Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's raining, which gave me some hope that the horrible house painter would take the opportunity to skip work today. But no. I hear someone outside rattling a ladder, which means another day spent alongside a guy who stares into windows, drops cigarette butts everywhere, splashes paint onto beautiful trees, argues loudly with his boss, and generally behaves like a boor. And you know I say this as the wife of a house carpenter: guys like this painter are bad press for the fine workers who abound.

At least the coffee shop down the street is pleasant enough. Yesterday I sat next to two men talking about rehab followed by a man and a woman discussing fundraising. Yet I also managed to finish a poem draft and copy out several Rukeyser pieces. I wonder how I managed to be so productive.

Oh, speaking of poems: I should tell you that the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance has formally announced my upcoming 10-week poetry master class, which will be held here in Portland on Thursday evenings, starting in mid-September. I'm quite excited about this workshop. It will be a treat to spend so much time with the same group and to watch poems evolve from first drafts to finished pieces. I don't get to do that very often.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Yesterday I finished editing the first of four Juniper Prize manuscripts. I will be editing the other three as well, but they have not yet appeared in my inbox, so theoretically I have today to myself. Yet given the ubiquitous and irritating chain-smoking, mess-making, shouting-arguing-thunking house painters who have been draped outside my windows all week, I'll probably have to wander down the street and find some coffee shop to take me in. As the wife of a house carpenter, I am generally the last person to complain about workmen. But even Tom is rolling his eyes at this crew.

On my way to yoga class last night, I stopped at the library and took out two books: Kenneth Roberts's Arundel (1930) and the complete stories of Jean Rhys (first published between 1927 and 1976). Arundel is a potboiler: a historical novel about pioneer-era Maine that I last read in high school. But when I learned that my dear friend Steve, a birchbark canoe builder and an expert on the Maine wilderness, also fell in love with it as a child, I decided I should read it again. Moreover, most of it is set in my beloved homeland: the forest of the Kennebec River corridor. The plot centers around Benedict Arnold's trek north through the woods into Quebec, in the pre-revolutionary days before he defected to the British. It should be the quintessential I've-got-to-kill-time-in-a-coffee-shop book.

I know less about the Jean Rhys stories, though I've read a couple of her novels before. But Ford Madox Ford loved her work, so that is a good-enough advertisement for me.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We live now on the edge of what's known as the Peninsula; it's that jut of land, just below the bridge, that forms the 4 o'clock section surrounding the circular body of water, shown in the NASA photo below. The circle of water is a tidal estuary known as Back Cove, and Portland's older outlying neighborhoods are built around it.



Our new neighborhood is located at about 10 o'clock on the Back Cove circle, and our house itself is about a half-mile inland.

As you can see from the photograph, it's hard to get away from water in Portland. Everywhere you look you see a tidal river or an arm of the bay. Further inland a myriad of freshwater rivers and streams feeds into the watershed. This is the wateriest place I've ever lived, and I say that as someone who grew up on the Atlantic seaboard. I still can't get over the views that arise at the end of every other street, around every other corner.

This morning the tide is out, and the mudflats are visible around the islands in the bay. At low tide Back Cove becomes nearly empty--an expanse of mud dotted with tidepools. It's unusable for commercial navigation; the only craft I've ever seen on it are kayaks and rowboats. But it is a safe home for waterbirds--egrets and ibis and herons--and I'm looking forward to getting know them on my new walks.

Monday, July 24, 2017

This sky is unmistakable.      Not lurid, not low, not black.
Illuminated and bruise-color, limitless, to the noon
Full of its floods to come.

--from Muriel Rukeyser, "Haying before Storm"

* * *

Two guys are standing outside my window with a ladder that may be long enough to reach the moon. It appears that they are planning to paint the building, not to rescue Rapunzel. They also don't appear to be very happy about having to paint the building, although maybe they would use the word freakin' just as often if they were trying to figure out how to carry Rapunzel down the ladder.

