Sunday, October 31, 2021

What a rain! After spitting and sprinting all day long, the heavens let loose after dark, and the downpour pounded for hours. This morning the rain is still falling--not so hard, but steadily. The sun isn't up yet, but I'm sure everything is absolutely sodden. We haven't had rain of this magnitude for a very long time.

Cellar looks dry, though, so that's a plus. No crazy electrical problems, no roof leaks: just a wood fire and pie-baking and finish-reading-the-Iliad-under-a-couch-blanket kind of day. 

Today the weather will quiet down and maybe even turn sunny. I need to grocery-shop and vacuum, and I've got so much desk stuff worrying me. But I'm trying not lapse back into Friday's super-fret. Things will get done as they get done, and I'm really not behind schedule. It's more that I feel over-tasked by my work and too responsible for things I can't control. Tomorrow my car goes into the garage, and the weird noise will be solved. Tomorrow I'll stand at my desk, and I'll get a chunk of editing done, and I'll write out the prompts for the Homer class, and I'll read contest manuscripts. The days will march forward, and at some point I'll find space to deal with my own manuscript corrections. It will all be okay.

Thus, today I'm going try to focus on house obligations so they won't be preying on me for the rest of the week. Floors, laundry, dusting, groceries . . . and with luck a walk or a bike ride. The garden will likely be too wet to work in, but the time has come to tear out the peppers and the eggplant. So maybe, late in the day, I'll do some of that as well. 

Here's a photo of my rainy-evening dinner projects. A bowl of fresh guacamole, another of fresh salsa, and a squash pie. Invisible on the stove, potato pancakes frying and kale simmering in pheasant stock. My tomatoes and peppers and herbs and kale, Angela's squash, my father's potatoes and onions; the stock was from the pheasant I roasted a few weeks ago. I'm grateful for the communal harvest.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

After an aggravating day littered with work and personal irritations, I improved my mood mightily by forgetting everything but Tom for a few hours. We strolled around the corner and ate a beautiful meal at Woodford's bar--duck-liver pate, crab cakes, mussels--then wandered back home and cuddled up under the couch blanket and watched some very excellent World Series pitching by kids younger than our own children.

So now I feel I can enter the weekend without grouchiness. It's going to rain all day and into the night, and I've got a bunch of reading to do, plus the usual housework. And thank God, the construction guys have gone home for a couple of days. The road turmoil has been horrible, though also very distracting, as I have gotten obsessed by the genius skills of one particular backhoe operator. When the young men on the crew drive the backhoe, it's just a machine ripping up pavement. But when the genius drives it, the backhoe becomes an animal--delicately shifting small heaps of sand, burrowing tenderly into the asphalt, hoisting heavy sewer mains with the innate joy of its species. I keep wanting to rush out during coffee breaks and shake the driver's hand and exclaim about his brilliance. But of course I restrain myself. Nobody needs to be embarrassed by a crazy neighbor lady.

I discussed my fascination over dinner, and Tom agreed that some machine operators are indeed brilliant. And he mentioned a man at his job site, who is installing stainless-steel trim on an old stone house . . . fusing seams, cutting bolts, so that the final product is smooth and flawless and stunning. The masons and carpenters are open-mouthed in admiration.

Honey             I’d split your kindling

            clean & bright

& fine

            if you was mine


[from Hayden Carruth's "Green Mountain Idyll"]

Friday, October 29, 2021

The evening writing group was fun, and the writing results were interesting, though I'm not sure what to make of the prompts. When I use prompts at all, I tend to reach for simple ones, and the ones we wrote to last night had numerous stages and involved multiple people. Still, writing emerged, and at least one of the drafts felt promising, and I enjoyed spending time with new people, without feeling too shy or misplaced.

It's cold this morning--just 36 degrees--and I am girding myself to haul trash to curb . . . though how the garbage trucks will get up this street is anyone's guess. Construction has completely blocked it from both ends; cars are trapped in driveways; it's a mess. Good thing I sneaked my car up the road before the exit closed.

Today I'm going to work on class plans, then go back to editing, maybe meet a friend for coffee, and, if I have time, turn my attention to the book-manuscript-under-production. I need to make a few changes before Jeff gets too far into the page design.

This morning's letter is a little dull. I'm sorry: for some reason, my writing is style is kind of clunky and pedestrian today. Maybe the road construction clamor is infecting my cadence. Or maybe I've been writing too much and my weary syntax is melting into a clump. I feel like I've been doing nothing this week but untangling sentences, one knot after another.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Today is my son Paul's 24th birthday. I can hardly believe that he was born more than two decades ago, during the first ice storm of the season, at 4 in the morning, and sleepless Tom had to stagger-drive home from the hospital to do goat chores and fetch three-year-old James from the neighbor's, and then the two of them showed up again to bring us home, and James was so loud and excited and Paul was such a little bundle of cuddle, and James campaigned hard to name him Mr. Penguin, to no avail. 

And now the little bundle of cuddle is 6'2" with a full beard, living in digs in Brooklyn, working in a theater in Manhattan, sending me photos of what's he's cooking for dinner, chattering about football and novels, lovable and loving, busy and social and thriving after a long, slow, sad year on the floor of my study. I wish him a day of bright skies.

I'll be back at my desk this morning. Originally I'd planned to meet a Harmony friend in Augusta for an afternoon walk, but my car is making a funny noise, so I've got to solve that problem before I take it on the highway. This evening I'm going to a join a poetry writing circle and see what that's like. I haven't spent much time doing communal writing, outside of a class situation. But I like the people involved, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The day is supposed to be sunny, after our three days of rain, and I'm itching to get outside and see the world.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A wild night, with the wind tearing at the trees and flinging itself at the house. Creaks and moans and the constant slap slap of maple leaves whipping against the windows. The gale is still blowing hard out there, and I fear that the backyard will be full of limbs, though I can't yet glimpse anything through the darkness.

