and white cloud. I don’t feel photogenic either.

It’s Tuesday of my fourth residency, the Spring Residency on Whidbey Island, and already we are halfway through. Not quite a week ago I made my way through airport security and fought the urge to buy magazines, then I dissolved into a fevery illness on the plane, shivering and sneezing on my poor, poor neighbors.

Since arriving in The Northwest, it’s been a struggle to sleep off the fever, first, then the after effects of a head cold and profound weariness. Somehow my health does not seem to comprehend that I’m surrounded by the most fascinating people on earth, and I need to spend time with them, converse with them. With my tissues and sneezes and froggy throat, I’m most often sitting in the back, sitting more quietly than I’ve ever been at a residency. I even eat meals quickly if I might find half an hour to lie down, back in my room.

Yesterday was our “free day” to travel the area, and it was the first day I didn’t even attempt to walk to the beach I can see from my window. I chose a couch in the big Victorian living room of my house, and my classmates Alissa and Allison chose their couches, and there we stayed all day, catching up on reading and email and napping by the small fireplace. In a final burst of cabin fever we drove to town for dinner, then met others for the evening’s readings.

For more on last night’s reading by Deb Gwartney, go here:

So I arrive at this morning, feeling better-ish, but wheezy and weary. I look through the schedule to see what I can skip: breakfast in a crowd, that I don’t need. I have half a sandwich in the frig, and coffee. Morning worship, sigh. It’s lovely and informal, but it’s another half hour I could be quiet. Skipping that might leave me with only two hours when I need to concentrate and be in a room with forty people…

Last year I was the first to pull out the Frisbee and force people to play, every free moment. This year I am hunkering in my room, hoping to get back to that beach before the week is out, hoping to go for a long walk—at least one—while I’m here in this beautiful place.

But if not, I have a bedroom with a stunning view of the mountains, some fabulous housemates, and a line-up of great classes yet to come, if I can just pull together enough energy to get out the door.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

bluebird puppets

Ah, the bluebird puppets! These are crafted from flat, hand-built felt (wool and mohair curls).

Talk with me if you'd like to buy some for your honey's Easter basket. $25 plus shipping.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

in like a lion

The wooden-bristled hairbrush in my hand finds a snarl in her long blond hair and my child screams mercilessly, stomping her feet and raising voice to a high-pitched shriek. She falls to the floor dramatically and howls that she needs an ice pack for her wounded head. I tell her to put her boots on, as she is already late and the others are waiting for her in the car. She gets herself up to go look at her head, to make sure she is not bleeding, to check to see if her tears are big enough, and then grabs violin, lunch, books, hat, coat, and bangs her head against the door in frustration—she’s not left even a finger free to grab the doorknob, and again she must rely on me. Throughout, she speaks her protest with increasing volume, she cannot carry all these things and her mother hurt her hair, and she cannot believe she is so wrongly treated. I open the door and stand outside like a doorman, until she is down the first three steps then I go back in the house, close the door, and turn the bolt lock.

I Have. Had. It. It’s not even 8 a.m.

A cold morning. I’ve been left with a list of things to do, problems to solve. There is a parent meeting tonight and I must attend. I HAVE A WRITING DEADLINE and this is my last “full” day to work on it. Fury is not a good way to write, for me—I would fight the fury in order to write.

I stomp my own feet to my closet, where my fiber arts projects are waiting in a tote bag. A week ago I fused loose layers of brightly colored wool into a rectangle of fabric—handmade felt. The colors blobbed instead of blending. I’d hoped to copy my daughter’s bluebird finger puppet, created by her long-ago kindergarten teacher. Last night I found a surprise bag of curly mohair locks, hand-dyed in varying shades of blue— I added a layer of blue curls onto the “failed” fabric, making it more perfect than I could’ve envisioned. But it’s not a bird yet. I grab the fabric bag, pencil, paper and scissors, and the original puppet. I turn on NPR, and sit at the table to trace each of the pieces onto paper. It’s an ingeniously elegant design, not “cute” but quite bird-like. I can copy the shapes without disassembling the bird.