* * *

The forecast today is for rain rain rain. Why are the painters arranging to paint? Clearly they'd like to get out of this job in any way possible.

P.S. The house doesn't even look like it needs to be painted. However, pavers recently paved the driveway when it didn't need to be paved. C'est la vie with this condo association, apparently.

* * *

My own experience with home maintenance is more along the lines of "Quick, do something, before [important structural element] explodes." As you have heard, I am buying a house that is sure to give me many fresh opportunities for panic.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's been a long couple of days: more than 500 miles of solo driving, interspersed with hours of teaching and gig playing, plus driving twice over a bridge that made my hands sweat and my knees shake. But I managed to get to the other side, and today I woke up to cool gusts swirling through the open windows of the doll-house. The heat wave has broken.

* * *

Today: housework, a baseball game, the usual Sunday patterns. Mid-morning we may walk up to the AME church to sit on the curb outside and listen to gospel music. We're not very good churchgoers, but we do like the sounds. By the way, somebody has been driving around this neighborhood in a white van and blasting Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues." That is another sound I like.

* * *

I haven't mentioned politics for a while, which I'm sure you feel is just as well. But really: how stupid can they be? This presidency is turning out to be the plot of an Ian Fleming novel--one of the ones he thought was too obvious for publication and instead used the pages to wrap up old soup bones for the trash.

* * *

Tomorrow I start a new work project: copyediting the winners of the Juniper Prizes. I am looking forward to taking a break from academic editing and immersing myself in these collections. I'll be doing at least one book of poems and one of short stories. Maybe I'll even end up doing all four; that's not clear yet.

* * *

People keep telling me to read the Elena Ferrante novels. What's your opinion on that? I hate to jump on bandwagons, plus the cover art on those paperbacks are terrible, but are the stories themselves actually good?

* * *

Yesterday Tom accidentally bought a four-pound Arctic char when he meant to buy a two-pound one, so the refrigerator is now filled with the meaty remains of a giant baked fish. My plan is to pick the bones and make fried fishcakes for dinner. I am very fond of accidents.

* * *

While I was away teaching and driving, Tom visited a photo gallery, bought some tiny watercolor prints at an open-air sale, listened to records, acquired the aforementioned giant fish, and made a 3-d mockup of his proposed kitchen plans. He seemed very cheerful when I returned.

* * *

I am reading an Iris Murdoch novel I've never seen before: The Flight from the Enchanter, first published in 1956. It is encased in one of those utilitarian library hardcover bindings that were so ubiquitous in my youth: you know, the ones that seem more or less like book linoleum, varying only in color (though gray and green are common), with the titles stamped on the spines in a sturdy white font. I feel quite sentimental when I hold it in my hands.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

This morning I head off to Blue Hill for an essay workshop. It will be a long day in the car--two and a a half hours each way--so I will have to fall back on my Harmony-era driving fortitude. It has been so easy to stop thinking about cars.

The band's Thursday gig in Greenville went well. We had a good crowd, and no thunderstorm, and little boys came up to us afterward and very seriously asked for our autographs.

But the big news is about our house: we finally managed to come to a reduced-sales-price agreement with the sellers. This means we can start planning again instead of holding ourselves in check in case the deal falls through. So Tom is beginning to sort out the permitting issues for the sewer line and the kitchen construction, and I am back to imagining gardens.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last night Tom and I had an entirely delightful anniversary evening. First, we went down to the wharf and ate oysters and clams at a raw bar. Then we walked across town and ate grilled Thai food. Then we ambled home along the warm but densely foggy waterfront. Twenty-six years later, and here we still are, hanging out together on a summer night.

This morning I'll be prepping for tonight's gig and Saturday's workshop. And this afternoon I'll be on the road, so you won't hear from me tomorrow morning. I may, at some point today, get a chance to rework a poem draft that I'm kind of excited about. A friend who read it yesterday gave me an excellent idea for a revision strategy, which I'm anxious to put into practice.

We've still got no agreement on the house negotiations. I hope this uncertainty is over soon.