Sunday, December 31, 2017

It was a balmy seven below at 3:45 a.m. when I got up to take my son to the airport this morning. Today is going to be a tough one stamina-wise. This afternoon I'll be traveling two hours north for a New Year's Eve band gig, playing from 9 till midnight, and then driving 40 minutes to Wellington in the exhausted dark. I'm just hoping I can hold myself together, and find a way to take a nap somewhere in the interstices.

For now, though, I am awake and slowly working through stacks of laundry. Yes, that's the sound of a functioning washing machine and dryer you hear. And maybe you also hear the refrigerator humming and the kitchen range clicking on. If only we had running water in the kitchen, this place would be a palace.

I guarantee that tomorrow morning I will not have the wherewithal to write to you, so I'm wishing you Happy New Year now. May your evenings at home be sweet and joyous, may you read many books and listen to many songs, may you linger outside in the crisp air, may the Red Sox avoid trading Jackie Bradley, Jr., and may Trump and his posse get dragged off in paddywagons.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

This morning it's eleven below at the Alcott House, and we have a new sink (without water) and a new range hood (without a stove), which means that yesterday Tom had to torture himself by going outside into the cold and cutting a hole in the kitchen wall while I was torturing myself among the sale-starved crowds at L. L. Bean. But we both survived, and now the range hood is in, and now the boy has a warm coat and warm boots.

Today, we'll get a stove and a washing machine, maybe even cupboard shelves. For the moment, however, the cat and I are sitting quietly in the living room watching the wood fire leap. I am going to copy out a couple of Levine poems this morning and do some housework and take a trip to the bank. I need to practice a few songs for my show tomorrow because, yes, I will be playing a New Year's Eve gig in frigid Dover-Foxcroft, where it will get down to twenty below or so. Wish me luck and thawed fingers.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Twelve below in Portland, Maine! This feels like Harmony weather; it was never so cold here last winter.

I've just come inside, after a brief flurry of suburban chores: e.g., putting the trash and recycling beside the curb. I did also carry out ashes and bring in firewood, which gave me the illusion of doing actual chores. But really: this residential-neighborhood lifestyle is awfully cushy: a furnace that goes on automatically! electrical outlets in the kitchen!

Yes, we do indeed have electrical outlets in the kitchen . . . and a working refrigerator. No sink or plumbing yet, but a fridge and lights feel like a significant advance. Today Tom will install the stove and make the washing machine functional. Clean towels! Baked potatoes! Such luxury!

Yesterday the place was swarming with electricians. Though I'd like to imagine it will be swarming with plumbers today, I'm not holding my breath. I think a kitchen sink will be a 2018 innovation.

In other tasks: I might send a poetry ms to a contest today. I might not. I definitely have to take the boy clothes-shopping before he leaves for Chicago. Also I have plenty of reading to do. Yesterday Tom brought back a truckload of goods from storage, including a single box of books labeled "Biography F-J." It appears that my subject matter this week will be very structured.

A row of cabinets/temporary countertop without doors or sink hole but with functioning coffee grinder and electric kettle.

Dining room with stack of unpainted doors, work coat, and jumble of undistributed stuff. But at least we have a candle.

Living room decorated with furniture, fire, giant box, and self-satisfied cat.

Refrigerator with Elvis and gift magnet from son. I actually think my cat is a Republican.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

We're home.

The temperature outside is four below zero, with a high of six forecast for the day. But the little house is snug. Last night we basked beside the woodstove, and in a few minutes I will light it again. Miracle of miracles, the electricians will be here at 9 a.m. to turn off the power while they install a new fuse box and finish installing outlets. Thank goodness for wood heat.

I am amazingly happy to be here. Last night I could hardly sleep; I was too excited. The cat is also thrilled. He can't stop running up and down the stairs and yowling happily into corners. After a three rooms, even a small house is a mansion.

It's too dark to take photos for you, and anyway everything is topsy-turvy. But all is good.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

This morning I got notice that Vox Populi has published my long poem, "A Duet for Uncle Paul." Many of you followed the research behind this poem. Some of you heard it at the Frost Place. One of you, my dear friend David Dear, was instrumental in its genesis, revision, and performance. And so here it is, finally, in print.

I should say that the published version does not include my original indenting; apparently, WordPress can't handle the format. And even beyond that small blip, I am not entirely happy with this version. I think it's a bit flabby and awkward, possibly saccharine in spots . . . though the power of sentimentality is, in part, the point. But it's in the air now, and I can trim and tug at it, eventually.

And I still have that new poem I wrote yesterday morning, which is hidden in my pocket like a gold piece.

* * *

Tomorrow is moving day, and we don't yet have the wifi hooked up at the new place. So you may or may not here from me again soon.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas morning in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The snow is sifting quietly through the white pines, down onto the huge bony rhododendrons, the carpet of dormant pachysandra. I am the only person awake.

Yesterday morning, as I drove back and forth at sunrise, the first lines of a new poem leapt into my mind, a celebration poem, a poem of happiness. It has been a long, long time since I last had the sensation of pure joy pouring through my imaginative life.

I don't know who or what gave me that Christmas gift, but I am honored and grateful.

Love to you all.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Yesterday Tom and Paul lugged Tom's gorgeous custom cabinets from shop to house. And the new sink arrived in the mail--but with a dent in one side. And our next-door neighbor shoveled our sidewalk. And I had to drive the cat to the kennel through an ice storm. And the boys and I had a beautiful noodle-soup dinner at Honey Paw.

As you can see, the day had its highs and lows, but mostly highs. Tom began installing the cabinets and cogitating about a stopgap refrigeration strategy. I tacked up temporary bedroom blinds (e.g., big clean dish towels) and hung a temporary bathroom door (e.g., a shower curtain). Now we are both awake at 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve, no doubt because our brains won't stop clicking and clacking about everything we need to do before we can leave for the holiday. I have more carloads of stuff to drive over to the house this morning; Tom has more kitchen stuff to do. Ah, the spirit of Christmas.

I will try to remember to take some photos of the cabinets for you. In the meantime, I send all of you my best love, with hopes that you have a sweet, peaceable, and comic holiday.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Well, Friday was their last chance, but they blew it: the plumber and the electrician did not give us the gift of water and power for Christmas. So on Wednesday we will be moving into a house with brand-new unusable appliances, nowhere to put our refrigerated goods, and no power of cooking anything more than toast and grilled-cheese sandwiches. I guess we will be channeling Harmony-in-a-power-outage, which is to say: we'll be hoping the temperature stays cold enough so that we can leave coolers of food in the yard.

On the bright side: the freezing rain hasn't started yet.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Now that I own a house, I have also returned to the land of snow shoveling. We have a lot of sidewalk to clear and a longish (for a city) driveway, so our plan, eventually, is to acquire a snowblower. As with most of our plans, eventually is the key word. Thus, I spent a chunk of yesterday shoveling out about two-thirds of what needs to be cleared, and today I'll go finish that up before heading north for band practice.

As I was working yesterday, a young woman stopped to watch me. She was wearing high-heeled boots and was picking her way gingerly down the center of the slushy street. "I hate the snow," she announced, and then asked, "Do you like the snow?" I told her I did like snow but was not especially fond of shoveling it.

She looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments before inquiring, "Why are you moving the snow?"

At this point I realized that she had probably not lived in this country for very long, so I explained that I needed to clear the snow out of the driveway so I could park my car in it. "Oh!" she exclaimed, enlightened, and then continued her walk down the street.

This is the kind of interaction that makes me like Portland.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

We have a moving date: a week from tomorrow, the U-Haul will lug our stuff across town.

So, yes, this is what my holiday week looks like. Tomorrow: drive north for band practice. Friday: appliances arrive. Sunday: drive to my in-laws' house for Christmas. Tuesday: drive home. Wednesday: move. Sunday: take my kid to airport; then drive north for a New Year's Eve gig. New Year's Day: drive back to the new house and work and work and work.

