On Sodom Pond

Postcards from rural Vermont

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Snow and shameless imitation

The snow is coming down again in wet heavy flakes. I wonder if school is closed. A schoolboy is in front of the co-op kicking up snow. Yesterday we got a few inches. The tall pines and spruces are heavy with white. It’s a Christmas card Vermont today. I’m meeting a writer friend at the co-op today. The co-op is the reason I am here. It’s what makes Adamant more than just a bunch of roads with houses on them. The co-op is the place where people come together. It’s the place where, when I was staying here this summer, they took me in just as I was. I didn’t have to do anything or be anything fancy. And they didn’t just ask a few questions then ignore me, they leaned into me and wanted to know how I ticked, what I was into, and told me how glad they were to see me. These were interesting people, people who were doing things, like raising pigs, playing the sitar or didgeridoo (or any number of musical instruments), making letter openers (one of my favorite finds at the fair), taking photos, building their own heating systems, making pottery and scarves and whimsical little nature beings (my gal is still right here, blue hair flowing), sculpting, baking, cooking, talking. They plan things like the chocolate black tie shindig this Friday night. There’s a friend with Netflix up the road where we can snuggle with snacks and watch anything. Someone invited me to be in a band last night. I’ve got deviled eggs and cookies on the roster for a memorial service on Saturday, and I’m wondering if my landlord, an Olympic athlete with a full leg cast from a fall last week, likes Backgammon or plays cards. There have been no manicures, waxings, $60 haircuts, or new shoes. Most of my clothes are still unpacked and I haven’t noticed. No one else seems to have, either. My disposable contact lens supply has lasted much longer than originally planned.

About to settle into the writing today. Funny I was waxing poetic about the co-op because my writing thoughts are about community, too. I arose thinking that if you struggle with shape, use a form to guide you. It’s okay. There’s no shame in not knowing, no need to hide the fact. I have often felt that I was supposed to know what I was doing at all times when writing, and that using models was a cop out. Thing is, I’m not supposed to know and that’s okay. This reminds me of a recent talk by Margot Livesey on literary influences in which she said, “I had failed to be influenced by many years of ardent reading.” We don’t have to do it alone. Lots came before us. And we can make use of it! It’s okay to be influenced. To imitate. To mirror. To take in. To be done unto. To surrender to make the words live and breathe on the page. I used to worry that if I imitated, I’d failed to understand something. But really, it’s a way of  understanding, of being with the work and learning from it. Imitation is a kind of meditation. I can then grapple with how little I know, how small I am, just one writer in the scheme of things. But it’s my writing. Yay! All I have to do it get in close with others and let them in, then be myself. Like in Adamant.

I feel like postingDSC_0002 this picture today. Go forth and pollinate!

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A barred owl and writing by hand


It’s starting to look like winter again. Lois found a barred owl on her bird feeder this morning. We went to the chapel up the road and afterwards helped stock cheer bags for folks who are having a tough time. We lunched with a friend and watched a Japanese movie while the snowflakes fell on her Christmas tree out on the deck. The co-op is selling bittersweet baking chocolate in slender straws we think will make yummy bedside snacks. We filled my car with a special windshield fluid that will actually repel water from the glass and make scraping ice from the windshield a whole lot easier.

I must hand write this next section of edits. It’s laborious and time-consuming to later transcribe it but the writing that I do on pen and pad just comes from someplace else inside. And it might save me time in the end. Writer and writing teacher Heather Sellers says she can predict which of her students has written their story by hand just by reading it. The stories, or parts of stories, that were handwritten were “thrumming, memorable, real.” They had a yearning quality and felt nearly finished, original and fresh. Others in the class felt flat and phoned in. She didn’t believe in them. “Writing by hand forces one to slow down and stay connected to the sensory and sensual moments that come from the deepest part of one-self.” Writing by hand is also fun. I like writing on legal pads with a variety of fancy medium-nib fountain pens that I keep in a red leather pouch. My favorite is a retractable Pilot of mustard gold with blue-black ink. Like the chocolate snacks and snow on a barred owl: decadent.

