Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
When I tried to write in the middle of the night, I couldn't contact Le Bloggeur. And I kept falling asleep over the computer anyway. And then, this morning, I diagnosed the problem: when Janice at Embarq promised to transfer the phone service to the new apartment on Friday, she meant on Friday, as in just after Friday began--in fact before it could even dawn. The house is closing itself down, thing by thing by thing.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Coming up the stairs, I thought, I am going to need to run the window fan for a long time to get that bedroom cooled and quieted. And just then I could hear the fan, already running. I guess I did manage to leave it on when I left for my penultimate office hour of the summer. Sometimes I do good things for myself.
Once again, I'm so tired I could drop--so tired, in fact, that it was all I could do to stay awake at the keyboard downstairs.
My brother has me dreaming of faster glass.
(Speaking of sleeping and dreaming.)
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
Put your records on.
I never told you my grapevines.
The temperature climbs and climbs. I woke up with my shoulders a little sore and my biceps tight from lifting yesterday. But it wasn't until the evening, when I moved another box of books, that I realized how much more rest my forearms would require of me.
In my dream, it was the apocalypse--but it had come to a place that looked strangely like Lexington, Kentucky, even though my Lexingtonian friend (whose daughter is nearly five weeks old and is getting big!) was nowhere. Which was a good thing because in my dream, we were living 27 days after "the fire," which had turned a residential area terrifying. Not zombie terrifying. Just terrifying. A woman gave me a task: take these books and excise this name on page 103. Then cut out page 153 and replace it with these pages. Somehow this excision had to do with her son and an illicit romance. Occasionally bands of thugs would sweep in and make people disappear. I worked at my cancels. I meditated on the suddenness of terror, and the quiet of its interstices.
In my morning, some quick thinking-together made the day more beneficial to the young minds who are in our charge--and also gave me enough time to sign up to have my phone changed to the new apartment on Friday and to have my power cut off here on Monday. Janice from the phone company talked to me for a full thirty minutes; we talked about jet lag and airplane meals while she coaxed her computer through the process of figuring out the cheapest rate for my internet and phone until September. We debated the iPhone; we talked about the time her "honey," as she called him, was delayed in an airport and called her just to keep busy. "Here's the guy who never wants to talk on the phone," she said with a laugh all over her voice, "asking me not to hang up. I called him back later to make sure that he wasn't asleep and about to miss his flight." When it was all over, we'd knocked a full $50 off my monthly phone bills. (If you haven't done so for awhile, call your phone company and talk to them about lower rates. You know they'll let you languish at high rates for as long as you don't notice.)
In my afternoon, my flaming-sworded friend and I took a moment out of our busy afternoon of outline-marking and meeting with students. What should be our dining room table in the new apartment? The drafting table? The old kitchen table? The smaller drafting table that's currently doing the job, as a placeholder? Measurements, room-fits, table-purposes, chair-types: we went over it. I confessed my fantasy of rolling the drafting table down the road. And, again we ask, is it not a bit funny but also inevitable to say that it's our dining room table, though we will not live in the apartment together? (I think that I will be writing more on this subject--and returning, at long last, to the "We are Family" posts with which we closed May down--as the week continues.) I showed off my bruises and flexed my swelling biceps. I forgot how much I missed them when they sank down a little. It doesn't take much to bring them back up.
In my late evening, at home again after delivering assessed essay outlines to my students and another load of books (poetry from the office, this time) to the apartment, I helped my flaming-sworded friend walk her dogs and then came in the house for a gorgeous rendition of toasted cheese on bread.
The shy-smile-worthy moment of the day came when a colleague from another part of the college pulled me aside in the bookstore to tell me he'd read my poetry and loved it. Where did he get it? He didn't want to confess, but I kept my gentle questions going until he confessed that two of my students had given him poems I'd written about or for them. "I think you should write short stories in that voice," he said. Short stories? I think of myself as someone who can't tell a story in writing, which seems strange now that I type it out: I do nothing if not tell stories all day. I live my life through stories.
