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.

Monday, July 13, 2009

We are in Bath. By my reckonings, this is the 19th place the DE & I have lived in the seven years we've been together. By "lived" I mean we have no other address, and we've unpacked. I suppose that means I could also count the six nights we spent on the Queen Mary 2 last summer, but even I'm not daft enough to claim that I lived on the QM2.

I have vague ideas of writing a little bit about each place I've lived as an adult, though some of them barely warrant a sentence: I have nearly nothing significant to say about my first apartment in Somerville, MA. Autobiography through accommodation. I like the idea.

Sometimes when we travel our digs are a step down: we had a good summer last year in two tiny cottages, one in Burnham Market in North Norfolk, and one in Scotland. Both were miserably small when it rained. This year, we seemed to have stepped up in the world, and are renting what the agency called a "maisonette," two floors of a townhouse. The back windows overlook allotment gardens pitched up on a hill all Grant-Wood-like, half flowers, half...not flowers. Vegetables, I suppose. Right now someone is whistling expertly while he tends his plot. Look at that: I assume it's a man, it's a whistle con brio, but I wonder, Are all the great whistlers of the world men?

The trip to North Norfolk this year was lovely: we went to Pudding's beach, and Gus stripped down and got in the ocean, the only person there brave enough. He laughed and laughed at the waves. Then we went back to Edward's parents place, which was very nice, too. Really, the only dark spot so far was when Matilda was sitting on the lap of a crazy old lady friend of my in-laws, and I had to stop crazy old lady from giving Matilda, 7 months old, a sip of Pimm's Cup. Which has ALCOHOL IN IT.

Friday, July 03, 2009

I write to you from Cavendish, near Sudbury. My parents-in-law live in a large former rectory called Over Hall, a name I once found highly risible but now I don't even hear as a pun, which shows, perhaps, that I have become inured to the comedy of English names. Wait, that's not right: I'm still highly amused by Nether Wallop and Little Snoring. Three years ago, the DE and I drove past a sign that abbreviated Little Snoring to Lt. Snoring, and I always imagined a small exhausted WWII cartoon character, Lieutenant Snoring. Probably he was Private Snafu's superior.

Once again we are Between Homes, having packed up our Cambridge apartment. That all went pretty smoothly, with one, well, snafu: the handsome brothers of the new tenant arrived, as arranged, to deliver a bed the day before the lease ended. That was what we agreed upon: one bed, because we had hired someone to clean the place and had a few sundry things to do ourselves. Except that the brothers had brought all of her things. An entire truck full. And now I guess I am officially someone complaining on a blog about other people's terrible behavior, so I'll stop.

So yes, we are between homes, without an address. It's an odd feeling. At the airport hotel, we handed over our old Cadillac to my friend Rob, and then the DE had nothing on his keychain and I had nothing but keys to padlocks--three storage rooms, one moving crate on its way to Iowa. In a week, we'll be in Bath for the summer, renting a summer place. Lovely though that will be, it won't count as living somewhere. This morning I was filling out a Q & A for the paperback of my memoir, and one of the questions was, How has living in so many places changed your writing? I said, I am much better at writing while sitting on the edges of beds now.

Monday we drive to North Norfolk, to stay on the Holkham Estate for two nights. The day we scattered Pudding's ashes on Holkham Beach, we then drove onto the estate and saw dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds of deer, an astonishing sight. It seemed like Nature consoling us. Later I learned that there are something like 800 fallow deer on the property, and huge crowds of deer are pretty common. Which is even more consoling of Nature: it means that we can see something like what we had that morning often, whenever we're here and we need it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

e AM on our last night in our apartment in Cambridge. Tomorrow night and the next, we'll stay with friends nearby; Tuesday night, we're at a hotel at the airport. I always thought airport hotels were for the tired and the pathetic, the bad travelers, and now I still do: it's just that I have become all those things.

Packing up makes me ask myself questions. Like, why did you buy three bottles of hairspray, when you sprayed your hair less than three times over the past ten months? Why so many dull flannel baby blankets? And brown rice!


I'm picking up this post 24 hours later. Now we're staying with our friends Jonathan and Lib, around the corner. It's almost odd to be in such a peaceful lovely place, when our apartment feels stark and chaotic, mostly packed up with the inevitable baby socks swept up into corners, and all of the weird hardware of domestic life that stymies me when I move: picture hangers, clothes hangers, pushpins.