Somehow, though, I managed to sleep through most of the storm, waking now and then, but dipping back easily into dreams. And now I am stepping through into another day, a trudge of editing, a bit of Frost Place planning, an afternoon appointment, my exercise class, the wind and rain churning and blowing, the hours fragile, crushable, washing away.

In the Iliad I have just reached the part where Achilles kills Hector, then ties the body to his chariot and drags it around the walls of Troy, head lolling in the dust, so that Hector's wife and parents, watching from the battlements, will suffer as much pain as possible. It's a truly horrible moment, one of the worst things I have ever read.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The wind will pick up today, and the rain will keep falling, and altogether it will be a day that will make me glad to have a house to come home to, after I've slogged through my appointments and errands.

I slept strangely last night: solidly, then wakeful; solidly, then wakeful; and punctuated by vivid dreams about furniture packed with dirt instead of cushions. So I'm feeling kind of groggy and lurching this morning, not quite steady in myself.

But I had a pleasant evening--a teeny-tiny Zoom poetry group, only three of us instead of the usual eight or nine--and it was really nice to wallow in our three poems instead of cranking efficiently through a sheaf. Afterward Tom and I ate a chicken and bean soup that made me very happy. Not only did it taste and look good, but it worked beautifully as a dish to start cooking before poetry group and quickly finish cooking afterward. An excellent busy-night, rainy-night meal.

The draft I brought to share last night is titled "Ode to Four Words I Plucked at Random from a Book of Poems." The four words are grass, patience, longer, and seedhead. You could borrow them to write a poem, and then we could compare drafts and be amazed at how different we are.

I know this letter to you is scatty and has terrible transitions. But that's how my slow brain is working this morning. If you'd spent your dream-hours vainly trying to plump up couches filled with dirt, you would be scatty too.

Monday, October 25, 2021

As I let the cat out a few minutes ago, I could glimpse the first cold raindrops beginning to spatter the shadowy sidewalk. We're in for a few wet days, highs only in the 40s, a November preview, and I'm glad I got so much yard work done yesterday. I planted three varieties of tulips in the Shed Patch and the Hill Country, snowdrops and bluebells in the new backyard beds. Then I raked leaves into the beds . . . a first pass at that chore, as the trees are still loaded with them, and piles more will come down in the rain. I carried the outside chairs and table into the basement; and without their friendly presence around the fire pit, the yard looks more remote. Now it's a place to watch through a window.

The front yard, of course, is still crowded with kale and chard, broccoli and arugula. Carrot and fennel greens flutter in the boxes; sage overflows the stone wall; zinnias and marigolds and dahlias bloom bravely. It's a busy place, an autumn kitchen garden. Last night, for dinner, I made Glamorgan sausages--which aren't meat at all but a Welsh speciality of leeks, cheddar, and bread crumbs, fried in patties--a salad of roasted Brussels sprouts, arugula, mint, cilantro, and marigolds; and apple crisp with cream. It felt like classic late-season fare, sturdy and bright on the plates, as a fire flickered in the wood stove and candles  shone on the table . . . because, yes, I do light candles on every one of these dark nights. I love the formality of an evening meal: cloth napkins folded just so, flatware arranged, pretty dishes. I know it's fussy, but so be it. We all have our little fusses.

Today, editing. Whatever else gets done will be shoehorned around that. Then, tonight, my poetry group meets, and I'll show them a draft I'm not sure about. Maybe it's going somewhere, but maybe not. Meanwhile, the rain will fall and fall and fall.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Five a.m. on a Sunday morning, and the alarm is shrilling because Tom is catching an early ferry to Peaks Island. Despite the early hour, it's still kind of a vacation for me because he's making the coffee. He'll be out there all day taking photos, and I'll be here all day messing around with my stuff: making bread, planting bulbs, washing floors, reading manuscripts, raking leaves, talking about Nancy Drew, and such.

Five a.m. is a ridiculously early time to be up and about on a Sunday morning, but it's actually sort of relaxing to watch someone else rushing around to catch a boat while I'm not even beginning to think about doing anything constructive. After he leaves I'll tidy up the kitchen and take a shower, and throw some laundry into the machine, all at putter-speed instead of weekday get-cracking-speed. Good news: the shower drain is no longer plugged!

I've got poetry stuff to deal with too: choose a draft to bring to tomorrow night's zoom poetry group meeting; look over the first page proofs of the new collection, which is coming out from Deerbrook at some point next year. This will be a busy week, filled with work and appointments, and I don't feel as if I'm going to have much of a chance to think about my own writing in the midst of the bustle. I want to try to reserve a little space for it today, just in case it slips away from me. For instance, on Friday I scrawled a couple of drafts with the kids that I want to examine: sloppy impulse writing, but maybe there's a tiny bit of something to salvage. I was modeling poet-crazy-brain-in-action for them, and now I need to model dig-out-the-tree-roots for myself.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

I arrived home yesterday with a car packed with produce and smelling powerfully of onions--a bucket full of leeks and sprouts, plus tomatoes and winter squash,  all from Angela's Wellington garden; cider and bags of apples from North Star Orchard in Madison, where I hadn't stopped since I moved south, but this time I did, and they still remembered me, and that felt really good.

