Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finally I have given up on my terrible faux-sleep and gotten out of bed. All night long it rained and snowed and sleeted and sleeted and rained and snowed, and now under lamplight a dense crust glints from the car, the driveway, the fence rails, the tarps weighted with old shingles, the garden hose we used to flush the well. In two weeks I will not be the person shoveling the stoop. Today I still am.

On Friday, my band Doughty Hill will be performing at the Rack on Sugarloaf Mountain in Kingfield, 9-12:30 p.m. I'll get home from that gig at just about the same time I got up this morning. It will be very confusing. But even without that monkey wrench, my sleep cycle is consistently strange. One night I sleep like the hibernating dead. The next night I wake for good at 2 a.m. The next night I dream and dream and dream. The next night I can't get to sleep till 2 a.m. The next night I'm too hot and keeping waking up and drowsing off, waking up and drowsing off. The next night the cat pushes a glass of water into the bed. The next night I sleep like the hibernating dead. Etcetera. You can't exactly call me an insomniac. It's more like being an improv sleeper who's lost control of her sketch.

Maybe, when I live in the city, I will get up in the black hours and look out at the streetlamps and the sea fog and watch headlights track patterns across the walls. Maybe I will listen to the garbage trucks bang before dawn. Maybe it will be comforting to realize that I am not awake alone.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yesterday, three interesting things happened. First, I got an email from the director of the Smith College Poetry Center inviting me back to the college to lead a January term session about teaching poetry in K-12 settings. It was good news to learn that the faculty liked what I did with that class last year.

Then a reporter from the Bangor Daily News called. She was working on a long story about Maine's dwindling rural towns and wanted to know if she could (1) quote my TLS article [how did she find it?] and (2) coax me into writing a contributor's response to hers. I read her article this morning, and it's really beautiful. I was thrilled to discover that a young reporter is writing so sensitively about this situation.

Finally, as I was sweeping floors, I listened to an interview with Bruce Springsteen, which Tom had listened to on Saturday and then told me I had to hear. He was right: I'm not sure when I've last heard such a dazzling interview. My urge to write a fan letter is strong.

Today the weather is supposed to be a sloppy mess, but I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to sit in a yellow chair and read a manuscript. I'm going to keep flushing chlorine out of my pipes. I'm going to imagine what I might write next.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Only one more lonely Monday to go. This time next week, I'll be on the downward slide to gone. Already the kitchen cupboards are nearly bare: three drinking glasses, three coffee cups, three plates linger behind the blank glass doors. Shelves are empty. Bedrooms are stacked with boxes. Outside, piles of roofing trash wait for a dumpster. I feel as if someone else, someone not at all like me, inhabits this skeleton dwelling. Someone like me would never walk so calmly past a pile of trash in her yard.

Today's tedious project is to finish flushing the chlorine out of the water system. The cold water is in good shape, but the hot water still smells like a swimming pool. As I run water recklessly from the taps, I'll also be starting a manuscript-consultation project, and considering the embryonic angles of another political essay, and stuffing things into boxes, and copying out a few Clifton poems, and filling out change-of-address forms, and comforting a clingy cat, and imagining making dinner for Tom every single night of the week. That will be a pleasure for us both.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

We're home, and steeling ourselves for a day spent digging in the cold rain.

Last night I had a long and convoluted dream about going through closets and trunks to find a prom gown to wear, but all of the ones I'd packed away were marred with spots and drips, as if I'd been cooking Christmas dinner while wearing them. Interestingly, however, they all fit perfectly, even though I did appear to be 50 years old and dateless.

It was a better dream than the one the night before, when I was trying to rescue Ruckus and Tom, who had both fallen into the well.


Friday, November 25, 2016

A dim morning. Everyone else in the house is still asleep. A pair of cardinals flutters at the wet feeder. A fat gray squirrel burrows into a heap of millet. Across the way, Robert Francis's little cottage is dark, though a white car sits in his driveway. The wraith of Emily Dickinson flits in the fog.

