Monday, November 29, 2021

 Yesterday was another walking-everywhere day . . . this time over the Chicago River and through the shopping district toward the lake and the Museum of Contemporary Art. They had a show by the Karachi artist Bani Abidi that included selections from letters sent by Indian soldiers fighting for the British in France during World War I, with passages such as "It is like this: my train never left our village station. I am still there saying goodbye; it is as if the whole village traveled with me across the seas." And meanwhile the darkened room was filled with the music of a Punjabi folk song.

Then, a train ride, and another long walk, and dinner at Honky Tonk Barbecue, with live music by a band that specialized in 1920s pop songs and all of the performers looked like dentists or accountants.

And, then, back to James's apartment to watch several episodes of Peter Gunn, one of the most stylish TV shows ever made, in which crime solving always takes second place to jazz.

Today will be our last day here; we leave tomorrow morning early, so you won't hear from me again till later in the week. We're thinking today of ice skating, of eating Mexican food, of looking at Mexican art . . .

Sunday, November 28, 2021

I didn't get to bed till 1:30 last night, so I slept in till 7:30--an hour that is both ridiculously late and barely adequate. Good thing we've been having a lot of afternoon naps on this vacation.

Yesterday morning we took the train toward the loop and got off at an uppity meat and cheese shop, where we bought some charcuterie to try today, and then immediately returned to our usual ambience by spending an hour at the Goodwill. Then James said, "Let's take a bus and go back to Pilsen to eat tamales," which was an excellent idea except that the bus never came so we ended up walking back to Pilsen through Greektown and the U. of Illinois campus, which took a very long time. As a result, the tamales--chicken and green sauce in cornmeal, wrapped in banana leaves--tasted like heaven.

Our plan for the the evening was to go to Uptown and eat Ethiopian food and then listen to jazz at the Green Mill. We did eat the Ethiopian food, and then we started to listen to jazz, but then James started not feeling well, so we spent the rest of our evening trying to make our way back to his apartment via stalled trains and general pokiness. The good news is that his stomach cramps finally eased so he is fine. But it was a drag for him.

This morning he has to go to the studio and get his weekly Covid test, and then I think we're heading out to the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the meantime, I will be happy to sit on a couch and putter. I ended up bringing both the Fowles novel and the Cheever short stories, but haven't even touched the stories as I am somewhat enwrapped with one of the novel's characters, though the other main character is tremendously irritating and I hate him.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

We spent yesterday walking--miles and miles of walking, all around Pilsen--combing through thrift stores and such, and eventually ended up at a bookstore that was giving away all of its books for free that day (!), and the Skylark Bar, where we drank cheap beer and listened to old school hiphop and Serge Gainsborough doing his Barry White-ish thing in French, and finally concluded the evening at a Vietnamese restaurant, where we ate a family-style meal of pork soup, green papaya salad, fish-sauce chicken wings, and whipped rice pudding.

I have no idea what we'll be up to today. Nobody seems too concerned about plans, or about getting anywhere at any particular time. Maybe we'll venture out of the neighborhood, or maybe not. At some point I hope to go across the street to the Museum of Mexican Art, and it might be pleasant to lay eyes on Lake Michigan. I expect whatever we do will again involve miles of walking, as we all enjoy that. This is a big flat town and the striding is easy.

In the meantime, I will sit around under a couch blanket reading my books as the boys sleep away in their beds and the sun rises over the FBI building and the basilica that is perpetually under repair and the museum and the garages and alleys and the pigeons and the baseball field and the garbage trucks and the delivery vans and the police cars and Shadow the Constantly Barking Doberman and the murals of sunflowers and Dominican priests and the diners and the bars and the mysterious offices for the sale of brass and bronze ingots and the produce warehouses and the fire stations and pest-control service and the place to buy religious statuary and the Costco and the helicopter port and the Santa Claus decorations and Dental Sunshine and Amigo Insurance and (my personal favorite) Discount Scaffolding.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Good morning from the central time zone, where I slept much later than usual so am now entirely confused, inner-clock-wise.

Our travels from Portland were smooth and unharried; and though our flight was full, it appeared to be the only one arriving in the Midway terminal. We landed at 7:30, but already the concourse was shut up tight, as if we were stumbling in at 3 a.m. And now here I am in this dark-shaded apartment, dominated by a roaring heater and two sleeping men. I may never figure out what time it is.

Anyway: Chicago! This is our first time in James's new apartment, and it's sweet and homey and high-ceilinged, a third-floor walkup with a view over the rooftops. He and I were laughing on the phone the other day, about what sloppy, sloppy kids we both were, and how we both turned into extremely tidy adults. Childhood is not always a predictor of the future. As a ten-year old, I could have cared less about clutter and hair washing, and he was just the same. But now we're both ridiculous neatniks.

I don't know what we'll do today. Tom and I are here till Tuesday morning, so we've got lots of hours to fill. But now everyone's getting up, and I must leave you and drink coffee. . . .

