Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Three times as much snow as forecast. Canceled flights. Son with stomach flu. Such are the vicissitudes of late 2019.  Talk to you next year.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Last evening began at a coffee shop with a college friend and her sister. I hadn't seen this friend since 1986, so I was a little nervous about how it might go. But it went swimmingly: we talked about books and music and poetry and witches and bad relationships, and I, at least, left feeling extremely happy about reconnecting. Then I bustled home to my house full of boys, and we all went out on the town together. First, two dozen oysters. Then poutine and local beer. Then a ramble through town to look at at the lights. We ended up at the ferry terminal, and wandered down to the end of the pier, where a lobster boat was unloading its catch in the spotlit darkness and one of the fishermen was engaged in an awe-inspiring monologue about his drug-addicted sister. On and on he went, like the Ancient Mariner, spooling out tragedies punctuated with "It was a bona fide fuckin nightmare," and on the pier we four sympathetic ravenous artists longed to steal all of his lines. It was a notable moment . . . the Wedding Guest reveals himself to be my very own story-greedy family, the Ancient Mariner stands spotlit on the deck and turns out to be a 35-year-old exasperated pain-riddled fat guy . . .

And after that big deal, we went home, made a large caprese salad and toast, and played contract rummy.

Now it is snowing, Tom is getting ready for work, Son # 1 will catch a bus to Boston later this morning, and our family quartet will begin splintering back into everyday plywood life.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

I slept horribly last night, then fell asleep hard at dawn and bumbled through a funhouse of nasty dreams for the next two hours. So this morning I am groggy and unsettled, to say the least. Time seems to be prodding me with forks . . . an end-of-decade alert, perhaps.

Ten years ago, at the tail of 2009, I lived on 40 acres of old-growth forest in the middle of nowhere. I was 45 years old and had a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old at home. My dog was alive and my cat was unborn. I had just published Tracing Paradise. Here's what my blog looked like back then. I haven't brought myself to read it, but you can.

Now, a decade later, I am 55. My land is gone from me. My younger son graduates from college in a few months. My older son earns more money than his parents do. I read and write in a small house in a small city by the sea. In the intervening years I have published six more books. I have compiled at least two more unpublished poetry manuscripts and possibly an unpublished essay manuscript. In a few days I will meet with an archivist who wants to collect my papers. This is bizarre and unreal. How could I have produced all of those words?

Weirdly, I have accomplished, writing-wise, far more than I ever thought possible. Still, as expected, I remain unfamous and unstylish. My papers will get dusty in the archive, but, on the bright side, my kids won't have to clutter up their closets with my boxes of stuff.

Aging is a strange story.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Two boys at home! And, tonight, an impromptu party with some favorite young people! Chili, ice cream, board games! I am all of a flutter.

Meanwhile, ten thousand pounds of laundry await.

The sky glimmers in pale pink over the bay.

I am drinking black coffee and looking at the spines of the books heaped on our coffee table: Christy Mathewson, Pitching in a Pinch. Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. John Guy, Queen of Scots. Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House and Other Plays. Morgan Parker, Magical Negro. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. William Wegman, Funny/Strange. Upstairs, Tom is reading Peter Mathiessen's Cloud Forest, and James is reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Words float around this house like dust. They leak into the street every time I open a door.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas was lovely . . . relaxed and friendly, punctuated with a long mid-day walk and a glorious evening feast.

Today I suspect we'll mostly be glopping and gloping in small non-concentric circles, as one does on the day after Christmas, and you may define glopping and gloping for yourself.

For the moment, I am sitting at the kitchen counter brewing coffee. Next to me is a fat bio of the Queen of Scots. I am wearing an ancient sweater over my pajamas, and my hair is sticking up strangely. Next on my list of chores is to inspect the giant jigsaw puzzle and discover what can be solved in the clear light of day. As you see, the gloping is already picking up speed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A quiet morning here in Amherst. A thin layer of snow ripples the rough ground. The rhododendron leaves are shriveled and limp. A squirrel skitters through the canopy of white pines and, below, the small pond is layered with grey-white ice. I'm the only one up. I've started the coffee, dropped a couple of pieces into place in the giant community jigsaw puzzle. I've got my tiny volume of George Herbert's poems alongside me, and here is one I've just read for the first time. I send it to you as a small gift of affection and hope and honor for whatever it is that reminds us to be humane.

