Friday, October 23, 2009

Here is a fiction writer struggling with new media: I find that when I'm feeling jaunty and want to be funny, I go to twitter; when I'm feeling wistful, I go to the blog. But wistfulness feels more useful poured into fiction. So I haven't updated.

But! This is obviously a cause close to my heart: The Stillbirth and SUID Prevention, Education, and Awareness Act, which was introduced by Representatives Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

We need letters. Stories. This happened to me, that happened to my sister. Narrative and names to go along with the appalling statistics.

Fact sheet on the Bill, with highlights.

Full text.

The act needs support. A dear friend of mine who lost her 18-month-old son to SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child) earlier this year is going to Washington on November 11th, with other bereaved parents, and tells me they need letters by NOVEMBER 10th, particularly if you live in Massachusetts, New York State, and above all New Hampshire. You can even send e-mails, addressed to the appropriate senator, to from which they will be forwarded to leadership. Include your name and mailing address within the document--they're looking for local stories.

If you've lost a child, you don't need encouragement. If you know someone who has and always wondered what you could do, here's something you can.

Senator John Kerry, D-MA
Senator Paul Kirk, D-MA

Senator Judd Gregg, R-NH

Senator Chuck Schumer, D-MA

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's been 21 years since I first set foot in Iowa City. My cousin Elizabeth was having a 90th birthday party in Des Moines, so I flew in for that, took the Greyhound bus to Iowa City to look for an apartment, went back to Des Moines to pick up my enormous duffle bag filled with I-don't-know-what-all, and came back. I took the cheapest apartment I saw, which was at Black's Gaslight Village, and then I went to yard sales to buy furniture. My bed was two kids beds pushed together (about as comfortable as it sounds). My memory is that I carried them in pieces to my apartment. I do remember lugging an armchair blocks and blocks, stopping every now and then to rest. I wanted to sit down in it on street corners to catch my breath, but was too self-conscious.

That apartment was a very strange space. It must have been an old porch. You walked in, and there was a galley kitchen to the left, and a storage space to the right. Three steps down to the sunken living room, which had a concrete floor. Behind that was the bathroom with its elevated toilet (for some obscure plumping reason, it sat on a small platform) and inadequate wall. I slept in a room-sized loft overlooking everything. There was a skylight. A year later, when I moved out, a neighbor said to me, "Yes: it will be nice for you to live somewhere where people can't see everything you do through your skylight." I'd decided tp leave when I woke up one morning and heard my neighbor crying very, very quietly in her kitchen. I stayed in bed a long time that morning.

21 years later, Edward and I are teaching here for the last time. In January, we'll move to Austin, where I've accepted a job at the University of Texas. I'm tremendously excited about that, and very nostalgic about my last time in The City of Iowa City. & it feels right (though tremendously annoying) that our first lodgings this semeste fell through, and so we had to outfit a house from the ground up.

I am now nearly twice as old as I was the first time I moved here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