After cutting the pieces, I needle-felt the cut edges of thick felt, so the bird will hold together well. Needle-felting requires rhythmic STABBING deeply into a foam pad—it’s an aggressive craft, perfect for the morning. I place the cut-out pieces into a project bag to take to tonight’s parent meeting, and I walk through the supply shelf to find thread, pins, a needle. I tuck the rest of the fabric away—first, the prototype must be made.

From aggressive crafting, then, to meditative crafting, which would be the spindle. It pulls all things together, truly. I blended a dozen “rolags” of wool last night while waiting for the workman to test for a gas leak in our building. I must’ve been Very Worried because the wool is airy, periwinkle blended with silver gray and a bit of blue mohair. This morning I walk through the living room, twirling the spindle and watching. The spindle crafts yarn more slowly than the wheel, so I can examine the yarn at each spin, to make sure I don’t “overspin,” as I usually do. A fuzzy, barely-spun bulky yarn. I stop with one rolag. That’s enough for now. Perfection is waiting for me, in a wooden bowl on the counter, for a word-break when I need it.

And now I’ve had a typing warm up and it’s time to open those essays again, and work on school work.

Things go well. Making crafts for Easter baskets and gifts: nests with robins’ eggs, and eggs with felt chicks. And maybe bluebird finger puppets, if the pattern seems as easy as it looks. I’ll post a photo, soon.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

brief report, ash wednesday

last night—
the boy finds an old math workbook with some pages unfinished, and he wants to read it. The man sleeps, weary with too many late nights. The girl finished her homework and is weaving on the loom I set up for her, some combination of yarn with bright green and pink bumps that float like confetti above the raspberry and purple. She weaves in the window. He calculates in pencil, on the couch. The sun sets pink over the harbor. Dinner roasts in the oven. I don’t need to tell you how rare the moment is…

While reading James Agee, I scratch some gritty substance on my forehead and find the ashes from the noon church service, appropriate to my reading.

this morning—
My academic/critical thesis became joyful. (Was that a week ago already?) It needs another serious edit (elegant-ish ideas with less-than-elegant construction), but the requirement is fulfilled.

I took Madeleine to New York, a lovely visit for the weekend.

Now: pull together drafts of stories for my creative thesis (100 pages), make notes on yet MORE books (six books left to read in the next month? Or five-and-a-half?) And I need to keep writing! I probably need to apply for that teaching job next fall, but I’m swamped with the present, and torn about what I want my life to look like.

This afternoon and evening will be busier, more normal, dinner thrown together on the fly. Good day yesterday, though, truly. I could use more miraculously quiet evenings—but I won’t count on them. They come when they come.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


... working diligently on my academic thesis. be back soon.

Monday, February 02, 2009

sick house day seven

If I have to be home with a sick boy, again…
… then I will be happy to have a home, so I clean (a bit—let’s not get extreme, here)
… then I will be happy to have a boy I like so much, happy to pour the ginger ale and dole out cough drops, to write down the time he took the medicine, note the next dosage

If I have to be home with a sick boy, at least the boy is feeling better. If I have to be home at least this is the best place for him, and for me. If I have to be tending a needy guy, at least the sun keeps us company, streaming in so warm I need to open the windows on this winter day.

The boy has been sick for a week, and home with me for six days of fever, coughing. Yesterday he sat up without being asked, and walked around, here and there. Last night he slept through the night without needing medicine, without coughing fits, and this morning he woke without a fever—but still very tired. The cough rumbles in his chest.

He sits on the couch sorting baseball cards this morning, after a long absence, and he’s a little miffed that I make him get his own handkerchief, his own cool drink. He asks for a third piece of toast and I fight off a celebratory dance. How long since he asked for food?

And I’m cautiously returning to normal, turning down the level of alarm (he woke at 103 degrees only two days ago, appearing to get worse instead of better). Normal, cooking a normal breakfast instead of catching a bite here and a bite there, between fretting. I think each of us feels like we are coming out of a long dark something, a long worry for me, a long time lying down for him.