In my late night, a message from three women students with a link to Corinne Bailey Rae. It's such a small thing, and such a lovely send-off to the day. No apocalypse here, not yet.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Fill one, empty one.
Yes, it is possible to carry five pine bookcases by oneself. No, not all at the same time. Yes, they will fit together in the new study. No, that tall one won't fit in the backseat and allow the car door to close. Yes, it's acceptable to close the door as far as you can and then hold it shut with a bungee cord, just for the two-minute drive to the apartment. Yes, you will feel better when the books you hope to keep within reach are in fact on their shelves. Which are waiting for them, and for you. In the new study.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Fortunes far and wide.
Given that it's happening simultaneously with the summer writing course I'm teaching with my flaming-sworded friend, the hardest thing about Project Exodus is that it leaves me with little or no brainspace or energy for writing here, or anywhere but on student papers. And though I want to spend this weekend reading and writing--resting, in short--I am now down to my final six days in this house, and there's much left to do before they're up. Tonight found me taking the kitchen apart, cabinet by cabinet, washing all the baking sheets and pans and all the bowl attachments for the small appliances, wrapping all the wine glasses in paper and laying them neatly in boxes, bowl beside stem, bowl beside stem. I've never done a move quite like this one, where even as I pile up boxes, I can reassure myself that an hour of short trips tomorrow will have them empty again, their contents placed neatly all over the new apartment's kitchen.
The middle week of the writing course has seemed to be hard on everyone in some way or another. And thus it is that Thursday night found me escaping Gambier for a few hours with my flaming-sworded friend and one of my Clevelander students. One dinner and one shoe purchase later, we were back in the car heading northward, and I, at least, felt as though we'd gained a little breathing space. And thus it is that Friday evening found me flying northeastward over a winding highway, heading for dinner with another of my Clevelander students.
I've made time to take pictures this week, generally on my way to or from lunch, but I keep tiring out too soon to be able to pull them together and post them for you. On Friday, because I was driving, I offered the camera to my student. At first she demurred, but then she decided to give it a try. I explained a couple of basic principles to her, and she was off and shooting. It started to become a game to me, looking for things that she might see and find picture-worthy. Moreover, she's an artist, so I was curious to see whether her eye would catch different arrangements than mine. "Things look so different through this frame," she said at one point, while she waited for the next shot to approach us.
We sat on red painted café chairs on a sidewalk in Loudonville and ate pizza and pasta and Belgian chocolate creme, and we left for home full and content--so content that we took a backroad home.
The lowering sun shaped everything particularly. We stopped the car and greeted roadside cows. We took turns photographing a ruining house, mostly hidden in a woods.
We waved to the Amish men and women we passed as we drove through their country. A group of men fished; a child drove the buggy his parents were also riding in, and we wondered whether he was learning to handle the reins. The volleyball game I'd seen last week had come to involve both boys and girls, all in their teens, all eighteen or twenty ready to play on either side of the net.
I know that Cambridge also has things like impromptu and unpredictable sporting events and sun behind farm plants and, presumably, people who will ring up or e-mail to say, we haven't talked in too long; can we have dinner? But these last days in the old house are making me think about last days in the village for this year, and about how strange it will be to be so far away for so long. As I pack, I try to reckon: will I want this object out in a year? Will I remember where it is? Will I remember what they all are, these things? I start to have dark moving-related fantasies wherein I go around with an enormous garbage bag simply tossing out anything I haven't touched in a year. But I don't do it.
Instead, I dream while I'm asleep. Last night, a new apartment with a vaulted ceiling, but unclear directions about how to reach the new place in the dream. Friends from long ago drifted in and out. I looked tirelessly but never figured out how to get back to the apartment with the high ceiling. I took long roads and wrong turns, saw countryside rolling out before me, saw and saw and saw. Then woke up and started it all again. These things I will miss.