We are in Iowa City! A little unsettled—it’s a long, possibly unbloggable story—but by Wednesday we should be in a house, and so this morning we went to a flea market, to see if we could buy things for it. Alas, I missed the 1940s USO puppet theater by seconds—it said VICTORY at the top, and oh, I feel its loss—but I had a funny thought when I wandered around. When I left IC in the summer of 2009, I got rid of nearly everything. Rachel Pastan was nice enough to let the one good piece of furniture I’d inherited from a relative hitch a ride to the East Coast on her moving truck, but I decided to ride trains for three weeks and so anything that didn’t fit in my suitcase, I gave away. This included a fairly extensive collection of 1950s china jaguars—lamps, planters, etc. I saw one that looked familiar today. I tried to catch its eye, like a bad date from my youth. You look the same, I thought, and I felt it think back, Really? Because you’ve changed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tomorrow morning, we leave Bath. I've been meaning to tell more Bath stories--for instance, the day I went to the baths with my friend Lib, and we swam around, and I had a facial from a shaved-headed fellow named Bob, who gave me a head massage that suggested he was looking for nits and at one point ran his fingers over my face in just the way that I, at age 11, might have done to a friend I was trying to hypnotize. Or our visit to Noah's Ark Farm, which is run by people who believe that both strict creationists and Darwin have got it wrong: evolution is a process set off by God. Or a visit to the amazing atelier of Timothy Richards, an architectural model maker who showed us the Irish Parliament coffee-table sized. If you're ever in Bath, his place is on my must-see list. Perhaps the only thing worse than a writer quoting herself is one quoting her husband, but I think of a line from Edward's Alva and Irva: "Miniature things move people."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Every day we take a walk somewhere in Bath--to the Roman Baths, or the park by the river that costs a pound to get into, or to an antique store--and then we find a place to exercise the two-year-old. Generally it's on the lawn in front of the Royal Crescent, an astonishing semicircular block of townhouses around the corner from the flat we're renting. (The real estate agent's term is a "maisonette," meaning it feels like a house but is two floors of a 5 story building.) There's a bit of private lawn for people who live in the crescent or are staying in the fancy hotel at its center, and then there's a big sloping lawn that makes you feel, as you move across it, as though you are in a bowl, and the top of Royal Crescent is the rim, and the sky is the lid just lifted. From here you can hear on weekends the sound of brass bands from the nearby bandstand. Weekend before last, the band was from Wantage.

But today we climbed the hill behind the Royal Crescent up to Lansdown Crescent. There is a lawn in front of that Georgian crescent, too, but instead of Japanese tourists and midday drinkers and visiting two-year-olds, it is occupied by grazing sheep. The views over the city are pretty astonishing just on the street. I looked in the windows and, as I often do, mulled over how I'd arrange such a house. Kitchen on the garden level in front, playroom behind, with doors out to the garden. A dumbwaiter from kitchen to dining room, of course. Studies up high.

But most of the townhouses have been broken into flats, and besides, I'm strictly from Wantage.

Then we went to the excellent Museum of Bath at Work, where we learned (among other things) that Plasticine was invented in Bath and at one point was exclusively made here.

We came home to our own once spectacular townhouse--our maisonette--now made sad by the scaffolding that's gone up the back: they're repainting the trim on the windows. Our once glorious view over the alottment gardens, to the bit of the Royal Victoria Park where the hot air balloons are launched is now interrupted by pipes and boards and men's feet. Makes me feel a bit from Wantage, actually. Or claustrophobic at the very least,.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We went to Walcot Reclamation yesterday, a salvage business housed in a series of great rambling rooms. To date I have never even owned a house, and I'm exceptionally unhandy, but salvage companies always fill me with a great sense of hope. Reclamation and redemption: look at that nearly perfect stained glass window; I can just see it at the turn of the staircase. (What staircase? I have no idea.) And that ticket booth! A real 1930s ticket booth, with the brass-trimmed archway for money and ticket sliding! Surely there's something clever and useful to be done with a ticket booth!

(Probably not: I first saw that ticket booth three years ago, when we first went to Walcot Reclamation.)

But the bathtubs are the best--six foot long Edwardian tubs, waist-high copper soaking tubs, one amazing 7500 pound tub/shower that looked like Jules Verne invented it, though whether it is for marine or space exploration I'm not sure.

And also: a decorated Delft porcelain toilet. I'm not sure how I feel about it. Very beautiful, but deep down I think I believe that toilets should be pale and modest and quiet, like members of the clergy in a neurotic church. I'm not sure you could trust a Delft toilet with your secrets.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First Candle site explains it better than I do--Sen Lautenberg of New Jersey has filed the Stillbirth and SUID Prevention, Education and Awareness Act of 2009.

This is a bill to help raise awareness of stillbirth, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child). Among other things, it aims to better data collection on such deaths, and to offer support to families who have lost a child.

If you follow the link above, you can read a fact sheet or the full text of the bill. They even give detailed instructions on how to write to your congresspeople and senators.