I am making coffee and a composing a hire-me letter to a writing center in Portland. As of today, I am still getting responses to the TLS essay, and now I am wondering if I need to compose a follow-up piece . . . perhaps a personal reaction to my worries about the ways in which political hatreds dilute our humanity and our liberal ideals.

We'll see. First, I have to take my son shopping for dorm food. Then tomorrow I have to go home and chlorinate my well. Will the house-selling tortures never end?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I feel thankful for many things, not least you.

Thank you for your thoughts, your questions, your disagreements; for your patience, your comedy, and your outrage.

Thank you for caring about words and not-words.

All hope is not lost when you are the angels.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This afternoon I will drive to Portland to pick up Tom, and then we will keep heading south to Massachusetts and his parents' house. This will be our first holiday without our older son, who will be staying in Chicago with his girlfriend. But the college boy will be with us, and one son is way better than no sons at all.

The college boy is a vegetarian, and I am responsible for his Thanksgiving main dish. So he and I decided on this recipe from a recent New York Times feature on vegetarian holiday dishes: Savory Bread Pudding with Kale and Mushrooms. Yesterday I precooked the kale and the mushrooms, grated the cheeses, and cut the bread into cubes; and tomorrow I will quickly assemble and bake it without (I hope) interfering too much with my mother-in-law's cooking schedule.

Last year Tom and I hosted a giant family Thanksgiving here in Harmony. We ate in Tom's shop at a long improvised table. There were candles and Christmas lights and kids playing whiffleball in the yard. But never again. Yesterday I threw my dahlia bulbs onto the compost pile. I took down my birdfeeder and added it to the storage pile. No more morning birdfeeder musing on this blog. No more hanging laundry in a spring wind. And now Tom is trying to sell the lawnmower. Everything I do is vanishing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

More snow last night, and the cat is disgusted. But at least he gets to go outside and make his own decisions about it. The poor boy doesn't know that he's about to become an indoor city cat, in a tiny apartment; that his only opportunities to play outside will involve an embarrassing harness and leash. Still, as a cat raised by a poodle, he may grudgingly come around. She spent the last years of her life training him to enjoy family walks and other un-cat-like sociable activities. For a cat, he's pretty gregarious, so it may be just me who's embarrassed by the leash. I never thought I'd turn into one of those eccentric ladies who ambles around town with her cat. It's hard to predict what the fates have in store for us.

It also never occurred to me that, at the age of 52, I'd be reliving the housing choices of my youth. But paring down for the apartment is turning out to be a fun his-n-her activity, in a hectic, foolish, snap-decision kind of way. ["Hey, we don't have a dishwasher, so let's only pack the plates that are too delicate to put into a dishwasher!" "Hey, we could store kitchen equipment in your stereo cabinet!" "Hey, I'm going to make the cat a giant box castle out of all of these packing materials!"]

Of course, the housing choices of my youth did not involve a 180-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, so there is that difference.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Snow before daylight. Tom's tire tracks in the wet dark. In unlit rooms, the silhouettes of boxes, tall and squat, loom like small cities.

Yesterday Tom measured all of our furniture. This evening, in Portland, he will measure the apartment, and then he will draw a blueprint of the rooms, cut out scale-sized furniture, and play-furnish the apartment. Everywhere we've moved, he's drawn a picture. I find this pattern lovable. But I am the kind of person who never measures anything.

Over the phone yesterday, my older son mentioned my TLS article. His voice sounded skeptical, so at first I thought he was suggesting that I'd misrepresented something. He lives in Chicago with his girlfriend, who is a black woman. They have a different demographic on their minds now, and different fears.  But no; he didn't think I'd misrepresented anything. What I'd written was so obvious, he said to me. Do people really need to be told this stuff?

Snow before daylight. I am reading Updike's Rabbit Is Rich and copying out the poems of Lucille Clifton. They make an odd yet tonic pairing.

