Tuesday, December 12, 2017


And here is the shadowy standing desk in her new home.

I spent some time yesterday copying out Levine poems and beginning to transcribe the poem draft that my friend Nate and I have been working on together. The draft began as an experiment in communal invention, constructed as alternating stanzas. Now we are ready to revise, but we've decided to do it separately. So I had the pleasure of standing at my desk and beginning the task of recopying our initial draft so that I can absorb its sounds into my fingers.

Tomorrow will be kitchen painting, all day long--first the primer coat and then the ceiling and then, I hope, the walls. On Thursday I need to go pick up Paul for Christmas break, and I would really, really like to get the painting done before I drive away. Thus, today is errand-running, and packing, and moving a few this-and-that things, and maybe doing a bit more poem copying. I miss having my desk here in the apartment, but I'm glad to imagine it waiting for me across town.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Even the oldest hands will spend hours worrying about their backs, their flanks, the cars that pass and the cars that don't, the streets they cross, and the houses that they enter. Yet still fail, when the moment is upon them, to recognise the danger that greets them face to face.

--from Smiley's People by John Le Carre

* * *

I think today will be the day that I will cart my standing desk to the new house. In some ways, it's too early to do this, given that we can't move in for a few more weeks. But, as I argue to myself, the more things I can lug piecemeal in my car, the less we have to do on the big moving day. [Also, I just want to write over there. That's the real reason.]

And I'm planning to bring over the smaller houseplants and line them up in the unfinished upstairs bathroom, where they'll be out of the way. [Also, I just want to look at green things in the house. That's the real reason.]

* * *

By the way, I'm aware that I should be writing some sort of essay about all of these accusations of sexual misconduct, the uproar among men of power, the politicizing responses, etcetera, etcetera. But I've got so many conflicting feelings about what's going on right now. I know that some of my automatic reactions hearken back to the evils of "don't make a big deal about it, honey," and "just let it go, honey," and "no one likes a shrew"--those wretched control mechanisms that have kneecapped women for millennia. So I'm going to wait a while and see what begins to sift out among my thoughts and emotions. In the meantime, if you have thoughts, confused or otherwise, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


This is how I celebrated the snowy day: I dug out a few strings of lights and tangled them through the banisters.

And then I lit an inaugural fire in the woodstove. I wish I could manage to take a non-crooked picture of the fireplace, but you get the idea. Lawn chair, wet hats and gloves, small woodpile, and a flame. I haven't lit a wood fire for more than a year, and I was enthralled. In Harmony we often kept the stove going 24 hours a day, so a year without fire was a very strange one.


This is the view from my living room window. As soon as the snow began to fall, the little children who live across the street rushed out to catch snowflakes, and Tom and I rushed out to go for a walk, and the neighborhood cats sat on their windowsills and sulked.

Yesterday we had Christmas lights and a fire in the stove. I was tidying instead of tearing things apart. Tom fetched home the tiling materials, and the kitchen walls are almost ready for sanding. I'm finally beginning to image a habitable house.

I went upstairs and lay down on the bedroom floor so that I could see what the view will be from our bed. It's modest, like everything else about this house: all I could see was the neighbor's peaked roof, a tall bare maple, and a cutout of sky. But modest is okay with me. I've spent a year in an apartment with the most beautiful view in Portland, and have itched and sighed and despaired. Clearly I am not cut out for high-class living. I cannot wait to wake up in my little 1948 working-class cottage.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tonight we will enjoy our first accumulating snowfall of the season. I wish we could celebrate it in the new house, sitting beside the new woodstove, watching the shadows flicker on the new paint, instead of slogging back and forth from house to apartment to house to apartment. But so be it.

Today we will pick up our order of floor tile. We will buy a kitchen stove, a medicine cabinet, and some towel bars. Tom will spread another layer of joint compound on the kitchen walls. I will wash windows and light fixtures and toilets, lug some construction materials down the basement stairs, vacuum up some ugly dirt, and possibly thread a string of Christmas lights through the banisters, just to cheer us up.

A year ago, you may recall, I was dealing with frozen well pipes at the Harmony house, along with myriad other water-related problems. This is better than that.

But I tell you: next year I will have a Christmas tree and decorations. I will bake Emily Dickinson's black cake and make eggnog. I will send cards. Just you wait and see.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Yesterday morning I bought $2,000 worth of kitchen appliances. But of course the store doesn't deliver between Christmas and New Year's, so now we have yet another rock-and-a-hard-place to deal with. We've got to get the floor tiled before the fridge can go in; we've got to move out of the apartment by December 31. Did I mention that I will never, ever, ever again move anywhere at Christmastime? I cannot believe we've done this two years in a row.

In calmer news: I did manage to snag an hour upstairs in my new study. And miracle of miracles, I revised a poem. Gray sunlight filtered through the north-facing windows. I felt as if I were sitting by myself in an artist's studio. The house creaked companionably. When I looked out the window, I saw our two enormous Norway maples, and beyond them the neighbors' back yards, and beyond that a quiet street. I sat in a lawn chair, with a stool beside me as a desk. That was the only furniture in the room. But I had my laptop for writing, and Levine's poems and Mansfield Park for reading. To me, the laptop has always felt like a contemporary version of the Brontes' lap desks, which I have coveted since I was a child--long before the advent of computers. I tuck it under my arm like a book, and then I sit down, and open it, and there I am among my thoughts and papers. It is like using technology to pretend to be a Luddite, but it also feels like a physical link to a particular version of women's lives--those women who, between peeling potatoes and darning socks, managed to pull out their lap desks and find a way to write and write and write.

Today: an oil change for the car, and then back to the house to wash windows and touch up paint. And maybe I'll sit in my lawn chair again, and maybe the words will rise and float again in my little room.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three Thoughts about Loneliness

It is . . . the pardonable vanity of lonely people everywhere to assume that they have no counterparts.

[from The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre]


* * *

Take a look. Clouds, trucks, traffic lights, a diner, work,
a wooden shoe, East Moline, poached eggs, the perfume
of frying bacon, the chaos of language, the spices
of spent breath after eight hours of night work.
Can you hear all I feared and never dared to write?

[from "The Two" by Philip Levine]


* * *

My uncle neatly typed his novel scrap onto pink paper. He folded it, and slid it into an envelope, and mailed it to my father. Undoubtedly, like any writer, he let himself dwell for a moment on the dream we all dream—that he had created something rare and beautiful, that he had left his mark on the art. If I cannot bear the thought of your laughter, that’s because I know that I, too, would have laughed . . . if he had not been my child to protect.

This is the strange point we’ve come to, my uncle and I. My oldest son is nearly the age that my uncle was at his death. I have crossed the years, shifting from infant to mother. But he is still a raw young man, the child of the family, forever earnest and awkward and silly. Forever lost.

[from "Lost Time" by Dawn Potter]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I think--and I hope this isn't magical thinking--that I am done with the upstairs floors. So, for the moment, I have almost nothing to do at the house. I might wash caulk smears off a few windows today, and I might touch up a paint gash in my study. I could shop-vac up a load of ugly dirt. I could investigate the garden to see if any of the remaining kale leaves are worth harvesting.

I am also contemplating the idea of bringing my laptop to the house and trying to write or revise something. I have not yet attempted to put words together in those rooms, and I wonder how the ghost will react when I do. Perhaps all I'll do is copy out another Levine poem, but that would be a good experiment too.

Losing the Harmony house was terrible, not least because it was the place where I made so many books. This doll-house apartment has not been at all conducive to my version of art, and I wonder what I will do if the Alcott House also turns out to be wordless. I don't think it will, but I worry.