Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve Letter

Today is the last day of 2016, and it has been a strange year all around, both personally and generally. I am not going to reprise it here: you already know what happened and more or less how you feel about it. I, like you, have fears and forebodings about the coming days, but the future is always a darkened lamp. So we will wait and wonder, and in the meantime proceed along our allotted paths--lurching and staggering at one moment, dawdling at another, clumping through a rainstorm, then running till our lungs burst.

Today I sit on a gray couch in a gray-lit room on the last day of December. A sheen of sunrise glints on the dormered roofs of the houses across the street. Slow walkers and their dogs wend their way downhill to the bay. The cat, after a night of enthusiastic bothering, is curled up on the yellow chair like a sweet postcard pet. I don't know if this is exactly where I want to be, but it's where I am. The truth is that I am no longer lonely, no longer counting the hours till bedtime, no longer forgetting to bother to eat, no longer stuffing blank time with crossword puzzles and meaningless housework. So things are better than they were, even if I continue to feel intermittently detached from place and purpose.

January looms, and I will be busy. I am editing yet another book about the cultural Cold War (there are so many!). I will be working with a couple of writers on their manuscripts. I'll be driving back north for band practices and for visits with friends. On the day of the inauguration, I'll be sharing poetry-teaching skills with Smith College students--which I take as a sign of hope. I have spent my adult life trying to construct a balance between art and duty, both personally and communally. I succeed occasionally . . . but perhaps most often when I spend time with teachers. If anyone can thwart Trump's long-term legacy, it will be these young people who light a trail for the even younger ones.

The underground railroad follows many routes. It halts for the passengers who wait in secret shabby stations. The cars fill, and the train keeps moving through the night. I love the faces, silhouetted in the windows. I love the steady thrum of the engine. Keep faith in the words, in the colors, in the echoes, in the twists of the body. Hold them close. Set them flying.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sorry about the late post, but I've been shoveling snow. Apparently even when you live in a place that has a parking-lot plower, it's easier to just shovel out the space yourself rather than try to find a usable spot on the street and wait for the guy to show up. Portland was only supposed to get a couple of inches of snow from yesterday's nor'easter, but what we really got was two inches of snow, followed by three hours of torrential wind-driven rain, followed by five inches of soppy wet beautiful snow obscuring a secret layer of ice. Good thing I found Yaktrax in my boot size at the marine-supply store down the street. Otherwise, I'd still be outside lying on the pavement.

I hear that Harmony got fifteen inches of snow.

Already kids are sledding down the hill across the street. Yesterday during my walk I met a friendly little boy who was carefully filling his family's recycling container with snowballs. I hope he's getting a chance to use them today.

Here are some photos of the neighborhood this morning.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A circle of streetlight glitters along the northern edge of the invisible bay. A lone strip of pallid cloud hems the horizon. Shadow islands, cloaked in trees and stone, loom black on black in the unlit morning. Snow is on the way.

* *

I have been reading Lucille Clifton and John Updike. Tom is reading Roberto Bolano. Paul is reading E. L. Doctorow. James is reading Philip Roth. His girlfriend is reading bell hooks. His best childhood friend is reading an appliance repair manual. I can't stop thinking, What magic! How I love them all.

* *

The doll house smells of toast and butter. The little cat, silhouetted in the window, watches the tree limbs quiver.

* *

No one sits on the park benches. No one waits for the bus.