In the meantime, Tom will be spray-finishing cabinets grouting the floor installing cabinets trying to track down the plumber trying to track down the electrician loading the U-Haul driving the U-Haul unloading the U-haul and more and more and more and more. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Monday, December 18, 2017

This is what the kitchen looked like on Sunday morning. Try to concentrate on the beautiful slate-colored tiles and the brand-new door and window, while ignoring the unpainted purple wallboard that will be covered by cabinets, and the two-by-fours that the cabinets will sit on, and the hanging wires and the empty electrical boxes, and the little white tile spacers that I will remove sometime today.

There's still no grout yet, but there will be later in the week. Tonight, however, Tom will start spray-finishing the cabinet interiors, and I will continue packing and lugging, taking a break now and then to actually do some paying work, and to spend time with my kid, and to make sure we have meals and such.

Yesterday I finished ploughing through a giant three-novel Le Carre compendium that I can now return to the library. I think, for the moment, I've read all the Le Carre I need to read; and the only books that remain unpacked are a stack of New Yorkers, Austen's Mansfield Park, Levine's Breath, and a bio of Queen Victoria that my mom just gave me for Christmas. So I guess my parameters are set.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

While poor Tom was tiling into the night, Paul and I were eating pizza together and then attending a Maine Red Claws game, where we got to watch minor-league Boston Celtics hopefuls crush the Salt Lake City competition. Plus, the half-time show involved about 50 middle schoolers riding around the court on unicycles to the accompaniment of electronic Christmas music. It was an enjoyable evening, though I couldn't stop feeling bad that we was having fun while Tom was still toiling away on the floor. Ah well.

Today he is already back at it, and meanwhile I am girding myself to grocery-shop and to sweep road salt off the apartment floors and to clean the apartment bathroom and to hunt down a few big cardboard boxes for packing and to do a bunch of other things that are equally uninteresting to record.

Sorry these posts are so incredibly dull. C'est la vie, here in the unsettled land of moving.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

This morning I feel a bit more energized, but yesterday I wondered if I'd reached the end of my exhaustion rope. Two days of driving, followed immediately by an afternoon of frantic room painting, then grocery shopping, then making dinner . . . and in the midst of my busy day someone slid into the back of my car--fortunately at such a slow speed that neither of us had any damage, but for a few sickening moments I thought I would have to factor car accident into the stresses of the season. Oddly, even the realization that all is well car-wise contributed to my sense of imminent collapse. And when I look back at this list of "things that are making me tired," I note that none is particularly strenuous. Much of my weariness is simply marathon-related, and I feel guilty about even mentioning it, given that Tom is so much more wrung out. But we are crawling over the finish line, no doubt about it.

At least now we have one strong young man on the premises to help us move. I need to acquire at least one more, and figure out a moving date, and rent a truck. We still have no plumbing, but Tom is starting to lay tile this morning. So I think we will have a floor ready for the appliance delivery next Friday.

Now I need to go eat my breakfast, and pack a lunch for Tom, and load some movables into the car, and and and and and. I hope that you are having a pleasantly slow Saturday with coffee and a book. It will make me feel better if at least one of us is.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Eighteen degrees in Portland, and the sidewalks and roofs are slick with ice. The air is stiff and sharp. Tires crunch on chunks of frozen slush; foot passengers skid up and down the hill, heads down, hoods pulled tight. The city feels Bleak House-ian, "and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill."

But I'll be leaving it for 24 hours or so. I'm off this morning to fetch the college boy home for the holidays, and we'll stop at my in-laws overnight before rushing back tomorrow morning so that I can slap a second coat of paint onto the kitchen walls and ceiling before Tom starts tiling this weekend.

I doubt you'll hear from me tomorrow. You'll just have imagine me embarked on my boring car ride across the wilds of southern New Hampshire, listening half-heartedly to podcasts and drinking lukewarm tea from a travel mug. At least I won't be sliding up and down the mountains during a snowstorm . . . that is to say, I don't think I will. One never knows about mountain weather.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Women and Voting

How lovely to wake up to good news in Alabama, a victory achieved because people of color voted for Doug Jones in droves. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping that revolting Roy Moore out of national politics.

But what the hell, white people? This time, laziness and indifference worked in the Democrats' favor, as I presume many of the state's white voters would have opted for Moore. Yet that same laziness and indifference factored into Hillary Clinton's defeat, and they will come around again to bite progressives, just as they bit Republicans last night.

Why do so many people take their franchise for granted? In yesterday's election Alabamans were faced with a candidate who once said that America was a better place before Congress granted voting rights to African Americans and women. Alabama's black citizens fought back against those words. Alabama's white women did not.

The #metoo movement has focused on sexual harassment and assault, but perhaps it should also turn its attention to this other version of sexist assault: the ways in which men have controlled women's ability to speak freely about issues that concern them, to cultivate an individual political conscience that does not necessarily align with that of the men around them, to see their right to vote as a treasure and to claim that treasure every chance they get.

My grandmother was born in 1915, before American women could vote. In historical terms, that was not so long ago, and women's hold on our franchise can still feel fragile and insecure. It is in no woman's best interest to elect a candidate who believes the nation would be a better place if we all kept our mouths shut.

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.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

I am learning to hate urethane. The sanding and the floor washing between coats, the 45 minutes spent stirring the glop in the can, the poisonous miasma, the hours of crawling around on hard floors, the nastiness of paint thinner, the instructions on the label that claim "Covers in two coats!" when you have a premonition you might need four.

Today will be coat 3, and I sincerely hope my premonition is wrong.

On the bright side, the odor of urethane overpowers the smell of the eleven cats who previously lived in the house. And Tom has almost finished the first coat of joint compound in the kitchen. And I bought an affordable airline ticket for my kid. And the cat mostly allowed me to sleep all night.

Today will be a rainy day, and I have not yet spent a rainy day at the house, so I am looking forward to that, even though the basement will probably get wet. And yesterday I did enjoy eating lunch and reading Mansfield Park and watching the sunlight filter through the streaky front windows.
Before dark I'll feel the lassitude enter
first my arms and legs and spread like water
toward the deep organs. I'll lie on my bed
hearing the quail bark as they scurry
from cover to cover in their restless searching
after sustenance. This place can break your heart. 
[from "Keats in California" by Philip Levine]

Monday, December 4, 2017

This is my study, with the first coat of finish on the floors. The floorboards are fir, which has reddened up beautifully, and I love the contrast with the blue and white walls.

On the windowsills are stones from Isle au Haut, off the coast of Stonington. They were among the few decorative items that did not go into storage when we moved from Harmony. I just couldn't bear to give them up. They are sea-smooth and heavy, slightly pockmarked, and the color of slate tinged with blue--a source of peace for both eye and hand. Sometimes I think hefting those stones got me through last winter's despair.

Today I'll give the floors a second coat of finish, touch up some ceiling paint in the living room, copy out a few more Levine poems, read Mansfield Park over peanut butter and crackers in the new dining room, and listen to the new quiet in the walled kitchen.
Suddenly a match flares, I see
there are only us two, 
you and me, alone together in the great room
of the night world, two laborers
with nothing to do,
so I lean to the little flame and light my Lucky
and thank you, comrade, and again
we are in the dark. 
[from "Today and Two Thousand Years from Now" by Philip Levine]

Sunday, December 3, 2017

In the doll-house I generally avoid complicated meals because the kitchen is so small that I have to wash dishes between each step. But last night I decided to make a polpettone, an Italian-style stuffed meatloaf, which I filled with spinach, feta, olives, and pumpkin seeds. I did indeed have to wash dishes all evening long, but the meal was worth it. Despite the multiple steps, the process is simple and the stuffing ingredients are variable according to what happens to be in season or in the refrigerator.

Perhaps I was feeling extra cheerful because (1) Baron and Janet drove over to see the new house after his reading, and they have been significant sources of affection throughout my leaving-Harmony ordeal; and (2) the kitchen has walls and a ceiling!

Perhaps I was also feeling cheerful about having gone to the reading, absorbed complicated thoughts about Lear and human suffering, visited with people I love, and reminded myself that a world exists beyond paint and caulk . . . but that a language of paint and caulk also has its eloquence.