The movers come tomorrow to put our stuff into storage, where it will stay till January when we move it to Texas. A moving crate for Iowa comes Tuesday. Then the important luggage--that is, us--gets on a plane for England for the summer early Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On a day like today, I like to think of myself as Invisibly Prolific, even though I haven’t published a novel in 8 years. This is a kind way of saying horrifically inefficient. For everything I finish, I write pages and scenes and chapters I don’t use; I throw in extra characters, I take wrong turns. Sometimes I start novels and never go back to them. Some years ago I wrote an entire novel in five weeks, just to see if I could. (Answer: only kinda. It’s shaped like a novel, but the characters are fatally stunted. At this moment, I remember my favorite image—a mouse brown felt hat with a mouse gray band—but not whether I ever used it somewhere else.) Four years ago, I had a novel collapse on me, and though I have managed to extract a few chapters based on the minor characters, the heart of it is gone forever, I think. Pompeii, Atlantis: buried like that.

Mostly, I have embraced this in myself. Throwing out pages is much less painful if you don’t struggle, if you even decide to be a bit butch about it. You play with alligators, you’re gonna get bit. God help me, I still like alligators. My other major coping mechanism, in this part of my life as well as in many others, is amnesia. I forget what I’ve written. I’m always finding files on my computer that I have no memory of.

So I’m heading towards the end of a novel (I hope). All along I’ve had in my head a scene inspired by a scene I wrote four years ago—not from the collapsed novel, but from the project I picked up afterwards. I’d been talking to an editor who asked me if I’d ever thought about writing a young adult novel, and I thought, well, I’m at loose ends writing-wise, why not try. So I did, for a while. It was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. (I’m always working on versions of The Snow Queen.) Then a lot of things happened in my life, and I mostly forgot about it. Tiny bits morphed into the novel I’m working on now, including plans for a scene at the end of the book. So a couple of days ago I found the old project, just to look at that scene.

Well. I’d forgotten I’d written 91 pages of the thing. & I read it. & God help me, I thought it was sort of all right. Could I go back to it?

The lesson, actually, is that I shouldn’t have read it. There are the aforementioned pieces of the book that have worked their way into my new novel, which make the two projects conjoined twins with three legs between them. They could probably both live but not without serious problems, should they be separated.

The scene, by the way, features one character in bed, talking to another character out of bed. Oh my heavens I write a lot of scenes with one character in bed, one character out. It’s a goddamn motif. A psychologist might suggest I have problems with intimacy, making my characters continually perpendicular instead of parallel, but really I think I’m just sleepy. I wander around the rooms of my fiction, and I think, You know what would be nice in this corner? A bed.

(As an aside: I walked down Longwood Avenue in Boston to a dental appointment, and realized I was passing Brigham and Women’s, formerly the Boston Lying-in Hospital, where I was born. As a kid I loved that phrase: Lying-In. Born lying down, hope to die lying down, of course my characters spend a lot of time supine!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Three thoughts about hair.

1. Gus, age two, had his first haircut a few weeks ago. He had wild rock and roll hair, which looked great, but in the summer heat the combination of grub and uncut hair made him look like a little boy nobody was looking out for. I'd thought about taking him to some Kids' Kutz place, but instead we brought him to the gorgeous old barber shop in Harvard Square, where (so I've heard) presidents JFK and OHB got their hair cut, too. The guy put a padded board across the arms of the chair, and though Gus was scared for ten seconds he then decided to be very brave. And so he was. We asked to keep it long, and the result is an early 60s British invasion kind of 'do. My friend Lib says he looks like the young Mick Jagger.

We didn't save any of it. Good idea? Bad?

2. Matilda, age .5, has what is variously been called a Mohawk, Fauxhawk, and Beckham. Sometimes she looks like Tin Tin and sometimes a kewpie doll. I realized with a start the other day that she looked a lot like the most beloved doll of my childhood, Amy Elizabeth. (Yes, I seemed to have named a doll at least partly for myself.) Amy Elizabeth was a Madame Alexander babydoll, given to me by my grandmother. I carried her (the doll, not my my grandmother) around by her hair for so long that eventually all she had left was a grubby tuft sticking up in the center of her head. Everything else was gone. My grandmother was so put off by this that she actually bought Amy Elizabeth a tiny wig, which (though dark brown) was (as I remember) styled very much like my grandmother's.