Thursday, November 25, 2021

 Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate. As both a non-cooker and non-eater this year, I do feel on the outside looking in. What will the airport be like, I wonder, with all of our kind wandering footloose through the terminals, none of us getting anywhere in time for dinner?

Still, there's a certain freedom in not taking part in the holiday. Yesterday, as everyone else in the grocery store was madly buying ingredients, I was dreamily puttering among toothbrushes and Dramamine, cat litter and laundry soap. I have made no pies, sweetened no cranberries, mashed no potatoes. For dinner I will eat something unsavory out of an airport carton.

But of course the end result of all of this non-celebrating will be celebrating: our long weekend with James, putzing around Chicago with red noses and winter boots, actually having a vacation with Tom.

This morning I will pack, and also deal with various household things like getting the trash out for tomorrow's pickup and organizing the cat's stuff for his across-the-street babysitter. The timing of this trip makes it feel stately and unrushed.  After lunch my neighbor will drive us to the bus station, 10 minutes away, and then we will float in the seas of public transportation . . . a coach ride to Boston, then a flight to Chicago, and then the bright face of our son waiting to fetch us back to his apartment. I am so un-nervous about this trip that I'm starting to think something's wrong with me.

The biggest struggle of the day, as always, will be deciding what books to bring. Do I bring the Fowles novel that I'm halfway through? Do I bring that collection of Cheever stories? Short stories are often nice on a trip, as they work well with my fractured attention--I'm always distracted by the curious behaviors of the people around me. Do I bring Dante to copy out in my spare moments? Or do I assume that my spare moments would be better served by actually behaving as if I'm on vacation and not mucking around with an epic? Still, I once passed a great deal of time at LaGuardia copying out Paradise Lost. So I know it can be done.

You can see the problems I face . . . not least the ridicule of my family. They are all breathlessly waiting to laugh when they see what I unpack. I should foil them and simply produce one paperback copy of Fifty Shades of Gray, or perhaps How to Win Friends and Influence People. But then I'd have nothing else to read, and that would be a drag.

. . . David says,
If you’re out

in public & you don’t want anyone
to talk to you, bring a book 

of poetry

--from Emilia Phillips's "Reading Ovid at the Plastic Surgeon's"

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Tom forgot to set his alarm last night, so we overslept, and now everything is running late. But I did make the coffee, and if everything else in my morning gets pushed back an hour, so be it. Once he gets himself to work, there's nothing urgent on my end. My day will mostly be odds and ends of travel prep: shopping, mending, washing clothes, digging out the suitcases, and so on. We don't leave the house tomorrow till after lunch, so we can be pretty relaxed about packing.

I had a remarkably productive writing day yesterday, which doesn't always happen when I decide to take one. I transcribed a number of scrawled first drafts out of my notebook; and as I was humming over them, I realized that several of the scraps, written at different times and under different circumstances, might cohere into a larger, more surprising piece. Mucking around with that notion absorbed a few hours, and then I turned to Dante and began copying out Canto XIII, translated by Charles Wright, with passages like this: "We were men once, and now we are underbrush: / surely your hand would have been more merciful / even if we had been the souls of snakes." Golly.

I even managed to submit work to a couple of journals, and got an instant acceptance from one of them, sweet repayment for my wincing dislike of the process. I could not have asked for a better writing day: new work, old work, published work, punctuated by a long cold walk with my neighbor and homemade macaroni-and-cheese for dinner.

So, today: A bit of Frost Place stuff. A phone call with Donna about our Mouse and His Child reading project. And then cat-litter shopping and clothes folding and as much more writing time as I can steal. Yesterday's cobbled-together draft might actually be something very interesting, but it needs work.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I slept hard last night, to make up for the night before; and while my dreams did not reach the epic proportions of two days ago (mysteriously notated only as "Dogs with special powers"), they did involve both the actor Elliot Gould and the poet BJ Ward looking for secret stuff behind a ventilation system in a weird brick house that apparently belonged to my aunt.

Today, I've got some Frost Place stuff to do, but otherwise the hours are mine. My poetry group really liked the poem draft I shared last night, and I guess that's a sign that I need to get off my duff and use a few of these free hours to submit poems to journals.

So this morning, after exercise class et al., I'll try to buckle down to that chore. I did finish Teresa's copyediting yesterday, and washed a thousand pounds of laundry, and got my teeth cleaned, and reamed out the bathrooms, and vacuumed the floors, so I do not feel guilty about taking a day to mess around with poems and re-start my Dante copying project.

I often imagine how other writers manage their lives. They win fellowships and spend months at retreats and artist colonies. They scribble in the tiny cold hours before dawn. They jot down lines on their palm and smoke a cigarette beside the loading dock. I wonder what those lives are like.

Monday, November 22, 2021

In the small hours I woke to battering rain. The bedroom felt like a crate bobbing in rough seas, and I could never quite get back to sleep. I fear this is going to be one of those days when my coal box runs down to dust, and my steam peters out, and my engine halts pathetically in a siding and instantly starts to rust.