Thanksgiving is on the horizon. I still don't know where I'll be for Christmas. I can't buy any presents yet because I don't know where to ship them or store them. I dreamed last night that the apartment stairs were filled with Great Danes and greyhounds, hulking and silent under the overhead bulb.
What has he done, he wonders, as he waits to receive the serve, with this life of his more than half over? He was a good boy to his mother and then a good boy to the crowds at basketball games, a good boy to Tothero his old coach, who saw in Rabbit something special. And Ruth saw in him something special too, though she saw it winking out. 
--from John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
**
have we not been good children
did we not inherit the earth

but you must know all about this
from your own shivering life 
--from Lucille Clifton, "1994"

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The irony behind this week's blare, of course, is the fact that I'm moving out of Harmony in less than a month. Though the timing is so completely accidental, I can't help but feel as if the election and my response to it have contrived to become the inevitable finale to a meandering two-decade-long opera. My house is littered with boxes. My books are going into storage. My clotheslines sag. My garden is fading into grass. Slowly I am saying good-bye to the small residues of my sons' presence: the swing with a name painted on it, the hammered-together forts. In the meantime, I am shouting a loud aria in the Times Literary Supplement.

Tom said to me last night, "But you must be happy that people are responding, that what you said matters to so many of them." Yes, of course. That's a shocking and enormously gratifying result. God knows, I'm not used to having a readership of such size. At the same time I did not quite imagine the depths of the chasm. I had gotten myself accustomed to provinciality, which is narrow-minded, yes, but also a comfort of workaday details and loneliness and individual interactions. The fact is that people hate each other. And some of that hate comes from progressives. This is a hard pill to swallow.

A few of you have wondered if the TLS article might have any good effect on publishers' interest in Chestnut Ridge, my poetry ms about Appalachian Pennsylvania. I suppose it's possible, though I'm inclined to assume that it won't. Interestingly, my article has gotten almost no response from my poet-colleagues. My guess is that many of them didn't get past the title.

I spent yesterday choosing which books to leave out of storage. Since I'll be living down the road from the public library, this was an easier job than it might otherwise have been. So far, this is what's on my list:
the complete William Shakespeare
the collected short poems of Hayden Carruth
the complete Robert Frost
the complete Lucille Clifton
Updike's four Rabbit novels
Grimms' fairy tales
The Chicago Manual of Style
Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
I'm not done yet. Clearly I need more women, more people of color. Something about this list feels so characteristic of me, in a way that does not make me either proud or content. Yet here it is. And here am I. And here is Harmony  . . . which just showed up in the form of a large man in an orange hat and a big white pickup. Yes, at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, Harmony people do appear unannounced in a driveway to say, "I hear you got a old riding mower you're giving away for scrap." Why, yes. We do.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I've spent three days now responding to readers' many, many reactions to my TLS essay. On the one hand, I'm glad to know that the essay has gotten people to talk to each other and to share their own stories and struggles. On the other hand, I feel a certain despair, which I can't quite put into words. I know, now, that some progressives see me as an apologist or a sell-out. I know many people are judging my essay on the title alone (which, as I noted in yesterday's post, was not even my choice). I'm trying to stay patient and civil and honest. I'm trying to respond to all skeptics and to acknowledge my own weaknesses. But I'm weary. Doing this work makes me very, very uncomfortable. It also makes me feel pretty lonely. In the blare of a progressive Facebook feed, there aren't many other posts like mine. Lots of people want me to sign petitions against Trump's cabinet appointees and the electoral college. Lots of people share links about the Trump University lawsuit, Clinton's popular victory, and dire incidents of racism and xenophobia. All of this is vital and horrifying information. It is also repetitive information, cycled again and again among the same group of people.

Some of us are writers, and some of us are not. But if you are a writer, I urge you to consider how your specific situation and history might expand this conversation, open up these repetitions, clarify the complications. I know that individual perspectives are being lost and overlooked. I fear for those lost voices.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Times Literary Supplement published my essay yesterday, and immediately I was inundated with Facebook responses. Many were positive; many were not. I fielded dismay from straight-line progressives who were completely unable to fathom why anyone would vote against their own self-interests. I received responses from people who believed that any defense of my neighbors' humanity was perforce a defense of bigotry and racism. I heard from people who saw examination of my community's flaws as arrogant. I dealt with people who told me these problems were all my fault because I'd voted for Trump . . . as if I would have ever done such a thing! I actually heard from one person who said that he didn't believe this voting demographic even existed.