Getting back to those walls, though: The kitchen now has insulation, and that has made a surprising difference in how quiet the house is. It was never a noisy place, but all of a sudden it has become snug and self-contained. I think this must be making our ghost so happy. And there is comedy involved, too, because Tom bought moisture-resistant sheetrock for the kitchen, which instead of being plain white is the color of eggplant. There's something very funny about a purple ceiling.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I would like to be asleep, but the cat said no, so here I am, sitting up in the dark, waiting for the kettle to boil.

* * *

Yesterday the electrical inspector said yes to the kitchen wiring, so today Tom will be able to start actual work on the floors and walls. Perhaps he'll get me started on urethaning the upstairs floors, but at noon I am going to Westbrook Library to listen to my friend Baron Wormser read from his new novel, so that might mess up the timing.

I have been steadily copying out Philip Levine poems. They are very tired pieces, exhausted by loss and aging. It is sad to live inside them, but sweet as well. Yet unusually they are not triggering any need to make poems. My writing life doesn't have the wherewithal to exist just now.

Last night Tom and I went out for a late dinner to our favorite neighborhood restaurant. We sat at the bar and ate Spanish ham and brussels sprouts and smoked rabbit and grilled mullet, and we admired the bartender's athletic drink-shaking, and I had a little talk with another local poet/teacher who happened to come in with her partner. It all felt good.

And another nice thing happened: I got an email indicating that a really well known small press is considering Chestnut Ridge. No promises, no reason to believe the editors will decide to take it . . . but they've held it since last March, and have had other open reading periods since then. So someone, maybe, is giving it a third or fourth look.

* * *

Of course now that I'm awake, the cat has gone back to bed.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Because there was still no usable sink at the house, I had nothing to do over there yesterday except to catch up on yardwork. So yardwork it was. The many maple leaves are now raked into heaps along the fencelines and into the front-yard garden beds, ready to spend a long winter decomposing into beautiful mulch. Why do gardeners bag up their leaves and get rid of them? That makes no sense to me at all.

I've been feeling a bit stupid lately, the result of general tiredness and a small head cold. I managed, for instance, to buy all the ingredients for chicken soup except for the chicken. I've been trying to combat my weariness with poem-copying: so after acquiring Philip Levine's Breath, I have transcribed a few poems, partly because my friend Teresa dislikes his work and I want to see whether or not I agree with her. I think I don't, but I'm not quite sure what I do think, and I'm also not quite sure if this is a good-enough book to use as an example, or maybe it's a great book and I'm just too trapped in my head-cold brain to recognize literary merit. Any of these things might be true, and I think my dim-witted sentence structure explicates the situation nicely.

I'm told that the sink is now fixed, so I guess I can go back to painting and caulking today. Trudge, trudge, trudge.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I thought yesterday we might be making some progress. But no. The bathroom sink (currently the only sink in the house) sprang a drain leak, and a bedroom outlet melted while Tom was sanding the floor. I guess we haven't quite solved those electrical problems.

There is a touch of hopeful news: the electrical inspector will okay the new kitchen wiring on Friday, which means that Tom should be able start insulating and sheetrocking the kitchen this weekend. The cabinets are built (but not urethaned) and the floor tile is on the way. We might even acquire a few appliances someday.

This afternoon I'll be heading north for band practice. Before leaving I'll try to get some yard work done at the house. Right now I feel almost useless. I've essentially finished the painting (except for touch-ups), and the floors still aren't ready to urethane. At the apartment I've finished all the packing I can do at this stage. Tom will fix the plumbing tonight, but for the moment I can't start anything at the house that requires water (e.g., wash paintbrushes, scrub floors, caulk seams).

Maybe I'll force myself to copy out some poems.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Creepy Moment from Literature

"Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny--and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and any body but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now--and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!--and you have gained so much countenance!--and your figure--Nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it--it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle's admiration what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at.--You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman."

"Oh! don't talk so, don't talk so," cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of.

[The passage is from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and that's Fanny's beloved Edmund talking, which makes the whole thing even more unsavory. I daresay we could compile a multi-volume anthology of such moments.]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Well, the floor urethane is on hold until Tom finishes up all the floor prep. But I did manage to get two coats of paint onto the living room ceiling and to put first coats of dark gray onto the wall patches that the electrician damaged. (It seems he changed his mind about where the smoke detectors should go, but only after cutting a few giant practice holes in the wallboard.) I also scraped paint off the stairs with a razor blade. Today: More electrician damage-control. More shower-stall scrubbing. Perhaps an investigation of the clogged dryer vent. Potentially some leaf raking.

But first: editing, and laundry, and some workshop advertising. Would you like to take a 10-week essay workshop with me this winter? Please say yes.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

After getting home yesterday evening, we basically climbed onto the couch and stayed there. Eventually I managed to bumble into the bedroom and get the first decent night's sleep I've had all week. And now this morning I am gearing up for a long day at the house, which I haven't laid eyes on since Tuesday.

The sky is glowering and low over the roofs and trees. Supposedly the sun will appear, but there's no sign of that yet . . . not that any weather should matter to me as I expect to spend the day urethaning floors and/or painting the living room ceiling and/or scraping paint off the stairs with a razor and a putty knife. In addition to sleeplessness I've been fighting a week-long headache, so the prospect of work seems daunting. But I imagine I'll overcome the inertia and manage to get something accomplished.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Miraculously I slept till 6 this morning. And now Tom has rushed out of the house to buy plywood and sheetrock, and now I am gathering my Thanksgiving-dinner responsibilities into bags and coolers, and soon Tom will rush home and we'll eat leftover dinner for breakfast, and then we'll drive west into the future.

Here's hoping you all have a restful/comical/affectionate holiday. Don't forget to go outside and look up at the ragged clouds and then down at the last of the tough old dandelions. Don't forget to dig for gold in your driveway. Don't forget to consult the oracle at Delphi. If you hear an odd whispering noise in the night, do not worry. It will either be teenagers in love or the earth spinning on her axis. Plan ahead for joy, by which I mean: play long ferocious card games with your father and give everyone a chance to try out the guitar effects pedal. Try not to stay awake all night worrying about the fact that your kitchen has no plumbing. Bird augury can be relaxing, but do not sacrifice anything on an altar.

Sending much love--

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


The living room, with elegant lawn chairs. Clever camera angle prevents you from seeing the uninstalled storm door and the old dishwasher waiting to go to the dump.

Stairwell facing from the living room into the mysterious dining room. The ghost lives in the register at the bottom of the stairs.

Oddly compressed view of the  dining room, which is bigger than it looks here. Note the many unattached doors, the piles of kitchen equipment, and the fancy paper-towel centerpiece.

The future guest room/TV-watching room, with no floor showing because it's currently covered in construction equipment and you don't want to look at that. As you may be able to glimpse, the neighbor has a nice garden.

Tree and rock-wall view from the new kitchen door.

Front door, ceiling halo, and building permit taped to the window.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What kind of idiots move at Christmastime two years in a row? Never again.

Yesterday I began the first stages of dismantling the doll-house. We still have no kitchen at the Alcott House, and the upstairs floors still need to be urethaned. But the attics and the dining room are now clean and prepped for storage, so I loaded up my car with kitchen items, art, summer clothes, and the like and lugged them across town. Today: more of the same, plus another few hours spent digging filthy old caulk out of the shower stall. I know I've said this before, but that bathroom . . . Ugh.

I'll spend today and tomorrow working on the house, and then we'll be off to Vermont to pick up Son Number 2 and his friend and drive them up to my parents' place for the holiday. Son Number 1 and his friend, sadly, will be far away, but at least I'll have a few of my dear young people to enjoy. I just hope I can manage to enjoy them and don't waste my hours sleeplessly fretting about house stuff.

But guess what? I fixed a leak in the bathroom sink drain. I installed a towel rack and a new toilet seat. You're watching the birth of the new handy me.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

As you know, the house project has sucked up nearly all of my time and attention. As a result, I am feeling exquisitely un-literary, and exhausted, and mentally unfocused. There is no way I can keep up with Coriolanus or the biography of John Brown. So I have allowed myself to fall into the comfort of Le Carre novels. And indeed they have been a comfort. I carry one around with me and dip into it and feel my anxiety level drop instantly.

