Thursday, February 25, 2021

I got no writing done yesterday, but I did get a lot of exercise: first, my early-morning core class, then a beach walk with Paul, and finally a late afternoon neighborhood walk with my neighbor. It was a brisk late winter day, temperatures in the high 40s, bare trees and high rolling waves silhouetted sharply against the matte overcast sky. Everywhere, dogs pranced. Near the beach Paul and I glimpsed a pair of red-tailed hawks wheeling and diving. Raptor courting is in full swing.

Today will be another warmish day, but breezier and sunny. Maybe I'll be able to open a window or two, at least briefly, to air out the winter funk. I'm still trying to catch up on my electrical backlog, so I'll be vacuuming and baking bread and going to meetings. And I'll be trying out my new sewing machine! . . . a surprise gift from my dear friend Richard. Paul is quite excited about this new arrival and is itching to learn to use it. So I told him we'd start off by teaching him to make some throw pillows for his future apartment.

What else is going on? I've started rereading Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. I'm relearning a Bach violin concerto. For last night's dinner I sautéed pollock and finished it with a Meyer lemon glaze and also served roasted potatoes and a broccoli, garlic, feta, and tomato salad. For dessert I made orange ice cream and rosemary and lemon shortbread. For tonight I think I'm going to make bean enchiladas. 

Another full day with great electricity!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Of course, my "I'm just going to write this week" plans were shot to pieces by our electrical panic. Instead, I'm behind on all laundry, grocery shopping, vacuuming, and everything else that requires electricity, plus I was completely exhausted yesterday, no doubt from the stress of "what the hell is going on?" Very little has been written.

So it was especially nice to wake up this morning to learn that Vox Populi has published my poem "Song: The Famous Vision of America," which I drafted in one of my Carruth-Kenyon workshops last fall. And I am loving this cup of coffee (made with the aid of an electric coffee grinder and an electric stove), and everywhere-in-the-house heat (thank you, electric furnace trigger), and non-flickering lights and bountiful hot water and a charged laptop and everything. We were incredibly lucky that the terrible poltergeist event did not blow out all of our appliances and electronics. Things could be so much worse right now.

Today is Paul's day off, and he wants to go for a drive together and look at the ocean. So we will do that. In the interstices I will manage to grocery-shop and deal with some laundry, but vacuuming can wait till tomorrow.

Yesterday, as Tom and I were out for a walk, I spotted early snowdrops blooming in a neighbor's yard. As always, the sight filled me with happiness. Nothing ever feels more hopeful than flowers in February, in Maine, in the snow. Especially when your house has not burned down.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Another day, another electrical emergency--

Late yesterday afternoon, just after Tom came home from work, I turned on the dining-room lamp and then walked out of the room. A few seconds later I heard him ask, "What's going on with the lamp?" I walked back into the room and saw it flashing on and off. Just as I was about to speak, I heard the stereo in the back room turn on and off; then the light in the kitchen vent hood started fluttering, the cellar lights started flashing, the furnace began turning on and off, and the refrigerator went dead. Tom was flummoxed: multiple circuits were involved, breakers were tripping, what the hell was going on? Poltergeists? Quickly he turned off everything except for a couple of unaffected lamps, and tried calling our usual electrician, who of course did not answer. So he called another one--someone he works with at his new job--who promised to come over first thing in the morning but said that he suspected this was a problem with the outside power lines and we should call Central Maine Power. Mind you, it was pouring buckets of rain . . . a fine time to be a lineman, a fine time to be hauling a freezer-load of food to my neighbor's house (bless her heart). So we had a cold, dark, pizza-delivery night and a coffee-less morning, and thank goodness for our little wood stove.

The CMP guys didn't show up till 2 a.m., and then they only looked at the meter connection, which they said was working perfectly. But my hero, the new electrician, appeared promptly after breakfast and assured me that everything in the circuit box was sturdy and tight. Still, he could see that the power was fluctuating when he turned on the breakers. So he called CMP and told them that their guys needed to come back and look at the lines running from the pole to the house. And voila! They showed up in half an hour with a bucket truck and discovered a bad connection. As of late morning everything was back to normal, and the problems weren't the little house's fault in any way, and I am much relieved.

But, please, could we stop with the electrical problems? There are few things more stressful than fearing that your house is about to catch on fire.

Monday, February 22, 2021

I slept really well last night--so well that I was shocked when the alarm went off: I was sure it was still 3 a.m. But I woke up without body aches or grouchy malaise, so whatever my little under-the-weather moment was, it seems to have vanished for Monday morning.

Today: I'll get through my 8 a.m. abs class, and then I'll turn to poems--either scratching out new drafts or messing around with the Blood ms--until Paul gets up. That's pretty much my schedule for the week. Two editing projects are scheduled to appear in mid-March, and I know I'll have some class planning stuff to do, either later this week or into next week. But for a few days I'm going to take myself on a mock writing retreat.

Tom spent the weekend installing new lights and switches all around the cellar, so now we can actually see what we're doing when we're down there, plus we can turn the bulbs off and on via conveniently placed switches instead of groping around in the dark to find the teeny little chain pulls. It all seems very modern. Till now, the basement was the most 1948-ish feeling place in the house--low-ceilinged, rough-floored, unfinished, with a scent of grandmothers rising from the stairs. Over the years it's had some terrible "renovations": broken windows replaced with blocks of daylight-killing insulation, some kind of wretched spray foam deforming the walls, and a web of ridiculous amateur electrification mixed up with loops of now-useless landline and cable wires. So Tom has slowly been sorting through all of that. We do not want a finished, extra-living-room type of basement. What we want is a useful working-family's cellar, with dedicated space for laundry and clotheslines, a workshop, canning and storage shelves, and winter firewood piles. But as with everything in the Alcott House, space is at a premium, and Tom's new shop is beginning to resemble a boat, with each bit of wall and floor space tidily planned out for use.

