Monday, March 31, 2008

Singing in the dead of night.

Suddenly the weather has caught up to the flowers and the birdsong and the perpetual greenness of the grass. You can't imagine the repertoire these blackbirds have.

I am about to finish rereading a very important and very intricately difficult text, Carlyle's Sartor Resartus. This time around, not only do I seem to understand what I'm reading--and this is my third time through this book in the past decade--but I even find parts of it very stirring indeed. (Emerson and Thoreau fans in the house, you should know that this philosophic novel was absolutely essential in launching Transcendentalism.) "Am I to view the Stupendous with stupid indifference, because I have seen it twice, or two hundred, or two million times?" Carlyle has his Professor-protagonist declare. No, certainly no, comes my reply flying back. As does his: "There is no reason in Nature or in Art why I should: unless, indeed, I am a mere Work-Machine, for whom the divine gift of Thought were no other than the terrestrial gift of Steam is to the Steam-engine; a power whereby Cotton might be spun, and money and money's worth realised."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The powers behind.

There's a hoary old Ralph Waldo Emerson quote you may know: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." I like that one, I do, but I'm going to qualify it tonight. My last event at the Cambridge Wordfest was a reading by novelist Ben Okri. Overall, I'd call it a so-so affair, though I did do no small amount of writing in my notebook as he read and as others asked him questions and provoked a variety of responses from him. Early in the reading, he suggested that our identities, our selves, consist not just of what or who we are within ourselves but also--and perhaps more importantly--by the power that stands behind us.

That idea resonates with me particularly strongly this weekend. I've been wrestling with a great anger just now, really grappling with it in what feels like hand-to-hand combat. In some ways, it feels like the biggest personal anger with which I've grappled in years; I suspect that the reality is that this is the first big one I've let myself actually feel, instead of trying to defuse it artificially or rationalize it away. Sometimes I've been winning my fight; sometimes I've not been. Today, a spot to which I ventured for refuge, for a break from the noise of my own hurt and frustration, almost immediately became the site of a pseudo-standoff when the people I'd been most hoping to avoid by going to this truly isolated place actually turned up there only a minute after I'd arrived there to read. I swore under my breath but held my ground--but so did they, leaving me able to see things I didn't really need to see. In that particular instant, Emerson was mostly right: what literally lay (or sat, anyway, thank goodness) before me was nothing compared to what lay within me, just nothing, and I'd never known it so fully before that moment. But what lay within me was only as rich and defiant as it was because of what lies behind me, the people and power that I believe (as Okri suggested) may actually be visible to people who know me.

That is to say: what's made my full-body fight bearable--and winnable--is knowing how many people, here and elsewhere, have got my back. My heart is a prize-fighter, I tell you. I've got all the big gaudy belts, the four-foot trophies of faux gold mounted on slabs of real marble (man, did I love the marble bases of my swimming trophies). But most of them are due to those of you who are the powers behind me, or who have helped me develop the powers that back me up. I don't necessarily believe that there's a reason that this crap has happened; nor do I have any belief that, in the grand scheme even of my own individual life, the crap happening to me is anything even approaching importance. This morning, though, I realized that even if there's no reason for these happenings, there certainly may be opportunities opening up because of them, if I can keep myself open enough to see them. And even if the only opportunity I've been given just now is that of being able to recognize my friends' excellence, that's far from a small thing.

(I mean, to be sure, I could also now offer some new and improved pointers to people who might wish to burn their bridges with me. Just let me know.)

It's possible that I'm going to need some increased stillness and silence for the next couple of days, just to process some thinking and work I need to do--things related not to the Anger but rather to the projects I've undertaken this year. Don't be alarmed if I'm very quiet. I'll still show you what I'm seeing, even if I'm not telling you about things and stuff.

On my way home from my reasonably successful (all things considered) reading session in town, I happened upon an English robin who was just hanging out in a tree--calmly enough so that I was able to take its picture. I tell you, this never, ever happens. It felt like a compensation more than adequate.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Springing ahead.