I did, mostly, manage to finish that giant kitchen job yesterday, though there are a few tag ends I need to finish. But we now have a clean refrigerator, clean shelves, clean closets, clean cupboards, clean dishes, top to bottom, inside and out; everything sorted and reorganized, a few things pitched out. I'm pretty good about not wasting food, but there are always a few icky jars of something-or-other hanging around in the dark corners of the fridge.

Anyway, that's over, and today I can turn my sleepy attention to the thrill of a dentist appointment. I also have Teresa's poetry collection to copyedit, and this evening a poetry workshop I need to stay awake for. Wish me luck with the coffee and such.

But the big editing job is done. The contest-manuscript-screening is done. I do feel as if I can relax a bit, as our midwestern holiday approaches. When we get back, all the crazy will start up again: another bout of weekend teaching, a new editing project, plus I've been invited to take part in a mentorship program with a high school poet. Plus, argh, Christmas shopping.

What I ought to do this week is send out some finished poems to journals, but likely I'll keep procrastinating on that chore. What I ought to do this week is stop telling myself what I ought to do.

What it is to be caught up in each day
Like a child fighting imaginary wars,
Converting work into this passionate play,
A rounded whole made up of different chores
Which one might name haphazard meditation.
And yet an unexpected call destroys
Or puts to rout my primitive elation:
Why be so serious about mere joys?

--from May Sarton's "A Country Incident"

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Well, my giant kitchen project is taking longer than I'd hoped it would--so much dishwashing, and dish moving, and cabinet cleaning, and reorganizing. It isn't even a big kitchen, and I don't even have that much stuff. And I tidy and surface-clean it every day! Disorder is so insidious.

I've still got the pantry cupboard and the refrigerator to tackle today, but at least I finished all of the storage cupboards. I won't have to spend every waking moment in the dishpan.

But enough of this housework talk.

Outside, the last golden leaves are sifting down from the spike-armed maples. Inside, the lamplight shines on John Fowles's novel Daniel Martin, the collected stories of John Cheever, Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child, a book of New York Times crossword puzzles, and some fat photo books whose titles I can't see from where I'm sitting. Behind my head, the cat is humped up, slitty-eyed, on the back of the sofa. Upstairs, Tom clanks his coffee cup and sighs.

A week from now I will be standing at a third-floor window, staring out into the morning mists of the Chicago skyline.

In the meantime, I've got a dentist appointment, and a poetry-group meeting, and my friend Teresa's next poetry collection to copyedit. All in all, a quiet slide into the holiday. No cooking, no fussing. Just a lot of of public transportation and my children making their traditional jokes about how many books I packed.

Poetry life is humming along. Clustered on my computer desktop is a batch of new poems in various stages of construction. On Monday night I'll do some revision talk with my poetry group. I'm getting ready to return to my copying-out-the-Inferno project, which got body-slammed during the pandemic year, when I no longer had a desk to work at. My fifth collection, Accidental Hymn, is in production, and I'm happy to say that the cover will feature Kathy Wright's painting, which she created during our collaborative project for Art in Common Places. (You can see our original broadside at the link: it's gorgeous.) Right now, my poet brain feels supple and fluid, busy and attentive, and full of confidence. This may all be lies, but I'm enjoying them anyway.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Yesterday I finished the big, complicated editing project that's been swallowing me up for the past couple of months; and with that off my desk and the Homer class behind me, I'm entering this weekend feeling unbooked and unleashed and giddy and free . . . a foolish sensation that housework will quickly squelch. 

Tom is planning to ride the ferry to Peaks Island and spend the day there taking pictures. I am planning to deep-clean the kitchen (vacuum out cupboards, wash the pretty bowls and glassware that sit on the open shelves, scrub the refrigerator). Art versus chore. But the chore needs to be done. As does the art.

Between times I'll walk up to the library to fetch the volume of Cheever short stories I'm borrowing. I'll fiddle with my stack of new poem drafts. See? Art won't entirely be limited to Peaks Island. I can think about words and scour refrigerator shelves. It's one of my superpowers, along with being able to smell a gas leak.

I like to do a job: a kitchen, a poem, as the case may be. 

As the shadows fall, I'll start simmering minestrone. I'll light a fire in the wood stove, and curl up on the couch with my library book. Eventually Tom will thump in through the back door, red-nosed after a long day in the cold island wind. He will not notice the clean kitchen, and he will not read the poem, but he will smile at me. Every day he smiles at me.

Secret work is its own delight. Ink on a page, soap on a wineglass. Bubbles foam, then burst. Scent of lemons. And now a stanza demands a line. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

I spent a slow and pleasant evening at the salon--eating, talking, writing--and, again, a sort of draft swam up from the depths into the night air. It will need a lot of work to become a poem, but something is there. Clearly this group is good for me and my writing, though I struggle to gird myself to go out on a Thursday night. But I want to, so I will.