Oh, it was lovely up north. I began my day at 7:30 a.m., driving on the gravel road from Wellington to Kingsbury, where I stopped and took a rainy foggy photo of the pond--our swimming spot for so many years--and texted it to the boys. Then I turned right onto Route 16, which is paved but desolate--miles of trees, an occasional log truck roaring past, but mostly silence and fog and low sky and rain and the fading palette of autumn. Route 16 eventually teed into Route 15, the route north toward Moosehead Lake, and there, in Abbott Village, I turned left and climbed the hills into Monson.

The day went as well as I could have hoped. The kids, all of them seniors, were extremely engaged: they talked, they wrote hard, they shared, they asked questions. When they weren't with me, they were drawing with Alan Bray, and he says they were equally goofy and focused and excited with him.  It really was the perfect way to re-enter the world of the classroom.

So now here I am, back in Portland, in my little city house, fighting a small headache and thinking about all the stuff I need to do this weekend: plant bulbs, clean bathrooms, wash sheets, read contest manuscripts, trim up those masses of Brussels sprouts I brought back in the car. The Red Sox lost their last game of the season, sad but inevitable, so now winter is truly on its way, and I'm okay with that. The house stores are filled, the firewood is stacked and at the ready, the books are waiting to be read.

On Thursday evening, in Wellington, as Steve and Ang and I lay around in the living room watching/semi-dozing through a football game--a companionable family unit, cozy and unself-conscious--I thought, again, about the treasure of the present moment . . . not constantly regretting the past or fearing the future, but merely existing, and attending to that existence. It's impossible to do, except in glimpses, or flashes: to say Here I am and then just be there. But I feel like, over the past couple of days, I've been able to stop and capture that sensation multiple times: in front of the game, on the road up to Monson, in the room with the students. So in addition to being happy that all went well with my work, I also feel a leftover glow from that attentiveness. As if I accomplished my actual, real, deep-down job. Which just seems to be noticing.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

This morning I'll do some editing and laundry and final class prep and then after lunch I'll head north to Wellington, where I'll spend the night before teaching at Monson Arts in the morning. I'm looking forward to all of it: friends, kids, poems, and the homeland. I'll arrive bearing a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and we'll wander down into the garden, or maybe up the gravel road, and the darkness will roll in, and the fires will be lit, and food will glow on the plates, and outside my bedroom window the stars will rush and an owl will cry.

After weeks of prep, waterline replacement has finally begun in earnest on my Portland street. So life is jackhammery down here, and my front garden is not so fun to hang out in. But from my study I look out into the back garden, at the new shrubs beneath the massive maples, the bird feeder with its annoying squirrel, the little mixed flock of town birds--cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice--that flutter among the branches, the chipmunk bustling from woodpile to stone wall.

I was able to steal an hour yesterday to work on my poem draft, so I'll be leaving home with a light heart, writing-wise . . . a new piece to carry along with me, whether I look at it or not . . . the secret happiness of knowing that the work is bubbling up, quietly, and waiting for me.

I wonder if what I wrote here yesterday about my practice was annoying. I didn't mean it to sound gloating or instructional or anything of that kind. Mostly I suddenly realized that I was intrigued by the flexible notion of practice. When I was a kid with a violin, it meant standing in the living room for an hour and running through a prescribed list of teacher orders: scales, exercises, etudes, pieces, ad infinitum. But that's not anything like what practice means for me as a writer. Yes, I write every day. But I don't make art every day, or even try to. And the shifts among rigor/non-rigor, audience/no audience, edited/not edited . . . that seems important somehow, and I'm curious about why and how. Still, I'm sorry if I was irritating.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Another chilly morning, and the furnace is grumbling quietly to itself as I sit in my couch corner tapping out this note to you. According to my dream book, the familiar is peculiar:

Was there special beer? I think so, and I think Tom was worried about it. He was wearing an apron and was taller than usual.

That's this morning's entire entry, and I find it quite snappy. Don't you think it would make a fine opening to the short story I will never write?

I did write a poem yesterday, so no need to regret the aspirational fiction. And I do think that my dream book practice is already starting to show up in how my poem drafts have been switchbacking down the page.

Dawn's Writing Practice: What Is It?

1. First thing, before coffee or letting in the cat, write down last night's dream in my notebook. If I can't remember, make something up. [Private, unrigorous]

2. Drink coffee. Write a blog letter to my friends. [Public, edited]

2. Work on other people's stuff: manuscripts, class plans. [Public, highly edited]

3. Read a crazy mishmash of books. Currently: The Iliad and The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew), both of which I'm reading with friends. Braddon's Aurora Floyd (novel) and Oswald's Falling Awake (poetry), which I'm reading privately.

4. Grab a handful of words from those books and use them to trigger poem drafts. For the past several years this has been my most reliable self-motivating prompt. [Private, rigorous]

5. Do a lot of physical activity between all of these things: housework, exercise class, walking, gardening. [Public or private]

I noted public or private because I realized as I was jotting down the list that a balance of "just for me" and "other people are involved" affects what I'm doing and how I do it. Working for an audience, working for myself: both seem to be important parts of practicing. Likewise, the balance of rigor and lack of rigor; edited and highly edited: there are necessary variations in how word work emerges. Some are linked to audience, but some are linked to control. I try not to control the dream writing, whereas I revise and revise and revise a poem.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Well, I broke down and turned on the furnace this morning . . . though broke down is the wrong term because what I really did was sigh and flip the switch. No weeping necessary. It feels weak to admit to needing oil heat, but then again I live in Maine and we're on the downslide toward November, so the only surprise is that I didn't turn it on sooner.

Still, we haven't had a frost yet, which is weird. Yesterday I was out in the garden picking peppers and marigolds. The zinnias and dahlias are blooming bravely. I'm ripening tomatoes in the house, and picking honey mushrooms in the backyard. My basement baskets are full of potatoes and onions, and the freezer is packed with sauce and produce. Alcott House as cornucopia. 