A Wreath

George Herbert

A wreathed garland of deserved praise,
Of praise deserved, unto thee I give,
I give to thee, who knowest all my wayes,
My crooked winding wayes, wherein I live,
Wherein I die, not live: for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to thee,
To thee, who art more farre above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicitie.
Give me simplicitie, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know thy wayes,
Know them and practise them: then shall I give
For this poore wreath, give thee a crown of praise.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Later this morning the three of us will head south to Massachusetts for the holiday. Our older son is flying in from Boston and will meet us at Tom's parents' house. Tom's sister's family will arrive for dinner, and we will celebrate over my mother-in-law's restaurant-level cooking and eventually play a large loud card game.

We are a game-playing family, on both sides. There are always card games in the offing, sometimes a giant Monopoly roundup (Tom is a ruthless real estate magnate), sometimes the dictionary game with hilarious nephews, sometimes just a companionable crossword puzzle with my father-in-law or a Scrabble game with my unbeatable dad. Over the years games have filled many holiday hours. I always took this for granted until a friend told me that her family never plays games. What happens instead, I wondered. Arguments? TV? The great thing about family card games is that everyone shares a conversation, disagreements are channeled into formalized jousting, and young and old are equals on the field. In Massachusetts our card game of choice is oh hell. In Vermont it varies by fad and number of players but has lately been contract rummy, though we often reprise the popular game of my father's youth--five hundred--a version of euchre that I recall my older relatives playing rabidly at every holiday gathering.

Even alone Tom and I play games. Usually, after he comes home from work, we have a round of cribbage by the fire before I start dinner and he goes upstairs to work on his photos. All of the younger generation (five boys total, if I include both sides) are eager game players. Their ages range from 13 to 25, and all play cards as well as the adults do. It is a fine thing to watch a 13-year-old go head to head with an 80-year-old.

So as I embark on this year's Christmas journey, I send you much love and a pleasant competitive spirit. Shuffle your decks well, and deal everyone a good hand. Cheers!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Yesterday I went for a long walk in the cemetery and came across a set of three stones I had not seen before. On a large and elaborate monument these words are carved:

Alonzo M. Whitney
Son of
Merrill & Zebia A. Whitney
Born in Lowell Mass., July 18th 1845
Member of Company F.,
Sixteenth Regiment, Maine Vols., Infantry.
Lost in Battle at Fredericksburg,
Dec. 13th 1862.
His Body Not Recovered.

In front of Alonzo's memorial are two small, modest stones. One reads:

Zebiah A. K.
Wife of
Merrill Whitney
Died Aug. 1 1845.
Age 30 Yrs.

The other:

Merrill Whitney
Feb. 25 1815.
Jan. 24 1886.

The bare bones of this sad story: Zebiah (or Zebia) died less than a month after Alonzo was born. Alonzo was lost in battle at the age of 17. Merrill survived for two more decades, dying at the age of 71. Neither he nor his wife were in their first youth when their son was born. There are no signs of a second wife or of other children.

Merrill was wealthy enough to afford an elaborate monument for his lost son. But his own stone exactly matches his dead wife's modest one.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

I slept late this morning--past 6:30 and into the dawn, with cold pink light streaking the sky and the cat, for some reason, not biting me. Then I got up, came downstairs, tossed the pet outside, solved the byzantine thermostat-setting problem, washed boot tracks off the kitchen floor, made coffee, emptied the dishwasher, folded the couch blanket, turned on the Christmas lights, read a little news, and now I am feeling dull and suburban and thinking about the old days of livestock-water-hauling-in-subzero temperatures and stoking-woodstove-fires-in-frigid-houses and doing-it-all-while-carrying-an-infant-strapped-to-my-chest-and-snatching-an-adventurous-toddler-out-of-various-life-threatening-situations, and I'm wondering how things became so passive.