* *

"these failures are my job" --Lucille Clifton

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I got up at 2:30 a.m. to take the Chicagoans to the bus station. So now they have vanished back into their everyday lives, and Tom, too, has gone back to work. The doll house is very quiet, with an aura of spacious repose. But in a few minutes I'll wake Paul and we will drive up to Freeport to get my violin bow rehaired and to buy him some new snow boots before tomorrow's storm.  And then we'll come home, and launder all of the visitors' sheets and towels, and reinsert ourselves into our own toils and devices. I will begin working on my next editing assignment. He will begin figuring out his internship schedule. Plain life is poised to commence, and perhaps I will allow myself to start imagining the place I have left.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The doll house is draped with sleeping young people . . . sofa, floor, mattress, sleeping bag. Ruckus, thanks to a Christmas miracle or perhaps social exhaustion, dozed sweetly till 7:15, and is still mild-mannered and squinty. Last night's rainstorm has blown through, and today's sunlight is a damp gray-blue--a not-quite mackerel glint, more like the color of a Civil War reenactor's clean but linty uniform, recently unpacked from a cedar chest. The rustiest garbage truck in the world has paused at the stop sign. A beatnik walking three dignified dogs is meandering down the snowy-grassy slope toward the bay. Tom is sitting up in bed drinking coffee and reading a Bolano novel. C'est la vacance en Portland.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I have been awake since 3, thanks to the restless cat, and I am wondering if I should begin a "writing in the middle of the night" project, given that I anticipate many more restless cat incidents. His itchiness isn't surprising; more surprising is that it's taken this long for it to kick in. I knew his transition from indoor-outdoor country cat to indoor city cat would be traumatic for all of us. Though I try to take him outside on his leash, he is so terrified of the city noises that all he wants to do is rush back inside again. So he's bored, and he's bossy, and that means I have to be awake when I don't want to be awake.

Today, at least, he'll have some distraction. James and his girlfriend will be with us again; my Vermont family will troop in; James's best friend from Harmony will appear; Ruckus will be coddled and petted and made much of; and the kids will all stay up late with him and take me off the hook (maybe).

What I need to do now is drink coffee and clean the house and then go shopping to fill the refrigerator for all of the hungry young people en route to the doll house. But I'm also realizing that I need to start imagining myself as a poet again. That's not too convenient today. I'll have to remember to resurrect the sensation at 3 a.m.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve was nearly ideal. After Tom and I took long walk before breakfast, he installed a new counter in the doll kitchen, and then, with Paul, we trudged around in the rain in search of Christmas dinner ingredients. Everyone has decided that the Harbor Fish Market might be the best store in the world. We came home, took naps, vacuumed up cat hair, played cribbage, and then slid down the icy sidewalks to Empire Chinese Kitchen and a miraculous dish of kale and house-made rice noodles, which Paul loved so much that he ordered it twice. After dinner, we continued our festive sliding, staggering down to the wharfs to admire the decorated tugboats and then lurching toward home alongside a path decorated with narrow gauge train cars, and stacks of barnacled docks, and the bronze statue of a well-dressed but unlabeled seventeenth-century gent behind a chainlink fence, and the squeaks of half-asleep seagulls. At home we discovered that our upstairs neighbors were having a party, which was fine as long as we were in the living room drinking hot chocolate and playing Yahtzee, but became oppressive when we tried to go to sleep, as their Katie Perry-emitting speakers were located directly above our bed. I lay awake reading Rabbit Redux and listening to the bass lines of middle-aged top-forty hits until midnight, when, like magic, the speakers ceased and the guests vanished. If only Ruckus hadn't gone haywire at 4 a.m., I would have enjoyed a good night's sleep. But cats being what they are, he chose to celebrate the season by threatening to push my computer off my desk.

Anyway, here we are, on Christmas morning, slightly wild-eyed and mostly awake, preparing for a day of puttering up and down streets and among pantry cupboards. A year ago, this is not where I thought I'd be. But here I am. And I'm doing okay.

Joy to you and everyone you love or wish you loved better. May you tolerate irritation with charm and low blood pressure. May you temper celebration with sadness, and sadness with sweetness, and sweetness with comic relief. May you resist second helpings of dessert. May no special holiday glassware break, and may no cats walk through your rising bread dough. May you hope for the best even as you call out evil by name. May that not involve arguing with your father.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve morning. The first cars are sifting down the promenade. The dark is beginning to fold its cloak in the east. The cat and I are wedged together on the gray couch. The coffee is black and hot. The bedroom clock ticks, ticks, ticks.

This morning Tom and Paul and I will amble down to the waterside to buy our Christmas dinner. We've decided to start with little plates of this and that: olives, cheese, smoked fish, and anything else that strikes our fancy. Then we'll have a salad and Tom's homemade noodles with butter and lots of Harmony-grown garlic. And we'll finish with Reine de Saba cake--one of my favorite Julia Child classics. Tonight, instead of cooking, we'll stroll downtown and eat Chinese food at the Empire.