Today, after my exercise class, I'm going to shift straight into class planning for my Friday high schoolers. I'll be running back-to-back hour-and-a-half sessions with two sets of students; the ones I'm not teaching at the moment will be drawing with Alan Bray. I think I'm going to focus on stealing words--from ourselves, from each other, from what we read--and using that theft to create new work. Kids always like to steal stuff, and everyone always tells them they can't, so I think they should enjoy the novelty. This is the poem I'm going to use: Matthew Olzmann's "Letter to the Person Who, During the Q&A Session after the Reading, Asked for Career Advice." My friend Zanne shared this with me the other day, and as she said, "Pretty perfect for high school students, huh?"

Eventually this morning I'll get back to editing, and I'd like to do some Iliad reading too, but we'll see how my brain holds up. There's nothing I'd rather do than word work, but it does knock the stuffing out of me after a while, and then firewood hauling and floor washing start to seem like the best jobs on earth.

Monday, October 18, 2021

After a lush and beautiful afternoon, the temperature has plunged to 45 degrees this morning, which feels cold, but in fact is not as cold as we usually are at this time of year. There's still no sign of frost. How strange to be harvesting peppers from the garden in mid-October.

Yesterday's poet party--down on the New Hampshire border, with the rivers embracing the autumn brilliance--was a chit-chattery pleasure. I am surprised, always, whenever I feel at ease in these kinds of groups. I expect myself to be shy and accidentally standoffish and desperately uncomfortable, but I spent yesterday talking easily with whomever happened to be at my elbow. Maybe I am finally not 15 anymore.

By the time I got home, Tom had started dinner, so I spent the evening lolling on the couch, enjoying a rare reprieve from the meal chore. As a result, I am beginning my Monday with the feeling of having had a little vacation, which is good, because this week will not be anything like a vacation. I've got a ton of editing on my desk, plus prep for Friday's Monson class, plus contest manuscripts to read, plus something else I'm probably forgetting . . . a slog week, and I'm glad to be entering it with a rest day and a good night's sleep behind me.

I have some books I want to talk to you about--Alice Oswald's collection Falling Awake, M. E. Braddon's Victorian bigamy novel Aurora Floyd--but I haven't quite organized my thoughts about them. I suspect that's because the Iliad is dominating my reading brain right now. Rereading it is such a massive, terrifying, tedious endeavor. Even though it's not the only thing I'm reading for "pleasure," it seems to take up all of my word space.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Another very wet night. So many leaves have come down in these two rainstorms; even in this dim morning light I can see that the view from my windows is on the way to becoming to its winter version--a flattened sky, flash of a passing train, stark cutout of a steeple.

I spent yesterday morning reading contest manuscripts and the Iliad, and then Tom and I drove into town to watch Todd Haynes's documentary on the Velvet Underground, which was being screened at the Portland Museum of Art. I liked it quite a lot, especially the interviews with John Cale explaining how he had come to add the viola drones underneath songs like "Heroin" and "Black Angel Death Song" . . . talking about the way in which overtones work and their effect on listeners--all of which made perfect sense to me.

I first heard the Velvet Underground in college, in the 80s, well after they'd disbanded. At that time I had very little understanding of pop music or rock-and-roll. I'd been classically trained as a violinist, and I wasn't allowed to play pop radio in the house, so the only contemporary music I heard was ambient. But my college boys took me on as project, pouring on everything they thought I should know. Much of it I found, at first, impossible to hear. My ear could not even comprehend a twelve-bar blues riff: that's how untrained it was, in that realm. But gradually I began to sort out what I was being offered, and the Velvets became something of an obsession. Perhaps, somehow, I was hearing that Cale, too, had entered this door via the classical world. I never thought of that then; I was drawn to the lyrics, and the hypnotic way in which the music enacted them. I was not a poet at this time, nor did I imagine becoming a poet. But I suspect my poet brain was at work, trying to absorb the both-and elements of sound and sense that enwrapped these songs.

Today I'm going to an afternoon party of poets in far-southern Maine, so I need to finish up this letter soon and go start the bread I'm baking for the occasion--an Italian herb bread that I discovered earlier this week, a very pretty, simple twist, with the surprising taste of coriander seed mixed among the rosemary and thyme. The rain should clear out, and the sun is supposed to shine, and I'm looking forward to sitting by the river and being sociable.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The rain has been pouring hard for three or four hours, and now, at daybreak, lightning and thunder are rumbling in. This is our first downpour for weeks, and it's a very comfortable sound for a lazy Saturday morning. The garden must be delighted, and I know I am. There's nothing like a rainstorm for making a little house with a tight roof feel like paradise. And I have new electricity in mine!

In my dream book this morning I wrote: "Setting: a version of the Harmony land but much hillier, no house visible. For some reason I am back there again, and trying to dig a garden spot on a rocky, rooted, hilly spot that also seems to be half asphalt. It's like the perfect metaphor for trying to do anything in Harmony."

I suppose dreaming that metaphor is affecting my mood this morning, which I guess could be summed up as "feeling my age." I don't mean I want to blather on about hip replacements or complain about kids these days. More, I'm just suddenly aware of how hard I've worked, for so many years, under such gnarled circumstances, and am feeling amazed by it. Labor of the body, labor of the mind. In memory I find them difficult to separate. Read a few Hayden Carruth poems, and they'll explain what I mean better than I can myself.

I don't really have an agenda for today. I cleaned floors and bathrooms yesterday, and caught up on a pile of laundry, so I'll probably retreat upstairs to the Iliad for an hour or so. Tom wants to go watch a documentary of the Velvet Underground this afternoon, so I might go with him. Baseball starts mid-afternoon. I'd like to write, I need to pick up a book at the library, I've got to finish cooking down the pheasant stock, probably my children will phone . . .