Anyway, here I am. A middle-aged town dweller, with grown children and a furnace. Reading Dante and a biography of Mary Queen of Scots. Sleeping in a white bed in a blue bedroom. Listening to the clock tick.

Last night the three of us drank some beer at a local bar and watched half of a football game, then went downtown to the ferry terminal and zig-zagged our way up through the Old Port looking at the city's various fancy holiday light arrangements (Portland takes an arty-Seuss-like approach to lighting design), then ate pizza in Longfellow Square (where statue Longfellow is wrapped in a special red scarf for the season because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a warm poet), and then came home and fell into a pleasant doze in front of our small, purely decorative suburban wood fire.

I should probably stop kicking myself for being comfortable.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Yesterday,  as I was headed out to yoga, I had a surprise visit from a friend from the homeland, so instead of exercising, the central Maine diaspora (e.g., Paul and I) got to spend a chilly, chatty morning walking and laughing and eating and listening to Harmony-Wellington gossip.

Today I guess I'll do some housework . . . and consider the empty bookshelves in my study. Yes, you read that correctly: empty bookshelves. I have no idea what do with such a thing. Who has empty bookshelves?

I feel so extremely on-vacation. I have nothing important to accomplish, no work hanging over my head. We're talking about going out to a bar this afternoon to watch football, or maybe heading downtown after dark to look at the holiday lights. I've started reading John Guy's Mary Queen of Scots. I wouldn't mind going for a walk around Back Cove. It's strange to be so relaxed, brain-wise. For months I've been thinking hard. Last spring I wrote an entire poetry collection in a month; I  taught and edited all summer and fall, intensely, without any significant break. I've been traveling, for work and family, and even then I've been working or cogitating about work.

Sitting in a bar watching football seems about right to me . . . and I don't even like football that much.

Friday, December 20, 2019

I can hardly believe how un-fussed I've been, with Christmas rumbling toward us like a giant rock slide. I've filled out some cards, and done a little mild shopping, and made a batch of cookies. But on the whole, this has been a low-key week. Paul's been marauding among my books, and yesterday the three of us launched into a comic family critique of The Good Life, Scott and Helen Nearing's back-to-the-land brag-fest--a remarkably annoying polemic that somehow we'd all managed to avoid opening before yesterday. So there's also been family fun, Potter-Birtwistle style.

It's cold here this morning--9 degrees--and my standard red bathrobe/black coffee combo feels especially pleasant. I'm finishing up another rereading of Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden, and am thinking of starting a biography next--possibly Margaret Fuller's, possibly Mary Queen of Scots' or Eleanor of Aquitaine's. This is what happens when my bookshelves are revived: I have a sudden hankering to dip into fat histories.

Otherwise, I have nothing particular on the schedule: a little yoga, a little grocery shopping, some gossip with my kid, and an oversized volume or two. I hope your day is as peaceable.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Impeached. And nobody deserves it more.

Whatever happens in the Senate--and I am not optimistic, given McConnell's cravenness--we have this moment.

I take some comfort, too, in the dignity of the House Democrats who led us to this point, in the face of the shrieking faux-hysterics of the Republican members and the unhinged blurts of the so-called president. I've read that women are particularly attuned to this tonal disconnect because we recognize that cruel, domineering, accusatory, insulting voice all too well. I also know that, as a new mother, I struggled to cope with my firstborn, who was a screaming, angry infant. The screaming was not my son's fault, but my body and brain could not separate his wailing from some deeper flight response to intense, invasive noise. At least some of us are hardwired to run. And so the deliberate use of such intimidation strategies makes me very angry, and also afraid.

Still, as a lifelong progressive--little sister of the 60s, lover of the Clash, despiser of McCarthyism, former Greenpeace canvasser--I am shocked to admit how much I appreciate the restrained, law-abiding, cool-headed approach to the impeachment process. On the other hand, once my screaming child learned to talk and became the charmer he remains, I, too, changed. I learned to be a loving, attentive guardian who doesn't take shit. You act like a jerk; you are removed from the room. So thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for showing the world that mother skills can be the most powerful ones in the house.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Snow all day yesterday. I worked on compiling a manuscript, filled out many Christmas cards, baked orange butter cookies, and made a big chicken dinner. Meanwhile, Paul decided to organize my books. Not only that: he actually made me agree to getting rid of quite a lot of them. "Which biography of Keats do you actually read?" "Why are you keeping Ruskin if you hate Ruskin?" "Do you need two copies of Macauley's History of England?" "Do you think you will ever get around to reading this giant Herodotus?" I was very meek, and he was victorious.