There was more nuanced commentary, of course. And there were plenty of respondents who were either dealing with similar complications in their own lives or were open to recognizing that they exist.

I tried to write back to everyone who had questions or shared disbelief or skepticism. I put out a lot of fires, but a couple of them continue to smolder. I found it particularly difficult to engage productively in conversations about bigotry and racism, in large part because their victims have every reason in the world to see those problems as clear divisions between right and wrong. A discussion about ambiguity doesn't protect their loved ones from getting killed.

I think it's important to note that I did not choose the title of the essay. In fact, I did not know that the TLS had called it "The Humanity of Trump Voters" until I saw it in print. Immediately I knew how angry that would make some people, and I wonder if the editors deliberately chose to invoke that discomfort. On the other hand, they may not have realized exactly how many American progressives do not want to consider the humanity of Trump voters.

When I sent the TLS link to my 19-year-old son, his response was "Strikes at the heart of liberal elitism." His wording made me laugh. Like so many young people, he loves an Excalibur solution. Also, he is a liberal elite. What makes him different is that he was born and raised in Harmony, Maine. According to 2000 and 2010 census data, 939 people live here. The median age is 49. The average household income is $29,500, and 20 percent of families live below the poverty line. The racial makeup is 98 percent white. Among residents older than age 25, 3 percent have a four-year college degree. In the 2016 election, 65 percent voted for Trump, 33 percent for Clinton. Despite disbelief, this demographic does exist.

I stand by what I said in my essay: a significant portion of "our fractured American electorate resides in the places that educated Americans are least likely to visit."
The fact is that generations of people live in those shabby towns you drive through on your way to somewhere better. And Donald Trump’s victory means that you might need to learn who these human beings are.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Update: So, the TLS article is now online.
It seems that my unfashionable subject matter has suddenly become topical. I am amazed to tell you that the Times Literary Supplement is planning to publish the essay I wrote last week about the rural white working class. Who knew that this would be part of the fallout of a Trump presidency? Pardon me while I grind my teeth into powder.

Yesterday I was feeling overwhelmed by a sense of paranoia about what, apparently, I am destined to do these days: that is, talk to people who don't want to talk to each other. Such conversations are anguish--full of missteps and errors, wormholes into rude or flippant or furious reactions. Still, as a naturally clumsy person, I'm used to falling into tar pits. If you're the kind of person who enjoys superstition, you could blame it on the fact that I'm a Libra and thus cannot stop second-guessing everything. Those goddamn scales get me into a lot of trouble.

I've never felt afraid up here before. I've felt like a weirdo every day, but I've always had the sense that people forgave me for my peccadilloes--all of those books everywhere, no TV in the living room, awkward small-talk during Little League games, plus she gives our kids hot cocoa that doesn't come out of those little Swiss Miss packets. The day after Trump was elected, Tracy at the garage gently washed my car windows without being asked. I took it as a kindness, maybe even as a conciliatory gesture. Probably I was wrong.

Mary, who runs the transfer station, told Tom how sorry she was that we were moving. "We will all miss you," she said. But she said that before the election. Now, who knows?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reading Geoffrey Hill's "Respublica"

In light of recent events and our collective state of mind, I thought it might be appropriate, and perhaps necessary, to consider the ambiguities of Geoffrey Hill's short poem "Respublica." The poem is available online here, so even if you have not otherwise been involved in our group Hill-reading project, you have the option of stepping into this conversation--publicly here, privately with me, or inside your own head.