3. My first child's hair was dark, like mine. I remember being--puzzled? disturbed?--by the fact that I would never know what color his eyes would have been, though surely they would have been blue at first. But he had dark hair, I knew that. Matilda's hair was also dark when she was born, but then it all fell out and now, like Gus, she's on the brunette side of blonde. I think she was three months old before I realized that one of the only things I thought I knew about that first child was something that might not have continued to be true, had he lived.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Lately I've been suffering from what I think of as Geographic Seizures. They've been going on for a few years now. All of a sudden, in my head, I have a flash of moving around a corner in Paris, or Bergerac, or London, or (more rarely) Saratoga Springs or Odense: I have the sensation of being elsewhere, someplace I have not been for some time. I'm alone alongside a building or a field. Then it's over. It feels neurological, not nostalgic. The parts of Paris that flash into my head (for instance) are never my favorite, not my usual routes through the city, but streets I walked down once or twice or maybe five times, with no particular associations. & I have no sentiment for Bergerac (or Bordeaux) at all. Quite the opposite. & they are never parts of my childhood. I am not suddenly aware of walking past George the Chili King's in Des Moines or Mac's Smoke Shop in Newton Corner. Perhaps they're mostly in foreign countries because of the shallowness of my Parisian experience: a brief cerebral and solitary transposition to a back street of Paris is enough to convey nearly everything I felt about that wonderful city, but the Des Moines of my childhood is more populated and complicated.

I'm adding a few more of the odd places I find myself: on all sorts of streets in Leipzig, a place where I have spent exactly one weekend. One particular stretch of road in Scotland, near Helensburgh, that I took several times a week last summer. No place in Norfolk, though, where I've spent two summers in the past three years. No place in Iowa. I wish I could figure out a pattern to these bits of time travel.

Am I the only one?

Monday, June 01, 2009

In the seven years since the Diminutive Englishman and I have used the same toothbrush (not really; it's a euphemism I picked up from Pogo, and my memory is that someone says it of John Smith and Pocahontas--"And the next thing you know, they were using the same toothbrush!") we have moved 16 times. Now, for many of those moves, a lot of our belongings were in storage, but I have counted every move where we have left one address, never to return, for another. We are moving again at the end of the month--we'll be England for the summer, and then Iowa for the fall, and then we are headed for Austin, where we intend to stay.

I can't even wrap my brain around Austin, though I am looking forward to it tremendously. First, we have our first move that involves shifting two children around.

Pray for me. And give advice, please, if you have it. We fly to England on July 1.

Friday, May 29, 2009

For some time now I have walked around, saying every now and then:

"The people people. People!"

Gus, age 2, is similarly affected, though he doesn't know from punctuation. He says, "People people people." It's a line from one of his favorite books, And Here's to You, by David Elliott, who is hands-down my favorite current writer of rhyming books.

And Here's to You proposes a toast to a number of categories of animals--"Here's to the birds!/The Feather People!/Birds!...Here's to the dogs!/The dreaming people!/Dogs!...Here's to the cows!/The giving people!/Cows!" So when it gets to people, it is, of course, "Here's to the people!/ The people people!/ People!"

On the Farm is a collection of poems about farm animals, beautifully illustrated with wood cuts by Holly Meade). A typical Elliott rhyme:

The Pig
Her tail? As coy as a ringlet.
In her eye there's a delicate sheen.
Some look at her and see a sow;
I see a beauty queen.

What the Grizzly Knows is a dreamy book about dreaming: the small boy hero watches his teddy bear turn into a bear, and then turns into a bear himself, and they spend the night doing bear things.

The books are a pleasure to read again and again (and again and you know, again). They're exceptionally smart. Elliott never mistakes simplicity for stupidity, and he's not afraid of teaching a kid a new word if it's the right word for the sentence. And for my 2-year-old, they're mostly all new words anyhow--why not learn trillium now, or sedges?

All three books are splendid, but And Here's to You is my favorite as well as Gus's. It never fails to delight me, and believe me, it's had plenty of opportunity to wear thin.