By the way, we did end up cooking outside last night. Tom made a fire on top of the snow in the fire pit, and while it was burning down to cooking coals we had a melodramatic sword fight with some giant icicles and admired the half-moon shining down through the trees. It was perfect, really: we were outside just long enough for fun, and the tuna steaks took almost no time to cook. I served them with Yorkshire pudding and a caramelized fennel salad, and it was a wonderful meal--beautiful on the plate and smoky-delicious to eat. I hope we have another fire pit night soon.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

I had some odd dreams last night about being back in the Harmony house; also, about feeding my horse. (I have never owned a horse.) Unlike most of my livestock dreams, this one did not involve forgetting that I owned livestock/forgetting to feed them for months/having no water to give them. Instead, I seemed to be doing a twice-daily chore, with a cheerful (if funny-looking) horse, in a strange but familiar barn, without anxiety or self-horror. So that was a nice change.

I'm feeling slightly under the weather: tired eyes, a bit stiff and achy . . . no big deal, and probably a combination of too much reading, allergies, my exercise class, and a bad mattress. But it was pleasant to have a rare take-out night for dinner--a barbecue feast from Salvage. It was pleasant to put on my pajamas at 4 p.m. And it was pleasant to sit by the fire and play cards with the boys.

I don't know what's up for today. Some sort of housework, I suppose. We have tuna steaks in the refrigerator, and Tom and I are slightly serious about snow-grilling them in the fire pit. We'll see how serious we stay when dinnertime comes around.

I'm reading a dull Trollope novel (Lady Anna) and wishing for something more scintillating. I'm imagining skating at night, under the streetlights, at Deering Oaks Pond. I'm letting my mind wander away from poems and planning and curriculum. I'm propped in a corner of my shabby couch, the only person awake in the house, and feeling the weight of winter slip forward toward spring, like ice sliding off a roof.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

It's been snowing nonstop for about 24 hours, with no more than an inch or two of accumulation . . . a lovely, lazy, snow-globe storm. Now, as day breaks, the trees spread frosted limbs against a pale-blue sky, and the neighborhood roofs are sugared like gingerbread houses.

I have been busy this week: meetings and plans and phone calls and emails--mostly Frost Place-related as we work on some new projects and as I begin to prep for the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. We've announced our 2021 faculty--BJ Ward, Nathan McClain, and Teresa Carson!--and we've made the decision to be online again this summer . . . sad but necessary, given the slow rollout of the vaccine. Still, the conference went beautifully last year, and I know it will be even better this year, now that we've all become experts in virtuality. Dates are June 26-July 1, and the application will be posted on the website shortly. Please, please, contact me directly if you have any questions.

I realized yesterday that the events tab on this blog is woefully out of date, so that's one of the things I need to update this weekend. I also want to let you know about a change in my forthcoming poetry collection. I had been planning to put together a new-and-selected volume, but the more I thought about that project, the more I didn't want to do it. I don't have a rational reason; it just felt wrong, and unpleasant, and I kept procrastinating. So my sensible friend Teresa asked, "Why are you doing it then?" And I realized that I had no idea. What I really want is to publish the new work I've been writing since Chestnut Ridge. So the publisher and I have agreed that this is what will happen. Jeff is a prince: patient and supportive, and confident in me and my poems. I am very fortunate.

I feel immensely relieved about this decision and, as a result, much more able to work productively on the next manuscript. For the most part it's ready; I just need to tweak it to add a few newer pieces, and now I have a clear schedule for doing that: I have to get it to the publisher by April. So I'm feeling lighter this morning, and downright eager to get started on the final version.

Being a poet and being a teacher: that's what I've been focusing on this week, and everyone's letting me have my way, and I feel a little bit giddy about it. But it's tax time, so undoubtedly I'll be dropping to earth again shortly, with a thud.

Friday, February 19, 2021

 It's snowing lightly--a dust of feathers as I slip and slither down the icy driveway with my compost pail. Upstairs the cat is yowling to get into Paul's room; downstairs Tom is packing his lunch and cooking his breakfast. In the cellar the washing machine churns, and I am pausing here, with my cup of coffee and my to-do list, to consider the crows clamoring invisibly in the pre-dawn gloaming, the books on the table (the poems of Robert Frost, the essays of Virginia Woolf, a collection of historical maps of Canada, some crossword puzzles), the awfulness of my spiked-up bed-head hair, and the distant neighborhood grumble of the garbage truck, which has suddenly decided to pick up trash at 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m.

Today I'm hoping mostly to focus on figuring out what I want to include in my next poetry manuscript . . . and by mostly I mean "for an hour before Paul gets up." Otherwise, I suppose it will be a regular day of underemployment: trying to get ahead with Frost Place planning, hoping some paychecks will arrive in the mail, listening to Paul explain something-or-other sportsy to me (NFL draft picks, NCAA rankings, the magnificent history of Hank Aaron), washing salt smears off the kitchen floor, emailing people about jobs.

I thought I would be enjoying these Woolf essays more than I am. I've read them all before, but somehow in this curated context they come across as extremely judgy, in ways that aren't particularly charming. However, I do like her description in "Character in Fiction" of "the obscurity of Mr [T. S.] Eliot":

I think that Mr Eliot has written some of the loveliest lines in modern poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politenesses of society--respect for the weak, consideration for the dull! As I sun myself upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, dreamt quietly in the shade with a book.