But last night, after a long day of tile shopping and appliance shopping and trim painting and toilet-lid assembly, etc., etc., I suddenly realized that Le Carre and John Fowles and Philip Roth all share something . . . voice, point of view, weirdness about women, brilliant evocation of male weariness, deep intelligence, tenderness for the traditions of the language, strange blind spots . . . in other words, An Essay in Embryo.

Eureka! I could have shrieked. I did run into the kitchen, where Tom was washing dishes, and make him listen to me marveling at the miracle: I thought I was simply pouring a genre novel into my exhaustion. But my brain rebelled and informed me, "I'm not going to stop putting two and two together, no matter how much you distract me."

Of course I have no time to write an essay right now. But just having an idea! The essay itself hardly matters.

And of course the joy wore off, which accounts for why I'm awake at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning--because my brain also won't stop reciting the list of everything I need to do need to do need to do need to do. "Wash out the attic space start boxing up summer things start packing dishware figure out how to clean the dryer vent worry about the lack of a bathroom door worry about the smell of urethane scrub the disgusting shower worry about going away for Thanksgiving and missing precious work days worry worry worry worry. . . . "

At 4 I finally gave up pretending to sleep. So here I am, on this dark and rainy morning, trying to resurrect last night's eureka moment. And I can still feel it, a warm synapsy pleasure amid the worries. Feel free to write the essay yourself, if you want to steal the idea. I'm content to have just thought about it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

This morning we go shopping: kitchen tile, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, range hood. It's hard for me to imagine buying all of those items at once, brand new. That doesn't seem like us at all. But such is the situation.

Tom has finished building all of the cabinets at his boss's shop. If the electrician would finish up, then we could actually start putting in insulation and sheetrock. And then the cabinets could go in. And then we could get plumbing. And then we could live there.

Yesterday: Second coat of pale gray on the living room trim. First coat on the bathroom trim. Started prepping the upstairs floors for urethane. Midday I sat down in the dining room, at the child's desk that serves as our picnic area, and ate a sandwich and read my spy novel and looked out the window at the quiet street. Meanwhile, the friendly ghost tapped and sighed.

I look forward to standing in my study, staring out into northern light over the winter yards around me, as the friendly ghost follows me upstairs. I look forward to sitting by the little woodstove in the little living room and planning my sunny front-yard garden. I look forward to having enough counter space to roll out an apple pie.

I am so tired of not being home.

Friday, November 17, 2017

I left Dover-Foxcroft at 6:30 a.m. yesterday, got into Portland at 9, drove to South Portland to pay for the violin pickup we'd been trying out at band practice, drove back to Portland to the new house, and painted trim for 5 hours, went to two grocery stores in the pouring rain, returned to the apartment, cooked dinner, and tried to fall asleep as soon as possible but ended up being restless and awake for most of the night.

I'm coming down with a cold, which is no surprise, given how tired I am. The living room trim is an awful task . . . well, more specifically, the balusters on the open stairway are an awful task, involving little tiny brushes and upside-down crouching and all kinds of cutting in around un-tapable bits and pieces of woodwork. Next up is bathroom trim, which will be blessedly straightforward. The worst thing about the bathroom was the filth, and I think I've got that under control. But yuck.

In non-house-related news:

* My sudden spate of submissions resulted in three sudden acceptances. So that's something.

* I'm beginning to think that John Le Carre, like Raymond Chandler, belongs in that rare class of writers who both define and exceed the restrictions of their genres.

* This violin pickup I just bought will allow me to use an effects pedal to manipulate the sound. And now I've got a borrowed pedal to play with, so my family will be entertaining ourselves with "Violin Sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughn" and "Violin Sounds like Bootsy Collins" during the slow hours of turkey cooking next week.

* Sometimes I wonder why people even own cats. Especially people who really, really need to sleep.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Last night's dream: Tom let a bear cub into the apartment, and we all got fleas.

* * *

I finally took a photo for you. This is the fireplace and the eye of the little woodstove and some of the living room wall. Ignore the yellow painting tape and the crooked camera placement. The ghostly emanation on the left is entirely friendly. Eventually the baseboard will be pale gray.

I finished my editing project, so today I'll be painting and taping until it's time to take a nap before driving north for band practice. Second coat of blue on the bathroom. Maybe a first coat of gray on the living room trim. Definitely some caulk on the bathroom trim. By the way, "Painting around Plumbing" is a great idea for a yoga class. Talk about crazy positions to hold.

I've decided to read another Le Carre novel: The Perfect Spy. I like that it's encased in that old-fashioned sturdy library covering that's like a plasticized version of a paper bag. It's the kind of book cover that could take a bullet but it's also anonymous. I could be reading Ayn Rand and no one would know.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Yesterday the exhaustion overtook me. I edited, and worked on some submissions, and then I walked into town to run errands, and then I drove to the house to paint, and by the time I arrived I could barely convince myself to do anything. I did put a first coat of white on the fireplace and a second coat of white on the bathroom ceiling. I did measure all of the heat vents for new covers. But that's all I could manage. I crawled home, half asleep, and made a chicken potpie, and folded some laundry, and kept up a conversation with Tom when he finally got home. But the couch vanquished me, and then I sleep-walked from the couch into bed, and then I dreamed all night about an old friend who doesn't like me anymore.

It did not seem restful. Still, this morning I no longer feel like I'm about to fall into a coma in my dinner plate. So I guess all that somnolence did something for me, despite the unpleasant dreams.

Today or tomorrow I should finish up my current editing project, and then I will have a brief hiatus until the next one arrives. The house will suck up my so-called free time, but at least I can do the work in daylight while I'm still sort of fresh. And tomorrow I'll be driving north for band practice, so that will be a bit of a change, though a two-and-a-half-hour drive into darkness is not exactly relaxing.

I did get some poems submitted yesterday, so that's something. I did get some paychecks in the mail, so that's something too. And the creamy white fireplace surround is very visually satisfying. And the chicken pie was good. And my bed has crisp white cotton sheets and a thick white duvet. Small comforts can be the best comforts.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The blood-and-pus-colored living room has been transformed! Though the fireplace surround is still coated with primer and the trim clings to its original filthy white and the ceiling is in the process of being patched, the walls are now a glowing satiny gray. The difference between Infection Delight and Morris Room Gray is very gratifying.

I also made a start on the bathroom, which among other things is hideously dirty and is filled with other people's hair and is generally a gagging job to clean. It, like the kitchen, should be torn out down to the studs, but there's no time for that. So we removed the ugly hardware and I have been washing walls and ceiling, caulking seams, and trying to plug the largest of the cracks and holes. I forget if I told you that some previous owner had filled a window crack with Silly Putty. That's the kind of home maintenance this poor house has endured.

Other peculiar things: someone painted the bathroom ceiling blue. Why did that seem like a good idea? In other rooms I've also found traces of navy blue trim and dark red doors. Maybe this place used to be a haunted house. If so, our ghost must be in a much better mood now.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Yesterday was a busy painting day, which then morphed into a late night out with my sister and our friends. So why am I awake at 6 a.m.?

I had strange dreams involving espionage and a wildcat and, I think, a castle and some circus ropes and a sniper and a bowl of lavender rice. The mood was grim.

Now everything in the apartment is quiet. I am loath to run the coffee grinder in case I wake up another sleeper, but I would really like a cup. Soon I will break down and be noisy.

Daylight, daylight, fingering its way over the flat bay. I could write a book about all this, if I knew how.

Friday, November 10, 2017

In August there were close to fifty sailboats moored outside my window. Now there is only one. The trees that line the prom are nearly bare, and through their branches I can glimpse old Fort Gorges, the square and lonely hulk of the harbor, clinging to its pedestal of granite.

I need a new winter coat.

On Monday the landlord is bringing someone by to look at the doll-house. Our tenure here is nearly done, and that's a fine thing, despite the glories of the view. But I do hope that we'll be able to move into a house that at least has a kitchen sink and refrigeration. Maybe we will.

Last night Tom sat on the couch making calculations about kitchen-cabinet materials. I made beef and beans and cornmeal dumplings and thought about the Le Carre novel I'm reading, which is really more like a series of linked stories about the Sadness of the Spy. It's very autumnal, with gently beautiful prose--not at all like a junk thriller. A good cadge from the free shelf, and way easier to read over lunch than primary-source descriptions of John Brown being hung.