"Respublica" reminds me that radicals and reactionaries often borrow parallel metaphors of revolution and righteousness. If you want another big "r" word, you can throw romance into that list as well. I find this co-optation both painful and maddening. I also find it difficult to parse the narrator's opinion about such blurred borrowings, which makes the poem both more interesting and more disturbing. Thus, I think the poem does offer a opening into a conversation about the vagaries of overthrow: into what Hill calls "the strident high civic / trumpeting of misrule." I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I am relieved to tell you that Tom and I have finally found a place to live in Portland. I am amazed to tell you that this is the view from the front window:


Thanks to a gallery connection of Tom's, we lucked into an affordable second-floor apartment on the Eastern Promenade. The apartment has one gorgeous room, a couple of perfectly fine rooms, and a terrible tiny kitchen. But it has space for a version of our stuff, and space for a few visitors, and space for Ruckus, and once I spent a year cooking in a kitchen that didn't even have a sink so this kitchen is 100 percent better than that one.

Amusingly, the most beautiful room in the apartment is our bedroom. It has a fireplace, and a view of the sea, and a deck with room for chairs and flowers, and a window seat. I said to Tom that we will have to be like Colette and entertain in our boudoir. It would not be fair to keep visitors out of that room.

I know we can't limit ourselves to three rooms forever, but already the prospect of living in a place this beautiful makes us feel as if we're going on vacation for a year. I suppose after twenty years in the ugly town it's okay to take a break and pretend that we're the kind of people who are accustomed to living in Victorian houses by the sea. My north-country Puritan conscience thinks otherwise, but I'm working to squelch him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tom and I drove down to Portland yesterday to look at two apartments. Harmony was quiet when we left. A couple of trucks were parked at the C & R store. The gas station was closed. The town had fallen into its usual Sunday torpor. There was nothing alarming, nothing different.

About 50 miles south of Harmony, just beyond Augusta, we stopped at a rest area to buy coffee. As we languished in the interminable Starbucks line, I eyed the various comers-and-goers milling toward the bathroom doors, the Burger King, and the convenience mart. I wondered to myself, How many of you voted for Trump? I saw groups of guys in deer-season garb. I saw groups of heavily made-up middle-aged women in yoga pants and leather jackets. I saw families in Christian-splinter-sect kerchiefs and long homemade skirts. I saw twenty-year-old girls with acne and fake eyelashes. I saw fathers in camouflage-print Crocs. I saw doting mothers with adorable babies. The answer was obvious as soon as I asked myself the question: Most of these people voted for Trump.

There was also one black man with dreadlocks sitting alone at a plastic table.

I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, at this precise moment, if a stranger in this cavernous room needed me?

In Portland, though, the atmosphere was entirely different. The first neighborhood we visited, the West End, was a sort of miniature bustling version of Park Slope, Brooklyn: women walking Airedales, small boys bouncing basketballs with their hipster dads, headphoned college girls swathed in bright neck scarves. Almost everyone was white, but all exuded an aroma of "we are nice liberal well-educated white people doing self-absorbed things on a sunny Sunday afternoon."

The second neighborhood we visited, the Eastern Promenade, was hushed, in the way large houses beside a beautiful city park often seem to be. The atmosphere was ponderous and patient. Henry James might have been writing a novel inside one of those houses. There were people in the park, walking beside the sea, lying on benches beside their greyhounds, but they were more separated from one another, more private. The watching houses, the expanse of grass, the lapping bay seemed to muffle human sound, to reconfigure space.

I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, if I allowed myself to live in a place like this? Would I become a better friend to humanity or a lazier, more self-satisfied one?

Already it is clear that the Trump presidency will be the worst in American history. The decisions of my private life feel fraught with portents.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

This morning Tom and I are driving down to Portland to begin looking at apartment rentals. So far we have lost a bidding war on two houses, and very few new homes have come on the market during the past week. We need to be out of the Harmony house by the end of December, which gives us almost no time to go through all of the inspection and closing rigmaroles of a Portland purchase, should we even be able to make one.

So renting has become our option, but magically a couple of available and even affordable apartments have materialized, thanks to one of Tom's gallery connections. On paper they seem almost too nice for the likes of us, and I expect something will go wrong, because that has been the pattern of the whole ordeal. Still, the skies are clear and the winds are calm and I'm a little bit less sick than I was yesterday, so who knows? Maybe we'll sign a lease.