Then, in bed, I woke and slept, woke and slept, to the sound of rain on the roof and at the windows. And now, on this dark Friday morning, I am drinking my coffee, and thinking about dragging the recycling bin to the curb, and realizing that I might actually finish that enormous editing project today.

The world swirls around me, but just for this moment I have paused. I feel like a twig trembling in the crook of a running stream. I feel full of . . . something: I don't know what: perhaps just awareness of myself, waiting, but not desperately or greedily, not with resignation or gloom. Just quivering, as the water rushes by.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

I dreamed last night that my in-laws' house was filled with swimming pools and fancy floating couches, and I was lying on a couch and floating slowly from one pool to the next, alongside big windows and enormous white pines . . . and then the dream morphed into driving into an ominous back alley with my sister and getting the car trapped in a veiled woman's "for sale" stand, which appeared to feature nothing but large, wet, semi-rotten clumps of coarse fabric. 

Such a bumptious transition, soothing and unhinged in equal proportion. I keep thinking that noting down this stuff is going to help my writing, but maybe it will just make my writing crazy.

I'm hoping to finish editing a chapter today, and I need to get started on setting up the class website for my next Studio Session class, which starts in early December. Our Chicago adventure is looming, and I want to get as much done as I can before Thanksgiving.

So work work work today, and maybe some afternoon leaf raking, and probably the writing salon in the evening. I've finished Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicle, and now I'm beginning Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child and waiting for Cheever's short stories and Milosz's anthology Postwar Polish Poetry to show up at my library branch. This week I've been going for midday walks up into the cemetery,  with the purported purpose of breaking in my new boots before I go to Chicago. [Advertising sidebar: I love my new boots. They are cute and warm and waterproof and comfortable. You can tell how I feel because I am using italics.] But also I adore this late-autumn weather: chilly but not icy, the last golden leaves clinging to blue sky, the sturdy clomp of my feet on the pavement, my brain ticking and fluttering through its Rolodex . . . poems, lists, flashes of memory, crammed in against the now: the dogs and their babies, man mysteriously trying to throw a rope into a tree, skinny boy staring at a phone, old-lady running club, gossiping as they pant, aging punk rocker listening to an early-days-of-hiphop mix tape as he walks, then looking up at me and smiling and saying, "Sometimes you just have to spend time with the old stuff."

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

34 degrees yesterday, 24 this morning: no wonder I detected a hint of winter in yesterday's wind.

I spent my dream night wandering through hotel rooms and airports with the cat, who was sometimes in his carrier but sometimes slithering through heating vents, etc. Also I had to do a lot of dream vacuuming in these places. I was relieved to wake up at home.

Today's schedule will be kind of like yesterday's, lots of editing but with less bread baking and more pot-roast braising. I began transferring some of the weekend's poem drafts out of my notebook and onto the laptop, and it turns out that I'm going to be very happy with the most horrible of them all--a dreadful little piece about catching mice in traps as an exercise in unbridled power. The prompt was a fast-write, assigned after reading a passage in which Odysseus shares his plans for restocking his farms (basically, "steal sheep from other people"). All I told the writers was "Go on a raid." It was our final prompt, and everyone in the class wrote very startling pieces, including me.

But there's something cathartic in reaching down into the marrow of human violence. After spending so much of this past year with the Odyssey and the Iliad, I can't help but begin to recognize those archetypal traits within myself too, though they're thickly swaddled in niceness and self-control. But when I allow myself to exist within violence on the page, I do learn some stuff.

I've done so much new writing in the past week, between the class and the evening salon. It's exciting. I feel as if I've been writing well for the past couple of years, but my writing time has been so controlled and limited, just because of the circumstances of my living situation and my work obligations. I had to wait to turn on the faucet, though when I did, the work splashed out. Both the weekend and the salon have been dedicated to flushing out the plumbing, and now the sink is filling up with all kinds of floating debris. I am delighted.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

34 degrees this morning: not nearly our coldest temperature of the season, but when I cracked the door to let the cat out, the gust that rattled in felt like the bones of winter.

I spent five minutes writing the above sentence, and it's still clumsy.

Yesterday was a mostly screen-free day: lots of laundry, groceries, a surprise visit with diaspora friends, an hour-and-a-half walk with my neighbor, leaf raking . . . altogether, a much needed face-to-face-with-the-living-world day. So now I am refreshed, and much less squinty, and ready to return to my desk and its exigencies.

I've been rereading Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicles, which for some reason made no impression on me the last time I read it. At this try I am bowled over,  in an amnesiac sort of way, by the gorgeousness of the prose. What a book! I've always thought of Updike and Cheever in the way I think of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: you fall into one camp or the other, and I've been Tolstoy and Updike all the way. But now I see I was wrong, which I guess means I'll have to try reading Fyodor D. again too . . .