Really, I swear, I did get rid of a lot of books before we left Harmony. But somehow I fell into a coma about the rest of them. It does seem hard to overlook two copies of Macauley's History of England.

Today P says he'll be tackling my poetry shelves. I feel the sweat beading up on my forehead already.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

For the past several months my friend Teresa and I have been experimenting with a monthly book-club-for-two. We choose a poetry collection, read it separately, and then talk on the phone for an hour. The result is half-chatter/half-book discussion, and so far it's been an excellent way to make sure we stay in touch, given that she lives in Florida and I live in Maine and we never see each other.

For January we are going to read one of Ezra Pound's Cantos, which I first read with my mentor, Baron Wormser, long ago in the 1990s, when I was trying to learn how to be a poet. I struggled with the Cantos then, and I will probably still struggle with them now, and that, my friends, is my story in poetry.

At least I am dogged. Maybe that is my poetry superpower.

As the year draws to a close, I find myself considering--as I often do at these ceremonial moments of time-passage--what exactly I'm doing with my life. Cobbling together ill-paying jobs. Keeping house. Reading books. Growing vegetables.

Regarding my writing and teaching, I could purvey a summarizing sentence or two, intoned in a gloppy artist-statement sort of voice. But I won't. The fact is that I can't know. Everything I do will likely fade into the forgotten, a kind of organic breakdown into the soil of literature. Waste and failure and nourishment. Not either/or but both/and.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Yesterday Paul and I took a blustery walk along the bay, accomplished some mild shopping, ate tuna crudo, and assumed the ownership of four pounds of local mussels, an expensive snow shovel, and a bottle of Inuit gin. Then later, as the three of us were playing contract rummy, two neighbor children rang the doorbell and gave us a cake pop they'd made. Little-kid holiday spirit is so charming.

Today is up in the air, schedule-wise. I have many things I could do and no idea if I will actually be doing them. C'est la confusing family-life vie, when everyone tries to chunkily readjust for everyone else who might need to go in the opposite direction and no one can figure out which mouths have to feed or be be fed or when or how, plus Christmas shopping. And if you think that's a horrible sentence, be assured that it was meant to be.

Thus, I am making coffee and writing you this letter and not worrying too much about anything. Tomorrow the snow is supposed to move in again, and I'll be able to try out my expensive new snow shovel--which may have been pricey but was also about $750 cheaper than a snowblower and, according to two interfering ladies at Lowe's, is worth every penny except that sometimes the handle gets stuck in the car trunk. I am forewarned.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The rain abated, the traveling son clomped cheerfully into the kitchen, the fog moved in, the dinner was served, the cat hogged attention, the books were piled high on the coffee table, the fire flickered in the stove . . . and now, on this dark Sunday morning, my house is once again filled with sleeping men. A happy holiday to you too.

I expect today will involve some low-level pre-Christmas semi-flurry . . . a little shopping, a little baking, a little wrapping, quite a bit of procrastinating. I ought to do some poem submitting, but that could easily fall into the procrastination basket. After a long and intense autumn, I am content to have a son in the house and zero work obligations. I don't care if I get anything done.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The weather outside is frightful--a torrential, whipping rain clattering against doors and windows and roofs. Son Number #2 is supposed to be home tonight, and I'm in hopes that this storm abates before he and his friend embark on their road trip. It is nasty out there . . . an excellent day not to own a dog in need of a walk.