Today: editing, naturally. Also housework in the doll-house, in preparation for my sister's visit tomorrow. Also caulking windows at the Alcott House. We may not have refrigeration, but at least I'm fending off the north wind.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Finally we got a frost last night, and now dogs are walking down the prom with their silly dog coats on, and women are wearing fuzzy hats, and the pompous gulls are nowhere to be seen, and the basil plant on my deck is shriveled and black.

Last night I cooked chicken soup, and Tom quit working at the house slightly early, and we just sat on the couch and did nothing. It was a tiny respite anyway. The exhaustion level is climbing, but he is soldiering on, and I am trying to follow. If nothing else, I have gotten a whole lot more competent with a hammer and a brush.

I did manage to send a couple of poems out to a venue that had requested a submission. I did manage to spend some time with another poet's work. I did manage to revise the description of my forthcoming essay class. But mostly "be a good friend to Tom" feels like the basic goal of my life these days.

Today: more editing, and then I have to go to South Portland to pick up a new lockset at the door-and-window store, and then I have to scrape paint and spackle holes in the Alcott House living room walls, and then I have to shuttle back to the apartment to make dinner and fold laundry.

I have to say that I am looking forward to painting that living room. Currently it has a cracked dirty white ceiling, pockmarked dirty mustardy walls, filthy chipped white trim, and a gruesome red-painted brick fireplace surround. The color combinations are painful: kind of a blood and pus look. But when I'm done with it, we'll have a clean matte white ceiling, medium-gray satin walls, pale-gray semi-gloss trim, and a white-painted fireplace surround. I can't wait to rest my eyes on that improvement.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some bright spots, dear Democrats! And Maine voted resoundingly to expand our ACA/Medicare coverage--a satisfying thumb of the nose to our Trumpian governor, who had rejected those federal funds for no reason other than spite.

This morning I am the proud owner of a left ear that can hear again, now that the giant ball of wax has been removed from my ear canal. And I have fresh horsehair on my violin bow, and I went for a 4-mile walk with a delightful young person, and I finished a chapter in my editing project, and I made braised chicken with cherry tomatoes and green olives, and I found a book to read . . . one I'd taken off a free shelf a few months ago and then promptly forgot I possessed: a John Le Carre novel called The Secret Pilgrim. Every once in a while, a Cold War spy is just the ticket.

Today I thought I was going north for band practice, but it turns out that I'll be staying in town--painting, of course; editing, of course; but less rushing-around-trying-to-get-basic-stuff-under-control than I'd planned on doing. I've got a stack of poems I probably ought to submit to journals, so maybe I'll try to snatch some time for that. I've got a workshop advertisement to revise. I've got some friends' poems to respond to.

I am feeling a little bit cheerful about politics, though: like I'm now standing two steps up from the cellar-hole of doom.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

There's still been no frost in Portland, but the temperatures are finally beginning to drop into the thirties. It will be a brisk and chilly election day.

I've got a schedule filled with this-and-that: fetch my rehaired violin bow, walk with a friend, make a quick doctor's-office visit, figure out where I'm supposed to vote, plus all of the usual editorial stuff. I also need to find something new to read. I'm nearly done with the John Brown bio, and I finished the Elena Ferrante novel my mother gave me for my birthday (capsule review: "mixed feelings, not all that enthusiastic, characters are very irritating, setting is well done"). So maybe I'll add "go to library" to my to-do list.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dinner with friends last night, and now a lovely damp fog. I'll be back at my desk, with a brief midmorning dash to drop off my bow for rehairing.

At dinner last night no one said a word about the latest mass shooting, the latest corruption revelations, the latest North Korea fears. I don't believe this is indifference. I believe we are all silently dog-paddling in a murk of dread.

Maybe that's why I write about painting and planting garlic. Maybe because I know there are horrible things that you don't need me to tell you. You already know them; you know them too well.

Anyway the rain will be good for the garlic.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I seem to be back to normal this morning, as evidenced by how early I woke up. On a morning when everyone else is wallowing in their extra change-the-clocks hour, I was wide-awake at 4:30, and I can't even blame the cat. So here I am at the kitchen table, in my familiar red bathrobe, with my familiar white cup of delightful black coffee, feeling peppy all by myself.

Yesterday Tom did the first stage of the upstairs-floor sanding. Some idiot homeowner of the past had painted those beautiful fir floors, and then a second idiot painted them again, so the sanding job was slow. But already, even half-done, the difference is glorious.

In the meantime, I finished the dining room touch-ups and removed all the painter's tape, and voila! A sweet little yellow-walled, gray-trimmed, white-closeted room, where someday I will be sitting in my red bathrobe writing to you.

And I also planted my garlic, and finished planting tulips and daffodils and grape hyacinths, and mulched the beds with leaves. And I prepped and taped the back room (aka, room for guests/room for watching TV) for painting. And I did not take any kind of nap at all.

All the while, that poem draft I wrote last week is bubbling in my thoughts, like a secret joy. What a relief and a pleasure it is to be back to my favorite self: dirt-smudged woman with a pocket full of syllables.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Good morning from the person who slept all afternoon and all night as innumerable numbers of television episodes of something-or-other unwound from her laptop.

I am more or less back in the land of the attentive, though I do feel about 10 IQ points dumber than usual. My IV drip was fentanyl, so this experience has given me a small tame view into what that drug does for opioid addicts. Ack, is all I can say.

Over the course of my life I've had surprisingly few procedures involving anesthesia--really, just wisdom teeth removal when I was 17 and the induced birth of my older son when I was 29. So the whole get-an-IV thing was a novelty, and I kept asking questions: What's this for? What's that for? The nurses were probably relieved when I lapsed into unconsciousness.

Anyway, the best thing about today: Eating food! Drinking coffee! Breakfast, how I love thee!

Tom's just left to go sand floors at the Alcott House. I will bumble over there eventually, but my first focus will be on planting my garlic and the rest of my flower bulbs. Then painting, painting, painting . . . unless the residual fentanyl decides that I really ought to go home and take another 12-hour nap.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A taste of rain this morning. Dog-walking women giggling together under my window. A heavyset jogger gamely working his way up the hill. And those Legionnaire seagulls, still making pompous small-talk on the green.

Before me at noon is the excitement of a minor routine medical procedure that will nonetheless leave me drooping on the couch for the rest of the day. I foresee a series of bland television episodes in my future.

In the meantime, it's possible I may get a little work done. Or not.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Yesterday morning I was resigning myself to not writing poems. Yesterday afternoon I wrote the first draft of a poem that might be a keeper. Goes to show I know nothing at all about the workings of my own brain.

In other old news, the gulls are flying and the cars are driving and the cat is scowling at a squirrel. But, hey, my baseball pick won the World Series!

I could give you the lowdown on how I came to write this poem, but really: it's the same old story. Throw some words onto the page for the thousandth time, and suddenly they twitch into life like Frankenstein's monster and then drag you off into a dirty alley and make you fork over your wallet and your keys.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Well, the water's drained out of the basement, so that's one good thing. And the electrician wired up the kitchen, so that's another. And we got a month's extension on our doll-house lease, so that's a relief too.

Today is November 1, and there's still been no frost in Portland. My basil is not exactly thriving, but it's viable, and nasturtiums are blooming in the Alcott House garden. It's so odd, this long mildness; I have no idea if it's normal or not.

I've taken a short break from the John Brown biography, mostly because I've reached the chapter about the Harpers Ferry attack, and it's full of blood and wounds and agony and has become a dreadful book to read over breakfast.  Instead, I've started my first Elena Ferrante novel, which my mother gave me for my birthday. So far I'm not enthralled, but maybe I'll get sucked in soon. I know my reading state of mind is not at its best. I wake in the night worrying about what I've forgotten to spackle or caulk. My hands are constantly streaked with paint. When I'm not frantically rehabbing the house, I'm frantically editing other people's books. My brain just does not have much room for private words now, and that makes me uneasy.