I imagine myself walking around Portland in my Carhartt firewood-hauling coat and red wool work hat, both of them still stuck all over with bits of bark and lichen, as the popular young men with their shovel-shaped beards head off to their day jobs at the mead brewery. When I moved up to Harmony, I immediately started dressing more glamorously in public--tights and heels and cute short skirts and big shiny earrings--as a way to cope with the grimness of my surroundings. It's conceivable that I'll find myself doing exactly the opposite in Portland. Or maybe I'll just relax and be normal. That could be interesting too.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Conversation: A Celebration

Last night I received a remarkable email, forwarded by the editor of Vox Populi, the online journal that reprinted my little essay "Letter from a Red County," first posted here a few days before the election.

The email was from a psychology professor at a Pittsburgh university, who, like many teachers around the nation, spent most of this past Thursday talking about the election results with his students. "To prime the pump," he began by sharing with his classes two Vox Populi essays about contrasting ways in which progressive voters have tried to deal with their relationships with Trump-voting friends. One of those essays was about locking horns with an old college friend over the issue. The other essay was mine. The professor wrote, "Almost half my students reported that they had lost Facebook 'friends' as a result of the election, and several reported acute conflicts with family members and real friends." The essays, he believed, helped them begin to "[talk] about how they had negotiated these conflicts, what feelings they were left with, etc." The kicker is that the email was addressed not to the editor or to either of the essayists but to all of the colleagues in his department, with the suggestion that they, too, considering reading them and using them as the basis of classroom discussion.

Freedom of speech. The power of conversation. A terrible head cold. The sweetness of Tracy at the town garage, who washed my filthy car windows without being asked. The sweetness of my friend Sue who wrote to thank me for being brave when I thought I was just being careful. The sweetness of my husband, who slept on the couch so I could hog the bed and cough all night. The sweetness of a famous poet who told an editor at a London journal that I am "a wonderful American writer and poet" and encouraged him to publish my writings about the election aftermath. The sweetness of being an American. This is our country, goddammit. Let's keep singing.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Good Morning, RĂ©sistance

This has been a terrible week politically, and it hasn't been that great domestically either. Tom and I lost a second house-bidding war, and I've been sick for days with a massive head cold. Nonetheless, yesterday had its bright spots. Mid-afternoon, my son called home from college to tell me that he's been obsessively reading Emily Dickinson poems and that they've really been helping him cope. So score one for poetry, and for the brilliance of Dickinson's mind, and for a young man who turns to female intelligence for aid in a crisis.

The other bright spot was a small Facebook interaction with some of my Harmony neighbors. It began with this post of mine:
It's been so painful to watch our young people weep. Yet I'm proud to know they feel such passion, that they carry their ideals with honor. Their hearts are the future of our nation.
In response, two townspeople left edgy anti-liberal responses--nothing overtly cruel, but certainly both were defensive, dismissive, and politically partisan. It took me all day to decide how I would respond to their comments, and finally this is what I came up with:
My post didn't mention party affiliation or whom I voted for. That's not my primary concern here. What I see at this moment is great pain among the young people I've watched grow up and come to know as a teacher and an advocate. I know you both love your kids, and that you know what it feels like to see them suffer. That's what I'm looking at now. We live in the same town. We've shared a lot of joys and pains together. You know how Harmony people hold our children in our hearts . . . all of them--no matter what their political leanings might be. Love to all of you and yours.
Quickly, both of them responded: "And to yours." "And love to your family."

Then one wrote a longer response:
To me this is a learning thing and how you handled it. Maybe a way to help them is to explain election come and go. Sometimes your person win sometimes they don't . That is why it is important to vote. There is never a reason for violence and hate speech. And that this great Country build on all kinds of people and all the citizens over eighteen should vote how they like.
Okay, I know that this exchange will fix none of the horrors of a Trump presidency. But I did feel as if I had managed to respond to my neighbors in a way that allowed them to look past their partisanship and speak to me, a well-known local liberal "elite," in a humane and affectionate way . . . and even to acknowledge that they could learn new ways of engagement.

