Wednesday, December 31, 2014

NEW YEARS EFFIGIES - 4TH YEAR AND GOING STRONG!

New Year resolutions might be made for breaking. They break themselves, or we break them - I'm never quite sure which.  So for several years, we've had a different tradition.  We make effigies  - versions of ourselves, which we want to let go of.

We make them a few days before New Years Eve, and we think about them.  It's fun.  We laugh at our creations. We may even feel some tenderness towards these versions of ourselves. But we don't want these versions to take root and define our behavior. So there's a bit of humor and humility but also sincerity.



Elliot making his effigy


At some point on New Years Eve we share them. If we are gathered together we might briefly speak about them. If not, we might send photographs to each other.  Then we burn them. The significance of your effigy can also be personal and remain private.

Here is mine for 2014.

a me I will no longer be!





Having identified and constructed this iteration of myself, I am consciously letting her go. Goodbye you overly involved and invested person who worries too much about other people's problems! Settle down.  Center yourself.  Observe and let things go (and thank you, Bikram yoga)!  Thus I will move calmly forward, with poise and renewed dignity!!

Happy New Year, Dear Friends.

Friday, December 26, 2014

HE WAS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS





He was home for Christmas....



If only in 2 dimensions














 And we brought him some figgy pudding....


Merry Christmas Alex - from Falls Church to Australia!

xxx

Thursday, December 25, 2014

FLAT SON IN 3-DIMENSIONAL CHRISTMAS

This year, Alex spent Christmas in Sydney with Katie.





So he sent home the next best thing: FLAT ALEX.

And nothing, no nothing could stop us from capturing precious family moments.



drama


shenanigans

invocatio





Sunday, December 14, 2014

CHRISTMAS TREES & WEDDING CLOTHES - A FAMILY TRADITION

Last year I posted here about purchasing a Christmas tree in Berryville, Virginia on the way to a wedding.  Ben thought it was a good idea to stop at a farm, where you selected and chopped down your own tree. We were in the countryside. Who cared that I was wearing a cocktail dress, and he was dressed in a suit?

Well, yesterday afternoon we once again found ourselves on the way to a wedding - this time in Stevenson, Virginia - not far from Berryville on the West Virginia border - and once again Ben suggested we stop and buy a tree.

"This is where trees come from," he reasoned, as we detoured down the winding road we had taken the year before, wending our way to Jacobson's Christmas Tree Farm.  "I get the feeling you aren't on board with this project, Amanda," he said. "Why is that?"

Ben

"No, no," I said. " It's lovely to buy a tree. It's only that I'm wearing very high heels and a long dress."

"That's all right," he soothed.  "You won't have to get out of the car."


the shoe that refused to walk the farm

But when we pulled up in front of Jacobson's Farm, we found a sign. They had exhausted their supply, it said, and were closed for the season.

Part of me was sad. I would have liked to see the look on the farmers' faces when we showed up in evening dress the second year in a row.

We drove further, turned left at the fork and continued in silence, looking out for Christmas tree farms.  We passed a field of buffalo.  Or were they just black cows with enormous heads?  We passed another field of animals, which were definitely cows.  We passed a silo and a farm where a bearded man in a checkered shirt was loading up his truck. We turned back to the main road.

There was a nursery on the right - selling wreaths and garlands. They sold live trees - starting at $85.00.  "We could plant it afterwards," I reasoned.

But across the street they were also selling trees... "At Lowes," Ben said.

We crossed the intersection.  "Lowes?" I cried. "That's like buying a tree at Home Depot! Why don't we just go to Merrifield Garden Center when we get back home."

"Is that your idea of getting a tree?" he asked.  "Merrifield?"

"Sure," I said. "Why not?"

"But this is where trees come from," he replied.

He got out of the car, put on his anorak for good measure, and strode across the parking lot. I sat in the car contemplating my high heels. Then I chatted with our daughter Rosalind, who was Face-timing from Paris. She'll be here next week and we were planning a holiday drinks party.

Soon enough Ben returned with a man walking behind him. He was carrying an enormous tree.

in the wilds of the Lowes parking lot

"Don't you like it?" Ben asked, as they opened up the hatchback. "It's taller than me."

