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.