Elliott's got a couple of other picture books I need to buy. I think I've been putting it off because of the unpleasant experience I had ordering On the Farm for a gift from Curious George Goes to Wordsworth in Harvard Square. (Practically any time I've had to really interact with the staff in that store, I think, How can you work in a children's bookstore and be so joyless?)

I bought On the Farm when I very, very briefly met David Elliott at Lesley University's low-residency MFA program. I liked him so much I bought the book, and was kind of stunned when I read it--how often do you get to discover one of your favorite new writers in such a sideways way?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I called the lovely pediatrician yesterday because Gus had a croup-like cough. I knew the drill but wanted to be reminded of when to actually worry. She mentioned the usual home treatment--steamy bathroom, cold night air--and suggested that since we live in a third floor apartment, we could simply go to a window.

Listen sister, I thought, but did not say, I am not taking anything I want to hold onto anywhere near a window.


I have not shaken off the air conditioner drop. When my first child died, I comforted myself with fantasies that time had split in half, and that in some alternate track, he was lived and grew. Somehow I am doing that again: in an alternate track, the air conditioner killed someone, or is about to. That's what I somehow cannot get past. I feel like it's not over, as though in this world it didn't hit anyone, but in various other worlds, it has, and it will.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two posts in one day, good heavens! Still, I feel compelled to state the following:

Today, I knocked an air conditioner out of the window of my third floor apartment, onto the pavement below.

It's amazing I even own such a thing. For years I wouldn't, because I was terrified I would knock it out of the window of my third floor apartment (many floors, many years, many apartments ago). But there it is. I do, and then I did.

I'm a little sleep deprived. I wasn't paying attention. Sitting here at my computer, I can see it fall, as though in a movie: end over end, the cord describing the tumble in waves. Though (as I write this) I understand that in fact time did NOT slow down. Time actually at that moment was very, very quick. Out went the air conditioner. I screamed, "SHIT!" at the top of my lungs. It hit the empty sidewalk and bounced into the empty street.

No: what makes it slow is that my brain began to replay the event the second I thrust my head out the window to look at that incredibly empty sidewalk, that mercifully empty street. By the time I ran in to the other room to look at the sleeping baby, I had seen it three or four more times, then again as I ran down the stairs, and picked up the air conditioner, and lugged it up the porch. The replay stopped as I looked down and saw, as though in a Twilight Zone episode, blood on the case. So I hadn't hit a human being--what then, a gnome? an invisible person? Then I saw it was my own human blood. Somehow I'd cut my fingers. By now, late afternoon, I have watched the mental replay 10,000 more often than the real-time events, and so I want to say: it was just as they say. Time slowed to a crawl.

No. Not time. Memory, again, insisting that it's the genuine article.

I was really shaken for a while, telling myself, You could have killed someone, you could have killed someone. And then, just when I was no longer seeing the innocent bystander (seen from above, from either my point-of-view or the air conditioner's), someone else slid into view. A woman, pushing a baby carriage. They come down this street. I come down this street myself, pushing a baby carriage.

You could have killed a BABY, is what my brain keeps saying now.

Matilda and I took a walk to shake it off. (She slept through the whole thing.) We went to the Cambridge DPW to pick up the sticker that will allow us to throw away the air conditioner next week. Everywhere we went, I saw people who I could have killed with my air conditioner. I saw smashed things--a car's front end, a lady's arm in a cast--and felt culpable. I saw a police car and wanted to cross the street.

And I kept on thinking, You could have killed a BABY.
My friend Paul Lisicky has been writing about his mother's last illness and death on his blog, and I'm so struck by what a strangely perfect medium blogs are for writing about grief. I've read blogs by people I don't know, and by people I've come to know, but this is the first time I've kept up with someone I love by reading his blog--we've communicated directly, too--and it's felt so moving and right. He writes as beautifully here as he does in his books, about love and doubt and loss, and I have felt like I can abide with him by reading about his mother, and then read the condoling comments left by strangers and by people I know.