"I love it,"  I said. The man shoved the tree through the back of the car.  Ben and I drove to the wedding, with the tree snugly wedged between us.

a tree and me going to the wedding

It wouldn't be a wedding in West Virginia if we didn't buy a Christmas tree.

The wedding was lovely.  The hall was festooned with bare tree branches painted white, white doves and lights falling over them, simulating snowfall.

We danced the night away. A wonderful time was had by all. The bride and groom danced with each other, danced with us and danced with their dog Snoopy.

groom, dog, bride

Afterwards, heading home to Falls Church, the sky was big over Virginia - with its dark hills stretching ahead on either side of the road  - and the Allman Brothers blasting on the radio.  The sky was full of stars and the car smelled of pine. Our  feet were tired of dancing and our hearts were full of love.

a couple of kooks

Sunday, November 30, 2014

YOU DON'T ALWAYS HAVE AN EPIPHANY

When you're working at your craft - be it painting, sculpture, writing, there are not always signs to say you're making progress.  Sometimes it looks like a mess, a sadly mistaken endeavor. You think you're wasting time.


night windows

Often you must throw away what you've worked so hard on and turn a new page. And then keep going. Again and again I am reminded of Orhan Pamuk's phrase "digging a well with a needle" a Turkish saying he uses to describe the craft of writing.

For instance, I've been working on a book over the last couple of years, and I've got hundreds of pages of work. They testify to the process of getting to know my characters.  But I've now got to a stage where two characters refuse to do what I intended them to do.  I'm trying to make them get on a train together - and somehow they just won't do it!

So I've been writing around this train journey, writing up to it, and over it and around it - and from all sorts of different angles and perspectives. I want them to take action - but instead they want to sit in a cafe and talk.  It's as if they are ignoring me - or saying, "Sorry, Amanda. We're not quite ready to go yet."

In any case, I was talking with two friends, Pat and Helen, last night about our creative work - although mainly I was talking about sculpture - and how I feel more freedom in sculpture to throw away stuff that isn't working.

Pat is an artist. She was talking about her collages, tearing up paper, and sitting with these little strips in front of her wondering Is this what my life is about?

"You don't always have an epiphany," she said. But sometimes when she's struggling with a collage that isn't working, she might cannibalize it, to make a second one that does work.

I was working on a bust in the sculpture studio for six weeks  recently.  In the end, I decided to chuck it out. My teacher George took a wire and sliced off the face - in case I want to kept that. I might fire it to make a kind of mask. Or I might toss it out. Why not?  I will take what I learned into the next project. The physical work feels like the detritus of something internal.

May toss it. May not

Helen said that she's noticed in working with Pre-K children they don't always need evidence that they have internalized a process.  She might save their drawings - but they forget those drawings so she throws them away and they don't care a bit because they are moving on. 

It's a false sense of self importance that leads us to save everything.  You don't always have an epiphany. We spend a lot of the time simply learning the process.  If we manage to stay engaged in the process, and trust it, perhaps we do more than we realize.


rooftops in the morning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONNAIRE: REPLY FROM SAN FRANCISCO

Stephanie




Your favorite qualities in a man:
Emotional generosity, good sense of humor, playfulness, intelligence, flexibility, protectiveness and openness, strength

Your favorite qualities in a woman:
Good sense of humor, openness, intelligence, playfulness, emotional generosity, strength, acceptance

What you appreciate the most in your friends:
Honesty, understanding, silliness, unconditional love, support and validation, appreciation and gratitude

Your main fault:
Overly accommodating, ability to overlook the negative because of hope for the positive, putting other people’s desires before my own, worrying when any of my people are disturbed or upset, wanting life to be pleasant for everyone, all the time

Your favorite occupation:
Sewing, writing, designing, watching others grow and flourish (my students)

Your idea of happiness:
Peace of heart and mind, music, colors, conversations that are hilarious, deep and honest, wine and candles,  fairy lights crickets and birdsong, soft freshwater, tiny things

Your idea of misery:
Emotional walls, anger, closed hearts and minds, sadness in others that I can’t fix

If not yourself, who would you be?
The version of me I hope to someday be

Where would you like to live?
England or Lisbon!  Anywhere without earthquakes

Your favorite poets/writers:
Kafka, Gogol, Nabokov, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, A.A. Milne, Ernest Hemingway

Your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction:
Martine in Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONNAIRE: REPLY FROM GALWAY

Noreen

My favorite qualities in a man:
sincere, loving, funny and adventurous.