My day divides into tasks I can do with a child, and tasks I cannot do with a child. I cannot concentrate to write much—some, and some sorts of writing, but not the real stringing together of thoughts for my academic work. I can take notes, make sketches, read the short stand-alone chapters of MFK Fisher’s Alphabet for Gourmets.

The deadline for the academic paper creeps closer, but it makes no sense to fight what I can do with a child, and what I can’t do with a child. Any attempt to sink into the material will be thwarted, interrupted, and my resentment… well, he is only a sick child, and he doesn’t deserve that.

I can clean out my bag, clear out my head, sort a few papers. Mostly I try to prepare for tomorrow, or for the eventual day the boy will return to school: I pick up and put away and sweep, empty the sink and dishwasher, run a bath for him. I vacuum. I push the laundry through its paces. I set out a fresh set of clothes for him, and another fresh set for me. I water the large planter’s herbs, and the small planter’s green salad sprouts.

The geranium rewards me for my fretting with two bunches of buds and two coral blossoms—I move it to the center of the table.

The child is asking for his fourth slice of toast, which means it’s time to quit even this much typing. He asks if I want to play Red Sox Monopoly—I do not. The tea kettle whistles. Time to go do what I can do. Not Monopoly but maybe a card game. Wait, he’s settling into his baseball card sorting again—maybe I can get a few emails answered, and start noting quotations.

First the toast, and the French press of decaf, and the morning.

Happy Candlemas. Each week we "gain" another quarter hour of daylight, now. And the geranium is starting to bloom. Soon we will be outdoors, walking the beach, making the switch to lighter coats. Soon.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

felt flower tutorial

I constructed a flower-pin tutorial last fall, only to discover that my photos were too low-resolution (I still don't know why...) I love this project and will try it again with a higher resolution!


First: find a sweater to shrink. This one is cashmere, thrift-shop purchase for $1. Cut "rick-rack."
(It doesn't have to be exact.)


See? Imagine a pansy.

Sew a loose running stitch (it's yellow so you can see it better, not because I can't match, silly)

Pull the running stitch tight while rolling up the "rick-rack" you made.

Sew right through the whole "bud," close to the bottom.


Shape it-- coax it into a pansy shape.


Add a few heavy-duty stitches to secure the whole thing together. Then add a bobby pin and a leaf.

And some yellow beads.


More realistic when pinned to a child's hair.


Roses are next:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

red long johns with white snowmen

The boy is lying on the couch in his red long-johns, the ones patterned with jolly snowmen. His temperature finally lowers enough for him to be antsy, goofing off with the thermometer, but still looking very small.

Sunday he carefully packed the giant wheeled duffle full of snow clothes and work clothes. Monday he woke at five a.m. and tried to go back to sleep, too excited. Ready for school early, he spent a quarter of an hour watching the sunrise over the harbor in the big front window, collecting extra hugs. At one point he leapt up to hug me and banged his forehead on my tooth—I took it worse than he did, seeing stars.

Then Brendan was whisked away to meet his third-grade class for five days on an organic farm, nearly four hours drive west from here. Madeleine and Scott dropped him off at school and I settled in to meet a Monday midnight deadline.

Six p.m., Brendan’s teacher called to say Brendan fell asleep at dinner (no surprise) but when he woke it was with tears, saying his head hurt. From my tooth? I wondered. We traded notes on how I treat headaches at home. Madeleine wrote her essay on Gilgamesh at the kitchen table, while I worked on my laptop.

10 a.m Tuesday, Brendan’s teacher phoned to report a fever of 102 degrees, and another kid Will was feeling sick, too. It seems half the class contracted the flu last week. Rebecca, the other adult chaperone, just nursed her own son through this, and offered to sit with Brendan in the living room of the big farm house. He wanted to stay, in case he felt better and could feed animals and go sledding. We all thought Brendan would be more comfortable sleeping off his fever than riding in a car.

1 p.m. Giant snow and ice storm predicted for morning.