Tonight I've realized that my Mac knows some things about how Daylight Saving Time and British Summer Time differ--chiefly, that we did not spring forward here at the same time you (my U.S.ian readers) did there. Thus it is that I fully expect to arise tomorrow morning and find that my trusty computer has fast-forwarded itself into BST automatically. I set my other clocks forward at 7:20 p.m., made it 8:20 p.m. with nary a regret. This year might be the first in ages when I've not been disappointed to "lose" an hour overnight. I'm too excited about getting that extra hour of daylight.

Look, seriously, that's pretty much the only thing I've got tonight. I feel a little bit sheepish about this fact: if I have to be somewhere in the outside world first thing in the morning (which today meant 10 a.m.), it throws off my whole day. When I'm teaching, that's more or less okay, given that teaching and advising involve a lot of activity and enforced deadlines (like, oh, the beginning of a class period). Much of what I do when I'm actively teaching feels like managing a whole room full of distractions, my own and others', and helping craft them into an unexpected richness. When it's a wide open Saturday that I'm managing and crafting, though, getting thrown off involves a higher degree of aimlessness.

People seem to be graduating all the time here in Cambridge; today was the third graduation day that's taken place since I arrived, because, it would seem, there's at least one ceremony per term. And so the city centre and market square were full of graduates in their gowns and furred hoods and white ties, out eating meals or just strolling about finely. I took three walks to town--two to attend readings and one to buy a book I'd seen but passed up earlier. The book was gone when I got there. Never pass up a book if you think you're supposed to have it. (Though it must be said: I've gotten myself into some right messes with that aphorism.)

I leave this day thinking: right: let's spring forward, ready or not.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Directly after piano today, I sloshed through a downpour, puddled sidewalk water into my clogs, and washed ashore at the Fitzwilliam Museum for a poetry workshop with a woman whose memoir I just read last week. It was a workshop in modified ekphrasis, really--using some of the museum's collections to think about how perspective works in poetry-writing. She took us to gallery 15 and turned us loose with the paintings, after we'd read and discussed three pieces (by Wallace Stevens, Anna Akhmatova, and Michael Drayton). Start with people not saying what they mean, she counseled. I think that I forgot that bit as I tried to drink in the painting that had caught my eye the moment I walked into the room, Isaac Van Nickele's Interior of the Church of St. Bavo, Haarlem (1668):

(In a very cool turn of events, here's a link to pictures of the church as it appears now. Even cooler, here's a guy playing the church's organ, which was built about a half-century after Van Nickele made his painting. If you've never seen someone playing the organ, you should watch at least a bit of this one. It is so full-bodied an art.)

We had fifteen minutes to take notes on our paintings, then twenty minutes to draft a poem. I couldn't get as close to the painting as I wanted because there was a huge wooden chest on display right underneath the canvas, and for that reason (and so many others) the idea of blockage became part of what I was thinking about.

When I drafted, this is what happened:
The light is the first thing you see
and then the block.
There is a canvas of light, a hole in the dark wall.
It draws you over to see
the vaulting stone, the way
the arch shapes the light around,
the way the hall --
no, the nave -- is it a nave?
(How is it that you can never remember
the words for a church's parts,
or whether it's a church at all,
instead of a cathedral, or a chapel?
What is that column in the front
of your vision called?
Will you ever learn this thing?
Why are all the windows clear,
tiny panes framing such high light,
such diamonds of pale blue sky?
Why is so much bare?)
Call it a nave.
The way the nave flies over the tiny people
you cannot see until you are closer.
On the museum floor
a dark chest blocks your way, leaves you
leaning and peering for faces,
for hands: the pointing, the glance away,
the changeless smile, the pointless dance.
We all read aloud, fifteen strangers reading the products of thirty-five minutes of looking and writing, and somewhere in there I realized that I was at my first writing workshop ever. It was a good introduction to them, if only because we were such strangers and were together for so little time; there was no time or space for being toxic or unhelpful, for all the nightmares one hears about if one hears about workshops. Nor of course was there time for the truly lovely interactions and collaborations that can come of a well-run, well-bonded workshop group. But there was time to write, time to be listened to, time to be shown we'd been heard--and time to revise.