So now, through the malaise of my head cold, I say, "Good morning, RĂ©sistance! What's your super-power today?" Yesterday I won a social media face-off. Who knows? Maybe today I'll even figure out how to buy a house.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Since the election, I have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of love and solidarity from so many people in my life and beyond. Some came from my closest and dearest; some came from strangers; and it billowed from so many directions yesterday . . . though, to be honest, there were also many places I avoided entering. For the moment I cannot read newspapers or listen to radio talk. I am avoiding all Internet news sites. I feel as if I am trying to cope with being poisoned.

One other thing has happened: I spent all day yesterday writing a political essay that expands on some of the issues I began considering in my short essay about my Trump-voting friend. I hope to finish it and share it with the Vox Populi editors later today. One of the most despicable men on earth is about to be president of my country, but at least I'm grateful that his horribleness is pushing me to talk as loudly as I can.

Who knows what will happen over the next four years? The best we can hope for is an embarrassing monkey show. The worst . . . is so much worse.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This is the morning that I did not want to greet.

But the Americans spoke, and some Americans were louder than others. They decided to replace our first black president--an elegant, urbane, thoughtful man--with a nouveau-riche lout, racist, and sexual predator, a liar and a bully backed by the Klan, a narcissist manipulated by his reactionary shadow-masters, a reckless leering sideshow itching to start a nuclear war.

Dark days lie ahead.

Like most of the rest of you, I hardly slept last night. But I did push myself to go to bed, to at least try to rest, because I can't lose my strength. I can't lose my courage.

And when I woke this morning, the first sentence I read was "I love you." In the pale hours of the morning, my younger son, devastated at the results of his first presidential election, beside himself with panic and fear, miserably ashamed of his people, sent me that balm.

Donald Trump, I dare you to come between me and those words.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For the first time in my life, I voted by absentee ballot, so I won't be standing in line at the Harmony School today. I won't be dropping my pencil-marked ballot paper into the ancient wooden ballot box, guarded by the town clerk's tottering elderly husband. No one will call out "Democrat!" or, worse yet, "Poet!" when I walk into the school library. I feel sentimental about missing out on my final Harmony voting experience.

Still, absentee ballot voting was also fun. Paul and I voted together at the kitchen counter as he fizzed over with excitement about his first presidential election. It was a different kind of sentimental pleasure, and one I was happy not to miss.

So today, instead of driving to the polls, I will be driving to the vet to buy tapeworm medicine for the cat . . . which, in its own way, will be an appropriate metaphoric denouement for this wretched electioneering season. And then tonight I will attend an old-hippie election party, which will also be exactly appropriate for my final vote in Harmony. We will gather in a little house off the grid in the woods of Wellington. We will watch the returns on a TV powered by a generator. We will fret and (please God) cheer and then all get tired and have to go to bed before the West Coast results come in.

My friend David, who is Canadian, sent me a note this morning, which ended with this wish:
Best to you, your people and your country.

I share this hope with the rest of you . . . my people, my country. As the Declaration of Independence reminds us, let us, as a nation, "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." In other words, please, Americans: don't screw this up.

Monday, November 7, 2016

                     How we squander our hours of pain.
how we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year--, not only a season
in time--, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Tenth Elegy"

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Today's issue of the Portland Press Herald features my poem "Disappointed Women." The stanza breaks are wonky in the online link, so I'm reprinting it here.


Disappointed Women

They lived in filth. Or were horribly clean.
They piled scrapple onto dark platters.
They poured milk and ignored the phone.

They arranged stones on windowsills.
They filled lists and emptied shelves.
They dyed their hair in the sink.

One stored a Bible in the bathroom.
One hoarded paper in the dining room.
One stared at Lolita and stirred the soup.