3 p.m. Tuesday, the teacher phoned to say Brendan changed his mind and wanted to come home. Will’s family was coming to pick him up, and Brendan could ride with them.

4 p.m. The phone rang again with the report that Brendan’s fever was 103.8, and did I still want him to ride in the car for that many hours? Will’s parents worried Brendan’s fever would spike higher as they traveled, but they were already packed and ready to travel. We arranged a place for me to meet along the highway.

Strange, this feeling: it seems wrong for this boy to suffer a fever so far away from me. Tightness in my neck and shoulders, tightening further. I’d need to start driving by 11 to meet them. I was ready by nine, and pacing.

I’d never seen Brendan suffer a fever like this. He sleeps through fevers, not raging like his sister, who fights fever restlessly. I asked my friend Emily to drive so I could keep him company in the backseat, not wanting him to be alone in case he was shivering or hallucinating. And I fretted. I poured Brendan’s favorite hot tea into a thermos (9 p.m.) and pretzels, chewable medicine, a blanket, then I burrowed into some internet research to escape my furious worry.

11p.m. Forced Emily to speed to the meeting point. Worried us through a highway detour that seemed endless, though it only took a few minutes, the flashing police lights made me even more irritable.

12 midnight, Got the phone call to say Will’s family had pulled into our meeting place. A turnpike toll collector told us how to go into the next town to reverse directions on the turnpike but I insisted Emily U-turn illegally. (She waited until the last possible minute, still weighing options.) No sirens, and hopefully no photos of my friend breaking the law. (She is changing her license plates today, but I don’t think that would ultimately help.) We pulled into the turnpike rest station as Will’s mom pulled the giant duffle out of her trunk, and Brendan looked at me and waved from his backseat window. (He waved!) Emily threw the trunk open and grabbed the luggage while I opened Brendan’s door. He was clutching his teddy bear and fleece sleeping bag and stuffed dog, while he whispered, “Bye, Will. Hope you feel better soon.” We settled him into the back seat. Because he is Brendan the barrage of questions was not slowed by his fever. Why are we riding in Emily’s car? Because I wanted to ride with you in the backseat, so you wouldn’t be alone. Where are daddy and Madeleine? They are sleeping in case they need to go to school tomorrow. I asked if he wanted to drink the chocolate milk he was also clutching and he said no, but it felt good to hold the cool bottle against his forehead.

“And my fever is down to 101!” He talked to me the whole way home, keeping track of the minutes that passed as Emily drove. We saw a car pulled over by the police and I told Emily she could slow down, after all. The tightness released when I saw him, and he was not listless but lucid. We would be okay, and we just needed to get home. I lowered from near-panic to simple, basic worry.

He hoped it would snow all day, he said as he climbed the stairs. But he would be sad not to shovel.

Wednesday, we woke to what would be an all-day snow, beautiful white-out. Brendan made us vow not to shovel anything, and we all agreed. By evening, rain washed most of the snow away. Brendan had a few good hours without fever, but was too tired to go out for hamburgers and fries.

Thursday is sunny with blue skies, and a boy on the couch sniffling and fiddling with the thermometer. He is not well enough to be irritable. I am reading and tidying up around the house, making him drink any liquid I can talk him into. If he must be sick, I’m glad he is here, while he is still so small. How either of us will handle the next fever away from home is anyone’s guess. But I’m glad to be here, today. And glad for him, and the red long johns he will grow out of, any minute now.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Robert Farrar Capon's Supper of the Lamb

NOTE: I'm working with Supper of the Lamb for my academic thesis work-- as well as MFK Fisher.

The world will always be more delicious than useful. p 40

Permit me now to wipe my hands and introduce myself. p 3

Supper of the Lamb is my definition of the “creative” in Creative Nonfiction. It’s not memoir but the writing is personal in tone, and paints the narrator as a character, certainly. The whole book is a stack of riffs and distractions that work beautifully together in a way Capon claims “outwits the Muse.” In other words, he planned this book to be eight chapters of the distractions involved in cooking a leg of lamb for The Great Feast, or the feast at the end of time.