For revising, we had only about ten minutes. I felt myself having the experience that often bedevils my students when they're learning to write: the end of the piece, the thing to which I'd written, was what I'd been trying to get to all along. And so I decided to put it first.
In their faces' riddles, the vaulting is lost--
the bright stone in the dark wall that brought you over
to see how the painted arches shape the painted space,
how the nave flies over the tiny people,
how the tiny panes of sky light his pointing hand.
You could not see these things without getting closer,
but you would not have leaned in without the soaring light.
The barefoot monk dances in shadow.
The blue-dressed woman turns away from her black boy.
The fond man smiles, holds fast to the shoulder
of the pregnant girl who holds her belly, looks away.
And then I felt all triumphant because I'd finally gotten myself a bit further away from blocking up my own poem with worries about whether or not I'll ever learn the terms for church architecture, which is such an annoying set of worries anyway. But two women at the table said that they missed the first version's questioning, and another woman started a conversation with me outside the museum after we'd left and said that she, too, had liked the wondering over nomenclature in the first version. Hence the good of a workshop: having an audience, a real one, not a figment of one's own overheated writing imagination.

So now I'd say I'm brewing again. Much of this weekend goes over to the Cambridge Wordfest, of which I'm taking full advantage. A literary festival in my backyard? Yes, please.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The beauty of the heel.

I finished one loaf of bread this morning and thus strode out this afternoon to acquire another. Today they had the good organic bread at the store, the kind that only costs 13p more but has a crust that makes me want to tear into the loaf before I even get it home. I've tried the whole wheat, I have, because I know it's better for me. While it's fine, it also seems to upset something in me, and that knowledge changes the experience of the bread for me. The white loaf, processed beyond nutrition though it is, gives me one of the best sensory experiences of my day: the mix of taste and texture and aroma when I take the first bite of a thick piece of toast spread with a light layer of butter and a light layer of honey. When the honey goes on the hot bread, it drags the butter into tiny cloudy eddies, but somehow the honey still stays the littlest bit clear. After a minute or so, the bread absorbs much of both honey and butter. If I'm lucky enough to be eating the heel--an experience that, of course, comes only twice in a loaf--I will be crunching my way through a cradle of sweetness. I will be thinking of my grandfather, who used to make me toast with honey and butter in the mornings when we'd visit Detroit. I will be appreciating the perfect substantial crisp, an impossible meeting of lightness and weight, of the crust under its layer of bread. I will be eating the toast with a cup of strong tea, thinking about all the places I have met that smell of bergamot. I will eat every last crumb of crust I can finger up off the plate. I will tell myself that the crust is where all the nutrients are, in the manner of apple peels.

These days, like as not I'll be sitting at my desk in a late afternoon's full sun, or before an early evening's striations of blue and darker blue and last light's gold. Now we are back in the year's light: if I walk out at 5, I walk back with the sun in my eyes. When I leave for dinner, I can still see the trees outside.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The other shoe.

I came up the walk reading my new book. I paused beside the Real Tennis Club at the end of the walk and stood reading. A flick of cream caught the corner of my eye; I put my finger in the pages and turned to see a man in a sweater and shorts running away from the building. He was going in the direction that I needed to go, so I followed him. His gait was lop-sided because he was running over the gravel in only one tennis shoe, but running as though fleeing a scene. I crossed the street and turned back to watch. He had opened the back door of his car and was rummaging in one of the backseat footwells. From where I was standing, I could see the other side of the car, where a tennis shoe pointed its toe at the other back door. Before I called across the street, I checked to be sure that that shoe matched the one he was wearing. Because it did, I hollered, just as he was standing up, "It's on the other side!"

"Is there a shoe over there?" he replied.

"Yes, it's on the other side."

"Thanks!" he called back. He seemed surprised that I'd said anything at all. He looked across the street a couple of times as he walked around behind the car to retrieve his shoe. I walked home.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Of Fellows' Gardens.