We made all of these decisions at about 8 p.m. last night. This has been the most underplanned holiday of my life, yet so far everything has fallen casually into place. After eight months of loneliness and worry, I'm imagining that Christmas, that classic American stronghold of stress and overeating, might actually be a day of unstructured peace. A morning walk by the water, a game of cribbage, Curtis Mayfield on the stereo. A few mild cooking projects, shared. A nap. A glass of good cider.

Of course this is also the definition of privilege. The privilege of food and heat and refrigeration and a toilet and clean running water. Of not cowering in rubble. Of not clutching a dead child in my arms.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What a happiness it is to have my family here, all of us under the same borrowed roof. For six months we have not laid eyes on our older son; we've never gone so long without seeing him. Now here he is, asleep in the living room, with his charming sweet girlfriend; and our younger son is asleep in Tom's study, and Tom has just kissed me goodbye and gone off to work. And new snow is sifting down onto the morning dog walkers and the city buses and the clanking dump trucks and the Subarus. And I am going out to buy sleds this morning so that later we can all play on the hill beside the bay. And after that we will eat fish tacos made with the amazing fragrant corn tortillas that James and Terranae brought us as a Christmas gift from their Chicago neighborhood . . . yes, fish tacos cooked on my very own functioning stove.

Tomorrow the travelers will borrow my car and drive off to spend the holiday with assorted grandparents and aunts and uncles. So Christmas proper will feature just the three of us. But the next day the Chicagoans will return, along with another big family contingent, who are trekking over from Vermont (if the weather allows) to see us in our new digs. If all goes well, on Monday night we'll transform into that annoying noisy party of eleven, the one that hogs all the space at the restaurant and asks too many questions about the food. It will be lovely.

Three weeks ago I still had no idea where I'd be spending Christmas, or who would be with me, or whether I'd be able to think about celebrating at all. It is a relief--more than a relief: a blessing--to feel myself relaxing into this easy cheerfulness. At the same time I can't stop thinking of Aleppo and all of the other places in this fractured world where easy joy has no meaning. That's the conundrum of happiness: I cannot ignore an equivalent awareness of my selfishness and self-satisfactions. Yet there it is. Joy. Like a diamond dropped in a mud puddle. I lean down and pick it up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

News, with a plethora of seasonally appropriate exclamation marks:

1. The well in Harmony finally passed the water test!! Now all we have to do is set a closing date. The torment is almost over.

2. My essay "The Humanity of Trump Voters" was the Times Literary Supplement's number-one most clicked-on article of 2016. Crazy. Or perhaps, Crazy!

3. The stove is getting fixed today!

4. My older son's plane just landed in Boston!

5. Ruckus the Cat allowed me to sleep in till 5:15!

6. The sky is blue! The bay is bluer! Dogs are dancing along the sidewalks!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It looks like I'll be able to quickly join the Telling Room's teaching-artist roster (after jumping through a few simple hoops), and that is good news. The organization offers a decent hourly wage, and it focuses on in-school residencies, often in collaboration with other writers, which means that I will not only learn more personally but will also be able to share a wider array of ideas with my Frost Place teachers. Plus, the Telling Room administrators do all the grunt work of setting up the residencies, which means that the teaching artists can focus their energies on curriculum development and actual student interaction, not on writing begging letters to schools. I'm sure there will be kinks and quirks to work through, but on the whole I'm excited about getting involved.