In closing, here's a taste of the great and unregenerate Gregory Corso to make you laugh and sigh--

I reached heaven and it was syrupy.
It was oppressively sweet.
Croaking substances stuck to my knees.
Of all substances St. Michael was stickiest.
I grabbed him and pasted him on my head.   
I found God a gigantic fly paper.
I stayed out of his way.

--from "Transformation and Escape," 1960

Monday, November 15, 2021

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have no idea how full-time teachers are able to keep exuding such focus and energy every day of the week. Two days of it completely exhausts me . . . though in a very good way. The participants were marvelous, the quality of the drafts was stunning . . . really, the weekend couldn't have gone better, and I'm thrilled. But I am tired.

I tried to take last Friday off, but ended up having to edit and clean house and otherwise not rest from any labors at all. So today I'm going to try again; and though I'll still have to grocery-shop and wash clothes and such, maybe I can cobble together a partial rest day before returning to my desk tomorrow.

With the Homer class under my belt, I have to turn my teaching attention to another 3-session chapbook seminar, which is starting in the first weekend of December. And now I've got a stack of first drafts to deal with too--what I wrote during the Homer class, plus what I wrote during the Thursday salon. Maybe today I can start sorting through some of that.

And the yard is full of leaves . . . I can see already that this is not going to be a day off.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

I'm feeling somewhat groggy and ditzy this morning--a heavy, late sleep after wakefulness, and the coffee hasn't yet begun its stabilizing work.

I think yesterday's class went well. We had 11 participants, most with more fervent knowledge of the Odyssey than I have, so that was great. They seemed to love talking with one another, burrowing into the tale and its implications, comparing translations; it was exciting to watch their excitement, and the writing they've generated from those conversations has been stellar. Today's we'll do a little more reading and writing, and then we'll spend the rest of the session thinking about possible directions for their first drafts. My biggest takeaway is, that this dense conversation about an ancient poem is leading directly into strong new writing, and that has been my hope and my goal.

After I finished the session, and finished lying on the couch letting my eyes recover from the Zoom screen,  I put together the quince tarte tatin and baked it . . . this involved making caramel in a cast-iron pan, then spreading cooled poached quinces over it, laying a circle of frozen pastry over that, and baking it for a half hour or so. Then Tom helped me flip the pan onto a plate, so that the crust was now on the bottom and the caramelized quinces were on top. I was pretty pleased with how it came out, and the quinces have a subtle and mysterious flavor, sort of pear-like, but more perfumed. This is not a good photo, and Tom didn't use the plate I would have chosen for display, but at least you have an idea of what it looks like. The small dark fruits are dried cranberries.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Saturday morning, 5 a.m., and I am gearing myself for the weekend. Two days of intensity: writing and talking and sharing new work; and at these moments, just before they happen, I always wonder if I am up to the challenge. In truth, I know it will all be fine. Merely, I'm in the wobble-hour, when my brain  encourages me to panic and I have to talk it off the bridge. I expect you have those hours too.

Yesterday I finished a big stack of editing and sent it off to the press. I vacuumed and dusted and washed floors and cleaned bathrooms. I started reading John Cheever's novel The Wapshot Chronicle and I worked on a poem draft and I talked to my friend Donna about our children's-book reading project. I did three loads of laundry. I poached quinces in syrup, prepping them for the tart I'll make at some point this weekend. I made meatballs and watched the torrential rains and winds whip the leaves from the trees.

And now I'll spend my weekend in a chair, in front of a screen, talking with a dozen people about the Odyssey. The housework-wordwork continuum. What a peculiar life to lead.

Friday, November 12, 2021

 Last night I went to my second session at that Thursday-evening poetry salon I told you about a couple of weeks ago. Maybe salon isn't quite the right word, but I can't think of a better one--a group of regulars who gather in the same place each week to write, eat, talk, and share new work. Would you call that a salon? Or would we need 18th-century hair to make that word work?

Anyway, I wrote a draft I was thrilled with, and came home so excited I could hardly sleep. Maybe this group is actually going to be a source for new poems in addition to being a cheerful social event. That would be such a bonus. Another nice thing: having a night away from meal chores and knowing Tom likes it when I venture out, even if he has to eat dinner alone. He's sweet that way.

So this morning I have a new vibrating draft, and sort of a day off. I do need to finish up the end of an editing chapter and do some class prep, but then I'm going to switch over to house stuff. I'll be teaching all weekend, so I need to get the housework done early, and I have six quinces to make into some kind of tart or dessert, and now I have a poem to revise too. Good thing it will be raining all day.

I'm hugging my new poem to my heart. I don't know why it felt so good to make.  But I do know why it felt so good to read it aloud and have the room explode into laughter and recognition. I need to make sure that doesn't become the drug.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Round about 3 p.m. yesterday, I suddenly wilted--that's best word description I can find for my shot reaction . . . though, of course, I have no idea which vaccine I was reacting to. I was not sick or incapacitated. I cooked dinner and stayed awake until my normal bedtime. Merely, I wilted. 