May I offer you a bit of advice about this strange and lovely place that I've called home this year? If you ever find yourself in Cambridge and are wandering about through colleges and happen upon an open Fellows' Garden, do not pass it up. Their delights are many. I almost called them "boundless," but their boundedness is precisely the point: each one is a circumscribed plot of land--not a small plot, to be sure, but often one separated from a busy street or public thoroughfare by nothing more than a high wall--designed to afford enough twists and turns, enough varied sights, to beguile a rambler into believing that she's walked far away from the outside world, even if that world is still audible or even intermittently visible.

Having buckled up my red shoes to walking to a different garden today, I discovered unexpectedly that Clare's was open, and so I changed direction immediately and sprang down its little flight of stone steps and found myself face to face with a Barbara Hepworth, a sculpture whose provenance I'd not have recognized a month ago. Having finished rereading Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) just this morning, I spent no small time mulling over Hepworth's inclusion in the garden of a college at which she, in so many ways, simply by virtue of her sex, would not have been welcome.

This is one of two Hepworths I've seen in the past week; the other, at Churchill College, is apparently much used in students' various ballgames.

In a Fellows' Garden, everything seems just a bit more interesting--even brick walls.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Loveliness all around.

Today, right in the middle of the very sunny afternoon, a friend drove up from the next town down the road, and she brought her one-year-old and the backpack in which one can carry the one-year-old during a walk, and we took a walk through town, talking to and making noises with this little one. It was a good long spot of glee in what had already been a good day and in what is shaping up to be a quiet early spring evening. Looking at the pictures her mother took of me and the baby as we walked around, and thinking about the Easter party I attended yesterday (where I met a whole roomful of people about my age, all because of yet another friend I've made this year), I realize anew what goodness I've found here: I had hoped I'd come to Cambridge and find a partner, but instead it would seem that I've come here and found more excellent friends. And I'll tell you, I'm not one to scoff at that.

Tonight the dusk is going down lavender, a color that my camera can't even bring itself to see. I've had to help it along a little, toning the picture so that it matches what's out the window in front of me. It's now just as light as it was when I arrived in September: high sun in my flat from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. and sunsets that go on for an hour. When we spring forward on Saturday night, we'll have days whose light doesn't end until well after 8.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter goodness.

Usually, I sleep with my room's curtains wide open, trading privacy while I sleep for the natural light that helps me wake up in the morning. In fact, one of the strange things about my apartment back in Gambier is that the bedroom is two feet from a sidewalk leading to my neighbors' apartments, so that it doesn't really feel as though it's acceptable to leave my curtains or blinds open while I sleep--since we're all on the ground floor and the window in that room is huge. At least there, the curtains are light white cotton. Here, they're heavy stripey fabric, backed with solid grey liners. Not much light gets through these things, which is ideal for people who need a dark room in order to sleep.

I, a rock sleeper (which is to say, touch wood: a rock star sleeper), do not need a dark room in order to get to sleep or to stay asleep.

For some reason, last night, I decided to close the curtains. It was fairly capricious, not really a response to our having closed the curtains for bed while my visitor was here this week. And so what a surprise it was when my alarm rang and I wandered across the room to look outside--only to see this:

Funny: just last week, I was saying to my visiting friend that it was a bit of a bummer not to have gotten to see Cambridge in the snow, and here it came. The flakes were fat and fast, and they were piling up so swiftly on my balcony that I thought, Right! I should walk over to the colleges and take some pictures. But it was 8:30 a.m., and it was so warm in my flat (and, more specifically, in my pajamas in my flat), and I was sorely tempted to make some coffee and get back into bed.
However! I am not one to let such a great photo opportunity slip past me, not most of the time. Instead of slothing back into bed, I changed into many layers of clothing, laced up my Gore-Tex shoes (what a right purchase those were), grabbed my camera, and toddled on into town. I even almost kind of remembered how to dress for freezing precipitation (having bombed on this one yesterday): heavy scarf, wrapped around bottom of face; hat; hood over hat.