It's not like we don't have challenges in this house--bathroom leaks and wonky power and unfinished renovations and a raw backyard--but daily life is so much easier. No brutal barn chores, no constant firewood, no more acres to mow, no little boys, no mesmerizing loneliness, no perpetual awareness of being an outsider and a stranger and a freak. I feel guilty about it sometimes, as if I've given up, gotten soft, here in this mild liberal neighborhood, with trash pickup once a week and a flurry of poets around the corner.

But here I am.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Yesterday was a flurry of electrical excitement. All day two young men sawed through drywall, snaked wires through walls, fiddled with boxes and connections, and by late afternoon we had new kitchen lighting, up-to-code outlets and wiring in the living room and dining room, a new outlet on the living room floor where we can plug in lamps under the couch instead of coiling extension cords all around the room, and three working, grounded outlets in my study. This means that most of the house's horrible, scary-looking, tangled, 1940s-era wiring is finally a bad memory . . . not all of it, but certainly the bulk.

What a huge relief. We're both so glad to have this done. Wiring is not a romantic renovation, and it's expensive, but now I can actually plug a vacuum cleaner into a living room outlet without tripping a breaker.

While the electricians worked, I perched variously in the back room or outside in the garden, beetling away at my editing project and my teaching syllabi. I ended up getting a ton of work done, despite the uproar. So today I can take a bit of time to do some post-electrician cleaning, bake bread, do some writing,  listen to playoff baseball, make some stock from the bones of the pheasant we had for dinner last night. Yes, I did impulse-buy a pheasant a few days ago at the meat market, and it turned out to be delicious, though the cooking process was odd. I served it with roasted red-flesh potatoes (my father's, and they were gorgeous), kale, artichokes, and little pheasant-liver toasts . . . Frenchier than my usual cooking style but it all came out well.

Meanwhile, Tom gazed at the bright new kitchen task lights and mourned, "They show up all of the mistakes in my sheetrocking," and I gazed at them and mourned, "I thought I was cleaning the backsplash better than I really I am." Apparently, new luxuries create new miseries . . .

Thursday, October 14, 2021

I'm sitting here in a pool of calm, shortly to be disrupted by mad furniture moving as Tom rushes around trying to prep the house for the electricians. Already my study looks like it's ready to be painted or packed into a truck; likewise, everything in the basement has been shoved into an island, bookshelves are half-empty, and giant pieces of orange tape glitter on the on walls, marking imaginary outlets.

I have no idea what kind of work I'll be able to get done today. I'll stow away in the yard or a back room and at least try to do some class planning--Homer; maybe next week's high school session. Editing will likely be beyond me. I really don't have anywhere else to go, as libraries and coffee shops aren't hunkering-down options these days. But maybe the weather will be kind.

I'm not complaining, of course. I've been longing for years to get these electrical issues solved, but money money money. So this is a day of celebration, just kind of a messy one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The weather is strangely warm, and the trees are turning red and orange, and the skies are a brilliant blue, and possibly I am the only person in town wishing for a few days of rain. But I am worried about my shrub investment: they need a good soaking before the ground freezes, and they are beginning to look wan and peaked without it. Still, open windows and tea outside are a compensation.

Today will be another long editing session, punctuated by an errand to get my glasses tightened, and then Tom and I will have to move furniture to prepare for the electrician onslaught tomorrow. Task lights in the kitchen, new wiring in the living and dining rooms, outlets fixed in my study, new basement wiring, and probably more stuff that I'm not remembering . . . a big job, and it's going to be hard for me to do much of my own work while they're tearing up every room in the house. But it will be a relief to finally get most of this house up to code.

I'm still taking notes in my dream book, and the last two entries have been grim . . . lots of lost and/or unfed animals, crazy cruel people, and untenable situations. I'm looking forward to when my brain decides to be funny again.

On the other hand, I've been enjoying the pithy remarks of Robertson Davies in The Cunning Man, as in:

The relationship of the patient to Death is not by any means the same thing as the medical possibility of recovery.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Red Sox in the championship series?! How is this even happening? By midsummer this team seemed to be destined for mediocrity; they barely squeaked into the Wild Card game, and now what the heck? Hitters actually hitting? Fielders actually fielding? Pitching staff not blowing games? Pardon the outburst, but I'm flummoxed (also delighted) . . . and go, Chicago, so we don't have to play those nasty Astros next.

Okay, now that's out of my system and I can return to my regularly scheduled humdrum life. "So much editing. The end." Still, it looks like I may be taking a trip up north to Monson next week to lead a day-long high school writing workshop, so that will be a change. And I do need to start planning my Homer class. I've got a spate of Studio Session weekends coming up, amid all of this editing and manuscript reading, and somehow I've got to find time to juggle everything.

Teresa and I are now three-quarters of the way done with the Iliad, and we had a great conversation about it yesterday afternoon. Now I'm getting ready to start a Nancy Drew project with another friend, which I'm really looking forward to. For dinner I made noodle bowls with tofu, kale, marinated egg, radishes, peppers, onions, cilantro, and chicken broth--fruits of the freezer and the autumn garden. I giggle-texted with Paul and played cards with Tom, and wondered about James's impending strike. I read a few chapters of Robertson Davies's The Cunning Man, and then I dreamed an episode of some sort of period-drama miniseries, possible 1930s-era, with golden Masterpiece Theatre-style nostalgia lighting and teasers about impending love and tragedy.