After yesterday's meeting I slid-skipped back home along the icy sidewalks, stopping only to fill my backpack with bread, day-old pizza slabs (99 cents each! such a bargain!), and salami. Tomorrow the stove-repair guy will be here, just in time for the arrival of my older son and his girlfriend, and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to cook something for the holidays--a batch of shortbread, a pot of mulled wine, maybe even a doll-sized cauldron of minestrone. Today I am actually going Christmas shopping, and I think I can manage to get everyone a single small gift. The holiday will be a tiny celebration to go along with our tiny tree and our tiny kitchen. But no one in the family will be living alone in a boarding house that smells of sadness and Hot Pockets. No one will be staring out the window into silence and ice and wondering how to kill the hours of the day. No one will be far away in a midwestern city, feverishly working another tedious overtime shift at Macy's or NBC. No one will be hunched in a badly lit dorm room at 2 a.m., high on caffeine and anxiety and trying to finish that damn paper about Richard III. Instead, we will all be crammed into a little apartment, trying to sleep late but tormented by a bouncing bored cat who enjoys opening presents that aren't his, making too many pots of coffee, going for walks to look at other people's Christmas lights, trying to figure out where to hang up our wet bath towels, complaining when the hot water runs out, talking about this and that, listening to whatever music Tom decides we should listen to on the stereo, and so on and so on. Just imagine family life in the doll house, when the dolls are too tall to fit easily and you have to take off the roof to cram them into the chairs and beds.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I'm heading out soon to the Telling Room, a brisk 25-minute walk away from the apartment. Living within walking distance of anything is such a novelty, but now I live within walking distance of many things.

There has been much I've dreaded about moving away from Harmony, but the idea of driving less and walking more has made me happy from the beginning. I don't even like to drive yet have nonetheless spent thousands of hours of my life behind the wheel. But of course when I imagined city walking, I forgot to imagine winter city walking: slush-puddles, clogged drains, nor'easters, and icy hills. I also have no idea how long it will take me to get anywhere.

Still, there's the rhythm, the chance to see the world slowly, the random interactions with people and dogs and trees. And if I fall down on the ice, someone will be around to help me up. In Harmony no one would have seen me for days.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Yesterday my window views featured rosy-faced sledders and bouncing dogs and a beautiful Currier and Ives snow. Last night the snow changed over to freezing rain, and this morning there is slush and muck and flooded storm drains and gloomy people who can't get their cars unstuck.

Already Tom has vanished into the world--off to the wood shop to build closet shelves and a teeny-tiny kitchen counter. I will wash our breakfast dishes in the doll's sink and then navigate through the slush to the grocery store.

Yesterday, though, we were home together all day, except for a brief foray to the bakery for bread (another teeth-gnashing purchase: I can't bake bread if I don't have a functioning stove). The living/dining room is now mostly arranged, and here are a couple of pictures from different angles. Somehow Tom the Design King has figured out how to make a little crowded room seem almost airy . . . though the very tall ceilings do help. If I were a better photographer, you would have a better grasp of the arrangement.

In and among unpacking and arranging, I also managed to copy out a few Lucille Clifton poems. They are just right for my state of mind: tonic and often scratchy but mostly very short, so that I can harness my shifting attention into tiny bursts of concentration. Tomorrow morning I'll be talking to the program director of a local student writing collective about the possibility of working for him as a teaching artist, and I've got a couple of new editing projects waiting in the wings. My band has set a mid-January gig date, which will take me back north to the homeland, and the following week I'll be driving down to Massachusetts to teach at Smith College. So I'll be falling into new-old ways of doing my same old work. I'm trying not to agonize about the still-unresolved water issues at the Harmony house. I am trying to focus on the fact that an island in fog is floating outside my window.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

6:30 a.m., Saturday. Snow drifts through the half-darkness. Always, there is light in this city--streetlights, buoys, docks, cars--and when we arrived I feared this constant twilight would keep me awake. But no: I have slept like a teenager every night I have been here.

Now I am sitting on a gray couch beside a window, looking down at the cars hissing through the skim of snow. In the front bedroom Tom yawns and sighs. In the back bedroom Paul pulls the blanket over his head and sinks into another bout of dreams. In the distance a train hoots.

If we had a working stove, I could almost say we were living regular lives. Yesterday I vacuumed and dusted and unpacked boxes and did three loads of laundry. Then I walked a mile to Micucci Grocery and bought red wine and ravioli and a jar of sauce . . . the first jar of sauce I have ever purchased. It was painful to buy someone else's sauce, even though it was store-made and I've eaten it on Micucci's pizza slabs plenty of times.

Tonight I''ll experiment with cooking ravioli and sauce in the microwave. I've never bought sauce, and I've never lived with a microwave. So many new things.