On the morning of my first day of vacation yesterday, I became acquainted with a friendly person at yoga, who turned to out to be Portland's new mayor. That is the kind of a place this city is: you run into the mayor at yoga and the governor at a poetry reading. Friendly and small and arty and female (and provincial, and white, and push-button middle-class progressive, with a suffering underclass, and a giant homeless problem, and overcrowded refugee housing, and coastal climate-change heebie-jeebies, and a slavering horde of selfish, aggressive real estate developers . . . ). But I liked the mayor, who is a real person with real feelings, and I was glad I'd voted for her, and I hope she can maintain her course as she clambers into Portland's various circles of hell.

Today I'll be futzing around with this-and-thats: prepping for son arrival, assembling a set of movable shelves, baking a batch of pita, wrapping a few presents, filling out some Christmas cards . . . all of them solid, non-intellectual, rainy-day activities. Meanwhile, downpour sluices through gutters and drains, the stolid bay whitens under the hammering drops, holiday lights twinkle fitfully through water-glazed panes, the little house blinks and sighs beneath its vinyl siding and asphalt shingles, and far away up north a barred owl shadows a sodden glen of fog and firs that I'll never stare into again.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Here's a recent poem, "The Regret of the Poet after Sending Work to a Magazine," that's up at the Cafe Review. Yesterday I posted a link to the poem on Facebook, and among other kind responses I received a "Lovely!"  from the great poet A. E. Stallings, which completely made my day. I hope you pardon my small crowing.

Except for a couple of loose author ends to tie up on an editing project, I am now closed for the season: no teaching, no editing until January. Today I'll go to a yoga class, and then maybe do some Christmas shopping, maybe read some books, maybe sort through some poems, maybe bake some cookies . . .

Yesterday I whipped up a syllabus for a poet friend who is struggling with his work and thinks that a crash course in form might help him out. I had a really good time coming up with a three-month plan. I'm wondering how many other people would like such a class. I've conceived of it as a kind of exercise program for writers who automatically reach for free verse.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

I've got one more editing project to tackle, and then I can slip into my holiday recess. I love that the word recess connotes both a "break" and a "hole" because that's exactly what I want from this holiday.

Last night my son messaged me with the question "Is the adjective version of Barbie barbaric?" And now you know why I am so fond of my children.

Words, words, words. I bumped up against two lines from the Inferno and I thought I might have a heart attack: they are so beautiful and bossy and mysterious--

But look down now and pay attention.
The river of our blood draws near.

Add in that they were translated by a poet I've always struggled against--Jorie Graham--and the bossy mystery deepens.

Yet in the realm of wordlessness, let us celebrate sleep . . . which I finally achieved last night: a full 9:30-to-5:30 dive into the watery unconscious after days of one-armed dog-paddling.

And now here I sit in the dusk of morning, busily transmitting words and no-words, dredging them up from my silent swim.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Driving to my class up north can feel like embarking on an Arthurian quest . . . my faithful steed Tina the Subaru and I pricking the plain, through fog and sleet and terrible roads, as the black night draws in and lurking spirits crowd against the road edges, their pagan eyes glittering . . .

And once I get there, it's like being in a castle in the wood. A giant furnished apartment, shining with newness and amenity. Nothing to do but read and write and stare out the window. Then the next day, a room filled with brilliant young people.

. . . And then the Arthurian quest in reverse: wind, rain, fog, terrible roads, and the lurking darkness.

The class itself was wonderful. We worked on exercises for stripping down poems, read work by Nezukamatathil and Akhmatova and Nigliazzo, listened to Stuart Kestenbaum talk about his blackout-poetry project, discussed hard questions about the ethics of art. These students are so thoughtful and funny and honest, and they are dead-serious about the power of the vocation.

Today: Back in the editing saddle. Walking alone in the cemetery. Making chicken curry for dinner. Hoping to sleep.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark--readings when knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we the readers knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognised, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge.

--A. S. Byatt, Possession

* * *

I've been sleeping so badly these past few nights: waking abruptly in the black hours, my mind churning over unsolvable conversations, dull to-do lists, mortal terrors. At that time of night, dread is the identical twin of tedium. "Did I forget to buy lettuce?" carries the same weight as "What if I'm dying?"