Monday, October 11, 2021

I hope that you are having a holiday today, but Tom and I are not: we're both preparing to embark on our regularly scheduled grind, but one fueled by a good weekend, so that's something. Tom spent all of yesterday in his study, working on his current photo project. I spent much of the morning across the hall in my room, reading contest manuscripts and the Iliad. I did do some yard cleanup in the afternoon, and then made a big chicken dinner while listening to a long and stressful Red Sox game. Finally, at bedtime, I turned off the radio . . . and my team immediately hit a walk-off home run in extra innings. I guess my support was just dragging them down.

Today, exercise class first; then buckling down to work on a difficult editing project. I'm presuming that we're also going to be dealing with major construction this week, as last Friday our household water was hooked up to the temporary irrigation pipes that are tripping up everyone who tries to thread their way down our sidewalks, and a giant concrete sewer pipe is now hulking in front of my house.

But in the afternoon I'll talk to Teresa about the Iliad, so that will take the edge off the noise and the obligations. We've stopped our reading at very tense moment: Patroclus has just been killed in battle, but his best friend Achilles doesn't know that yet. This poem is tedious and terrifying and very, very painful . . . words as the enactment of war. It's a remarkable work of art, and reading it is so hard.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Tom decided that our steak dinner on Thursday was not enough of a birthday celebration, so he spent much of yesterday afternoon planning, shopping, and preparing a gorgeous meal: scallops tossed with his own hand-cut noodles alongside a lemony fennel salad from our garden.

Meanwhile, I spent the afternoon harvesting radishes and carrots, planting garlic, weeding the vegetable garden, deadheading the flowers, and otherwise tidying things up a bit for fall.

Mid-afternoon we decided to go for a walk--our usual crisscross among the neighborhood streets and through the little glen known as Baxter Woods, where I began to spot a few honey mushrooms here and there, and then, suddenly, the motherlode. This photo captures only a few of them--

Immediately I whipped my foraging bag out of my purse (you won't believe how often I've used it this summer!) and we started picking, eventually bringing home this trove. It's hard to gauge sizes from the photo, but that's a my largest colander sitting in a dishpan, and as you can see, it's overflowing with booty. 

So as Tom rolled out noodles, I cleaned and sliced and sautéed honey mushrooms, eventually packing two quart bags with treasure. We now have five quarts of various varieties of wild mushrooms in the freezer--all foraged in my own city neighborhood.

October: what a lovely month! The last tomatoes, on the stove, thickening into sauce. Carrots and radishes, scrubbed, glowing like jewels. Clutches of little peppers still clinging to their handsome plants. Kale and chard and parsley flourishing in the cooling air. Zinnias and dahlias still blooming bravely. Mushrooms sprouting in the forests, and me, almost finished with my Iliad assignment, sitting in my study by an open window gazing down at the shrubs settling into their autumn sleep, the cardinals at the feeder, the squirrels bustling along the fence lines.

Every morning I write down my dreams, and then the day becomes its own dream. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

I slept late, then spent some time writing groggily in my dream book, and now finally I am semi-awake, or at least able to shape a few thoughts coherently. I daresay whatever it was I wrote in the dream book is not clear at all. But that's part of the point of keeping it: trying to preserve the strangeness of dream experience before I have the wherewithal to refine it into narrative.

So, let's see what I wrote. I have very little memory of any of the words I put down:

Office building, Portland, Maine. I seem to be employed as some sort of low-level clerk. But I am also crime-hunting. There is a mysterious map, with an odd inset, and somehow I must make it clear that I am not complicit. The security guard promises to watch the map for me, but suddenly we are on a work outing to see the Red Sox and I am admiring my new sandals. An annoying bossy rich lady gets involved and we all reappear in a parking garage at the office building. I have no idea where my car is so I decide to walk home along Back Cove, which is dark and waterswept, as if it's in the midst of a hurricane. A menacing bicyclist keeps appearing and disappearing into the mist.

There's a cinematic feel to that last scene: a French New Wave clarity framing the menacing bike rider. Also, a Chinatown sensation about the office and the mysterious map. And yet the situation itself is sewn together like Frankenstein's monster.

Today I'm going to pull carrots and plant garlic, read the Iliad and a few more contest manuscripts, simmer a little batch of tomato sauce with my few house-ripening San Marzanos, maybe ride my bike up to the cemetery, possibly do some grocery shopping, bake a loaf of bread . . . 

Last night Tom bought us a set of airline tickets to Chicago. We've decided to spend Thanksgiving with James, as Paul has been invited to Kentucky with our Brooklyn friends, my parents and my sister's family will all be together, and we'll see Tom's family at Christmas. It seems like a good way to make sure that everyone has somebody for the holiday. I'm a bit nervous about flying, but rationally I think we'll be fine, and I really, really want to see my son.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Yesterday was a simple and lovely day. Bright blue skies, leaves just starting to turn, shirt-sleeve temperatures--a classic October gem. I spent the morning doing housework, which may not sound like a great way to spend a birthday, but in fact I enjoyed the briskness of the chore . . . opening windows, mopping floors, tidying shelves, amid answering a flurry of birthday phone calls. Midmorning my neighbor texted to ask if I wanted to walk over to the coffee shop and get some pizza from the food truck parked there. So we strolled out for lunch, and ate some of the best pizza I've had in a long time: served out of the back of a 1950s-era Morris Mini. The cuteness was pretty extreme.

Then she went back to work, and I did some reading, and then walked up to the market to buy steak, and then eventually worked in the garden for a bit until Tom came home. He started a fire outside, and I baked potatoes and made a radish slaw inside, and he produced cheese and a baguette and a special beer out of his bag, and we played cribbage outside while the shadows thickened and the cat prowled around our feet.

It was such a sweet day.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Today I am 57 years old.