And there it is, for anyone to read. Which is somehow the most comforting thing of all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

If you're in the Cambridge, MA, area--my friend Sarah Messer is reading & talking at the Radcliffe Gym, in the Radcliffe Yard, tomorrow at 3:30. Anyone who knows me is tired of my going on about the brilliance of her non-fiction book, Red House: Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-in House. She's an astounding poet, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Shambles, a museum of Victorian life in Gloucester, England, is auctioning off its contents next week. You can see the catalog here:

How I would love to be there. Here are a few sentences of poetry from the list of lots:
A small collection of glass eyes and a black eye patch

A human skeleton contained in a box labelled Millikin & Lawley

A glass dome on an octagonal stand, 34cm (13.5") high, a pine cone mounted on a mahogany shield and a wall mounted glazed case containing a goldfinch, damaged

A quantity of glass eyes, various sizes

The remaining contents of the Undertaker's

Nutto, a performing monkey in a cage

Two pairs of children's clogs and a pair of boots

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The DE is off to China for two weeks tomorrow, and I will be home alone with two kids...well, for 24 hours, until my friend Wendy arrives for six nights. Then we're alone, and then my friend Patti comes. I have reserves.

Still, I find myself wondering what Gus, age 2, will make of his beloved father's absence. Edward was gone for five nights in February, and...I just didn't mention that Edward was gone, didn't say the word Daddy, and everything was fine. Honestly. But that's clearly not going to work this time, and I'm wondering what to do. Someone told me pictures would help, so I have pictures. Also I accidentally bought 80 dollars worth of toys, just in case we felt we needed some toys. You know, we might suddenly need a toddler-friendly fire truck.

Today we were in an elevator at Whole Foods. Gus pressed the button for the correct floor. Then he demanded to push the enticing red button with a fireman's hat. "No," I was about to say, "that calls the firemen." Then I realized this would not be a convincing reason NOT to press a button to a two-year-old. A button! that makes a noise! and attracts firemen! What could be better?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Our friends Jonathan and Lib came over last night, and we were talking about places to rent in England for the summer. Somebody mentioned Slough as a joke, and then Edward mentioned the Tiger Lillies song "Drop a Bomb on Slough" (sample lyrics: "Well it's grim up north/But it's grimmer than that in Slough/I'll sing you a song/If you drop a bomb on Slough").

Then Jonathan brought up the eponymous John Betjamen poem, which reads, in part:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.


But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

...and ever since I've been obsessed with titling something "Birdsong from the Radio." I just think it's so lovely and odd. It may be because I don't have a title for the book I'm working on right now--I've discarded, among others, "Thunderstruck Not Lightning Struck," "Let Your Heart Become Iron," and "The Two-handed Anyhow." I don't think I can call it Birdsong from the Radio, though. The last time I had a title but nothing to put it on was "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." I saw it on a sign and thought maybe I'd write a short story called that. But it worked for a book.

I still don't know exactly where we're going to be in England this summer. Any advice gratefully taken.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yesterday, we ended up going to look at the ocean at Marblehead. There were a couple of teenage boys tossing around a frisbee. Gus had part of a strawberry smoothie--we thought about introducing him to an egg cream or a lime rickey, but thought they might be a bit sophisticated for a 2-year-old palate. (Or I did. Edward, being English, doesn't know from egg creams and lime rickeys.)

It was a nice day. And I think that's not a bad tradition, a nice day, though I thought we should have an actual activity of some kind. Someone who'd lost a child told me that she and her children release balloons on the anniversary of their lost child's death, and I though that sounded great--sort of joyful and melancholy, something that kids would like. And then I thought, but what if Gus and Matilda become highly concerned with litter? What if they're super green? And one or the other says, in a few years time, that we CAN'T release balloons because it's bad for the environment? That would break my heart.

My friend Lib points out that the world needs a biodegradable helium-fillable balloon. Get on it, entrepreneuers!

UPDATE (seconds later): I guess latex balloons ARE biodegradable. I found this out at The important thing is to leave them "tailless"--even biodegradable string can be hazardous for wildlife.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Many evenings I fall asleep on the sofa instead of making it to bed, and Edward has to wake me up, which is sometimes a battle--if he catches me at the wrong moment of sleep, the unawake me will say, irritatedly, "OK, OK, I know!" & the one time he tried to wake me several times and finally gave up, I woke up in a sleep fog, stumbled to bed at 3AM, and said, heartbroken, "Why didn't you wake me up?" It was as though we'd planned a trip together and I hadn't shown up and he'd gone ahead without me. (Or so the sleep-drunk me felt. In the morning, I, like Edward, had no idea what had got into me.)