This time last year, we were getting ready to move to Portland. I was in a terrible, and different, state of frenzy. Then, all last winter, I was frozen in homesickness. So I wonder if this shift in the seasons should seem ominous to me. That's how my mind works these days. It occasionally asks, "If I had more leisure to think about myself, how would I feel?" And then it has nightmares about paint.

Meanwhile, the gruesomeness of Washington is like being stuck in front of an awful blaring TV in a hospital waiting room. I can't stop looking, but I hate every second of it.

But there are good things, there are good things. I'm proud of the job we're doing on the house. I'm proud to be an indispensable part of the team. With one tiny exception involving a very high stairwell, I've done every speck of painting on the place. Given the hideous condition of those walls, it's been a ton of work. And Tom and I are doing well together as a couple without children at home. That's a big deal for us, as it is for any parents who have loved and tended their children so intensely.

I've published seven books and written nine. I should be easy on myself; I shouldn't fret because I can't write much now. Words aren't the only important thing in the world.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

No tree damage at the Alcott House, just an inch and a half of rainwater in the basement. Looks like we have to add "sump pump" to our list of home improvements. Sigh.

Anyway, we have an intact roof, not like the people three houses down, who are dealing with a sidewalk tree that toppled into their front porch, got all tangled up with wires, and, ugh, what a mess. I read somewhere that 150 street and park trees fell in Portland alone; I assume that figure doesn't include the fallen trees on private property.

My friends up north say the damage is bad there, too, and now they've got long-term power problems as well. The doll-house lost electricity for several hours yesterday, but for some reason Alcott House did not, despite the tree debacle down the street. I guess this is the definition of urban luxury. If I were living in Harmony, I'd still be in the dark.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Like much of coastal New York and New England, we had a wild night, with hurricane-force winds and pounding rain. This morning things seem to be settling down, but the streets are littered with leaves and vote-for-me! signs; the placid bay is boiling over the jetties; trees are writhing in the wind; and emergency vehicles keep flying by on their way to some crisis or another. Schools are closed, and many people have no power, though all we've dealt with here in the doll-house are a few flickers. I am hoping that all is well at Alcott House. It's in a big-old-tree neighborhood, and the worst could happen there.

Fingers of sun are beginning to wriggle through the mist and the storm clouds. The light has a thunderstorm clarity, as if we might see a rainbow at any moment. A few dogs and walkers have emerged from hiding, and two dozen seagulls are solemnly strutting over the park grass, like Legionnaires at a welcome dinner.

Inside the doll-house the windows are still creaking in the gale. I'm tempted to go outside with the dog walkers, and maybe I will. I do love a big wind.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Yesterday I took the day off from painting and drove my parents around to see the sights. We spent most of the morning at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, watching the waves and staring out to sea. We spent most of the afternoon at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and the Maine Historical Society. And then we came back to the doll-house and I made a baked ham, roasted fingerling potatoes, kale-from-my-garden dinner.

It was pleasant to amble around doing not much. The day was crisp and Octobery. The waves were satisfyingly crashy. The tour buses didn't arrive till we were about to leave.

The garden behind the Longfellow House was quiet and sweetly moldering. While we were there, my father accosted a man in a Chicago Cubs hat, commiserating with him about his team's loss. Instantly his wife bridled up. "We are still World Series champions," she declared. "Nobody else has won the title yet." It was quite entertaining, how passionately she was clinging to her last two days of Cub stardom.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Today is my younger son Paul's twentieth birthday. As Tom said last night, "we are now out of the teenage racket."

It is amazing to me, the certain love from and for this beloved son and friend, who twenty years ago was born at four in the morning during the first ice storm of the season. He was a cozy baby, and a sweet and moody little boy, and a sad and overwrought high schooler, and now he is a tall bearded man, passionate about music and theater and the wilderness--excited, volatile, loving, engaged--but he still calls home every other day or so, for the pleasure of hearing my voice. That in itself is a miracle, at least for me.

We are separated by hundreds of miles today, but we both know we are thinking of one another.

Much love and pride to you, my dear boy, today and every day.

Friday, October 27, 2017

One thing led to another, and I ended up spending the entire day at the house, painting the dining room and the spare room and dealing with the stove guy. But now we have a beautiful little woodstove in the fireplace and no worrisome crack in the chimney. If only we had a kitchen.

The rain has passed, after a stormy night, and today looks like it will be bright and shiny. My parents will be arriving later this afternoon, so I guess it's good I donated a work day to the house cause. Not that I'm complaining about having to mosey around town. It will be a pleasant change.

I'd like to imagine I'll work on my poem draft this morning, but that doesn't seem likely. Last fall I had to manufacture tasks to fill my lonely time. This fall I can't scrape up enough hours in the day.

Still, I'd so much rather be overwhelmed than pointless.

I should take some pictures for you. I'll try to remember.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

I spent yesterday morning with a group of alternative-ed high school students who'd come up to Portland from far southern Maine to spend a morning writing about place. They were cheerful and engaged and worked hard, but, interestingly, while they were eager to talk about how they were writing and from what sources their ideas had come, they were very shy about sharing their actual work. I understand that.

This morning I am again rushing off early, but this time to let the woodstove guy into the house so he can install the stove, repair a chimney crack, and fix a cleanout door. In the meantime, I guess I'll paint some On the Rocks onto the trim in the dining room.

This has not been a great week for getting my editing chores done. But at least there is island weather. And I did start a poem draft while I was teaching yesterday. It features a male character named Baby. Don't ask me where he came from because I have no idea. However, I am all ready to like him.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The rain is falling in sheets and gusts, and I will be walking to work in it. I've got a teaching gig in the morning, and then a walk home in the rain, and then probably a drive to the house to paint and paint and paint. Tom says he's going to work too, though I know his foot is paining him.

I began the morning with a rejection letter, plus my team lost the first game of the World Series, so I am primed for improvement. I think a walk in the rain should help. Yesterday, before the wet moved in, the gusts were whipping leaves and clouds, and the squirrels and chipmunks were skittering up and down the trees. It was weather that makes you lift your head and breathe; weather that, if you're an old milkcow, makes you kick up your heels like a heifer. That is not a metaphor. Have you ever watched an old milkcow rediscover her youth? Nothing is more delightful.

I doubt I will scamper to work, but I hope to trudge cheerfully.

Yesterday, a friend took away our old woodstove, and a nice man bought the old kitchen range for 50 bucks. If you know anyone who needs a used dishwasher and/or refrigerator, let me know. It will be a relief to a have a living room without any appliances in it.

I've got the second coat of yellow on the dining room walls, and this afternoon I'll need to cut in around the trim. No matter that we don't have a kitchen: at least I'm gradually deleting the truly horrible paint jobs in this place. Baby-aspirin pink versus Band-Aid tan? Which is worse? Ugh.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A murky morning, luridly lit. The sunrise was lavender smoke, and now the first light is Day-Glo mustard backed with pink.

Tom is is still hobbling, but his foot isn't infected, so that's a good thing. I'm sorry he got hurt, but I'm not sorry for the enforced rest. If ever there was a man who deserved two days on the couch, it's him.

Today I'll be supervising the exit of the old woodstove (it's off to cozy retirement as a camp stove in the country) and slapping a second coat of Sunny Veranda onto the dining room walls. And then, at some point, I'll get back to editing a book about St. Paul, Minnesota in 1910; do various chores to save Tom a step (literally); set up a time to get my violin bow rehaired; think longingly of writing poems; wonder about when I'll get a chance to finish planting tulips and garlic; and so on.

Yesterday, as I stood next to my kale patch, a neighbor stopped by to admire how quickly the garden has transformed from weeds to produce. I felt proud, standing there surrounded by those elephantine leaves. Really, it has been amazing. And it is a comfort to remember that it counts as progress. Though we still have no kitchen, at least we have a beautiful Swiss chard crop.

Monday, October 23, 2017

An exhausting but fun weekend, in which we won the Battle of the Bands and played a dance at an apple orchard and got paid for it all, followed by a less fun Monday in which I take Tom to Urgent Care because he stepped on a nail. At least this will force him to sit down and rest.