Friday, June 22, 2007
The quieting dark.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
When I forgot it last week, I hopped in the car and went back to school to retrieve it--so great is my dedication to the Cabinet. But since I'm now wearing the eighteen-year-old boxer shorts in which I sleep, and since I'm supposed to be marking papers anyway, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see my backyard's grapes (my very own emerald closet!), my neighbor's cat, the latest manifestation of the dragon, and/or my new favorite tree branch, downed during a storm yesterday morning and ensconced in my front porch not long after. I see shellac in my future.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Another thing I learned from both of my parents: a love of small things in small drawers. My mother owns a range of antique spool cabinets; for awhile, my parents were seeking them out at antique shops. More recently my father has been on a toolchest-buying project, the logical outgrowth of a series of antique tool purchases he's made in the past year or so as people shed their vintage machinists' and drafters' tools through eBay. I see Bisley multidrawer cabinets and I covet them, want to fill them with all manner of little things.
Saturday, my summer students traveled to Columbus for the Latino Festival. I wasn't able to go because I thought I was sick, though it turned out that I simply had more severe allergies than in past years and needed some pseudoephedrine in my system. When the students returned, several of them showed up at my house bearing gifts of jewelry, little rings they'd picked out and had my flaming-sworded friend try on because her fingers are close in size to my fingers. On one, a tiny seagull flies through a tiny seascape, topped by a tinier moon. On the other, six stylized waves curl carefully, one over another over another.
For the first time in months, I feel new poems coming. "We used to torture lightning bugs," one of my Clevelander students told me tonight after a reading. "We'd smash them and put them on our ears as earrings." "You mean their phosphorescence?" I said. "Yeah," she replied. "Can I have that for a poem?" I asked her. She said yes. I wrote my way home, walking through town in the dark with my little notebook, stopping over and over in patches of light to write the morning's steaming, the lawns ablink with lightning bugs, an old poem's cracking open to become something new and even more difficult than before.
I picked a daisy and plucked its petals and learned that he loves me.
I want a chest that will hold all these scraps.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
The tools my father gave me.
I spent much of Father's Day rooting around in the grey metal toolbox my father put together for me when I left home for grad school a decade ago. Project Exodus continues apace, and because I'm moving my things into a place where my flaming-sworded friend will live with them part-time next year, I find myself eager to do nice things at each turn in my process of relocation. And so it was that I packed up my screwdrivers and my measuring tape and my heavy-duty industrial stapler and my spirit level this afternoon and headed off to be handy.
Walking the aisles of my local Lowe's, in search of all manner of small things I needed in order to undertake my day's projects, I mused on the fact that I've learned much of what I know that's really worth knowing from my father. For instance: my father has taught me the importance of Ziploc bags. When he was working in Japan for long periods of time several years ago, he discovered the vast array of sizes in which he could get resealable bags. It revolutionized his way of packing and organizing. He will, I hope, be happy to know that when I took down all of my curtains and curtain rods last night, I put each room's curtain rod hardware in a separate Ziploc bag containing a label so that I'll know what goes where if I ever need to put these rods up again. I haven't embraced the science of bagging quite to the degree he has, but that's partly because...
My father also taught me not to embrace others' answers and solutions automatically. From him I learned the art of inquisitive modification, of studying systems and processes and mining them for their most useful components. When I was very young--maybe ten--my mother said to me one afternoon, "Your mind works the way your father's mind works. He can see the big picture and the very small details at the same time and can go back and forth between them to figure out how to get the details to make the big picture he wants." For a long time, I didn't believe her. I knew she was right about my father, but I wasn't sure she was right about my being like him in that regard. But, unsurprisingly, I now do believe that she was right after all. I spend almost all of my time with big pictures and their tiny details. The fact that I question every little thing that comes my way--well, my father teases me about it, warns me not to overanalyze everything, but he helped wire up this brain.