Most times, though, it's relatively easy: he calls my name, and as my brain starts rising to the surface of sleep, ready to break through into wakefulness, I think: Be careful of the baby who's asleep next to you. And then the dream and the baby evaporate. The dream-baby has never been Gus or Matilda, though the phenomenon started after Gus was born--that is, after I knew what it was like to have a baby asleep on me.

Tomorrow is the 3rd anniversary of my first child's death. It's the 1st time I haven't been pregnant on the day. We're still feeling around for what to do, but I imagine it will include the ocean.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Diminutive Englishman I'm Married to and I were having a discussion about bad novel titles to be paired with the subtitle, A Novel. Like:

Coulda Been: A Novel
Not Really: A Novel
What Made You Think You Could Write: a Novel

and even fancier subtitles:

Oh Fuck: A Novel of the French Revolution
Nobody Wants to Buy: A Novel of Suburbia


This perhaps is not so different from my favorite game, which I like to call Great Butts of Literature. I bet you can figure it out. Here, I'll go first:

How Green Was My Butt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Connecticut, anyone?

Next Tuesday I'm talking at the Town Hall Auditorium in West Hartford, for National Library Week.

Lots of library humor!

(As with most readings/talks, I'm terrified that no-one will show up.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Today I went to Skendarian Pharmacy, a family-owned business in my neighborhood. I love Skendarian's as much as I hate the local chain drugstores. Is there any variety of business as depressing as the urban chain drugstore? I always have the feeling someone wants to bop me on my head for my oxycontin, or because I'm blocking the Snuggli display. There's nothing picturesque about Skendarian's, no soda fountain, but the pharmacists all know what they're talking about, and they seem to actually enjoy their jobs, and I find it deeply pleasant to shop there.

At any rate, one of the pharmacists was talking to a trim elderly man, who was explaining that prednisone had given him diabetes, and then said, "Well, you gotta laugh. You gotta keep a positive attitude. Hey," he said. "You hear my boss is gettin' divorced?" He looked well over retirement age. "Yeah, I was up there at the wedding. Tony Bennett was the singer, and that woman, whatsername, Krill, Cull--Krall? She's married to that Costello. Well you know they just had twins."

It took me a moment to register that he meant that Elvis Costello and Diana Krall had twins. (That's one of those celebrity marriages that I feel invested in. I'd be devsastated if they broke up, like Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.)

When it was my turn to pay, I asked the pharmacist, "I'm dying to know--who's his boss?"

"That's privilleged information," he said sadly. (At CVS, they woulda told me!) He added, "But he's very rich."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I've been thinking of memory's trap doors recently. Yesterday I was at Trader Joe's, with four-month-old Matilda in the Baby Bjorn. I was staring at some slightly smashed raspberries when something crashed behind us, and I turned to see a shopping cart upended, with a now-screaming toddler beneath it: he'd been sitting in the kid seat at the front. His mother could not instantly figure out how to pull him free, couldn't see if he'd been hurt; a bunch of people, including employees, rushed to help her. In seconds he was in her arms, and then she was hugging her other child tight, too. "But why were you angry with me," she was asking the sobbing older child, who was probably four. As far as I could tell, he's the one who pulled the cart over. It was upsetting and dramatic as such things can be, but for me, no more than that.

Then I remembered another day in another store, about two years ago. Edward and I were at Ikea. I was pregnant enough with Gus that we were looking at cribs though not so cocky we'd seriously consider buying one. A young couple had wedged the bucket part of a car seat in that kid seat in front, and then, while I was watching--but while the mother wasn't--the seat somehow flipped over and dumped the baby--a little girl, about one, gold earrings in her little ears--into the big basket behind it. Silence, and then screaming, and suddenly I was suffused with panic, and sadness, and 1,000 grades of emotion I have no words for. Suffused? Infused? Soaking wet with it, anyhow. It hadn't been a year since my first child had died: I was still thinking, every day, "A year ago I was dumb and happy." The baby at Ikea was fine, though her parents weren't, and I wasn't.