I'm happy to say that I timed my walk perfectly: the snow was still falling fast, clinging to branches in lovely ways, and much of the Cantabrigian world was still at home, presumably sleeping, eating an Easter breakfast, getting ready for an Easter service, or doing something else altogether because they don't celebrate Easter. The people I saw while I walked around snapping pictures were, by and large, other photographers.

The whole time I walked, the bells of Great St. Mary's, the University's official church, were ringing changes to clamor Easter in. Because of the way sound travels through the colleges and out to the Backs, it almost seemed as though King's College Chapel were letting off all those peals, and then as though Trinity's chapel were, and then as though maybe it were Clare. I knew it was actually Great St. Mary's, but the distortions themselves were somehow exquisite.

The one picture I wanted that I didn't take was of Nevile's Court at Trinity. It's the court with the Wren Library at its end, opposite Trinity's massive dining hall. It has a promenade that runs around three of its sides (the fourth side being the hall), and that promenade is arched all along its length. I stood just inside the promenade, out of the snow for just a moment, and watched the flakes falling into the court between me and the rows of windows across that court that the promenade's arches framed. The bells sang out from the center of town. Two porters stood in their bowler hats and great coats near the door out of the court and into the hall; I knew that if I opened my camera bag and took a picture, it would not only disturb the peace of the scene but also draw their attention, which would in turn earn me an instruction not to be in the college, given that the "no entry" sign had been posted outside the gate by which I entered. And so I simply stood and looked and listened.

Until the porters came over, as they had been ready to do anyhow, and told me (very kindly) that the college was closed for safety reasons--all that slippery snow, you see. I have not yet had a reason to be disagreeable to a porter, and so I smiled and told them that I'd just come in to see how the court looked, and asked whether I could keep going through New Court and out to Trinity Lane. They assented but told me to be careful. Along the way, I did peek into Great Court for a few pictures. They didn't check up on me.

The snow was a real mess by this point, falling as hard as it was. Even though I have many favorite places off the beaten path by now, I mainly wanted to visit some high points on my usual Cambridge itineraries, photograph them with falling snow, and then get back to my warm flat (and pajamas-in-flat). So a quick turn through King's it was, and then through Clare, and then back up the walk (past a massive group of German tourists who, all on their own, made me gladder than ever that my walk had been so relatively deserted), and then back into my own space. Whose warmth I now relished even more.

Happy Easter, all of you who celebrate Easter.

And happy birthday to my brother, in whose honor, really, I took this walk. Without him, I wouldn't take half the pictures I do or have half the love I have in me. He is a stupendousness in my life, the best of all possible brothers.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eggy goodness.

Once upon a time, long ago, my father swore to me that one day I'd like eggs. He tied his prediction directly to the likelihood that at some point in early adulthood, I wouldn't have much money and would turn to eggs as a cheap but nutritious foodstuff. (He also taught me some darned good egg-decorating techniques, by the way, and I may talk about those a bit tomorrow.) Somehow, over the years, I've discovered that I do like eggs--as long as they're cooked with a plethora of other ingredients. Quiche is one of my ideas of an excellent meal. Ditto for omelettes. (Eggs scrambled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached, fried, over-easy, deviled--all of these things are still largely repellent to me.)

And so it is that today, I aimed for a window of good weather (and missed, it must be said) and dashed down to the grocery for six eggs (at £1.28, and that wasn't even for the organic ones) and some omelette ingredients: smoked salmon, French chevre, a cut-rate avocado. And I mostly succeeded in teaching myself to make an omelette, a process that felt like one extra refuge from weather that could go from this

to this

in the space of nine minutes before turning right back around again, allowing the sun only brief bits of time in which to do fleetingly lovely things to the water lingering on vines and tree limbs.

These people, whom I spied from Trinity Bridge on my way home from the grocery (right after I passed a bride hurrying through the sleet and into the college for her wedding) were the saddest punters I've ever seen. When I got home and took a closer look at the three guys visible in this shot, I decided that they might be in the running for Saddest Punters Ever.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Further meditation (back to St. Ives).