My favorite qualities in a woman:
 Ditto for women.

Qualities I most appreciate in friends:
sense of caring and support for each other.

My main fault:
Impatience and being over anxious sometimes and too sensitive.

My idea of happiness:
walking and talking with friends and sharing meals with loved ones.
Later on after my shower: A massage from a young lover and breakfast in bed!

My favorite occupation:
wrestling with languages in all forms, teaching, learning, doing.


My idea of misery:
having no one to share time/stuff with when you want to.

If not myself, who I'd like to be:
My sister Siobhan perhaps because she is wonderful in so many ways but  I like being me, I like my curiosity!

Where I'd like to live:
by the sea but near enough to a good size town/city.

My favorite writers:
Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Seamus Heaney and Colm Toibín.

My favorite characters in fiction:
Queen Maeve of Connach ( powerful woman in celtic
folk tales), Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. Alice in Wonderland, and Oscar in Die Blechtrummel(The Tin Drum).
In real life: Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

WE ARE THE BUMPKINS


 A few months back, at a book club meeting which I facilitate at a local library, when we discussed Wallace Stegner's exquisite novel about friendship  Crossing to Safety, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves.

In Stegner's novel - two married couples spend a year in Florence wandering around museums and churches writing, discussing art and literature, enjoying wine and Italian cuisine, and having picnics in the countryside.   The men are writers and academics. But the entire time they are in Florence, they feel no need to engage Italian writers or academics or Italian people of their educational background.  They don't even betray any curiosity about doing so. In fact, the only Italians they meet are the portiere, amusing and quaint to them for his tireless work ethic, and a village girl who longs for the sophisticated life of travel to America.  Oh yes, and there is also some guy they meet on the road, who is drunk and has suffered an injury and who they do the kindness of conveying home to his village in their car.

This is the extent of their interaction with Italians.  One comes away with the sense that Italians are quaint and loveable country bumpkins, while Americans understand more keenly the sophisticated elements of Italian history and culture.  The foreigners in such fictional accounts are the ones who seek a higher tone.

And this goes for films set in Italy - such as The Talented Mr Ripley, based on the Patricia Highsmith books - or the Italian Spring of Mrs Stone. In The Talented Mr Ripley,  it is the Americans who sit in cafes, looking glamorous, just before zipping off on motorini in front of the Spanish Steps.  Meanwhile, the Italian characters are bumbling police detectives and a naive country girl who drowns after a failed romance with one of the American characters.  In The Italian Spring of Mrs Stone, Helen Mirren plays an English woman swanning around Rome as the great exemplar of sophistication and taste.

I lived in Italy for four years - and I can tell you - this just ain't the case! We are not the sophisticates on the scene. By and large, we are the bumpkins.  Americans visit Italy dressed in shorts, t shirts and sensible walking shoes.  They absorb culture, art and history,  but are struggling first and foremost with language, and don't strike the casual observer as particularly suave.

I remember attending a launch in a beautiful reception room on Via Veneto - for a book of travel writing from the New York Times.  One of the contributors ( an American) told a story about how much he loved Italy and his countless travels over the years. He was speaking in English, by the way, and began with an anecdote, evidently intended to amuse and show how fond he was of Italians,  about how he and his wife had once mistakenly checked into a brothel - instead of a hotel.  It was supposed to demonstrate that wild, crazy and whimsical character that is the Italian.

THUD. Not a soul in the largely Italian audience laughed.

Americans are prized for a casual openness and winning enthusiasm. We really want to be liked when we're overseas. But sophisticated and urbane? By and large only in fiction.



Saturday, November 1, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONAIRE: REPLY FROM DC

Helen

Favorite qualities in a man:
intelligence, sense of humor, sincerity, empathy and bit of quirkiness

Favorite qualities in a woman:
same as a man

What do you appreciate most in your friends:
love, loyalty and tolerance for my faults and foibles!
  