And here's the thing: at Trader Joe's, I was no longer remembering the day in Ikea. It wasn't that I was reminded of how I felt. I felt it. I was there. We had to leave, my sweet third baby and me.

When I told Edward about it, I described the Trader Joe's incident, and then I said, "And it reminded me of Ikea--" and I didn't have to say anything else.

All of which is to say: the third anniversary of my first child's death is coming up. I've been pregnant the past two, and we haven't done anything to mark it except remember it. So if anybody is reading this who has advice, I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

There's a nice article about me up in today's (London) Observer today by Lisa O'Kelly, a writer who had a son who died two weeks after his birth.

That photo at the end? I could be wrong, but I think it's composed of three different photos. At the very least, it's been flipped (I also was posed standing on top of phone books; Lisa is taller than me). But isn't the light strange? We took some pictures outdoors, and then some indoors.

By the way: if you are looking for a nice place to stay in Wellfleet, MA, we had a beautiful time at the Seagull Cottage at Chez Sven, a green B & B. (

Also--I love this product recall.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If you're in the Boston area, may I suggest the following afternoon readings:

on Sunday, at 2PM, J. Robert Lennon is reading at Newtonville Books. John is a fantastic writer, with as varied a bibliography as you can imagine. Here is a review by Andrew Sean Greer that should convince you. Sadly, I can't go.

(Which brings me to this question: why does everyone harp on how, "Hopefully, I can go," is an incorrect use of a modifying adverb, but nobody cares about "sadly" used the same way? Or maybe they do. Maybe it's only my mother who so hates hopefully.)

Then: the wonderful and inspiring poet Gail Mazur is reading Monday at 3:30 at the Radcliffe Gym, in the Radcliffe Yard, in Harvard Square. You can hear her read a poem here.

And: I am reading at 4PM on Wednesday the 8th at UMass Boston, in the Harbor Gallery, which is in the McCormack Building.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

So I was talking the other day to a novelist somewhat younger than me--an excellent fellow and writer, by the way--and he asked me when my current novel was set.

"The 1970s," I said.

"Oh!" he said. "Have you done a lot of research?"

I didn't know how to answer that. Finally I said, "I was alive during the 70s."

"I was alive for part of them," he said. "I was born in 1974."

"I was born in 1966," I said.

He looked a bit shocked, and then said, "I'd love to know the name of your moisturizer."


I may well do some research, but it's not one of those, "And then I opened the fridge, which was avocado. My brother said, 'Let's go to the movies! I want to see--what's it called? Star Wars?'" kind of 1970s novels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Years ago, in my library career, I served a short stint as a part-time audio-visual librarian. This was after I'd retired as Circulation Desk Chief--I quit to write full time, and then my old library director called me up to offer me a part-time job with partial benefits, and I put down my lonely glass of white zinfandel--this was a very long time ago--and accepted.

My favorite AV reference question ever came from an 12-year-old boy who'd recently emigrated from, I think, Russia. He said, "Do you know this song, Achy Breaky Heart?" And then he sang a little of it, and I sang a little bit of it, and I found him the relevant CD.

(My second favorite: the 12-year-old boy who asked whether we had any adult movies. "They're all adult," I said. "The kids' videos are in the children's room."

"No," he said, waggling his eyebrows like Groucho Marx. "I mean, ADULT movies.

So I spanked him and revoked his borrowing privileges.)

Anyhow: those experiences pale next to one of the best things I've seen on the internet in a long time.

First of all, if you don't read Antonia at Whoopee, you should. She is a great and hilarious writer.

But it's the her most recent post that has knocked my socks off. It's proof that you can satisfy nearly any curiosity on the internet--and in this case, it has nothing to do with the perfect search query/search engine, just musical talent and good brains.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I am obviously not particularly bloggish. I have been dipping my toe into Twitter, though, so if you somehow have ended up here, you might look for me there. (See sidebar.)

There's an interview with my at Exhale Magazine this month.

Meanwhile, I am writing fiction and wondering what it means that most of my male characters have mustaches.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How's this for strange? Doorbell rings. Limey husbands goes down (we live in a third floor walk up) and comes back with an astounding bouquet of roses. "What did you do to deserve this?" he asks. "And to who?" I look at the card.

It's addressed to the Inauguration Poet, Elizabeth Alexander.

(We've phoned the florist.)