Two crows have swung through the snowy dawn to land on the telephone wire outside my window. Three crows. Four crows. Now they are preening and scratching and hunkering down fatly on their roost. They're small in size; maybe they're a brood of juvenals, but their voices are deep. A pack of young folks hanging around, hoping for fun, or inspiration, or snacks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

This is my Christmas tree . . . which is actually a small lavender plant. I am ridiculously pleased with it. The color is kind of a dusky green-gray, and the scent is modest but heavenly, and it's decorated with earrings and pins and strands of beads from my jewelry box. At the top is a tiny birchbark and sweetgrass canoe, which an Ojibway artist gave to Paul last summer as a thank-you present for being her son's camp counselor. Inside the canoe (though he he doesn't show up in this bad photo) is a Santa pin I got for Christmas when I was six. Through the doorway behind the tree you can get a glimpse of the doll's kitchen. Really, you're getting more than a glimpse. That's practically the whole kitchen.

Here's another bad photo for you. I don't know why all my pictures list to the left today. Anyway, this is the view from the living room into the bedroom. At the front is a little hallway, just big enough for a bookcase on either side. On the floor is a catnip rat, arranged artistically by Ruckus. Beyond is the bed (our bedframe in Harmony was a built-in, so we're currently sleeping on the floor like college students). Beyond that, in front of the radiator, is my stand-up desk. And beyond the window is the street, the park, and the sea. So as I type, I'm also looking outside at a very cold woman looking at her watch and waiting for the bus. Behind her is a long sledding hill that no one is using because the temperature is below zero and all the children had to go to school anyway. At the bottom of the hill is a scrim of bare trees, and then a crackle of salty ice floating on the margin of the blue bay.

The bus still hasn't arrived. The woman is still cold.

But here's a better picture of Santa in his canoe . . . as long as you don't mind the blur. It's a good thing I went into writing instead of photography.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

This is the view from my bedroom window. I still cannot quite comprehend the magnificence. Of course I'm also dealing with a doll's kitchen that doesn't have a functioning stove. But still: there's this.

Today, the temperature will be moderately tolerable--a high of 25--but tonight it will drop to low single digits. Up in Harmony it's forecast to fall below zero, and I am trying not to worry about the pipes. Please, dear fates, don't make me suffer through any more water emergencies.

I feel bad that my posts here have been so unpredictable, time-wise, but now that Tom doesn't have to leave for work until just before 8, we have been lingering over our coffee, looking at the map to figure out the names of the islands in the bay, watching a mob of seagulls argue over a bag of french fries, guessing which of our missing possessions are in which badly labeled box, and so on. And then I have to wash the breakfast dishes in the doll's sink, which takes a long time because there's no counter space and I have to climb up and down a ladder to put things away. Eventually I will fall into some sort of predictable pattern, but I haven't found one yet.

But I no longer have to climb over a giant photo printer in order to reach my desk. I now know where my socks are located. I might even have found a tiny bit of room for a tiny, tiny Christmas tree.

And yesterday, when I went for a walk, everyone smiled at me. Either they were all naturally friendly people or I had a particularly comic expression on my face. Anyway, I smiled back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Well, here I am again. I did not think my hiatus would last for so long, but we did not have an Internet connection until yesterday afternoon, and thumb-typing on a phone is torture. I can barely spell my own name that way.

But now I am living in Portland.

The apartment is still a jostling crowd of boxes and tables and stereo equipment. Workers are arriving today to install a new rug in the second bedroom. The stove turned out to have a gas leak so is currently unusable. But a clock is ticking on the mantle. A little cat is curled up on a yellow chair. The collected works of William Shakespeare rest in a bookcase. A son sleeps behind a closed door. My favorite Mason jar holds a bouquet of fresh parsley. The dishes are clean on the shelves of the doll's kitchen. The sheets are churning downstairs in the laundry room.

Out the back window I see houses and cars and icy sidewalks and no-parking signs. Out the front window I see the cold blue of Casco Bay, its cluster of piny islands, the curve of Falmouth to the north, old Fort Allen to the east. I see a long horizon of bright winter sky.