My main fault:  
I brood too much!

My favorite occupation:
Teaching, which is what I do, or being a Mentor for new teachers

My idea of happiness:
Being amongst my loved ones, preferably in some setting like a house by a lake, on a warm late summer evening,  laughing talking and watching the moon reflected in the water

My idea of misery:
Feeling alienated , misunderstood, and unloved

If not myself, who would I be: 
I'd love to be a great singer like Ella Fitzgerald or Eva Cassidy.  Singers like that, whose voices had such range and emotion, with every note so true!

Where I'd like to live:
Well, I  do like living here in DC, but I would love a getaway place, again like a house by a lake or a country cottage with a big back yard with a stream nearby and garden that had beautiful flowers!

My favorite writers: 
 Let's see, probably Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Shakespeare, Yeats, Gwendolyn Brooks. I enjoy mystery books by Anne Perry.  I teach young children, and I love picture books by Lois Ehlert, Ezra Jack Keats, and Kevin Henkes.
My favorite heroes and heroines in fiction: 
 Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Jo March.  A character from one of my favorite books when I was a child: the Velveteen Rabbit. Two others characters from my childhood:   Lisa from the book "Corduroy" and Mary Jo, from the book What Mary Jo Shared.  These were children's picture books published when I was a little girl and Lisa and Mary Jo were little black girls, just like me-something you didn't see that much when I was growing up. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONNAIRE: REPLY FROM SYDNEY


Yolande


Your favorite qualities in a man:
Softness, thoughtfulness, self reliance, imagination

Your favorite qualities in a woman:
Self reliance, intelligence, practical, humor, wildness

What you appreciate the most in your friends:
Support, intelligence, generosity, creativity

Your main fault:
broken fingernails and bossiness

Your favorite occupation:
designing/creating

Your idea of happiness:
Deep meditation followed by a boozy lunch. Being alone. Reading. No longer being bothered by others habits. Acceptance of all things. Travel

Your idea of misery:
being entangled with angry people

If not yourself, who would you be?
Morandi

Where would you like to live?
I like where I live but would like to build a house a few hours out of Sydney.

Your favorite poets/writers:
Richard Flanagan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tim Winton, Hannah Kent

Your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction:
The old man in Goldfinch and the heroine from Burial Rites, Agnes Magnusdottir

Saturday, October 25, 2014

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HAUNTED?

dead tulips
It's Halloween and I've been thinking about haunting. I was going to write about the new McMansions in this neighborhood - and how starting with a blank slate of a house might be the way some people do away with haunting. Haunting comes down to memory - the memories of other people who once lived in a house,  as well as memories in the history of your furniture and in your head.

This month, I read Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, where she suggests that architectural disproportion, angles that are slightly off, doors that aren't centered and uneven staircases might contribute to mental imbalance in the house's inhabitants. You feel haunted.  Also poor taste and somebody else's misguided creative imprints on a property can amount to a kind of haunting.

But I want to talk about a different kind of haunting now.  That of memory.  People speak of being haunted by past mistakes, heartaches and failures.  Maybe writing is a way of dispelling those ghosts.



petals

I'm going to tell you something personal - and I feel safe doing so, because you are my loyal reader and you are still here, reading. I'm going to tell you about a haunting I experienced when writing my novel I Know Where I Am When I'm Falling.   I wrote the novel with thoughts about a man I once loved - and the story is largely about him - although some of it is imagined.  For instance, at the end of the novel - I imagined how the character of Angus might have died at sea.

I was living in Rome when I wrote a lot of the novel.  And while I was writing the part where I imagined Angus dying,  I was also teaching at The American University of Rome.   This particular afternoon, I had been deep in my writing, imagining how Angus might have gone missing at sea, and the writing took a lot out of me.  I had gone very far into my imagination, to pull up certain elements of the man who inspired Angus.

I needed a break.  So I stopped writing, and turned my thoughts to a course I was teaching.  Suddenly the opening lines of Dickens' Hard Times came to mind - "Now, what I want is Facts."  It struck me as amusing, and I thought I might begin my lecture here, so I turned to the bookcase behind me, to see if I had a copy of that novel.  It turns out, I didn't.  My Dickens set was incomplete.