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Endings, The Messiah, and creative attachment

DSC_6490My stocking arrived, green and blue plaid in the plushest flannel I’ve ever felt. We’re going to try and find a local person to embroider our names on them. Many boxes are coming to the house. Trying to guess what’s in them is fun.Trevor built a wall for the wood pile and cut down a Christmas tree for his parents. Gary went birding this morning and saw an eaglet. The chicken satay birthday dinner will be next Friday evening. Was at the Maple Corner Craft Fair today. There is a stunning array of talent in the neighborhood. I so appreciated the amount of whimsy in the room. I helped the co-op sell coffee and banana bread and soup and emapandas, working the little red cash box and the ovens in a swirl of activity. My favorite item is a “nature being” I bought from a local wool artist: the head of a clothespin adorned in a wool tunic of soft pastels, lavender, greys, greens and fuschia, holding a purple sprig, with long blue hair and a seashell atop her head. She is my girl-crone, my muse, my waif and nymph, my sprite and goddess. I have her next to the computer. Must be good feng shui.

Ending the book continues to frighten me off. I’ve been a bust in the past two weeks. Xmas excuses. Felt terrible last night and over the past many days have felt an uncomfortable grinding sense of doom. It’ll never happen. I’m a fraud and a phony. Last night, I lay down with all lights off but the Xmas tree and Handel’s Messiah blasting. Today I’m taking a few hours to re-read the first half and get back into the rhythm of it. I can’t do a thing until I’m back there, deep in and close to the matter at hand. If I try to work from this distance and across swaths of fear, it will be false and foolish and I will end up putting back everything I make changes to. I must resist working in this state.

I was thinking yesterday that so much of writing is spent trying to “cathect” to the work. That’s a word from Freudian psychoanalysis that describes the process of investing libido, or psychic energy attaching itself to a person, object or idea. I have to keep attaching myself to the work, reading and re-reading, situating myself in order to begin; re-dreaming, containing and holding; forming a relationship with it and connecting to it. I think that’s why I can feel so exhausted afterwards. It’s like being with a child all day, very creative and fun and full of surprises, but weighted with responsibility and structure to keep things moving.

One thing I know: it must end. This manuscript has been around a long time. I’ll be sad to see it go. I don’t know what will take its place. It’ll be an empty nest for a while maybe. What I have to stop doing is starting over because it’s not “perfect.” I must finish an imperfect thing that will and can never be all the things I wanted it to be. It must be, well, what it is, the thing at hand, and that has to be okay. The clinging to perfection must end. And I must move on and out from underneath it and, breathing a sigh, look up at the sun rising after what feels like a 12-year all nighter.

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Garlic trick and more on doability

Today we helped make the fillings for the empanadas for the co-op, some of which we’ll be selling on Saturday at the fair. I learned many chopping techniques and that if you rap a head of garlic several times with the handle of a knife, the cloves separate themselves nicely.  I met a neighbor from up the road who also has experience with Japan. I would never have guessed! She has a tea house in her yard, apparently. I’m about to take a brisk walk up to the quarry to mentally prepare for a meeting of writers tonight at the co-op.

I will try to do one thing on the manuscript today. That’s the thing: breaking such a big project down to small doable tasks is difficult. I wonder if it has to do with grandiosity, and that, if I stay in this mindset of, “I will do it all!” I don’t have to actually look at the work. Somehow realizing that writing is about placing commas and tightening transitions and sharpening the precision of words–all doable, bit by bit, or “bird by bird,” as writer Anne Lamott says–is both a relief and a disappointment. if it’s doable then….I have to do it.

I feel like that woolly bear crawling through the pine needles yesterday. Here, as an antidote, is one of Gary’s birds. heron on sodom pond

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Genres and the woolly bear

woollybear1The sun is back out after a few days of gloom. They dropped dirt on the roads to absorb the mud. It was like driving on Jell-O. The real mud season is much worse, they tell me. I am hoping the ground is covered with white stuff again soon. I should be sure to check my mailbox at the co-op today and the coming days for all the Christmas presents I ordered by mail. There’s not that much room for them to keep them over there.