No doubt because my father is an engineer and a quality control specialist, I learned from him very early on the necessity of getting things right in their smallest details. I learned about the kind of integrity that pushes back against shortcomings and deficiencies even to the point of exhaustion. I learned how to get on a task and pursue it with utter absorption. I also learned about distinguishing tasks that deserve this kind of devotion from tasks that simply don't.
When I moved to Ithaca, my landlord tried to tell me that I wasn't allowed to move furniture into my apartment. Because my parents were, at that moment, stuck in traffic south of town in a Ryder truck containing most of my worldly goods--and because I knew there was no way I'd have signed a lease with that kind of provision in it--I teared up, fast, in frustration and exhaustion. Within about three minutes, we'd resolved that my landlord (actually, my landlady's husband, a crucial distinction) was wrong. But then he tried to tell me that I couldn't bring a toolbox into the house. Here, too, I stood my ground, without tears.
When I moved to Ithaca, I didn't know how to use many of the tools in that box. Screwdrivers and the hammer, sure. And the tape measure, check. The level, check. The others, I started using pretty soon, though: the little saw (for some project I don't recall), the wire stripper (for a misstep in the process of putting a new electrical plug on an old lamp--that was also how I found out about how my apartment was wired, since I blew out the fuse for my whole side of the building). The drill: that one I didn't mess with until I moved back to Gambier and needed to hang curtain rods. I'd never really used a drill. Within minutes I was so glad to have dared it.
And that's the thing about my father: he has been utterly, unflaggingly determined to help me be daring, always. When I was about five, he brought home from work a couple of pairs of aviator goggles. In my memory, we wore those for days while I sat with him in his big rust-colored leather chair and we watched television and played Space Invaders. My mother took a picture of the two of us in these goggles, and what I see when I look at the picture is a man the same age that I am now, suiting his daughter up for her future (a future in which she will learn to use a drill and he will promptly buy her a new one, believing that she should have the best of everything).
And we're also looking mighty weird. I have always had the funniest, most bizarre father of anyone I know. It's an offshoot, I think, of the creative genius he brings to his professional work: my father is one of the people who designs and builds the machines that make the parts that make your cars work. His brain invents and inquires and draws unexpected connections for a living. It's not so surprising that it does so in his private life, as well.
When I was four or five--before the aviator goggles, I think, though I can't be sure--McDonald's put happy meals in plastic spaceships for a little while. I don't remember what the promotion was. I do remember that I got dinner in a bright blue flying saucer one night. When I got up the next morning, I found that my father had rigged up my spaceship for flight. That was when I learned about things one can do with washers and magnets and a bit of brown cord. I flew my saucer all around the room for hours. In 2001, he designed and built an adult-sized Sit 'n Spin for me for Christmas. It produces another kind of flying around the room, one even more necessary now than it was when I was a child.
Most importantly, my father (with my mother) taught me what it's like to know a person I never have to doubt. My father isn't perfect, and I don't always agree with him. But his love for me and for my brother and for my mother is so full and true that it is beyond question. And--in keeping with the fact that he taught me years ago that people are what matters in life, period--he has always let me know that that love is there, steady and inviolable. It's even there in every drop of fluid in my spirit level and every tooth of my hacksaw. My father taught me what it means to love, plain and simple. And so now I'm trying to give back--not because he's outstanding, generous and fair and kind to those who need him, but because he is himself.
I love you, Papa. I don't know how I got this lucky.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Drive past a foreground fast enough, and it will threaten to vanish.
Six black crows sat in a blank tree watching me move books.
Put me on a task, and I will threaten not to stop. Today I found and shredded the checks with which I paid my graduate school application deposits. I continue to ready my own disappearance.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Gifts and sights.
Today, the affections: I like your swoopy hair. How many languages do you have? You two make a good couple--for teaching, I mean. Thank you. Have a good weekend. You too.