The Dickens collection that has followed us around the world
Bear with me --- because here comes the haunting - either that or a series of coincidences worthy of Dickens himself.  My husband Ben and I have traveled all over the world, and our books have followed us from country to country.  Some of them we had not opened in years - and this became evident in what was to follow.  Because when I saw I didn't have a copy of Hard Times, I took down another Dickens' novel, Bleak House.  I don't know why I did it.

I opened the book at random - and to my surprise, I found a card, that had been slid into the book many years before.


tucked into a copy of Bleak House
 It came from the man who inspired the character of Angus.  He had written this card to me.  I opened it and this is what I read:

his message


Astonished, I then found a second card in the book.  This one was a Christmas card - again from the same man.

I have no recollection of the original context

What did he mean, he thought I knew? I couldn't remember the original context of that message.   But eager for more apparent 'messages' from beyond the grave, I took at random a second book from the shelf - a book from the same incomplete Dickens' collection,  Child's History of England and Christmas Stories.  

Once again, I opened the volume at random - and my eyes fell on these words:

 A Message from the Sea

Several years passed.  My novel was published in April, and a few weeks ago, through a mutual friend, my former brother-in-law, the brother of the man who had inspired the character of Angus - got in touch. He asked for a signed copy of my novel. I sent him one with pleasure, and I included with the novel a letter in which I told him the story I've written here.   He  then wrote back. Earlier this morning, I went to the post office with a second letter, which I mailed to him.

I've been thinking a lot about 'Angus'. All that history is in my mind.  Haunting me? Not really - but companioning me, certainly.  Anyway,  on my way back from the post office, I decided to stop at an antique shop.  I was looking for a reading lamp.  I didn't find one. But while I was browsing, I came across some books.  They were the precise editions of the  incomplete Dickens set that contained those haunting messages.  So I purchased a copy of Hard Times~  the one I had been looking for!
a missing book to add to my collection


I then took the photographs you see in this blog post. While I was taking the photographs, I opened the Christmas Stories at random, looking  once more for the "Message from the Sea".

But it opened to a different page.


I kid you not

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONNAIRE: REPLY FROM ROCKY HILL, CT

Daya


Your favorite qualities in a man:
The ability to stand up to pee, and/or pee almost anywhere.

Your favorite qualities in a woman:
The ability to feel pure emotions, almost to a fault.

What you appreciate the most in your friends:
That they appreciate me for WHO I am regardless of WHAT I am.

Your main fault:
Feeling that I have no value, validity or purpose in life. Letting those feelings cloud my judgement and influence my decisions.

Your favorite occupation:
That I have done:  Building web sites, building furniture.
That I have not done: therapist, architect, sociologist.

Your idea of happiness:
Worrying about nothing. 

Your idea of misery:
Worrying about everything. 

 If not yourself, who would you be? 
Any cis-female, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Andreja Pejic, Katharine Hepburn. 

Where would you like to live? 
Bora Bora, New Zealand, Seychelles

Your favorite poets/writers:
Ayn Rand, Susan Sontag, Jeff Noon, Nicholson Baker, Neal Stephenson

Your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction:
Howard Roark, Valentine Michael Smith, Tracy Lord (from The Philadelphia Story)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

AN EXCHANGE ABOUT WRITING WITH DOUGLAS WHYNOTT



Douglas Whynott

He's written about beekeeping, he's written about tuna fishing and in his latest book The Sugar Season Douglas Whynott writes about maple syrup.  We probably all know about the timeless New England tradition known as sugaring off. I won't bore you with my childhood introduction to the practice, which was actually a disaster. We'll leave that one alone.  What I didn't know was that maple syrup production has now developed into a sophisticated and complex industry. This book tells that story, as well as the story of the Bascom family and the wonderful characters who have produced maple syrup for generations.