Directly under the front window, a backhoe is digging out a tree stump. A city bus creaks and sighs to a halt. A dog refuses to give up his Frisbee.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and ticks.

Friday, December 9, 2016

I woke up thinking, Today is my last day of living alone. Tonight Paul and Tom will drive up from Portland, and tomorrow we will begin loading the U-Haul.

Last night my friends Angela and Steve invited me to dinner. If you read my book Tracing Paradise, you might remember Steve from the chapter "Killing Ruthie." He made us oven-braised rabbit ("Where's this from, Steve?" "Oh, from across the road."), fried potatoes, and broccoli. Steve said that when he visits me in Portland, he'll bring a couple of squirrels to cook. I love to imagine that I will be the kind of person who eats squirrel in a small apartment kitchen overlooking the sea.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Because, in my life, no day would be a real day without a water emergency, the gods decided that yesterday would be a great day for the pipes at the well head to freeze. So the plumber and I sacrificed my hair dryer to muddy necessity, and its little hot motor whirred away in a sloppy pit until after dark, when I decided to take the risk of trying to prime our well pump.

According to past experience, priming the well pump has always involved the complaining sounds of frustrated men and a large amount of spilled water in the basement. I knew that there weren't that many things involved in priming a pump: a hole, clean water to pour into the hole, the pump switch on the breaker board. Yet somehow the interacting variables of these three simple elements made people prone to yelling and despair. Even the plumber refused to undertake the task. Still, I had nothing better to do other than wish I had running water, so I called my friend Norris and asked for over-the-phone instructions. And they worked. I primed the pump all by myself! Without yelling! And with minimal water spillage!

Look at me: a woman who can prime the pump that scared the plumber away. I wonder what amazing thing will happen today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My packing anxiety is transforming from "how do I get all of this stuff into the boxes?" to "how will I get all of this stuff out of the boxes?"

I'm also having thoughts about shifting from forty years of No Dishwasher, to twelve years of Dishwasher, to a new life of No Dishwasher. I can already feel the use-the-fewest-dishes-possible approach influencing my kitchen behaviors. What I wonder is whether my dirty-dish stacking ability will return as quickly? Or my make-the-most-of-no-counter-space ability? I learned to cook osso buco in a kitchen with no sink. But young people can do anything.

When I was a little girl visiting my grandfather's farm out in western Pennsylvania, one of my favorite projects was to take the trash to the quarry. Grandpop would hitch the loaded wooden sled of trash to one of his big old Farmall tractors, my sister and I would climb up on the tractor frame behind him and stand clinging to either side of his seat (oh, the joys of being ignorantly unsafe), and he would drag the sled out to the rock quarry in the middle of his hayfield. Then the three of us would fling all the trash into the quarry. Smashing bottles was the best, but oil cans and other old metal also made satisfying noise, and even tossing bags of plastic trash was fun. The lure of this evil pleasure has revived in me, now that I live in a home with a giant dumpster parked outside the back door. After decades of responsible recycling, I am now reliving the joys of throwing all of the crap into the same maw. God may strike me down.

Monday, December 5, 2016

I know I will be posting only intermittently this week. Today I'm on the road for work, and then the rest of the week will be a downward slide toward departure . . . with the unpleasant but distinct possibility that I will also have to schedule in a 12-hour roundtrip to bring my son home from college. Of course we'll be glad to have his young man muscles home for the move, but the end-of-the-semester timing is not good.

In addition, we're still dealing with water problems, though a solution does seem at hand. One excellent side-effect of yesterday's Take Our Stuff party was a chance to talk with all of our jerry-rigging friends about how they solved their own water problems. When half of your closest friends in town don't even have wells but use complicated self-invented spring-water piping systems, there's sure to be plenty of useful talk about bacteria.

Another lovely moment yesterday involved clothespins. Now that we have to put so much of our stuff in storage, I have gritted my teeth and forced myself to shed some of my daily, much-loved yard items. In that spirit, I set my basket of clothespins out on the Take Our Stuff bench. But simultaneously, two of my friends converged on me and said in horrified tones, "Dawn! You're not giving away your clothespins? You can't do that. You need to put those into storage! Good clothespins are irreplaceable!" . . . at which point I fell into tears and clutched the basket to my chest. They were right. Some things are too important to lose.