Now we are in a place where we will fight hard together for everything we can get. ¿Que más? they will say. ¿Que más? we will reply.
Mira, she says in the late afternoon, look: you are my friend; you are my sister. Sí, gracias, I forget to say; I am that touched.
Coming home from dinner with my dear classicist friend and his wonderful artist wife, I see eight Amish girls playing volleyball in a sunset-lit yard. They are dressed in the colors of the quilts in my dreams.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
How d'ye like them.
Seriously, I don't remember the last time I tuckered myself out quite this much. When it's all on you and your partner in crime--the talking about textual nuance and authorial intent and passive verbs and inflammatory language and what pedagogy even means and why arguments are better than judgments, plus why not to get wasted on Wednesday nights plus how being sensitive toward women doesn't mean being anti-male plus how much fun it is, overall, to think--and when you say, come to office hours! and they listen--well, let's just say it makes for a long and utterly rewarding but utterly exhausting day. Am I making up for all that time I haven't been spending in the classroom and won't be, for another year? Possibly. Heh: as if it worked that way.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The swift build.
Monday, June 11, 2007
With my little eye.
By its quick rustle in the dead leaves, there's no telling what it is. It might be a mouse, a chipmunk, a very quiet skunk, a relatively serene squirrel. The chipmunks, especially, have always been legion. Stand at the screen and stare at the ground, watching for the greenery to jostle and shift again. Watch for what's moving the green. See nothing, and then, and then, see something. See, see. They were not here for just one night. Tonight they are many and separated, under the green.
Your very seeing will bring on mass flight, a running for different cover where no one's eyes come from behind a screen, grow large and long, whir and click.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
this small klatsch of bunnies. They were huddling and quivering together, doing their best to stay very still but still slipping about in the ground cover. I grabbed the camera and took their picture before they could disappear (their mother fled--temporarily, I trust--when I reemerged from the house and stepped out of the porch). When I came back from putting the camera away, they had gone.
My parents told me a story yesterday about the robins they're watching outside their house in Indiana. The young one fell out of the nest recently and eeped about on the ground for awhile. Eep eep, they heard the robin saying. Eep! Eep eep! Finally, it eeped around the side of the house and was gone. A few days later, the robin appeared with its mother, looking for food, and the two eeped at each other all the while. Eep eep, the mother said, getting the young one to follow her. Eep eep eep, the young one said, trying to persuade its mother to catch a worm for it. Eep eep eep eep, the mother said, telling the young one to get the worm for itself.
They were just like you and your mother, my father said.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
And then my brother called home from the Parthenon.
This afternoon, just before my flaming-sworded friend, her excellent husband, and I headed off to carry Project Exodus farther into its next stage, my telephone rang, and it was my brother calling.
My brother, as I may have mentioned, moved down to Tennessee this spring to take a new job--which, I'm glad to say, is treating him quite well and helping him feel happy. Plus, he's off exploring a landscape that my family and I don't know at all. Which brings us to today's call.
"I'm at Centennial Park," he said into the answering machine before I could get to the phone. "...and," he said as I answered, "they've got this full-scale replica of the Parthenon here!" "What?!" I replied. Yes, it turns out (raise your hand if you knew this!) that there's a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. It has more mindboggling features than I can list for you, here at the end of yet another day of packing and moving and touching up paint and counting up burned out light bulbs. (But try this on for size, from the City of Nashville's FAQ about the Parthenon:
Q: Can I rent the Parthenon for a special event like a business meeting or a wedding reception.On a less tired night, I would tell you stories about the time I went to the Parthenon, and maybe about the other time I went to the Parthenon. But for tonight, I'm going to have to rely on my brother's eye, which never fails to capture exactly what I want to see.
A: The Parthenon is available for parties or meetings after regular business hours. Rather than a rental fee, you must join our non-profit "friends" organization, Parthenon Patrons, at the Olympian level. To find out more about the rules and regulations for using the building, please send us an e-mail.")
sources for tonight's images: Nashville's Parthenon photo page and my brother.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Hot hot hot.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
The Great Shred.