I woke up at 5:30 and wrote down my dream (school field trip, bus ride, secret password) and then came downstairs to find a big popup card that Tom had made for me, plus the mildly disappointing news that the Cardinals had lost their Wild Card game.

And now I am sitting on the couch, drinking my coffee and thinking about being 57.

I've always loved my birthday, that delightful feeling of having a special day to myself, a day that floats, the friendly wishes and signs of affection. But as I age, of course, the birthday also becomes a reckoning. I flip back through this blog and find a history of myself on my birthday: what I'm reading, what I'm struggling with, what I'm hoping for. Even without examining that written record, I'm aware of the day as a marker. What have I done? What does it matter? How much more time do I have left?

I'm not actually fighting doom-and-gloom here, though those questions sound as if I might be. Oddly, as I get older, I find myself feeling less and less anxious about "doing something important" or "being the best" or "making a difference." Those all seem like a 35-year-old's terrors. On the island of 57, this castaway is mostly pretty contented with the fruit she can reach. A body that works. A mind that craves words. A dear partner and lovable sons. Sweet friends and family. Flowers blooming outside my window.

This morning I'm going to endure my exercise class and then clean the house. Then I'll walk to the market and buy steak for what might be our last firepit meal of the season. I might make myself a cake, but also I might not. I won't edit today, but I will read the Iliad and do some writing. In the evening I'll listen to a baseball game.

A mild-mannered, semi-solitary birthday celebration, designed for a 57-year-old poet.

it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:   
gradually I’m changing to a word.  

--from "Passing Through," by Stanley Kunitz

I leave you with a salad, made from my father's beets and my own autumn lettuce and marigolds. This is the beauty of my season.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Okay, now I've gotten that out of my system, I can return to my regular font. But, oh boy! What a night! And the win means postseason baseball for my birthday!

My parents sent me a sweet box full of little gifts yesterday, among them a blank notebook, which I immediately decided to inaugurate as my Dream Book--to sit on my bedside table with a pen, ready for me to transcribe my strange dreams as soon as I wake up. Already I've filled in two dreams, and I am very much enjoying the project. Everything sounds so hilarious on paper; I think this will be a great way to keep myself laughing, but also who knows what interesting drafts could arise from a Dream Book?

For instance, here's what I've got so far:


Setting: white farmhouse but with giant galleries of windows and odd open hallways.

Indifferent young person is holding me at gun point. Occasionally he shoots a bullet through a window. I am not very afraid of him.

The day is very sunny. The windows glint. Also, someone should wash them.

Eventually Tom shows up. This is not a rescue, except from boredom.



Important to practice my deep breathing exercises.

Some concerns about not washing dishes for the rest of my life.


Pretty good, huh? This is clearly an untapped source of amusement and material, but also I'm interested to see if I can actually make transcribing dreams a routine. History shows that I am good at habits but bad at diaries.

Today, I'll be back on the editing train. I'm juggling three separate projects at various stages of need, plus I have some Frost Place meeting notes to write up, a lot of Iliad to read, undoubtedly a bunch of other things that I can't recall at the moment, plus all of the regular house and garden stuff. Still, despite my flurry, I'm actually sort of caught up. I got my week's worth of contest mss read; I'm on the road to finishing two of the editing projects; and I seem to be writing in cliches but I am not going to care. Cliches have their uses, even if this blog platform won't let me insert the accent over the e.

My brain is lively and pinging this morning, so that's fun. I feel ready for action. Also, I have to rush off and fix something in a poem. Talk to you tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Today's big family news: the looming IATSE strike.

IATSE (an acronym for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is the union that covers the vast majority of off-the-screen film and TV workers. It serves an enormous number of professionals, from special-effects teams, to makeup artists, to grips. Its largest subgroup is my son James's cinematographers' local--alone, his local includes 60,000 members.

James, as you may know, is our 27-year-old wunderkind: the kid who parlayed a 6-week internship that involved fetching coffee and halting traffic during street filming into a high-level camera-crew job. He is now first assistant camera for a primetime NBC TV show, second on his team only to the camera operator and the director of photography.

It sounds like a dream job, and in many ways it is. But his hours are horrendous--always long, many late or overnight, often cutting into weekends and holidays, and changing constantly at the whim of the studio. The job involves much time outside in bad weather, often in dangerous conditions involving special-effects explosions or crazy vehicle driving.

Issues of overwork came to a head during the pandemic, when crew members put in even longer hours to cover for sick colleagues but also discovered, during periods of shut down, that their work lives didn't have to be so brutal. Now that studios are back in full swing, the producers have gone back to driving the crews as hard as possible, but IATSE members have had enough. They want rational working hours, guaranteed time off, meal times during their work days, more compensation from streaming services, and a living wage for the members on the lower rungs of the pay scale.

Almost 90 percent of IATSE members participated in the authorization vote. Of those participants, more than 98 percent voted in favor of the strike. The mandate is overwhelming. Directors' and actors' unions are standing alongside them, as are a number of members of Congress. The situation is a huge deal for the entertainment business. If IATSE strikes, not a single camera will roll, coast to coast. Filming will shut down everywhere. The industry has not endured a strike of this magnitude for decades, and the studios and the producers had better think hard before they refuse to address the union's basic quality-of-life demands.

Monday, October 4, 2021

 . . . and it's Monday again, and my desk is full of obligation again, 

Fortunately, I'm ready to go. I had a productive yet unstructured weekend: I processed lots of harvest vegetables (green tomato sauce, peppers, kale, even a batch of wild mushrooms) and did a lot of garden culling and transplanting, but I also listened to two very exciting and stressful baseball games. I baked bread and dusted rooms, but I also lay on the couch reading in front of the fire. So I feel as if I can step back into weekday desk life without too much regret for what might have been.