When I say emptied I mean they wanted to feel.
When I say filled I mean they wanted to jump.
When I say bathroom, dining room, soup I mean

I washed my hands.
I sat at the table.
I ate what they gave me.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

The essay I posted yesterday, "Letter from a Red County; or, The Election: A Love Story," has been picked up by Vox Populi for wider distribution today. I am moved by the thought that the editors of a national outlet believe that an election-week story of ambiguity and restraint is worth disseminating.

Of course there is evil in the world, and we must acknowledge it and fight it. Often that means identifying particular human beings who are embodying or promoting evil. But we also have to live with our neighbors after this election is over. Most Trump supporters are not "deplorables." They are confused and confusing. They are human beings, with small hopes and fears, with large hopes and fears. Labels hurt, and they divide. They are a form of bullying, and we should not stoop so low.

I think that many fervent partisans see argument as the only righteous response. If we don't argue or promote or proselytize or battle, then we are weak. I don't agree. I think, sometimes, we need to mute our voices. We need to step away from any sense of ourselves as educated, elite, clear-thinking. We need to "live within," not always "live against." It's painful, yes. But it may also be a moral necessity.

I am amazed, and not amazed, at some of the responses this essay has garnered on Vox Populi's Facebook links. Clearly Republicans do not have a monopoly on cruelty. It seems to me that progressives need to take a good, hard look at our own flippancies, assumptions, and inhumanities.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Letter from a Red County; or, The Election: A Love Story

Let me tell you about my friend.

She helped me raise my babies, at a time when I was lonely and overwhelmed and bewildered and not at all good at being a mother. Since then, she has suffered deep grief over the murders of three of her family members, a horror perpetrated by her own son-in-law. She has reacted to those deaths with nobility and grace. She has been on a mission to provide local police departments and domestic-violence shelters with funds for basic necessities for victims of similar terrors. But she is not comfortable with the label of activist. She is a gentle person--frail, self-effacing, sweet, and wryly comical, a woman who loves birds and flowers, Christmas cards and potluck suppers. And she is brave. The last time we went for a walk together, we saw a bear. We laughed and made big eyes at each other and then turned around and went home. She wasn't scared, so I wasn't scared. And yet the bear could have broken her, with an accidental swipe.

My friend also has a Trump sign in her front yard. The sight is painful, horrifying, almost obscene: akin to imagining Michelangelo's David spray-painted with a swastika.

The town I live in is the sort of place that would make good fodder for a long-form New Yorker exposition of rural white working-class angst. Jobs have vanished, patriarchal structures are eroding, opioid addictions are ravaging families. There is misery; there is disbelief; there is deep loneliness. Someone must be to blame.

New Yorker articles make good reading. But I happen to live here. And my friend has a Trump sign in her yard, and we cannot talk about it. We cannot. Our friendship is predicated on a pivot of love: on "I see you, and you see me." Argument does not enter into this realm.

My friend is not aware that New Yorker articles even exist. She does not read poems. She does not really read anything at all, except during Bible-study class. What my friend does is to bring me a small dish of homemade custard, because she knows I am living alone. She presents me with a dress, once worn by her dead daughter. She muses over the details of my sons' babyhood. She shows me where the peregrine falcon is nesting.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton, and I sincerely hope she is victorious. I believe that Donald Trump is a menace to our nation. I see this election as a stark choice. But friendship is also a stark choice. When we commit to loving our neighbors, we commit to difficulty and ambiguity. That in itself is a stark choice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The problem with writing to you is that I have to think of something to say. My life is currently subsumed by trying to move. So I write down my hopes, and then I tell you they've been dashed. I write about my trees, and then I tell you that someone is likely to cut them down. I feel like middle-aged Rapunzel--still stuck in the tower but with her hair sheared off and her exhausted old prince asleep at the bottom of a well.

I realize that, in the larger scheme of fate, the attempt to shift from one place to another is a non-story. Other people seem to do it without difficulty. But that is not the case with our move.

We will end up somewhere, but at this point I do myself damage by any public hoping. Middle-aged Rapunzel is a bad gig. It also makes a boring story.

So I am going to take a hiatus from writing these notes to you. I can't imagine you're enjoying them anyway. I'll try to be back in a few days, or a week. Love to you all.