Today: editing, grocery shopping, laundry, cookie baking for a son's birthday, painting the dining room, making something or other for dinner, worrying about Tom's foot, not writing poems.

Friday, October 20, 2017

We have a brand-new sewer pipe! No longer will I cringe every time I flush a toilet. And now I can plant tulip bulbs in the front yard.

That won't be happening today, however. This afternoon I'll hit the road again, heading out for band gigs tonight (in Dover-Foxcroft) and tomorrow night (in Hope). Poor Tom will be left alone with a needy house and a ravening cat as I compete in The Battle of the Bands and then play for a dance party.

[What does one wear to a Battle of the Bands? I'm sure whatever it is, I don't own it.]

* * *

I do want to mention that my friend and I are still working on our co-written poem draft. I am so surprised and amazed at its quality. It think we are on to something, and I am finding the project such a comfort amid the crush of painting and caulking.

* * *

If you want to feel better about the state of the nation, don't read the current New Yorker article about Mike Pence.

* * *

In one week, my younger son is going be 20 years old. He is also more than 6 feet tall and has a giant beard. How did this happen?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reading the headlines is making me glum. Once again, our jerk-in-chief is displaying his heartlessness, his personal cowardice, his narcissism. How can anyone be so awful? He is truly a despicable American.

As I forge on with my own little life--as I do my jobs, try to write, tend my home--I am also perpetually aware that, in the eyes of this monster, I am worthless. The only thing I have going for me is that I'm white. Otherwise: I earn very little money. I am not beautiful. I do not toady to him. So why should he care if I have health care or clean water or breathable air?

It is terrible to watch such cruelty on public display. It is terrible to recognize that everything I value about humanity is exactly what he derides and ignores. Complexity, variation, ambiguity, creativity, patience, altruism, conversation, thought, honesty, faith. These count for exactly nothing.

I know that none of this is news to you. I know you feel the same way that I do. So at least we have each other. You, over there: you interesting, curious, kind, intelligent person. You, with your moral convictions and your open heart. You, a being who admits you've made a mistake, and apologizes, and tries to do better. You, who listens. Thank you for holding fast.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It looks like, finally, we're about to make some big advances on our house rehab project. Today and tomorrow, the plumber and the excavator will be replacing the sewer line. The electrician promises to come soon, as does the chimney-repair man. So maybe by next week we'll have the power laid out in the kitchen, the chimney crack sealed, a new chimney cleanout door attached, and a woodstove installed. We're going to buy a gently used Jotul F 100, which is little and cute and has a big window for watching the flames, and will fit easily into our teeny-tiny fireplace opening. It is pleasant to imagine Alcott House with a brisk little fire on the hearth.

Today: editing, of course. And maybe running back and forth to deal with the plumber. And definitely painting . . . mostly touch-up work on the finished rooms. I bought some tulip bulbs, and as soon as the sewer work is done, I will feel safe about planting them in the front foundation beds.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Me Too

It is startling--no, shocking; no, horrifying--to read in plain English what women have always privately known: that nearly every one of us has been subjected to sexual harassment, and that most of us have seen it as so normal that we haven't said a word to anyone about it . . . often not even to ourselves. This is sickening. It has likewise been a shock to read the reactions of good and earnest men who have never truly comprehended the breadth and depth of the issue; who have not understood that nearly every woman they know has been fending off or giving in since she was a little girl.

I have been touched, leered at, propositioned, and joked about. I have been threatened and grabbed and thrown into doors. I have found myself in frightening and bizarre situations with both strangers and loved ones. I learned early, very early, to be wary, to compartmentalize, to keep quiet.

I have listened to other men ridicule my husband for not keeping me in line . . . by which I mean, when we went to buy invitations for our wedding, and I said that I'd be keeping my own name, the clerk stared at Tom and said, "You're going to let her do that?" I ventured to comment, at a car dealership, about a truck that Tom was considering, and the salesman sneered, "I guess we can tell who wears the pants in the family." In other words: what kind of man allows a woman to have any power--even the power to ask a question or choose her name?

The thing is: my experiences are not unique. They are normal. In some ways I am lucky. I've never had to sit on anyone's lap to get a promotion. I've never been raped at a party and dumped behind a trash can. But you'll notice that I'm still not giving you many details about what did happen. And that's because harassment is so intimately woven into the complications of my history that saying anything is liable to create an enormous tear. What's the point of that? That's a question that all women ask themselves, all the time. And so most of us stay quiet.

There's shame in admitting that one has been a victim. There's the simple hideous distress of having to relive these moments of the past. But at the same time I've had a perpetual need to concentrate on the ways in which I have not been beaten down. I read. I write. I try to see the ambiguities. That preoccupation has led me away from an urge to blame. This may not be a good thing in the sense of revealing the depth of the problem. But it has been a way to take charge.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No longer do I only paint. Now I also rip out phone wiring, yank out nails, tear down ceilings, spackle holes, caulk cracks, and brandish a power drill.

And then I come back to the doll-house and do laundry, clean the bathroom, make dinner, and wake up at 3 a.m. after dreaming that a camel was blocking the restaurant door I was trying to open.

The upshot is: I'm tired. And today I have a desk full of editing, followed by more painting and caulking. This all seems likely to go on forever, certainly well beyond the day we move in. I think we will be lucky to have running water in that kitchen by November, let alone any usable surfaces.

Ah, well. I am comforted by the beauty of the freshly painted green front door. The paint chip calls it Gleeful. That is probably going too far, but it is certainly a great improvement over Shiny Electric Blue with Matching Plastic Shutters.

I am also comforted by the bounty of my new garden. Those peaked little greens I transplanted from my deck containers adore their sunny new home. I have an overflow of kale, chard, and arugula, and the perennial herbs are thriving.

Of course I'm also melancholy about Richard Wilbur this morning. The sage is growing, but the old guard is fading away.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

I slept till 7 this morning, which is blissfully late for me, and now I am quietly sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and thinking about John Brown. There is so much moral ambiguity in his story . . . not just within the man himself but also within his detractors and supporters--for instance, the Concord cadre, as Thomas Wentworth Higginson (himself a fervent abolitionist) recalled:
Higginson saw that, despite their different temperaments, [Thoreau and Bronson Alcott] took self-reliant action when it came to protesting against slavery. For them as for others, Transcendentalism bred not complacency but courage. Higginson enjoyed describing Alcott's intrepedity during the Anthony Burns affair [involving a fugitive slave being recaptured in a free state] and again after the Harpers Ferry raid, when Alcott offered to help go rescue John Brown from the Charles Town jail. Thoreau, too, combined quietism and pluck. As Higginson noted, "In a similar way Thoreau, after all his seeming theories of self-absorption, ranged himself on the side of John Brown as placidly as if he were going for huckleberries.". . . 
. . . Transcendentalism went hand in hand with a militant reform stance. Like Higginson, [Reverend Theodore] Parker was deeply involved in several movements, including women's rights, temperance, and prison reform. His Abolitionism started mildly, as indicated by his rational "Letter to a Slave-Holder" (1848), but flamed into rage with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Even as he kept up his pursuits as a multilingual scholar and minister, he took part in attempted rescues of fugitive blacks and endorsed slave rebellions. Praising John Brown's effort to spark an insurrection by blacks at Harpers Ferry, he wrote, capitalizing his words for emphasis: "ONE HELD AGAINST HIS WILL AS A SLAVE HAS A NATURAL RIGHT TO KILL EVERY ONE WHO SEEKS TO PREVENT HIS ENJOYMENT OF LIBERTY." 
[from David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist]
Higginson is most famous today as Emily Dickinson's mentor and editor, but he also "command[ed] the first African American regiment during the Civil War," and, as I discovered when I was compiling my anthology A Poet's Sourcebook, he was one of the first people to write down the lyrics of the spirituals he heard his soldiers singing. The ways in which these nineteenth-century figures intertwine are fascinating--almost as if the century were a small town. But I digress, for my central concern this morning circles around these quotations from Reynolds's biography, which are morally startling yet also inarguable. As someone who was raised in the Society of Friends, I tend to instantly fall toward pacificism. Still, as the institution of slavery has shown, peace-mongering may also be an easy way to avoid taking a stand against evil. It seems that pacificism, too, can be cowardice and selfishness--the opposite of righteousness.