Doug comes from Cape Cod and although our paths have not crossed exactly, he now teaches at Emerson College from which I graduated years ago, and where I also taught Creative Writing.  So in the spirit of my recent posts about writers and their work, I contacted him and asked a few questions. I was delighted at his response, which I share with you here:

You are a non-fiction writer - but you have a strong sense of narrative in your work.  How do you think the approach to writing non-fiction differs from the approach to fiction?
Of course the basic difference is that in nonfiction you are trying to develop a narrative based on facts, that nonfiction is a literature of fact, though both are rooted in realism.  When I was an undergraduate studying journalism and anthropology, I asked a professor how I could succeed at writing what he called documentary journalism and I now call narrative nonfiction.  He told me to study fiction in an MFA program, and that’s what I did, study fiction with the intention of writing nonfiction like that of John McPhee, Peter Matthiessen, Lillian Ross and others.  (I loved Ross’s essay about the group of kids that came on a school bus to New York, how she described their everyday lives in such a way to convey so much that was sociological and yet also meaningful in the way a short story or novel is meaningful.)  While in that graduate program studying fiction I began my first book about migratory beekeepers, Following the Bloom.  I have continued to try to learn how to write strong extended narratives that are nonfictional but also literary in the sense of a story that conveys some sort of human meaning. 
In your latest book the Sugar Season - you write about maple syrup and the industry behind producing it.  How did you realize that you had a book in this subject matter?
I began with the idea that I wanted to write about trees and forests through the eyes of a forester—I wanted to know how they see the woods.  I had moved to New Hampshire and was hiking in the woods and mountains, as a way of recreation and also contemplation.  I live in a prime region for maple syrup production, and after the discovery of an invasive insect that attacks maple trees I called someone named Bruce Bascom, who is the largest producer of maple syrup in New Hampshire.  I immediately thought that writing about the maple syrup industry through his perspective, and getting out to others through him, including a couple foresters, would provide a great set of themes for a book.  It took me a couple of years to convince others of that, however.  My agent at that time thought it was “too small a story,” so I found a new agent.  Eventually I found an editor, Lissa Warren at Da Capo Press, who was very interested and took it on.  The issue that eventually sold the book was the effect that climate change could have on the industry, though that theme had been present from the beginning. 
You write a lot about nature.  How do you find your way into your subjects - which in many ways are rather ordinary subjects, and yet you make them so compelling!
Thank you for saying that.  I write about nature because of where I grew up, Cape Cod, because I inhabited the marshes, woods, and shoreline.  I studied marine life from a young age and thought I wanted to be a biologist, but in college I got interested in anthropology, which I thought would be an ideal way to approach writing, with the study of human culture.  I then left college, feeling my education wasn’t going in the way it should, and that’s when I got a job as a fish curator and dolphin trainer at Sealand of Cape Cod.  I left that job after a year, with a new plan—to become a piano tuner and go to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to study journalism and anthropology.  I think the dolphins inspired me to do that.
What is your day like, as a writer.  What are your writing habits.  What do you find particularly difficult about the craft and what comes more easily?
My days and habits depend on what phase of the process I’m in.  When I was researching The Sugar Season I went to the maple farm every day I could, and also took trips out to other places,  such as northern Vermont, Maine and Quebec.  I love the travel and fieldwork part of the process. When I move into the writing phase and as the work progresses I spend longer days at the desk.  I wrote the first draft with daily work, nine to four, over a six-month period.  I took the second draft to Colombia, where I had a Fulbright fellowship to teach at a university in Bogota, something I had arranged so I could work on the book in seclusion.  I taught one day a week there.  For most of the other days I wrote, producing through three more drafts in six months.  Each day I usually worked for about four hours, then took a break, usually a walk, and wrote for another four hours in the afternoon.  I sent my drafts to a former teacher and editor, someone whose advice I really trust, who read each draft and helped me immensely.  I think that’s highly important, to get another reading of your work, from someone you admire and trust.
How do you find teaching complements your writing life?  You've had so many other interesting jobs - working with dolphins, as jazz pianist etc. How did those activities feed
into your writing life, or draw you away from it?
In the beginning I tuned pianos as a way of making a living, and that supported much of my education.  Tuning was a good complement to a writing life, and I would have continued had I not started teaching freshman composition in graduate school.  When I finished my degree I was invited to teach a junior-year writing course in the Agricultural Economics Department at UMass, a good match because I was working on a book about migratory commercial beekeepers.  I taught in that department for six years, and picked up other courses as an adjunct, in fiction, literature, technical writing, and journalism.  Eventually I retired from piano tuning.  I think teaching is also a good complement, though getting writing done can be difficult when the semester is in full swing.  I can do research though, and am investigating new topics now.  I believe that it’s necessary to read a lot between books, to develop and renew yourself, to almost become a new person before getting fully involved in the next project.  