I read some of the manuscript last night in bed after a hot shower and was amazed to find that it was just words on a page. I wrote notes in the margins, as my friend suggested yesterday, and circled what I liked, where sections started or ended, and wrote “where?” for things that were not in the right place. The task seemed doable, and I wonder if that is what scares me sometimes. Why are doable things not more attractive? Why does the inaccessible appeal? And is there a time for each in the process of writing? A great mentor of mine, the late Trinidadian columnist and writer, Wayne Brown, said to his friends when he was dying of lung cancer and near the end, not to worry, that death seemed to him ‘doable.’ What a statement! At first it seemed that he was determined to be in control until the end, and by pronouncing it possible, was assuaging the feeling of utter powerlessness. On the other hand, his words seem quite humble. Any vestige of pride or holding out was gone. Death, the big impossible mystery that hovers over a life, would happen after all. It’s interesting that I remember Wayne today because yesterday I drafted a short story, the first in a long, long time. I have been living with the idea that because I am writing a memoir that nothing else counts. That I am only a writer of nonfiction and anything else is transgressing some imagined border and the Genre Police are going to be after me. Wayne wrote both fiction and nonfiction stories, sometimes you couldn’t tell which was which. He also wrote poems. I decided yesterday to send a few of my Adamant poems to a citywide festival. Wayne also taught me that writing had more to do with divinity than psychology. He said to me early on, “Trust the reader or you damage the style.” Always talk up to a reader, never down. He often wondered how we wrote here in the States, where our audience was so wide and varied. He knew exactly who he was writing to and for in Jamaica, where he lived at the time. That’s what I like about writing in Vermont. I know my neighbors. I am seen and heard. I come as I am. People take the time, they invest, they learn, they make, they do.

Off to start editing. I leave you with another vision of the woolly bear, several of which are hunkering in my entryway to stay warm until spring. (They become the rather plain Isabella moth.) I requested these from my friend Gary Ann Lewis, nature photographer extraordinaire and maker of great soups.

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The bobcat and the muse

Yesterday my neighbor Allison saw a bobcat in her back yard, or “the” bobcat, depending who you’re talking to. (I hope it’s “the.”) It was 8:30 in the morning and it was having a conversation with her cat, apparently. I am astounded it did not have it for breakfast. I hope it scares away the red squirrels she’s been try to get rid of, though. I asked what to do should I encounter this little kitty in person and was told to be glad for the glimpse and enjoy it. The cluster flies at the country place linger. In the fall, they burrowed into the walls of the house to incubate and are now hatching and pushing through to the other side, notably our toasty bedroom. They are clean, unlike ordinary house flies, and really not much of a nuisance aside from their buzzing around ceiling lights and an occasional dive bomb at human head level. Their drowsy slow-witted ways are almost likable. But we’ve had enough and are ordering a light strip that will take them to cluster fly heaven. I finished rolling out 70 more empanada shells for the co-op’s empanada team to fill and bake later this week to sell at the Maple Corner craft fair this weekend.

No writing in sight. I tell myself to just enjoy the rest of sabbatical. What if I just loafed? Made snowflake cutouts? Took long walks? I notice that my production dropped off after a post-Thanksgiving sudden demand for 6 hours days! After one day, its was 3.5 hours, then zippo for four days straight. Commanding the Muse doesn’t seem to work. So now I feel lumpy and out of practice and really, really, anxious. Finishing a book is a beast. I sometimes wonder if my writing career will be all the things I write while I don’t write this book. Like that quote, “Your life is what happens when you’re busy planning your life.” I am going to go listen again to the Christmas harp CD from the dollar store and take a walk with a writer friend who’s coming by in an hour. Maybe then, like the bobcat, something will appear. Or, like the cluster flies, I’ll end up buzzing aimlessly all day long.