A pair of pale blue pages falls out when I open The Sacred Kitchen Copy of The Supper of the Lamb, a set of notes from a devotional talk 20 years ago. Three sets of notes in three different pens color the battered title page, and a bookmark in a child’s handwriting announces “buy butter for Spritz” at page 264. The original price was $3.95. It looks plain enough for a book. The yellowed book with the food stains does not look ferocious or magnificent, but it is both.

How a book changes a life—how it happens is a mystery and how to put that on paper is even more of a mystery. I’ve written the same story several times over and I never come close to telling the heart of it. A substitute professor showed up when the regular professor canceled, and he crowned the first lecture by reading a passage from The Supper of the Lamb, and tears streamed down his reddened face for joy of what he was reading. The whole course was later described as a wash, a terrible mistake because for heaven’s sake I did not receive the required lectures on the Foundations of Reformational Thought, alas! I’ve asked several classmates who scratch their heads over my description. The professor himself forgets the whole incident. “And I alone lived to tell the tale,” I suppose. The reading exists only in my memory.

But I plowed into the book in 1984 with a pencil in hand and launched from subsistence meals to life as I know it—life as I know it involves cooking and gardening and tangible pursuits of beauty. “One real thing matters more to God than all the diagrams in the world.” p 21 (Or theologies, I might add.) Real Things—God created and loves real things, real scents, real textures, real food, not ideal followers or fantasies. Prior to that reading, the world was a utilitarian place, and afterwards my eyes were opened to the seeds Paradise right here in the created order. In the pages of this book, I learned to make gravy and white sauce by reading the directions every single time I made a new attempt, until flour and butter became easy. I learned about stock, food made from scraps and the basis of all good soups.

At my spring residency, a professor invited each member of our CNF group to bring copies of a favorite passage of writing, to discuss why that piece was powerful. Alissa chose Norman MacLean, Emily chose a piece from Adam’s Task, and Alison chose Maxine Hong. I chose the exact passage from Supper of the Lamb (p 188-90) the professor had chosen so long ago. Doug’s first suggestion: when the writing process bogs down, look to see the balance of Anglo-Saxon words to Latinate words. Before I could spit “Latin?” Doug patiently added, “let’s circle the words directly taken from the liturgy—those are Latinate. Capon uses Latinate to lift and Anglo-Saxon to bring the reader back to earth. It’s a simple linguistic technique and Capon is the master of it.” Though Latin may escape me, we discussed vowel sounds enough for me to understand why some writing “sounds” Midwestern to me, why Capon “sounds” so high-church.

pulls together many of my loves: I adore well-written instruction. (As a knitter, I similarly love Elizabeth Zimmerman, known affectionately as EZ in knitting circles.) I love humorous writing. I love sensual description and dizzying swoons over goodness. I love writing that flirts. And the liturgy—I didn’t know it when I first heard this passage, but the liturgy was already calling me to a form of worship deeper, older, and when I arrived in an Episcopal church five years later, I knew it already as “home.” I heard it with my own ears, calling. In that very passage of Capon, I circle “solace,” “sustenance,” “astonished,” “inconsolable,” followed by “love is strong as death” (Song of Solomon).

Five years ago if you asked me what I learned from Robert Farrar Capon, I’d have said first I learned how to shop for knives. Then I learned to cook. Then I learned to garden. Then I learned the form of worship that is my home. But all along Capon has been teaching me to look carefully at mysteries, beginning by spending an hour with an onion (page 10), moving on to how flour and butter make a roux for sauces and puddings. I learned to look, smell, create textures. I learned that a priest can make a living writing a cooking column for The New York Times, and it’s not a waste of effort that could better be spent in ministry. I learned some good clues to sexuality and those old old roles which were common before Political Correctness tried to erase them. (A woman with cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman….A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. Unexpected majesties await him. p. 61)

Now I will tell you Supper of the Lamb was THE toppling challenge to my lifestyle and my parents,’ which shifted me from life-as-utilitarian to life-as-celebration. I allowed myself to fall in love with the world, something I’d been wanting to do all along. Now I will tell you I learned the basics of paying attention, which is the raw stuff of writing. I learned to love extremes. (Should a true man want to lose weight, let him fast.) I learned writing does not have to be merely one thing (how-to) or another (theology). And I learned a book can change EVERYTHING in less than two hundred pages, if it arrives at the right moment of open-heartedness.