But this morning, after a solid night's sleep, I'm back to normal: girded to edit footnotes, excited about my midday haircut. Plus, a second well known poet has enthusiastically agreed to blurb my book, so how could I not feel peppy?

Yesterday, despite my growing indisposition, I finished editing the bulk of a chapter, went for a long walk with my neighbor, and made black-olive yeast rolls and chocolate pudding and enchiladas. Today I'm hoping for less cooking and more writing; I haven't allowed myself to take any writing time lately, and I need to turn on that faucet. I feel as if I've been writing well, when I've had the chance to do it, but I've been so overbooked with work that I've had to deliberately squelch myself. I think the reactions of these kind poet-blurbers are maybe reminding me that I should stop doing that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

I went out yesterday evening to get a flu shot, and came home with a flu shot and a Covid booster. I didn't even know I was eligible for a booster yet, but the nurse was enthusiastic, so now I have two band-aids instead of one. So far, no untoward side-effects, other than a slightly sore shot arm. But if I collapse later, I  will have plenty of couches and tea to sustain me.

The weather was gorgeous yesterday . . . bright sun, low 60s--a fine day to stroll out into the neighborhood and be surprised by the world. The other day I passed two masons fixing someone's front stairs while also listening to recipes on the radio. That is the kind of surprise I like.

It was a good day, mostly, even though it was mostly a desk-work day. Round about noon, I got an email from the poet I'd asked to write a blurb for my new book, and it was so generous that I started to cry. I never know how to handle these things; I am always overwhelmed.

Now it's raining a little outside, and I am getting ready to hoist myself into another routine day, but something, I'm sure, will make me jump up and say, "What? Wait a minute! What is this?"  Something always does.

The other night, for instance, I was so enchanted by my own warm house that I couldn't stop taking pictures of it. The Alcott House may be plain and unfinished and have a history of electrical craziness, but she does have many sweet charms. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Yesterday morning started off on a much more ridiculous footing than expected. Just as I was getting ready to start my exercise class, the phone rang and Tom sheepishly admitted that he had locked his keys in his truck at the hardware store and could I come rescue him. So I got dressed and threaded my way downtown through rush-hour traffic and construction stoppages, and there was Tom, sitting on the steps of the hardware store, and I gave him my key to his truck and . . . it wouldn't open the locks. So back we went to the house, to dig out his other spare key, and back we jaunted to the hardware store, and this time Success! and we could head off into our days. Though mine, at this point, did not involve an exercise class.

With that foolishness, we really felt like we were living it up, Monday-wise, and it was nice to have the silly memory to distract me as I plunged into my very-non-silly editing stack. In other good news, Paul tested negative for Covid and he is out of quarantine . . . I know I have not been updating you on the boy's glum week: no symptoms but a positive test, so he was trapped in his apartment for 10 days. Also, I finished reading those contest mss, and that is a big item to cross off my list. 

So today I'll try again with the exercise class, and stagger on into the editing, and boil chicken stock, and go to a flu-shot clinic, and read Margaret Atwood and P. L. Travers, and deal with some Frost Place things, and maybe rake another batch of leaves, and long wistfully for a haircut because with the crazy bad hair I have, my Thursday appointment feels way too far away.

This dithery letter to you could be a metaphor for how my hair looks: flyaway, and featuring strange looping curls like muskox horns.

Writing as hair style. With that notion, one might imagine Henry James with hair like Fabio's instead of being bald as an ostrich egg.

Monday, November 8, 2021

I guess I'll have to embrace my wide-awake-at-4:30-a.m. issues, as clearly it's going to take me a while to adjust to this time change. Apparently other people's bodies allow them to wallow for that extra stolen hour, but mine does not. So I am greeting a very early Monday morning, here in my couch corner, and hoping that I won't start collapsing into a nap at noon.

I did get that black cake made yesterday, and a batch of bread, and a quart of preserved lemons; and I dusted and vacuumed and washed floors and cleaned bathrooms; and then I spent the afternoon under a couch blanket dozing through an extremely boring football game between teams I don't care about. It was a fine way to punctuate a frenetic weekend, and maybe the football coma will take the edge off this too-early morning.

And now the week looms. I have only four mss left to read for the poetry contest. I'm prepped and ready for the Homer class, and my amended poetry manuscript is with the publisher. The editing stack is still massive, but I'm seeing some light. I've started rereading Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, one of the best novels ever written about housework, and I'm thinking about how to use my dream notebook as a source for self-writing prompts. I've figured out how to tenderize raw kale as a sandwich and salad green so that I can postpone the dreaded moment when I have to start buying store lettuce again. There are still piles of chores I can't seem to get done (scrubbing the refrigerator, washing windows, reorganizing basement shelves, switching out winter and summer clothes in my drawers), but at least the wood is lugged and Tom's work clothes are clean, and I have Margaret Atwood to help me muse dryly about my raw red knuckles and the alluring scent of ironed cotton.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

I am up way too early for a Sunday morning because my body believes that it's 6 a.m. even though my phone says it's 5 a.m. Oh, well. I do have a lot to get done today, so maybe getting up too early will turn out to be a good idea. It's black cake day, and also grocery shopping day and house cleaning day and ciabatta-baking day, but at least it's not yard work day too. I managed to get all of that done yesterday. I dug up dahlias, and tore out all of the frosted annuals, and cut down the peonies and spurge and other tired perennials, and reorganized the shed, and put away stakes and hoses and garden decorations, and carried the freezable garden supplies into the basement, and planted wood hyacinths in the Hill Country, and raked leaves, and probably I did something else I can't remember: but the upshot is, let it snow. I am ready for you now.

