On Sodom Pond

Postcards from rural Vermont


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Killing Your Darlings

Why can’t you do it at home? Why do you have to leave? a friend asked.sept 29 013

Why indeed, I thought guiltily. Why leave home to write? Especially when you’re paying to just go to a musty old cabin up the road. Where you have to keep Pandora playing so you don’t hear the mice skittering overhead.  Where you work outside on the deck so you don’t have to inhale mousiness all day. Where you feel scared by the woods around you when you go for a late afternoon walk to clear your head.

Why do I need to be scared and alone and frightened to finish a book?

It’s a different kind of energy, I tell my friend. I need to cinch everything together. I can’t be distracted. I need a single consciousness, an adult in the room to take responsibility.

This is not a weekend spent writing. It’s more about a weekend spent killing possibilities. Shooting my darlings. It’s hunting season, a month early. Bang bang. You can’t be everything to me, my darling. I have to let you go.

I want to throw this baby into traffic. Walk or die.

That’s not very fun.

Why be alone?

Discipline. Staying the course. I need to shave away daily life, to swerve away from my books and study and the shawl on my chair. My fleece jammies, my foods and my coffee maker. The meadow and the apple trees and the garden withering into decay. An attic full of the past. A closet full of the present. I need to get away from that to enter this.

Finishing a book is like packing up an apartment. Saying goodbye to stuff you don’t want to tote around anymore, things you can’t stand to unpack one more time. The endless decision-making is exhausting.

So here’s to ruthlessness and beheadings, to goodbyes and swan songs. As Florida Scott-Maxwell says in her brilliant slim tome, Measure of My Days, “Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you…Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”

 

 

 

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Late Bloomer

 

September 24 004

I was headed down one of those leafy cobblestone Cambridge streets.  I had two totes, one with a laptop I’d gotten overhauled at IT, making me miss a meeting. I was just about to miss another one if I didn’t hurry. Hence my head down, feet pumping. Then: wait. This will be the most beautiful moment of your day. And: If I don’t know what’s beautiful to me, then what?

I slowed down. Heels clicking, warm air on my ears, the scent of wild apples in my tote, soft wool against my neck.

And then I stopped, making myself even later, to write this blog post.

And then I took some pictures of some flowers.

And then two old women came to tell me it was Japanese anemone. I fell in love with its tiny buds and delicate leaves. A whole new flower I had never seen before.

I have been thinking lately about why we don’t ask for what we want. Are we afraid we won’t get it? Do we think we don’t deserve it? Ask. You do not know what the answer will be. Ask. Especially you, ladies. A back rub, a wage hike, a book contract. Ask. Ask!

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Autumn delights

autumn delights 006“Squeeze, don’t pull,” says Clint, a retired state trooper in camo pants. He is not Clint Eastwood. Go ahead, make my day. But I like him. Breathe, he says. Let go.”The trigger should be a surprise.”

A surprise? But shouldn’t I be controlling when this pistol goes off? I’m at Women on Target, a woman-centric shooting clinic in Morrisville, VT.

“But it feels like I’m not ready.” I want to control it, you see.

But I don’t need to. Muzzle aimed, stance and grip, the safety off, the chamber cocked. The trigger should be an afterthought. Focus on the target. And take in a gulp of air, he says. “To oxygenate the muscles.”

Makes sense, and yet I can’t. It’s like when I first started swing dancing and couldn’t stop leading. “You get the windows, the radio, and the snacks, but give us the wheel,” said my male partner.

I am feeling like this all relates to writing somehow.

It feels like I’m not ready.

Squeeze, don’t pull.

It should be a surprise.

I’m a writer. I don’t do things. I think them up. But this is why I moved to Vermont. To participate in the world: growing food, and shooting guns, and living in a community of people I have to get along with. Life here asks something of me. I’m listening. Which is why I’m stuck with nonfiction. I never want to leave life behind for too long.

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Always, in autumn, more apples.autumn delights 014


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Whither from here

sept 14 014In the garden, fruits are scarce but roots are rich. I am full, too, of sun and heat, of chilly swims and cool walks in the forest, of bicycles and fireworks. I slipped a cardigan over my shoulders while visiting with a neighbor on the porch yesterday.  Things are slowing down and yet they keep changing.

I am weeding against time. Anything I pull today is more for next year’s garden than today. We’ve got a few weeks for tomatoes, cukes are frostbitten. The beets are big as softballs. Squash lie like idle infants under leaves. Carrots push their frothy orange heads through the soil. The kale is exuberant, as if it doesn’t know fall is coming. And the new row of lettuce, well, it looks like lettuce.

The snap is in the air, not in my step. Walking up and down the rows I hear the sighs of a few bees, a dutiful cricket. A calmness not of things to come but of things that came. A wooly bear appears under my hoe, tightly coiled against the chill. It’s bedtime in the garden. Time to get everything in order for tomorrow.

And who knows what that will bring. I just know it’s not this. Not this place for dreaming anymore. In the rows, my hands in the dirt, sun on my crown, dreaming of foreign seas and soils, of places I’ve seen and not seen, real and imagined, longing for flight while keeping my hands in the rich earth of now.

How will I know I’m real tomorrow?

 


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The truth slips out

sept 11 002

As only it can, early on a Wednesday morning, shuffling into the bathroom of the room I rent in Newton.

I’m a writer.

I’ve heard this before. On days like this, full of meetings and appointments and a long drive home.

I’m a writer.

I’m 45. What have I been doing? Why have I been doing anything but this one thing I know?

I’m a writer.

And it’s like hearing it for the first time. Every time.

I’m a writer.

Can I still be “coming out” like this? Will it ever end?

I’m a writer.

How vulnerable we need to be to hear the truth.

How ruthless to heed it.


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Harvesting

ADKS 2013 020Home from the Adirondacks to a frost, possibly our second. The tomatoes are holding on, the cukes turning to mush. But kale is sweeter than ever. And we are rich in apples. Oh, my, dark ruby fruits with tart white flesh. And a man who is tending the apples, making them into sweet soft batches of sauce.

Our first pickles got a thumbs up from the tasters at camp. I have begun the can and freeze scramble, which I said I’d never do. When I told people I had a garden and they asked if I “put up” food, I said, “One thing at a time here, people. It’s my first garden.” Now I’m scrambling around like the ant in Aesop’s fable, gathering what I can. I want homemade tomato soup at Christmas. Peach cobbler on New Year’s. Apple crisp during a snowstorm. Autumn has always felt brisk before but this is new. Gather what you can. Scheme how to keep away deer (who are getting hungrier by the day). This is the harvest. It’s exhilarating. And a lot of work.

So for now, a few more moments in the Adirondacks, where I learned that “camp” is not a house or a tent but something in between. Where I learned to sit still by the water. Where I learned that sharing myself with good people I care about is all there really is in a life. Each day, when I made my daily spiritual “inbox”, all I could come up with was, “To enjoy yourself.” And this I did. Bicycling, wading, drawing, writing, talking, cooking, watching, walking, sipping, sitting, marveling, and creating silly accents.

Things change. The frost comes. Apples fall. I’ll never be ready. But I’ll keep gathering.

 

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Labor Day

I was too busy. I had a trip to pack for, cucumbers to pickle, writing deadlines to sort out, a student’s work to read. But how could I resist? The call from the row of carrots to come view a black swallowtail caterpillar and the nice progress it was making on its leaves.002 The call to get lost in the woods while walking with a new neighbor. The call for one more swim in Curtis Pond. One more motorcycle ride to the creemee stand.

One more. Just one. Please. I’ll never take it for granted again.

Labor Day: summer’s evening.