I might learn with some close attention, how Latinate words interplay with Anglo-Saxon, how some sets of sounds call to be read aloud, how a writer weaves majestic and authoritative words with plain talk, humor with high-mindedness, and every kind of riff and scrap a writer can weave into his text. Mostly, with each rereading, while I notice words and phrasing, what I read in Capon is joy. I never tire of him. I tuck back into the book my notes from 1989, which was my third re-reading of the book. What reading am I on, now? Tenth or twentieth, I’m not sure. I know I’ve managed to keep this kitchen copy when my 25th anniversary hard cover and my husband’s copy disappeared. I know the latest edition costs $14.95 and I paid considerably more for the missing anniversary hardcover. Whatever reading this pass represents, it’s not the last, and even if it was, Capon stays with me, always, like the brown stains of butter on yellowed pages.

When I find the way of writing this story that truly captures the transformation instigated by this humble-looking worn paperback, I will let you know.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

sage and black, black and sage

Something about winter makes me crave sameness, some flatness of detail. I have in my possession a pair of sage-colored slacks of a perfect cut, with a little stretch, with a pair of lean cargo pockets placed at an angle so that they actually look good on a woman of my shape. And I have, also, a lean ribbed turtleneck in black. One pair of black merino socks is thicker than the others and I found a pair of black wool Danskos at a local consignment shop, a few months back.

Now I ask you: why should I ever wear anything else?

I switch to pajamas at night, a black velour cardigan and sage velour slacks. I could look just about the same, 24/7!

I actually love clothes—I do! I found four new just-right ribbed turtlenecks in the pre-Christmas sales, because my brown one shows wear and my purple one sports a nasty hole under the arm. Last year no stores stocked ribbed turtles, so this year I purchased every non-pastel color available: bright pink, dark apple green, black (sigh!) and a beautiful charcoal grey. But the grey does not match the sage pants, the favorite pants, THE pants. And I don’t “feel” bright pink. The dark apple green required some convincing, and a floral scarf to make up for the green-ness. Grey, pink and green can be worn with the black slacks, sometimes, or jeans in a pinch. No ribbed turtleneck should be worn with wide-wale corduroy black pants, though I sometimes match them anyway, when I’m going out to sit at the coffee shop and I want a pair of warm slacks AND a warm neck. The closet holds plenty of winter options.

But somehow I only want to wear… my winter mom-uniform, writer’s uniform, student uniform. Sage. Black.

So my New Year’s resolution is an odd one: I will wear different clothes every day. And if I plan to see people at any point of the day, I will apply makeup in the morning, as if those people matter and as if I matter. And if I applied makeup during the day, I will wash my face before bed. In an office or store environment, all of these resolutions would simply be expectations. Here, I could get away with wearing the same thing every day, and perhaps no one would notice, but I might feel apologetic. After awhile one day bleeds into the next in my memory, no day all that different from any other.

Somehow a fresh set of clothes each day equals some sort of dignity. What kind, I do not know. I do know craving sameness of clothes and avoiding face-washing seem to lean toward depression, always a threat in the short days of winter. Perhaps this change-of-clothing thing is some sort of incantation or prayer against darkness. It’s a necessary resolution. I am keeping it.

Guess what? Yesterday I wore the green turtleneck and cords, and the day before I wore the pink turtleneck under a black cardigan, so almost no pink was showing. You know what that means? Today, I slide on the sage pants (cargo pockets!) and black turtleneck with a sigh. With my wool Danskos, my feet rest firmly on the floor and are WARM. Someday I will write a treatise on the benefit of warm feet in winter, a new element of my life in drafty New England.