Thanks Doug!  I hope some time to meet you face to face - in the meantime, there are your lovely books...
Maple woods




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A PROUSTIAN QUESTIONAIRE: REPLY FROM BERLIN



Neil

Your favorite qualities in a man:

I cannot stand "macho men", loud men, "men" men. There's too many of them in the world running around and fouling things up with their testosterone piqued egos. I am a man myself. A combat war veteran. And still I cannot see the use of this type of posturing. I enjoy the company of sophisticated, educated, eloquent, poetic, talented, well-rounded men. Men who can fly a plane, build a computer, play the flute, write an essay, cook more than BBQ, explain the musical evolution of classical and jazz without being too wimpy to go on a 12 day hiking trip or too squeamish to kill their own food. I want it all in a man, just not the noise or the pride. 


Your favorite qualities in a woman:

Independence and self-confidence. And the ability to hold a conversation and tell a man when he is full of shit. Men need to hear that more. Especially from women they respect. Unfortunately, the sociopath clowns who run this economic game don't respect anyone, so god could tell them to their face that the world would be better if they jump off a cliff, and they would still go about their business of looting and pillaging the middle and lower classes. 


What you appreciate the most in your friends:

Unfortunately, since I moved to Germany and married a Germany woman, I still haven't been able to make any friends here... It gets harder as you get older. It's one of the things that does not get easier with age. Friendship requires trust, and as we age, we find it harder to trust in others. Oh well.

Your main fault:
Ask people who know me better than I do.

Your favorite occupation:
I used to pretend I was a dinosaur, but my wife found me running around the woods, screeching like a prehistoric bird, and told me it was time I'd grow up. I think that was two days ago.

Your idea of happiness:
People living together in a well regulated capitalist society. Or a hunter gatherer society. I still haven't figured that one out yet.

Your idea of misery:
People who live in misery and accept it when there is a possibility to change. However, we don't all have the possibility to change. That's how they rig the system.


If not yourself, who would you be?

Superman.


Where would you like to live?

Where I am: Germany.

Your favorite poets/writers:
The ones who don't suck.


Your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction:

Vigilantes. Because our "justice" system sucks, that's the fantasy I keep alive.  

If you want to be part of the fun, send your photo and responses to these questions to irrelevanceofhope@gmail.com!











Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'M GORGEOUS INSIDE

You see, this is the problem with living in a so called  "desirable" neighborhood like ours.  It's becoming less desirable, as all the mature trees are cut down to make way for buildings like this one.




oh, just a little house on the corner




Monstrous houses are going up on tiny parcels of land. Then they 'landscape'  with evenly placed shrubs, to make it look like the meridian strip on a suburban highway.

another one bites the dust



There's a little house for sale on the corner. It's surrounded by trees and fits snugly into the land.  The sign outside promises,  "I'm gorgeous inside!" It's as if to say - don't let all these trees fool you. I may look crappy on the outside, but inside I am gorgeous.  And by gorgeous they probably mean it has granite countertops.

"Inside? HA! Never mind what you are inside.  We are gorgeous outside!"  the neighboring McMansions cry.

bigger than big

When we saw that another house was slated for demolition, we asked the new owners what kind of house they were going to build.  Their children were scampering across the grass.  "A big one," they said.  Turns out, they aren't going to be living here after all.  Instead, they are flipping it.

 The two houses that are going up down the street evidently both have five full bathrooms. My neighbor said, "Who is going to keep all those bathrooms clean!"

the field where my sons used to play soccer, now two houses





Our house is small and we love it inside and out.  In fact, it is gorgeous outside,  because it has trees and it fits in the land, and I can use my imagination here. That's what makes it not a house but a home.

our garden this morning