Monday, August 4, 2014

A day in the life of a guest curator

Here's how I spent my Sunday afternoon:


It was quite pleasurable, smoothing and pressing and listening to the hiss of steam.

I'll have to choose which of the aprons in this stack to include in my upcoming vintage cooking exhibit.

It's a bit like choosing a favorite child.

As you can see, Charlie helped.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The joys and constraints of writing about a friend


Secret footage of our photo shoot with Adrien Bisson (www.adrienbisson.com), courtesy Diane Hall.
This month's issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine includes an interview with my friend, the funny, encouraging, colorful, and talented Holly Robinson. You should certainly run out and find a copy, but until you do, you can read the article here:

Beach Plum Island: A story of sand and sisters.

One drawback of writing for magazines is the space limitation. I had to condense what I know about Holly and her latest book into just a few hundred words, which is a challenge. My goal for this piece was to offer a few tidbits which illustrate the depth of emotion into which Holly taps, along with samples of her lyrical language.

But that leaves a whole bunch out. I could write any number of articles about Holly's belly-laugh-inducing memoir The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter. And last night I finished reading another of her novels titled Sleeping Tigers which is fodder for a few more pieces. But there's a lot more to Holly than just her work.

You know that feeling, that rare experience of meeting someone and immediately knowing you want to become friends? That's how it was when I met Holly. There was something about the way that she interacted with people at the writer's event we were attending that made me like her immediately. She was curious, and listened thoughtfully. She responded generously. She laughed at herself, and with others. My gut told me that there was something really good there.

A year or two later and we re-met at a similar writer's dinner, connecting again and this time continuing our connection. She's a source of great advice, encouragement, and laughter.

Plus she's a damned good writer.

So check out the article. And buy her books. And post reviews on Amazon and GoodReads and all the other places reviews are posted. She'll appreciate it, and so will I.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mystery art beach

Two years ago I accidentally stumbled across a deserted stretch of beach in Newburyport, not far from Joppa Park and sniffing distance from the sewage treatment plant. It's a grungy place that you'd never expect would contain an art gallery.

But it does.

In this month's issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine, I had the honor of talking to three artists who create installations on that beach. Be sure to grab a copy to check out the article, but space is limited in the magazine, so here are a few more photos to give you an idea of the types of work you'll see if you visit the beach itself.

And while you're there, you might want to arrange your own collection of found materials for other wanderers to discover.

Photos courtesy of the author,  Jeff Esche & Rebecca Wish Esche, Valeria Gergo, and an artist who wishes to remain anonymous.











Saturday, July 5, 2014

On a day just like today...



Today my eldest child turns 26.

This past year has been a curious time of crossing over. At her age I was working and gestating as her father finished college. Pictures of his graduation show me in an old-fashioned white dress, trimmed in lace, my belly huge and ripe in readiness. My father-in-law wisecracked that I looked like a pregnant bride.

When she was born I was scared out of my wits, overwhelmed with love and the immensity and gravity of keeping this tiny creature alive. My husband was a pragmatist who rightly coached that it was merely a matter of feeding and changing, of washing and watching. He was right, of course, in his concreteness. But I was also right in my fear. I could grow her, certainly. But I couldn't protect her. Not really. Not from the world and it's brutality, not from my own broken edges.

I could try, and I would try, but eventually even the most tightly wrapped cotton batting gets shredded and frayed, and turns gray and dingy. Sometimes the wrapper herself tears away chunks without meaning to, or without the ability to stop it, and weeps at the torn fibers clutched tightly in her fists.

Today is my lovely daughter's birthday. A day my sweet Dolce celebrates for me and with me. She sometimes buys me flowers. She always asks me questions as the hours progress.
"Has your water broken?"

"Are you having contractions?"

"Are you still crunching ice chips?"
Today her questions were different though. She's spent some time with Kiera, but not very much. Not nearly enough. And so, she asked me:
"Are you guys similar?"
"In a lot of ways I guess."
"Does she like makeup and lipstick?"
"Yes."
"Does she like wine?"
"Yes. And cocktails."
"Does she like strange people?"
"Yes. She collects them. They are attracted to her."
"I know she likes to write. She writes beautifully."
"Yes. She does."
"She's obviously smart."
"Very."
"Is she hungry for God?"
"She's a truth seeker. She is hungry for truth."
"Does she like to wear dresses?"
"Yes. Sometimes. But she's self-conscious about her skinny calves."
"Is she kind?"
"Yes. And accepting. Remember? She loved working with troubled kids, and developmentally delayed adults. She taught life skills to autistic kids and was a night aid for a quadriplegic man."
"That's right! Is she funny?"
"Yes. Very funny. And silly."
"Well then. She's a lot like you. The world should be grateful to you for having her. I know I am."
And I am too. More than I can say.

The mystery of love and conception and birth and child-rearing and releasing and regretting and wishing and hoping is so complexly nuanced that it is foolishness to even try to convey it.

And so I won't.