Today the Great Shred continued apace.
The Victorians I study were, it seems, always having bonfires, destroying personal correspondence before it could make private secrets public knowledge. Readers and scholars have been lamenting (and lampooning) such bonfires since basically the dawn of the twentieth century. The worst story I know in this vein is of a young woman who, while she was in medical school, was invited over to a prominent critic's house for tea. This man had known her father (who, by this point, had been dead for more than thirty years). And on this day, he had invited her round so that he could tell her about how he and another old friend of her father's had just burned all of his remaining papers. She never went back to this man's house.
Today, I'm getting a sense of why it is that this critic might have felt the glee he did when he burned his dead friend's papers. Partway through my third can of shredding, I realized that my zeal for the task was mounting--and simultaneously I realized that whatever I shred will be gone for good. Recognize that the papers I'm shredding are a decade old: they are now things like bank statements from my first semester in graduate school, or my first graduate school auto insurance, or co-pay receipts from my first years in Ithaca. These are not papers that I have any reason to keep. But those simultaneous feelings of transgression--I'm destroying these!--and of anxiety--what if I need them later?!--are strong nonetheless. I'm overriding them at every turn.
Among the papers through which I sorted this afternoon, I found the printout of my five chief strengths, courtesy of the StrengthsFinder test I took during the year in Rochester. My Ohioan/Iowan/Ohioan friend had used Now Discover Your Strengths during orientation for her job in Des Moines and sent me a copy, curious as to what my strengths would reveal themselves to be. I may have mentioned that I have a freakish love of personality tests. When the book arrived, I went straight to the companion website, entered my product key, and got to work. The five strengths I was deemed to have seemed spot on to me, and as I read through their descriptions now, I can see just why it is that I gravitate to the kinds of tasks I do--and why others are so difficult. It's the strength in the middle--"Input"--that feels almost uncannily right today:
Input: You are inquisitive. You collect things.... Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don't feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It's interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.Indeed. Though today I'm feeling more comfortable throwing away the useless things that have accumulated in my life, I'm also reveling in my rediscoveries--not the least of which is my Certificate of Live Birth, whose whereabouts I knew (roughly) but which I haven't actually seen in years. And, lo and behold, my birthtime is listed differently on the birth certificate than in my familial memory--6:04 p.m. instead of 6:03 p.m. And my mother is away from the Cabinet this week, so it may be a few days before we can get a verification. (But she'll tell us. She was there. She'll know the answer.)
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
More reasons I love my job.
At 5 p.m., I was perched in front of the officehouse's mailroom computer, puttering about and stumbling upon absurd things (e.g., this wonder, "designed with versatility in mind"--bien sur!), when two of my lovely students pulled up in a car and skipped into the building. "What are you doing for dinner?" they wanted to know. I had no plans. "We're going shopping!" they announced.
An hour later, I was successfully lighting my barbecue grill (without lighter fluid!) and they were seasoning chicken and cleaning red peppers and oiling huge portobello mushrooms to put on said grill. A chocolate cake--one of those go-to recipes for which I almost always have all the ingredients in the house--came out of the oven and even obliged by coming easily out of the cake pan. I made a light vinaigrette and taught the students how to slice a halved avocado without peeling it. A third student walked in through the front door and made his way to the kitchen.
And this is my teaching staff for the summer--though, sadly, tonight we were missing my flaming-sworded friend, who will be my partner in crime for the next three weeks. And this, my friends, is what we call a first staff meeting.
Many hours later, after watching uproarious videos on YouTube (whose praises I may never have sung for you, because you probably don't need me to) and watching the shredder do its magic and, most importantly, tossing around some goals and concerns for the next three weeks--for our students arrive on Sunday--I sent these lovely young people off into the night with fat slices of spicy chocolate cake.