Friday, October 13, 2017

This has been a ridiculously social week for me. On Tuesday I went for a long walk with a dear young person. On Wednesday I went north for band practice, then spent the night with the young person's parents, also dear. On Thursday I went north for a poetry/fiction reading and then had an impromptu dinner at the home of complete (but lovely) strangers. Tonight I'll perform at a Portland bar in front of a crowd of people I may or may not know.

Yesterday afternoon my college son called and asked, "How does it feel to have a social life?" I told him it felt peculiar. He agreed. He finds it peculiar as well, all this hanging out and talking to people.

I do have a few hours alone today to recover. But on the whole, I know it's good for me to climb out of my hole and mingle with my species. Sometimes, in these gatherings, I find myself sinking back into a teenage world of worry--you know, about stupid things like "I wish my hair didn't stick out so weirdly." But mostly I'm learning to forget them. Who cares if my hair sticks out weirdly? Who cares if my pants make me look fat? I'm 53 years old. What do I have to prove?

I've also had another interesting social interaction this week. One of my Frost Place friends, a young man who's just snagged his first university job, proposed an experiment: that we write a poem draft together, responding to one another's lines. He began by sending me five or so lines, I added five more, he added five more, and so on. We don't have the same writing or imaginative style, but we seem to be working well together--feeling each other out, riffing on each other's narrative moves. The project is becoming a fascination, and it also feels like a creative work-around for two people who have been so busy with other life requirements that we haven't been able to be poets. I don't know where this piece will go, but it's the most exciting poetic thing I've been able to manage this fall.

See you tonight, maybe?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Yesterday I went on a 4-mile sunset walk with a young woman whom I have loved since she was a baby. It was a very sweet evening--watching for egrets, exclaiming at the colors reflecting in the cove, chattering in the way people do when they have known each other forever . . . which, as far as she is concerned, is the kind of person I am in her life. And for me, just getting a dose of beloved young person, with mine so far away, was revivifying. I came home and made dinner for Tom and told him all about my walk, and we were both so happy to talk about our friend and her plans. I love that these life links give him joy too.

Tonight I head north for band practice. And by the way, southern Maine friends, we are performing in Portland on Friday night, at the Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street, from 6 to 8. It would be so lovely to see you there.

In the meantime, I will do some editing and then work on a poem and then run over to the house and slap another coat of paint onto the stairwell. It's amazing how much better a wall looks when it isn't covered in a single coat of dirty, streaky mustard-color swiped over an equally dirty, streaky coat of Pepto-Bismol pink. Blah.

I will leave you with a fine quotation from the Cleveland Indians radio play-by-play guy:
"He's gonna open this thing wide open."
Ain't it the truth?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The doll-house is filled with wet light. Fingers of sun glint off wet leaves and roads, the park grass is speckled with seagulls, an old man is searching a trashcan for returnables, and some one has propped up the abandoned red bike.

Tom and I spent the entire long weekend working on the house (with a brief late afternoon hiatus for my birthday), and now Tom has to go do the same thing on other people's houses. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, and I wish I had more actual skills so I could take the burden off him. As it is, all I can do is be the queen of paint. I have now finished all three upstairs rooms--ceiling, walls, and trim--and have moved on to the ceiling in the landing and the stairwell. Today I'll do a second ceiling coat there and maybe a first coat of wall paint . . .

. . . I know this is dull talk, but painting is the only news I possess.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I had a lovely day yesterday. We took a half-day off from home renovation and went for a long walk around our new neighborhoods . . . first down to Baxter Boulevard, along Back Cove, and then up through Payson Park and a zig-zag through the small streets along Ocean Avenue. We saw plenty of egrets, which made me happy.

We went back to the apartment for a nap, and in the evening, as the island fog rolled in, we ambled out for oysters at a new place on Washington Avenue. And then we walked another block for dinner and really good wine at the Drifter's Wife.

It was a sweet day, with many messages of affection from friends and family. I feel so fortunate to have you all.

Today we jump back onto the house-repair train. Tom's plan is to rip out and reframe the kitchen doorway and then install the new door. My plan is to paint pale-gray trim in the upstairs studies and eventually take a break to weed my garden.

In my reading life: John Brown is just about to commit atrocities among the proslavery yahoos at Pottawattomie, Kansas. In my radio-listening life: the Red Sox are just about to lose their elimination game to the Astros.

Outside the window a dump truck is loitering; kids are shouting about something or other. And now suddenly everything is silent, except for the sound of a small plane buzzing behind the clouds. Fog is hanging a thin veil over the bay, and the cat is sitting in the window, purring to himself.

I am writing these few words, and now I am remembering that I am a writer.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Today is my 53rd birthday, and I am sitting at my kitchen table in my red bathrobe, drinking coffee, writing to you, with a fat book at my elbow. Some things never change, even when everything does.

It's been a strange year. On my last birthday I was living by myself in Harmony. The house sale had evaporated. My dog had died. Everything was tragic.

Now here I am in Portland, preparing to spend my birthday painting the upstairs trim of the house we're madly trying to renovate before our apartment lease runs out. We're tired, and neither one of us has a speck of time for creative thought. But we're also having a comic romance together, one based around paint colors and new windows and the excitement of a thriving crop of greens in our slapdash new garden. As my friend Shonna said to me the other day, middle age is so funny. Whoever expected it would be like this?

I was so terribly lonely in Harmony on last year's birthday. This year I am not . . . though I am often still lonely for Harmony. That grief will never disappear. I lost my land, and I won't recover from it. But yesterday, as I crouched in the driveway hosing paint out of a brush, I was feeling peaceable enough about where I'd landed. And this morning, as I drink coffee and write to you, I'm still feeling okay. Last year at this time--even six months ago, even three months ago--I wasn't sure I ever would feel that way again.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sorry today's post is so late: I had to rush out of the apartment first thing to meet the door-and-window delivery guy, who of course arrived an hour later than he said he would. Now, for a few minutes, I am catching up with emails and you, and then I will rush back to the house to show the woodstove to some friends who might want it for their camp. And then I will rush back here to deal with laundry. And then I will rush back to the house and spend the rest of the day painting.

This morning, though, Tom said, "You might want to open my birthday present today instead of tomorrow." His present turned out to be a sweet little wood-encased radio so that I can listen to baseball playoffs while painting. It's a good thing I've already resigned myself to being a Cleveland fan because the Red Sox ain't going nowhere in this series. But at least I can hear them choke in excellent audio.

I'm still working my way steadily into Reynolds's John Brown, Abolitionist. Here are a few passages you might want to mull over . . . perhaps as you consider your own interior thoughts about progressives and deplorables and violence and righteousness and evil.

John Brown treated these . . . black families in the area on terms of complete equality. He worked with them, surveyed their lands, and socialized with them, often visiting their homes and taking them into his. Lyman Epps, Jr., would never forget the kindness Brown showed toward his family. Epps recalled Brown as "a true friend of my father's," adding, "He'd walk up to our house on the Table Lands and come in and play with us children and talk to father. Many's the time I've sat on John Brown's knee. He was a kind and friendly man with children." 
* * * 
It mattered little to [proslavery] Senator Atchison and his ilk that interstate voting was illegal. As one of his Missouri confederates, General B. F. Stringfellow, said in a speech, "To those who have qualms of conscience as to violating laws, state or national, I say the time has come when such impositions must be disregarded, since your rights and property are in danger. And I advise you, one and all, to enter every election district in Kansas . . . and vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver." . . . 
By all accounts, the [Missourians] were a scurvy bunch, well deserving of their moniker: border ruffians. One Free State man described them as the most "rough, coarse, sneering, swaggering, dare-devil looking rascals as ever swung upon the gallows," another as "groups of drunken, bellowing, blood-thirsty demons." The New-York Tribune portrayed the typical border ruffian as tall, slim, hairy-faced, wearing a dirty flannel shirt and dark pants held up by a leather belt from which protruded a bowie knife. 
* * * 
But John Brown would soon be making use of his weapons [in Kansas]--most memorably those menacing two-bladed broadswords he had brought from Ohio.