* * *

Whoever's homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city's avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

--from Rainer Maria Rilke, "A Day in Autumn," translated by Mary Kinzie

Sunday, December 8, 2019

I spent most of yesterday cleaning house, a job that I'm usually rigorous about but that I'd let slide a bit since before Thanksgiving. Cat hair was starting to build up, dust starting to film, weird bathroom grime starting to surface.

I hate clutter and accumulated dirt, and I'm much better at working and writing and keeping my temper if my surroundings are clean and neat. So allow me to complain about those stupid mantras aimed at women: "Every hour you spend on housework is an hour away from writing" and similar kinds of crap exhortations. Every hour anyone spends on anything is an hour away from writing. Why zero in on housework? And why assume that housework can't be a creative trigger? Who says, "Don't go for a walk! You should be writing!"? Housework is like any other physical-observational task: you can mine it for material, and you can use it as a contemplative space. To me, those anti-housework screes are borderline classist (artists are too high-brow to scrub a floor?), not to mention a historical insult (who's been cleaning our houses for generations?). This should not be only a woman's issue either: those generations of servants included the men who filled the coal cellars, the boys who blacked the shoes. Nonetheless, today's "Don't waste precious time on toilets when you could be writing!" memes do primarily seem to be aimed at women. Are there equivalent public service announcements for male writers--say, "Don't be playing hoops in the driveway when you could be working on a sonnet!" or "Put down that TV remote and think about characterization instead!" or "Fixing that broken pipe will destroy your novel!"?


Thus ends today's rant. Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"All of us have things in our lives which we know in [a] brief, useful allusive way, and neglect deliberately to explore."

                           --A. S. Byatt, Possession

* * *

I've been thinking about Byatt's remark for the past couple of days. This deliberate gap in focus has worried me deeply as a poet. I know I purposefully avoid writing about certain things. For the most part this isn't because of prissiness, or fear, or laziness. The reasons tend to involve (with sex, say) an interest in the power of wordlessness: I like having a few things in my life that aren't framed with language. My elisions also relate to other people: e.g., whether or not I have the ethical right to publicly explore a situation that living participants may prefer to not share.

Nonetheless, these gaps become a habitual slip in concentration: "Oh, I'll pay attention to that later" risks becoming "I never figured that out." Word silence about physical matters risks a deeper inattention to cause and effect, to longing and weariness, to fervency and making do.

So I'm anxious about these neglected avenues, and my rationales for elision often feel inadequate, even false. Yet a mind cannot encompass everything, can it? There are days when I feel I have to stop looking at the world . . . the pressure of observation becomes so painful. And then, words themselves are a knife. Sometimes that knife opens a surgical route into truth. But sometimes it's a tool for slicing off the toe I can't cram into the glass slipper.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Success! I not only finished the entire editing project, but I also wrote and submitted the book review, and even found time late in the day to go for a slip-n-slide walk around my snowy neighborhood. This morning, after yoga, I'll ship the editing project, prep for next week's Monson class, and maybe, just maybe, steal a little time for my own writing. That would be a sweet end to a hard-pressed week.

In the meantime, I've started rereading one of my favorite books of all time: A. S. Byatt's Possession. And I've forked the Inferno out of my to-do stack and am ready to get back to copying it out. Monday, I'll be on the road again, and then the holiday season will start tumbling down like boulders on a highway . . . cooking travel boys travel shopping cooking boys . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2019

It's a cold morning here--down to 18 degrees after a dripping, snowmelt day. Surfaces must be slick out there, but all I can see through the pane are streetlights and gray shadow and heaps of pale shoveled lumps edging driveways and sidewalks.

Inside, my Christmas lights are shining and the cat is sleeping and the furnace is growling, and I'm girding my loins for another forehead-to-the-editing-grindstone day. I've made such good progress this week that I might even be able to switch desk chores and finally get started on that book review. Or maybe I'll just keep muscling through the editing project.

I'm still thinking about my embryo manuscript, still thinking about poems, feeling wistful about it all, as if I'm pressing my nose against a shop window. This not-writing is entirely different from writer's block. It's an embargo on letting myself go, until I get the paying work finished, and there's just no way around it.