But for today, I get to wear my sage-and-black uniform happily and with dignity. Even though I am writing, at home, I am ready to see people, should any appear. Already it’s a good, good day.

Today I revisited the pack of Official Documents for my masters program, as a refresher. The 15- to 20-page critical essay that will become my graduate lecture is due in five weeks, which translates to 20 “working” days with kids in school—barring kid-sickness and snow days. While polishing this academic essay I’m supposed to continue with new writing, with seemingly endless reading. Believe it or not, this “twenty pages in twenty days” is good news: I thought I needed drafts of my creative thesis (100 pages), too, but apparently those are due later in the year. I’m double-checking on that fact, later in the day.

My critical essay plays with Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb and MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, to look at how each writer approaches meaning and humanity via food and hospitality. At least, I should say, that’s the plan for now. To “essay” is to try—I will have fun trying.

My next residency is in late March—SEVEN required books to read between now and then, besides more research for my critical essay. Then nine more books in late spring as I pull together 100 pages of creative writing from the past two years.

I graduate August 1, in Santa Fe. Want to come? Let me know and I’ll get you details.

And today I also sat down with a pen and wrote and wrote for hours, filling pages. Still so much to write! I know I've been a sporadic blogger, and I think it's likely to continue this way for a few more months. Thanks for hanging around.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

the Monday when they all go back...

Day Off:

My first job is to unwind myself from the spell of them.

The Monday after Christmas break is so full of possibilities. While Scott and the kids ate breakfast I folded and shelved all the laundry, cleared the dishwasher, put away the cookie press and all the little odds and ends left on the counter. They leave for their work, and I’m left to mine.

The first job of my first job is to restore sensation for myself, in place of intuition for others. Complete collapse is a temptation. To surf the Internet endlessly is another. All of this would be perfectly understandable. How to begin?

1-Deep condition hair with some seriously beautiful stuff. Top with a warm towel and top the towel with a stretchy wool hat.
2-Listen to a friend’s podcast while cleaning the sink and taking ten minutes to scrub that evil burned-on stuff in that stock pot, again.
4-Make The Perfect Breakfast and The Perfect Mug of Coffee.
5-Look at email but don’t take it too seriously.

6-Shower, dress warmly, dry hair lightly (for the smell). Put on makeup for leaving the house, later.
7-Goof around with some writing here, some writing there, try to describe once again the backstory to why I live here. It doesn’t come out this time, either. (It will. I persist.)

8-Pour seltzer water and orange juice. Eat a small apple.

The morning flies by.

9- Start a new book, Walker Percy this time: required and very entertaining.
10-Lunch on a bite of Provolone here, a handful of pecans there.
11-Write a thank you note to my dad and stepmom for the Christmas gifts.
12-Sit in the window and pull in any available light.

The two-o’clock bell rings and it’s time to pick up Madeleine, to check in with the other parents about their Christmas break, to say hi to teachers. Not a productive day, but a good day. The quiet is delicious. And I’ll have more tomorrow. The work is waiting for me and I’ll need to be careful about time: tomorrow. Madeleine and I run a shopping errand after school, then we take our chairs in the window to work on our homework, together.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Snowy houses on the laundry-buffet

You are probably saying, "Wait, is that the $7.99 Trader Joe's Gingerbread House Kit under all that candy and icing?" Yes. $7.99 a year ago, much dust on the boxes, and $20 worth of candy this year, and much extra frosting.

(I have better photos of the houses, but they are buried deep in an argument between my camera and my computer. This photo is from Dyana! Some of the goodies have been eaten-- sorry.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

it turned out to be for me

I'm so pleased with how this scarf turned out! One old skein of lavender chenille yarn and one $3.50 skein of multicolored boucle, with a little glitz. Warm. Nice texture. A wee bit of color.

Weaving makes good use of a specialty yarn and takes much less time and effort than knitting. However I can't carry a loom with me like I can carry knitting needles-- that's the only downside. Kids can weave, too-- this was woven on a Harrisville Easy Weaver for children.