It has been such a gift to live among people who understand the emotional power of clothespins.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I guess I'm glad I wrote that BDN piece. My novelist friend Tom thinks that Harmony is only now beginning its work as my muse, but I'm not so sure. It's already done an awful lot of muse-dancing in my life. Maybe its job is done. Maybe my newspaper essay was the footnote. But who knows? Art is a mysterious mistress.

Anyway, today, is a cutting-loose ceremony. The giant dumpster has arrived. The yard is arranged with "take me, friends, I'm free!" objects. The aforementioned friends will arrive with beer and chicken and pickup trucks. We will stand around a campfire in the cold and discuss "water problems I have had" and "did you get a deer yet?" and "I was so sorry hear about your brother" and "does anyone need a gallon of bar-and-chain oil?" and "does that lawnmower still work?" and "how many baked potatoes should I make?" and "I have no idea why we still own this" and all of the many other questions and comments that are likely to arise around a Sunday-morning campfire in December.

It will be lovely and I will cry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Bangor Daily News essay is out . . . yet another published piece with a title I didn't write. And I'm not sure that house in the photo is actually in Harmony. The rest is accurate, though.

I'm not too coherent this morning. I shouldn't even be awake, given that I didn't get home from the Sugarloaf gig till 2:30 a.m. But a bossy cat yowled in my face, and that was the end of sleeping. I'll try to be chattier tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A couple of days ago, as you may remember, I told you that a reporter at the Bangor Daily News contacted me to ask permission to quote from my TLS essay and to encourage me to contribute a response piece to her forthcoming article. Yesterday I heard from her again, suggesting that loss as it relates to geographical place might be a good theme for a personal essay.

I didn't have any trouble writing that piece: it took me an hour to finish, from conception to final draft. Apparently I have some feelings about loss as it relates to geographical place.

Here's one small bit from it. I will share the whole piece with you once it comes out.

Although every human deals with loss, the pain of losing or leaving a geographical homeland is not a universal sadness. Many people thrive on change, on hopeful ventures into the unknown, and it’s been hard to explain to faraway acquaintances why I have clung to a place that can be so hard and lonely, that is so distant from the lives that they have built in cities and suburbs and university towns. Yet as my friend Angela points out, some of us thrive on hard and lonely. Some of us see hard and lonely as true life. 
Angela has lived in Wellington for longer than I’ve lived in Harmony. Her house is off the grid; so for her, every drop of water, every ray of sun matters—not romantically but practically. But even for country dwellers with electricity and a septic system, a rural homeland often doesn’t connote beauty or relaxation so much as a physical and emotional engagement with difficulty and duty. As I once wrote in a poem, “we don’t think / ski but shovel, don’t think flowers but floods.” Trouble sustains us, even as it breaks us down.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

As soon as I finished writing to you yesterday, I went downstairs into the basement and discovered that a hot water pipe had developed a pinhole leak and was spraying water everywhere.

This was the low point of my day. Things did get better. I cried. Then I called my friend Steve, who helped me figure out how to temporarily stop the spray. Then I called Tom and wailed about how much I hated everything involving home ownership. Then I called the plumber, who came over within an hour and charged me less than I thought he would. If nothing else, the incident proved that I'm still far too good at over-emoting. You'd think all these years up here would have taught me a more useful version of stoicism.

Anyway, the sour taste of plumbing was erased when my Chicago son called and said that he's coming home for Christmas . . . which means we'll be cramming two more people into our little apartment, but who cares about space when we can all be together: five adults squashed into three rooms, eating takeout Chinese food for a holiday meal because the kitchen's too small for a feast and taking a long walk by the sea afterward? The vision makes me so happy. I will give everyone wine and cannoli as gifts, and we will make the cat learn to love his leash, and I will buy one of those tiny Christmas shrubs carved out of a rosemary plant and decorate it with paper cut-outs and half a string of lights, and the cat will not tip it over.