Saturday, January 20, 2018

Well, I'm back at Alcott House, all ready to spend my weekend painting a bathroom door and reading drafts of essays. For the moment, however, I'm sitting in a darkened living room, listening to the clock tick on the mantle and a breeze clack at the loose siding. The cat is staring at squirrels. Tom is sleeping. The government is shut down. I've been fighting a headache for a few days, and I wish I were a little thinner. Thus the first weeks of 2018, with their pettiness and their politics, wind to a close.

But the days are lengthening. I haven't yet heard the chickadee's spring song, but soon, soon. In the woods, nesting owls are dive-bombing unwary cross-country skiiers. Icicles drip from eaves, and dogs roll on sodden patches of bare yard. The washers of kitchen floors growl at the wearers of work boots.

I wonder what spring will be like here. I wonder about my garlic, and those tulip bulbs I planted last fall. I wonder how I should lay out the new beds in the front garden. It is odd to know so little about my land.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I am floating on a small cloud of good fortune . . . nothing major, no big prizes or grants or anything like that. But little things have been falling into place. A question about Frost Place staffing has been settled. I had a lovely coffee visit with my new teaching-artist colleague. I learned that my 10-week essay workshop is filling up, which makes me so happy. I received a class list for my 12-week high school poetry residency and am already charmed by the students, just from their classroom teacher's description of them. My mother-in-law called and sweetly begged me not to drive in the snow. Four people have come to see me at my new house within the past week. The lamplight in the bedroom looks beautiful against the polished floor. Like I said, little things.

Soon I'll be teaching twice a week: high schoolers and adults, poetry and essays. I'll be editing a book of short stories for a university press. I'll be prepping for the Frost Place. All of this makes me feel like an actual working writer. Of course I've spent my adult life as a working writer, but so much of my work was solitary. Being in Portland requires taking off the mask.

In the interstices of this work I'll be cooking meals, and beginning to imagine my garden, and learning to be alive in this new space. My friend, yesterday, walked through the house and mused about a sweetness that seems to rise from it. She's right: there is a sweetness. This is a good place, and I feel an odd sense of mutual gratitude, as if the house is as relieved as I am.

Tomorrow morning, when I climb into my car hours before dawn in order to drive to my early-morning gig, I'll try to hang on to this sense of optimism.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Yesterday's teacher meeting was an utter joy: I am so excited about this poetry residency I'll be co-facilitating this spring. My fellow teaching artist is a delight, the classroom teacher is a delight, and I already know several of the kids from last year's residency. Plus, this year I can walk to work among budding trees and riotous tulips.

For the moment, however, winter is still clutching at us, so today I'll be prepping for my Smith class and hoping that tomorrow's weather report is fake news. I really hate driving in snow. If things look truly terrible, I'll go down early, early on Thursday morning instead--another version of unpleasantness but perhaps a safer one. Anyway, we'll see what transpires.

In the meantime, I need to find something to read. I finished the Ishiguro novel, I'm bored of the New Yorker, and my house is full of boxes of books with no shelves to put them on. I'm loath to do too much unpacking at this point, but I might burrow into one or two and see what I find. Or I might just go to the library and see what accidental volume decides to fall into my hands.


Monday, January 15, 2018


Yes, that is a faucet you see there. Moreover, Tom has hooked it up to both hot and cold water, plus a drain. Though the dishwasher still sits in its box in the living room, we now have basic running water in the kitchen, after two and a half weeks spent ferrying fresh water and waste water back and forth from the bathroom. Plumbing in the kitchen! It's such a luxurious feeling.

Every little thing is going to feel like a miracle. I mean, someday we might even get countertops! And cupboard doors! [Please note: There is zero irony in this post.]

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I spent some time yesterday afternoon (after mopping many, many floors) listening to Rachmaninoff piano concertos, eating bananas, and looking through Uncommon Places, a collection of Stephen Shore's photographs from the 1970s. Today I plan to listen to Parliament, eat Cara Cara oranges, and look through a collection of John Singer Sargent's paintings. In a house with so many art books and LPs lying around shelfless and un-alphabetized, the opportunities are rife for peculiar pairings. Just add fruit, and you've got an event.

This will be a busy week: a teacher meeting tomorrow, and then on Wednesday I leave for a teaching gig in Massachusetts. In between: editing and classroom prep and editing and editing and editing and dealing with whatever house eventuality arises. But I've written two new poems since Christmas--two new poems I like--and I am reading steadily. Creatively I'm feeling a bit like a middle-of-the-road phoenix, somewhat dishevelled and ratty around the tailfeathers, bleary and sneezing among the ashes, and dealing with an awkward stiffness in my wings--but rising, rising nonetheless, in my own awkward way.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Well, there is water in the basement, but it's not coming in from where Tom expected it would, so is that a good thing or a bad thing? Anyway, I'm not going down to look at it till he gets up. Then we can do all of our fretting at one time.

Yesterday's plan for pleasure and accomplishment was a great success, as I wrote a poem draft, read some books, and made a beef stew, boiled potatoes, and salad greens with garlic-anchovy dressing, followed by poached pears with ginger whipped cream. All this with no running water in the kitchen!

But Tom is growing weary of the no-water situation (that is, in the kitchen, as opposed to plenty of water in the basement), so he says he's going to rig up a faucet and a drain this weekend. That will be an exciting development. We also have towel bars in the bathroom. Things are really getting civilized around here.

* * *

Advice to young lovers: Your happiness will increase if one of you is handy.

Friday, January 12, 2018

In preparation for today's forthcoming torrential rains, Tom brought home a portable sump pump, so now I am on basement drain patrol. The plumber (long, long ago, when he once visited our home and pretended he'd be back soon) mentioned that he thought our drainage system is clogged; but given that he hasn't reamed it out for us, let alone done anything else, I'm glad Tom's figured out a backup solution for potential flooding. I'm also hoping I won't be regaling you with stories of water, hoses, and mayhem tomorrow.

For the moment, however, things are peaceable around here. The laundry is churning, and the cat is sleeping, and the tea is hot. The furnace is working beautifully, and ice has stopped falling off the roof. The breakfast dishes are clean, and the dining room is tidy, and the woodbox is full, and the couch pillows are plump, and the floors are swept, and I am standing at my desk in front of my two windows looking out into the gray day. I have a chapter to finish editing this morning, and then I'm going to turn my thoughts to poems. And after a while, after the rains begin, I'll go downstairs and light a fire in the stove, and I'll read an Ishiguro novel and make poached pears and beef stew. I plan to find comfort and joy in this wet day.

And on that note, I turn to the subject of our so-called president, poster boy for Shame and Disgrace. As I prepare my thoughts for the residency I'll be co-teaching this spring, a class devoted to the creative lives of young immigrants, some of whom were born in the nations you libeled as shitholes, I think of their bright smiles, their laughter, their powerful words and open hearts, and I think of you, miserable and unloved, surround by sycophants and self-promoters who use and manipulate you because you are a narcissistic dolt who doesn't know what it feels like to actually have true friends or colleagues. That someone so ignorant should dare to deride the value of these brilliant, hopeful young people. . . . Well, all I can say is, whatever punishment may befall you, in this world or another, you richly deserve it.