Thus, today I can turn my attention to house and oven. I'll be teaching all of next weekend so I cannot procrastinate with the black cake. And I'd like to get the housework under control so that I can focus on my desk work tomorrow morning . . . that whole other kettle of obligation-fish.

Yes, I am feeling kind of breathless, but not overwhelmed exactly. I was thinking yesterday, as I was hoicking hoses into the shed and heaving dahlia roots into baskets and otherwise doing the grunt jobs of late autumn, about those exercise classes I've been torturing myself with: all that arm and leg and core work . . . really, they are keeping me in training for my own life. It is good to be 57 years old and still able to spend an entire day lifting and lugging, without any particular after-effects. I don't care if I ever run a mile, but I want to be able to shovel and rake forever.

In that way, I'm very like my father, who turns 81 today, and who still shovels and rakes and digs and plants and harvests, and scares us all to death by chainsawing and climbing ladders. But that is his life, his life's work, his daily rite. He wants to stay in harness.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Saturday morning: another dark and chilly start outside, but I am lolling here in my couch corner, bathrobed and hot-coffeed and exceedingly comfortable. You're probably bored stiff by my endless marvel over all mod cons, but after Harmony I never can seem to take them for granted. Yesterday, as I was washing a batch of very dirty carrot tops before making pesto with them, I was thinking about how wonderful it is to have a constant stream of clean water (hot and cold!) bursting conveniently from taps around the house. No breaking the ice on an outside pump! No lugging pails! No heating up boilers on the stove! And as much as I want of it, day or night!

Of course I had running water and electricity in Harmony, but something was always going wrong with them for days on end; and I also got very used to the issues of my off-the-grid friends and of my shallow-dug-well friends--it was a regular thing for elderly widows to have no running water to their trailers during the dry summer months; for woods people to deal with frozen water lines in their spring-fed systems. So many people were wrestling with busted generators and no indoor plumbing, and here I am now, in the city, with my furnace and my enthusiastic water pressure. I'm sorry, but I can't stop being amazed. I think I will always be a rube.

By the way, that carrot-top pesto came out very well. I don't generally bother using the carrot tops during high summer; there's so much basil then, and the flavor of carrot tops is much less sparkly. But this time of year, after frost, when every green thing is precious, carrot-top pesto is a treat. I mixed it into a fricassee of chicken legs, onions, garlic, peppers, and a couple of house-ripened tomatoes, then stirred in a bit of parmesan as an emulsifier, and the result was a beautiful bright creamy sauce that I served over couscous and alongside a salad of kale, carrots, and radishes. Here it is November, and I am still pulling together these kinds of meals from my little kitchen garden. It seems miraculous, everything seems miraculous, I mean, look at that running water! (Feel free to kick me.)

This weekend I've got to focus on digging up my frosted dahlias, tearing out the dead annuals, raking leaves, and such. I've also got to make black cake . . . yes, the time has arrived, yet again, for me to resurrect Emily Dickinson's recipe. It is my family duty. They would be very disappointed without it.

I'm also going to start digging into a book I found in one of those free little libraries I haunt: Fanny Burney's The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties, a fat and sprawling Gothic romance published in 1814 that may turn out to be unreadable, but I could not resist the title.

Friday, November 5, 2021

I've just come inside, after dragging bins to the curb on this black and frosty morning--walking back up the driveway toward the lamplit windows, opening the door to a burst of heated air. I will never stop marveling at the wonders of light and warmth. Lots of people complain about winter, and possibly I will too, in a month or so, but I so far I am loving this November chill, the creeping darkness of evenings and mornings, sweaters and tea and wood fires at night.

My friend Sue and I spent yesterday tramping through Viles Arboretum in Augusta, losing and finding ourselves among the badly marked paths, admiring tamaracks and gingkoes, eating our lunches on a cold stone bench, chattering nonstop. It was such a good afternoon. Sue and I have known each other since Harmony playgroup days, when our older sons were best friends, and we love each other dearly. I woke up this morning thinking of the deep, deep pleasure I take in these long friendships, these women who have known me since I was a callow young mother; how glad I am that they haven't faded away, how grateful I am that we all work hard to keep our affections alive.