When I am away, evenings like this one will be high on the list of things I miss.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
With my new shredder, I have cleaned out two huge file cabinet drawers' worth of old paperwork. Three bags are out at the curb already; another is half-full in the machine. All this grinding up has only made me remember more clearly all the mess those papers reveal.
More mess, more revelation: I am packing so early because it's easier to pack than to do my work. Nothing for it but to do better tomorrow, strange though it seems to ration one's preparations to move.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Ach: when I wrote last night that I felt today would be a day I'd be "on," I forgot that crucial maxim: be careful what you wish for. First things were fine; then they weren't. They weren't not-fine in any kind of horrific way, just in the slow grind of useless annoyance, the sources of which are largely under control (at least to the extent that they can be).
Though, to be sure, I want to give you every detail of the things that went awry today, there's just no need to go through it all again. Instead, I will say that today was one of those days that made me want a macro lens--for all this greenness, for all these small things.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
As suddenly as they arrived, the multitudes who were here for reunion weekend vanished today. With the weather so cool and threatening rain, there was only one thing to do after I'd finished with the Brownings, after the last person had left, while the peonies keep blooming over and saturating the kitchen: slip into the bath with my Michael Chabon novel, then pad back downstairs to the porch to curl up under a throw and read myself to sleep in a wicker chair.
It's yet another day for recharging, one of those days when I putter and reset myself, sensing that tomorrow will be a day for being on. It's also been yet another day when I feel my time in this house growing acutely short: where else do the trees make quite this sound while I nap? Where else would I have an artificial moon just over my porch each night, making the front maples green and translucent in the near-dark? Where else will I find so many places to hear the rain's hiss and hit?
On the other hand, as I packed four more boxes, I realize just how much my study and all its books have come to smell like a basement, here in this damp, shady spot. And so it is that everything continues to be a trade-off: a changing in of comfort for vaster possibility, a striving to keep that curl, that little flourish of grace, now that it's time to find the new latching spot.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
The middle of the day grew so fat and hot that it shuddered and broke right open, became a wet greenness, leaves silvered over and dripping. My dirty secret is that I was happier at the screendoor, bracing my hands against my back and watching the rain pound the magnolia tree, than I'd been all day. The broken-open middle of the day was cool and quiet. I framed possible pictures but did not take them. I pulled the extension cord onto the porch, cleared the past year's dirt from the top of a bookshelf out there, plugged in a lamp, and curled in the wicker chair, cardiganed against the damp, to read my way closer to the end of the Brownings' love letters. I've reached September 1846: they've sneaked Elizabeth Barrett out of her father's house and gotten married now; all that's left for them to do is finish planning and run away to the continent, to live their Italian love affair.
But back in July 1846, E.B.B. has written to Browning, "Don't let me slide out of your mind through this rift in the rock. I catch at the jutting stones."
A weekend like this one weighs hard. A weekend like this one leaves me rifting, feeling for stones that no longer jut, finding buds that will always be this highly scented, this tautly closed.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Light enough to travel.
Back in 2001, my Ohioan/Iowan/Ohioan friend came to visit me in Ithaca, and we finally figured out how to watch movies. She and I have never been on the same sleep schedule. In college, we would talk at 10:30 p.m. or so, and I would watch her face close down for the night one feature at a time: mouth slackening just a bit, eyes glazing over lightly. Finally I would ask her if she was paying attention anymore, and she would respond that she was going to sleep, and I would go back down the hall and get back to work. One morning, she turned up in my room at 4:30, having been awakened by a nightmare. I was embroiled in a nightmare of my own, trying to finish writing a paper, and she had guessed rightly that she would find me still awake. Some mornings we would run into each other as she was getting up and I was going to bed.