Once again, while I was in St. Ives, I realized how much I love learning a place. It's possible that that love explains my dislike of tourism in general: too much, too fast leaves me feeling as though I'm tasting everything and filling up on not one single thing. Travelling at my own pace, on the other hand, gives me the time and space and quiet to pull in as much as my brain wants to handle--which often means that I'm intensely focused on seeing a small range of sights over and over. Long-time readers (really long-time readers, that is) may recall what happened to me when I travelled to Ottawa for a conference in early April 2006: I ended up in Canada's National Gallery of Art three days in a row, never getting very much farther from my hotel than that. The same thing happened in St. Ives: because I have a Tate membership, I was able to go to the Tate St. Ives, there on Porthmeor Beach, every day I was in town, poring over the pieces in the Margo Maeckelberghe and Rose Hilton exhibits. So too did I climb around again and again on the promontory known as the Island, getting different glimpses of St. Nicholas's Church and of the waves crashing around the promontory's rocky base.

What startled me most was the fact that every time I turned around--or so it seemed--another woman artist's work and life story met me and strengthened an intuition I'd been feeling long before I headed down to Cornwall: the intuition that it's just about time for me to take a deep breath and try my hand at painting. I have never thought much of my drawing skills, and I haven't wielded a paintbrush since primary school. But I haven't thought much of my singing skills, either, and my piano teacher informed me a couple of weeks ago that I have not only good pitch but good tone as well. And perhaps, perhaps, I should remember, as with the piano, that painting and sketching will not be my profession--which is to say that they will not need to be things at which I achieve some externally set standard. I can try them just to try them.

For me, then, the revelatory thing about St. Ives was its reminder that I'm on the right track, thinking that I can and should put art and artistic experimentation of all sorts at the center of my life. It's a town where people have produced art unexpectedly--that is, either because they were creating against some steep odds (in the cases of Alfred Wallis and Bryan Pearce, for instance) or because they have pushed boundaries and frontiers, making it new all over again. And yet once they have had their visions, they've stayed with them: Margo Maeckelberghe produces landscape after gorgeous landscape, abstract yet not wholly abstracted; Rose Hilton has painted canvas after luminous canvas, awash in joy in her domestic spaces and her artistic pursuits, again balancing perfectly between abstraction and representation. Walking through Barbara Hepworth's studio and garden, one can feel her exultation in form and space, can feel the love she felt for her surfaces.

And on a less monumental scale, St. Ives is full of galleries and studios where painters and sculptors and glass artists and ceramics artists and jewelry makers are creating and exhibiting and interacting with one another and talking to whoever turns up on any given day. When it rained, I went to the Tate. When it was fair, I poked through cobbled street after crooked cobbled street, going into every gallery whose window displays looked even remotely interesting. In one gallery, a young Cornish painter had three new paintings hanging; in the 30 minutes I spent in the shop, three or four different couples or individuals came in to ask the gallery's owner about his huge, brilliant canvases. In another gallery, one artist kept watch over works by herself and six other painters, who founded the gallery together years ago and have functioned in a kind of partnership since then.

And in another gallery, one I stumbled into one day after my early afternoon coffee, a woman named Sue sat painting, her border collie Roscoe on the floor near her feet. Had it not been for Roscoe, I might not have started talking to Sue, and I thus might not have made my way beyond her studio partner Pauline's paintings and back to Sue's own--two of which are now hanging in the flat, both because they're small, brilliant visions from St. Ives (and Newlyn, a nearby town that has been, like St. Ives, both a fishing town and a kind of art colony) and also because I want to remember what she said when I told her that I've always wanted to try painting: "Then you should. I didn't start until seven years ago." Because I was curious--and, I suspect, because her dog was so utterly enraptured by my attention to him--she told me about how she started, how she made her way through different kinds of paint and surface, how she finally experimented with applying acrylic paint to board using a knife rather than a brush, how that experiment made everything else possible. The next day, when I went back to buy the paintings I hadn't been able to stop thinking about, I talked to Sue's studio partner, Pauline. "I've always wanted to paint," I told her. "Then you will," she replied. "If you want to do it, you will."