And thus today: editing, manuscript reading, class planning, followed by grocery shopping, punctuated by an exercise class and poem revision and some tomato-sauce simmering and the inevitable laundry. Always, the work work work. But mostly I thrive on it. And I earn hardly any money, so maybe the house versus word schedule doesn't count as craziness. Or maybe it does?

Sunday, October 3, 2021

I got a lot done yesterday, homestead-wise. First, I started the pot of green tomatoes: cutting them into chunks, adding a rough-cut onion, a couple of peppers, a head of garlic, and a teaspoon of cumin seed, and letting them cook down for most of the the day. Later I ran the softened stew through a food mill, added a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar and a good shake of chipotle and ancho ground peppers, and let the sauce simmer till it had slightly thickened.

In the several-hour meantime, I prepped garden beds and transplanted broccoli and a few kale plants, tore out the green beans and cosmos and some of the nasturtiums, and lugged my big summer begonia and coleus planter into the house. It's such a handsome display that I'm hoping to keep it alive a bit longer--

And then I spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen: freezing peppers, working on the green sauce, poaching pears, and eventually listening to the most stressful baseball game of the year . . . oh my word, those Red Sox are going to kill me with their dithering . . . do they or do they not want to win games?

We ate enchiladas for dinner, corn tortillas filled with leftover chili I'd made earlier in the week, topped with grated cheddar and some of the new green sauce and then baked. I put together a salad from a fantastic watermelon that my dad grew. We ate the poached pears topped with their own syrup.

It did not, on the surface, seem much like a writer's day, and yet throughout I had the peculiar and familiar tingling awareness that I was watching--maybe what I mean is absorbing, but the sensation is so much of being two selves: the self who is physically engaged in a task and the self who is observing, synthesizing, feeling, judging, explaining, describing, framing the situation . . . None of those words is exactly accurate because in the moment they overlap and tangle in the awareness of that watching self.

I've had this perception of my two selves ever since childhood: riding a bike and watching myself ride a bike; playing the violin and watching myself playing the violin; crying and watching myself crying. Of course I don't live every second of my life with this split, but it appears often, and under circumstances of pleasure and misery, boredom and engagement. Maybe everyone does this, but I've come to realize that, for me, the split is in fact part of my writing life. It's how I gain information and awareness, how I begin to suss out motivation and connection, well before I ever put word to paper, or even have the awareness of the pressure to write.

I may or may not compose a poem that has anything to do with today's humdrum homestead tasks. But I did know that my selves were at work, and that is something in itself.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

I spent much of yesterday reading contest manuscripts and (sob) tearing out my six tomato plants--a sad but necessary job, as they were clearly exhausted. I picked off a good deal of unripened fruit, enough to fill a half-bushel basket. Only some of the greenies have any ripening potential, so today I'll start cooking down the runts for northcountry tomatillo sauce. I've got more stuff to do outside too: transplanting kale and winter broccoli, ripping out some dried-up flowers and possibly the peppers . . . The list is much longer, but none of it is urgent--more like a slow seasonal windup, an amble toward winter, shutting down the summer cottage, turning off the lights.

While I was immersed in my housekeeper duties, I started rereading Susan Strasser's Never Done: A History of American Housework, a complex and well-written exploration of not only the shifts in household burdens since the colonial era but also how those changes linked to industry, public health, economics, and corporate marketing. From the beginning, housewives have been at the mercy of the salesman--eager for anything that might relieve them from the brutal labor of hauling water, slops, and fuel. Yet here I am, blithely turning on a single burner of a spotless electric stovetop in order to make a cup of tea. Nobody in 1860 could turn on a single burner. Nobody could waste time and fuel just to make a personal cup of tea. Women felt lucky to possess a stove at all, given that their mothers and grandmothers had cooked in open fireplaces.

But in addition to all of this housework study and action,  I've still got my word work brewing. I spent time on my draft yesterday, adding new stanzas and then moving around the order to see how each episode might talk to the others. One thing I noticed was that as soon as I started moving the order, the pronouns took on new power: I had to really begin to think about I, you, they, not just as generalizations but as speaking and listening voices with a dramatic relationship to one another. Pronouns are so powerful, but they are also traps. Sometimes you in a poem is way to avoid saying the riskier I.  Sometimes you is a way to pontificate, or to avoid creating an individual character. Sometimes they bestows victimization status on the speaker or allows the poet to evade close examination of self-other issues. The traps are myriad, yet pronouns are also an elegant and efficient way to consider and invoke community and individual relationships without boxing these explorations into explicit fictions, as proper names and specific nouns can do.

Friday, October 1, 2021

I woke to 42 degrees of chill pouring through my open bedroom window, and even toyed with the notion of turning on the furnace until I came to my senses and realized that downstairs was still plenty warm from last night's wood fire.

I did spend some time with the Iliad yesterday, and was just beginning to shift my poem draft around on the page, but then the phone rang and my poetry idyll was cut short. Today the paying work has started sifting back into my schedule. Among other October happenings, I'll be reading manuscripts for an annual poetry-press prize, and those collections have started showing up in my inbox. I know that fresh editing manuscripts are also on the way, and I might be teaching a day-long high school class later this month, and I've got that Homer weekend to prep for . . . [which you should hurry up and apply for because we only have three openings left, and the mix of participants is lovely, and this class has been specially designed for you] . . .

But it's October now, and I love October . . . my birthday month, the season of brilliant blue skies and cascading leaves. Maybe I'll be able to get outside into the garden, and start tearing out sunflowers and tomato plants. Maybe I'll sit outside with a sweater and a book and a big cup of tea.