Today I'll be back to the grind--that same-old circle of editing, class planning, and reading contest mss, spiked with housework. Maybe in the afternoon I can get outside and start digging up the frost-killed dahlias, or I'll go for a gloaming walk in the cemetery. At the moment I feel happy just to be sitting here,  warm and alive.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

29 degrees at the Alcott House. Welcome to frost country.

It's about time, really. I'm used to frost by my birthday, and that was a month ago. The garden is clearly ready to sleep, but winter-kill has played hard to get, and the tender annuals have droopily hung onto life. Now, finally, they'll get some rest, the leaves will finish falling from the trees, and those annoying caterpillars will disappear from the kale.

Yesterday I began my painful blurb quest, and it actually went far better than expected: a very well known poet has kindly agreed to write one for me, and I am blushing and relieved. And I've secured cover-art permission and inserted a few missing pieces into the ms. I am not a natural procrastinator, but book production makes me shuffle and worry and itch, and I am always trying to avoid it.

Overall, though, I've been doing pretty well at getting stuff done. I've caught up with the contest reading, made steady progress with the editing stack, finished the writing prompts for the Homer class, did some deciding about teaching-conference faculty, and tackled those pesky manuscript chores. This morning I'll do some more editing, and maybe start setting up the Homer class website, and then by midday I'll be driving north to Augusta to meet a Harmony friend at Viles Arboretum. We're going to eat a picnic lunch and then wander around among the trees together and gossip about this and that, and I can hardly wait. It's been ages since I've seen her, though we've been trying to get together for months. I do miss my old friends.

Plus, Tom's going to be out with photographers tonight, so possibly I'll go to that Thursday-night writing session again. Look at us being so sociable. Who knew we had it in us?

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise 
(That last infirmity of noble mind) 
To scorn delights and live laborious days; 
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find, 
And think to burst out into sudden blaze, 
Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears, 
And slits the thin-spun life. 
--John Milton, "Lycidas"

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

It's publication week around here, I guess: because here's another new poem, "Island Weather," just released in Vox Populi. This is one of those pieces that did not begin in rhyme but somehow, after many revisions, turned into a formal poem. I'm always interested when that happens . . . when the form emerges late rather than being part of a draft's initial impetus.

It's cold this morning--not quite frost but we're very close. Baseball season has finally ended. My backyard is glowing gold, and squirrels potter busily among the bright little shrubs. Today I'll edit, and then work on Frost Place stuff, and then in the afternoon walk up into the cemetery. For dinner, autumn fare: leek soup, fennel salad, apple crisp.

I've got my new Deerbrook manuscript on my mind: working on cover permissions, fretting about blurbs. I hate and despise asking people to write blurbs for me. But it must be done.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Excellent car news: $48 for repairing a loose heat shield, not the $1,000 for a new exhaust system that I was dreading. But, gosh, those loose heat shields sure do make alarming noises. 

So the day went according to plan: garage visiting, copyediting, ms reading, Iliad talking, prompt writing. Today, more of the same, except with garage visiting erased and voting and a zoom meeting penciled in. 

I'm still keeping my dream record, and I'm noticing that I really don't seem to dream about being a writer or reading books. I often have to drive in bad situations, I visit many different places, I am responsible for feeding people and/or animals and solving crimes, and I seem to socialize with a wide variety of people (Obama, Uncle Bob, my children as babies, mysterious Germans). But no books.

Perhaps dreams are more like being a character in a book. Maybe I don't need stories because I'm always inside one.

I have to say that I'm relieved to have finished the Iliad. It was massive and shattering and marvelous and terrible; but as Teresa and I decided yesterday, its main character is Slaughter, and he is hard to face.

So now I'm retrenching into more human fare: a Margaret Drabble novel, Alice Oswald's poems. Strange how that almost feels cowardly, but why?

Monday, November 1, 2021

Yesterday turned out to be exactly the day I was hoping for. I got the floors finished before 9:30, then yakked with Donna for an hour about our Nancy Drew reading project, then made bread and grocery-shopped and dealt with many layers of laundry, and eventually made my way into the garden, where I pulled out the eggplant, basil, and pepper plants as well as (sadly) all of the zinnias, which were looking pretty wretched after the giant rainstorm. Tom even coaxed me into a bike ride. In between, I finished a Du Maurier novel and started a Drabble novel, and I did not read anyone else's manuscript, and it was so refreshing.

So today, I am ready to reengage with my desk . . . that is, after I bring the car to the garage and battle my way back home through the street construction. Editing, manuscript reviews, and then a phone call with Teresa about the Iliad, and then I'll turn my attention to prepping for the Homer class. Skate cheeks for dinner (if you haven't had these, you should try them: they taste kind of like fluffy scallops). I feel ready to deal with it all.

P.S. Just learned I have a new poem out today,"the bog is multitudes," in Hole in the Head Review. It's a revised version of an exercise Teresa invented for last summer's Writing Intensive, and I'm excited to see it in print.