Yesterday, in the gloom of bad weather and my beloved Brooklynite's departure, I wandered down to the art supply store on King Street and stood, baffled, before the displays of tubes and brushes and canvas and paper. Then, I stood awhile longer, baffled by charcoal, graphite, conté crayons, pastels. I have very little sense of how to start, and so it seems like a good idea just to try something. I plan to try the conté crayons, and pen-and-ink sketching, first--and then to see where that leads me. John Ruskin informs me that "the best drawing masters are the woods and hills," which would seem promising, since (as you know) there's almost nothing I'm happier doing, when I'm not reading, than studying minute elements of woods and hills (and fields and meadows and bodies of water).

Meanwhile, I brew and brew writing ideas. And so it would seem that spring has come in with a ferment, or perhaps a surge and a crash and a spray.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ain't no sunshine.

At 5 a.m., the alarm rumbled to life across the room and we started the swift process of launching my beloved Brooklynite back toward her home. By 5:45, her taxi had zipped away from my building; I stood in my pajama bottoms and windbreaker, waving and waving, then turned around and headed back in from the new morning's half-light.

When I was in graduate school, I interned for a professor who had studied the Baining of Papua New Guinea. She taught me (and the class of high school students I was helping her teach) that one of the Baining people's crucial emotional states is called awumbuk: the feeling of bereftness left when a loved one departs. It is, this professor explained, a "social hangover"; the Baining believe that it lasts three days. The more closely bound a visitor is to the person s/he has visited, the more profound the feeling of having been drained of one's vitality (the crucial experience of awumbuk) will be.

Awumbuk has been a useful concept for me over the years, as I've learned to give myself space for emotional experience and also to acknowledge that my life is interwoven with others' lives. I knew that today would be a wash in most ways, after three full days of joy with a friend I hadn't seen for a year. The fact that the weather was almost unremittingly grim all day helped to fulfill my prediction--and to make it a good thing that I hadn't tried to override it, to pretend as though it's not a very big deal indeed when a loved one goes back home. Rather than force myself to anything today, I mostly drifted through the day, doing necessary things when they needed to be done, deflating the big bed when it felt as though it were time to put the flat to rights, making soup when I'd come back from a walk through the rain to the art store, taking a nap with my hot water bottle on my stomach. And, by 10 p.m., feeling a version of jet lag: four hours ahead of my regular schedule, ready for sleep.

There is still so much to process and to tell about St. Ives, and now about this latest series of adventures, that I almost despair. But right now, I am actually too tired even to despair; I am starting to nod off at the computer, to have strange nightvision waking dreams, and sorting can wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Byron swam here.

That doesn't mean that you can swim here.

Even though I knew there would be some kind of warning sign at Byron's Pool--because how many literary pilgrims aren't going to be tempted by the pool where Byron used to cavort in his wild youth?--I had no idea it would be such a good one.

And the number of jokes we made about this sign at said pool--I can't even tell you.

Real, honest-to-goodness detailed writing will resume Thursday evening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More quiet still.

At Ely they shored these fragments. Gatherings are what draw me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Today's thousand words.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


She is here, huzzah and hooray.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I need say only one thing about today.


Today: 997 words, for a grand total of 11,509.

Friday, March 14, 2008

As I was going to St. Ives (part one).