During overnight visits, this had always meant that we couldn't watch movies together because she would fall asleep in the evenings. But during that one visit, we realized that if we just watched movies in the morning, we'd be fine. So, each morning we got up and watched one of the movies we'd rented; at some point, we'd pause and cook ourselves some multi-grain hot cereal and then watch again. Some mornings, she'd go back to sleep afterwards, and I'd read.
This morning I realized that if I write here in the morning, I'm not going to fall asleep over my computer, and this change may need to happen for the next few days at least.
The move from Ithaca to Rochester in 2003 turned nightmarish and unpleasantly hallucinatory by the time it was all over. I'm trying to prevent that on this go-round. My hope all through the spring had been that if I needed to vacate my house, I'd do so in July so that it wouldn't run into the summer teaching I do. But some unfortunateness led me to change my mind--which I think will be for the very best, not least because when the summer teaching is over, I'll be able to get back to reading and writing without the distraction of moving thrown in for fun.
But the almost-good thing about the Ithaca-Rochester move, I can now recognize, was that its speed didn't leave me time to linger and grow thoughtful over anything I was moving. (Of course this was only an almost-good thing, as it meant that I moved some junk I didn't need or even want.) Now, on the other hand, I can go more slowly through bookshelves and, later, drawers and old boxes, realizing how many things have lain dormant for years now. I also feel a growing desire to squirrel things away--to stash stuff where, possibly, no one will see it until I come home again.
For now, I'm focusing on the logistical challenge of packing and then distributing my boxes of books. This task is the one with which I began the exodus from Ithaca, too: the morning after I'd turned in my dissertation and taken the evening off for celebrating and for trying to catch up on sleep, I blitzed my study, looking for all 200 of the library books I'd checked out during my dissertation. I filled my trunk and my backseat with boxes and with my furniture dolly, and a friend and I ferried huge boxes of books into the graduate library. It was an August Saturday, dark with an impending storm, and no one was anywhere: it was the day after the August degree deadline, and we still had two weeks before the next semester would begin. And yet the circulation worker still looked at me skeptically when I told him I thought I was going to need my own cart for everything I was about to return. Finally he rolled one out to us. About fifteen minutes later, it was full and we were on our way again.
Nothing quite that dramatic is happening here, but I am remembering what it was like to try and locate books I might need during the Rochester year--after I'd packed everything indiscriminately. And so I'm trying to separate the books I want to have in the officehouse when I return from the books that are going into deep storage, maybe for a few years. And what the process is triggering in me is a high-octane version of what happens to me in bookstores: I see books I have wanted to read, and I have to have them, because I have to read them. Never mind that I know better: I know--rationally, anyway--that buying books does not create the time or the brainspace for reading said books. I build my library, and I feel just that little bit closer to having read what's in it.
On this packing excursion, I find myself thinking, "Oh, I can't pack that. Not yet, anyway." And so three shelves get cleared but another gets filled with the things that can't get cleared--things that, so far, tend to be either books directly related to my research (check!) or schlocky sensation fiction from the 1860s and 70s (double-check!) or prose works by poets meditating on writing and life.
When I moved out of the house in Rochester, I hired professional movers for the first time. As they carted out box after box of books--we're talking two tons of books, and this was three years ago--one of the guys hauling my stuff around realized that I'd moved it all down into the first floor of the house. "Do you work out?" he said. "How did you do that?" As I start lugging boxes containing 40, 50, even 60 books, conveying them from room to room or from building to building, I know at least part of the answer: it's not that I was so super-strong (though I was stronger then than I am now). It's that these are my books, and when you're in love you do what you need to do.
One of my students pointed out yesterday that there's something fitting about the idea of my things' being stashed all over Gambier while I'm gone. "I think it's good," she wrote. "Think about it as leaving a piece--or a few pieces [or a few thousand pieces, I thought to myself]--of you with the people and places that will miss you as much as you will miss them." Now, that's a good way of thinking about it, for which I'm thankful to her. I very much like the idea that I'm literally putting down (book-)roots before I jet out of here.