Still, there's happiness in knowing I've got something waiting for me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Despite having to shovel out the driveway twice, I did get a chunk of work done yesterday--not only editing but also some reading/commenting on other people's manuscripts. Today maybe I'll manage to slip in that book review as well.

We ended up with a total of about 8 inches of snow, but most of it arrived during the day. So I did some before-work shoveling and some after-work shoveling, and this morning my out-of-practice back is weary. But the snow glitter was lovely, children rushed by with their sleds, shoveling neighbors waved to one another, cats were horrified . . . and, according to Tom, the streets were treacherous and even his weighted four-wheel-drive pickup was fishtailing around corners.

I'm almost done with Woolf's Night and Day, which has been kind of a slog. It's a very young book, and there's something wrong with the character exposition: not enough early in the novel, too much crammed into the later action. I'm no fiction writer, but it feels as if there's a lack of balance in this book. So that in itself is interesting: to be noticing craft-wise what doesn't seem to be working, and then considering the complexities that this particular writer learned to probe later in her career. She fixed her mistakes, exponentially.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

My plan yesterday was to hunker down at my desk like an editing mule. Instead, the phone kept ringing, I stood in line at  the bank for eons, the cat would not stop pestering me . . .  Maybe today will be more productive.

The snow is arriving slowly. Overnight we got another inch or two, and it's supposed to keep snowing all day. Schools are canceled, plow trucks are bustling, but not much is happening as of yet. If I can get enough done at my desk today, and am not overwhelmed by shoveling chores, I'll take a walk out into the snowy streets and admire the scenery. This neighborhood has a lot of early twentieth-century houses that look postcardy in a fresh snow.

I woke up in the night feeling oppressed by not writing, and I am trying to push that fret away. What I need now, really, is some open time to sort through poems and tinker with a manuscript. I've got an enormous stack that needs to be winnowed and thinned into something readable. But there's no open time on the horizon. I've got lots of editing to do, teaching to plan, a day up north next week, and then the college boy comes home for Christmas. I may or may not need to drive to Vermont to fetch him; I'll certainly need to get him back after the New Year. And in the meantime we'll be in Massachusetts for the holiday . . .

In short: poems do not fit into the schedule. But they are kicking and screaming and complaining about it.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Last night, as I was heading to bed, the first flakes began to sift from the sky, and this morning there's an inch or two of accumulation coating sidewalks, cars, and roofs . . . not an impressive amount, but our first. The storm is supposed to ramp up again tonight and tomorrow, with wind and heavier snow--maybe up to eight inches, maybe less. I'm looking forward to it.

Yesterday I bought a tiny cypress, repotted it, and ensconced it on the Victrola as this year's Christmas tree. Though you can't tell from the photo, it's a dramatic reenactment of Canada: Mountie performed by trumpet-blowing tin soldier; Sasquatch performed by a lurking rubber King Kong; a cameo appearance by famous Canadian resident Santa, who is playing soccer because I couldn't find anything resembling hockey in the ornament box. Below are a canoe and a polar bear. I am considering adding a pin that says "Nice."

Later in the day Tom decorated the fireplace with lights--including the wood box. I call it the Temple to Heat and am sham-threatening the cat with talk of augury and animal sacrifice. Thus are the holidays celebrated at the Alcott House.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Champlain Valley was lovely, draped in its frost cloak, with the Greens and the Adirondacks glittering on each horizon, and I had an especially good time with my hilarious nephews. But I am so tired of traveling, and so glad to have a full week at home before I head north again.

It's good to be back in the little house, ensconced on my comfortable familiar cat-scratched couch, with my white cup and saucer, and my black coffee, and my clingy housepet. The furnace is breathing and the clock is ticking and the sky is whispering snow. Today I'll do the grocery shopping and tidy the house and unpack a few Christmas decorations. I'll start working on a book review, and help Tom replace a window in his truck cap. I'll read Woolf's Night and Day, and carry in firewood, and admire my neighbors' holiday lights. I hope I'll talk to my sons.

Heat. Light. Food. Safety. Affection. I never want to forget how lucky I am.