I am about to plunge back into a period of relatively quiet writing here at the Cabinet, I fear. It's for the best of reasons: a particular person you know as my beloved Brooklynite will, this time tomorrow, be boarding a plane to the nearest metropolis, and so soon I will see her. As I'm about to type d.v., I realize that I should be extra careful this time around because my own traveling on Monday didn't quite work out the way it was meant to do. I did make it to St. Ives on Monday, but when I chalked it all up at the end of the day, I'd been traveling for more or less 13 hours: three cab trips to and from the Cambridge rail station (because high winds knocked all of the trains between Cambridge and London out of service, leaving me unable to get to my connecting train down to the southwest, where they were going through the first of two waves of bad storms that day, and also leaving me not sure what to do besides catch a cab home and start over with the help of an internet connection and some tea and muffins obligingly provided by my sympathetic friend), three trains, one Underground trip, and another cab at the end of the journey. I'm hoping that her version of this scenario goes: an easy cab ride, a painless check-in and security screening, a completely safe and smooth flight, an easy coach trip to my town.

And I'm still teetering on the brink of finishing my essay, having taken today to feel my way back into where I left off at 4:30 Monday morning--so that's likely to take much of my writing energy tomorrow.

And--here's the real explanation, really--I took 718 photographs while I was away, and the challenge of sorting through them is pretty exemplary of the bigger challenge ahead of me, sorting through the myriad dreams (new and old) that I suddenly found myself generating while I prowled around the streets of St. Ives. (I find myself regretting intensely that I won't have my new Mac until the summer, because if I had it now, I could rock up to Aperture 2, and my computer's processor would be able to handle these huge graphics files. Alas.)

For now, then, you get some of my favorite images from the week, with only brief captions for now.

Because I arrived after dark, I had no idea where I was or what I would be able to see from my window when I woke up on Tuesday. My view was the furthest thing from disappointing:

In fact, for a literature person, it was as fine a view as I could have begged: that island in the background? with the lighthouse on it? That's the lighthouse, kids. Of To the Lighthouse fame. You'll spot it again and again in my pictures, because Godrevy Lighthouse is visible from almost everywhere in St. Ives. Such as the harbor:

(where St. Ives's own lighthouse stands guard) and also from the Tate St. Ives coffeeshop

which also affords a wonderful view of the part of St. Ives that was originally the center of its fishing trade. (Here's another version of that view, from Wednesday, sans reflection in glass. Also sans sun.)

The color of the roofs in St. Ives is immediately eye-catching, almost no matter what the background--preternaturally blue sky, preternaturally blue-green sea, grey sky, grey-green sea: they all catch the color of the roofs and cast it back with a drama you might not have expected of roofs.

I'm mixing my days up a bit here. This last picture, and the next, are both from my first full day in St. Ives, when the weather was at first overcast and incredibly windy, and then sunny and incredibly windy.

The moment when the weather started to turn was visible and glorious:

That picture of the view from my room is actually from Wednesday morning, because I didn't think you needed to see just how grim things looked when I got up on Tuesday.

Wednesday morning was immediately and consistently heart-stoppingly and mind-tinglingly beautiful. Like, well, the entire Cornish coast, St. Ives is steeply hilly, so that prowling and exploring was a very different prospect there than it is in utterly flat Cambridge and environs. The vistas are, in many ways, more fun in Cornwall, really:

By the end of Wednesday, I found myself trying out new perspectives on things I'd already photographed. Porthmeor Beach, for instance, which is the westernmost beach of the four (!) in St. Ives--the benefits of being a peninsula, see--looks very different when one is standing on it than when one is walking along the top of its sea wall.

On a purely art-making note, I spent part of the week puttering among white balance settings on my camera but not in a systematic enough way. Now I find myself looking at a picture like this previous one and thinking, were the waves really blue like that? Is that one of the pictures where I left the setting somewhere where it shouldn't have been? And how is it that I haven't yet figured out how to preserve my colors better when shifting out of RAW format? I mean, I know that the whole point of RAW is that it captures more colors than JPEG. But is there a more lossless way to handle my images than the one I'm using? What happened to my greens? You don't need to hear this inner monlogue. And yet I give it to you anyhow.

It's well past my bedtime, so I will offer just one more picture and promise some more tomorrow. Hell, at this rate, I think that I could make a substantial portion of my remaining posts-from-England into pieces illustrated by this St. Ives archive. For now, enjoy this one. I have never seen such a thing. Then again, I've never seen a sign instructing me against importuning and touting, either.