Other than to say that I love you, Kiera Doodle. And I am honored to be your mother.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dream curation come true


A few weeks ago I sent in a proposal to a contest offered by Buttonwoods Museum, and I WON!
CONTEST!
Curate your own exhibit
Have you ever wanted to curate your own exhibit? Here is your opportunity! Using our artifacts and your ideas, pitch us story line for an exhibit you would like to see and implement.
My proposal centered around one of my passions: vintage cookbooks and recipes. For those of you who didn't know I had such a passion, checkout the blog I wrote for several years, before deciding it wouldn't help pay the bills: Cookbook Love.

I've been thinking about why I love the darned things so much, and the default conclusion is that they harken back to a time of simpler living. A fictional time when emotion and mother nature and the dark things of the world were minimal, and the difficulties that were in play could all be solved by a platter of fried chicken followed by a lattice-topped cherry pie.

In a way my conclusion was correct. We do long for ways to block out the harshness of living, though our contemporary darkness might be more about school shootings rather than polio outbreaks or the Great Depression. But what was incorrect in my thinking is that it's only old cookbooks that bring us to that place of hopeful forgetfulness, or hopeful fixitives. Because isn't that what new cookbooks do as well? When we look at recipes or watch cooking shows on television, aren't we seeking the same thing, hoping that if we find a way to turn kale and chia seeds into a mouth-watering dessert, our minds will be wiped clean of guilt and worry and helplessness?

But that's not why I thought that vintage cookbooks and recipes coupled with period cooking implements and demonstrations would make a wonderful exhibit. The real reason is that cookbooks are time capsules and useful anthropological windows into life and culture at the time of writing. The making of a Sunday dinner in 1895 is very different from it's making in 1954, and another thing entirely in 2014. The procurement process for a chicken alone is vastly different, as are the styles of meal taking, our calorie requirements, and many other things. I have cookbooks which feature the "new mechanical iceboxes", war-time meals which accommodate rationing, entertaining without servants, psychedelic Jell-O preparations, and how to achieve better living through the use of the best brand of shortening ("It's Digestible!"). Each one is a snapshot into an era and a way of life that we have left behind. Each one illustrates the concerns and limitations of the day, while focusing on the vast improvements in ease of preparation and quality which have been made available.

For this contest, I outlined a number of potential approaches to inviting people into this way of understanding the people and life in the Merrimack Valley. We'll begin planning in early July, and the exhibit will run during the month of August. I'll keep you posted after that about what to expect, and about the joy I'm experiencing while working on the project.

Meanwhile, I have to decide what to make for tonight's guests, and for Sunday luncheon. Perhaps I'll go vintage.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Local lobstahs are the best lobstahs

https://www.mvmag.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Lobsters_May09b.jpg
Photo by the talented Kevin Harkins
 June 15 is National Lobster Day!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, here's a piece I wrote about local lobsterman Bob Hartigan for Merrimack Valley Magazine:

https://www.mvmag.net/index.php/2014/03/13/national-lobster-day

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dear Wally: It's me. A judger.


I had to slap myself mentally yesterday, and I hope Wally Lamb would be proud of me for it.

Our neighbor is an outdoorsman of sorts, if you can call someone who putzes around in a bus-sized RV outdoorsy. It is a tan behemoth with dull stripes of brown, worn out by the miles and too many hours in the sunlight. He parks it parallel to our back fence. Once while working in the yard I looked up to see him sitting in the driver's seat, eating a sandwich. I imagine it to be peanut butter and jelly. I looked away quickly, embarrassed at catching him in what felt like an intimate moment. I glanced covertly back a few minutes later, but a curtain had been drawn across the windshield. I didn't know they made those things. Perfect, I suppose, for blocking the sun's rays or probing eyes.

In good weather he periodically pulls the RV out and takes it for a drive. The skyline looks different without it.

We've taken to calling him Kent.

He lives with his elderly mother, a sweet woman who wonders why the neighbors aren't more friendly. His hair is a spiky shock of white and gray over round, startled eyes. Hers is deep black, and her makeup is flawless. She is all crimson lips, powdered wrinkles, and sparkling purple eyeshadow. She owns the house. He owns the RV.

A few weeks ago a car pulled up, towing a camping trailer. It's not as big as the RV, but plenty big enough. The whites are whiter and the finish still retains some shine. Several times we've watched the vehicles dance; the RV pulling out and the trailer changing positions, the RV returning and nestling in to the camper's side like a pair of land Belugas.

We aren't sure who the new person is, male or female, but we've taken to calling him/her Kent Jr. Which brings me to yesterday.

When we first moved in, the single mom of five who owned the house before us stopped by one day to check for mail. She asked "Do you have young children? No? Well that's good because the guy who lives over there is a sex offender." She went on to describe how he'd invited her kids to watch movies in his basement. Her youngest are a set of 6 year old twin girls. They shared a bedroom at the rear of the house, adjacent to the back door which didn't lock. Her eyes were a mix of disapproval and glee, and the tween girl at her side nodded in collusion.

I took the news to Google, which confirmed its truth.

Wally Lamb's latest novel is called We are Water. A key construct of the plot is the sexual abuse of one of the main characters by an older cousin. The cousin's name is Kent. It is an intricately woven story, powerful and sad and satisfying in typical Wally Lamb style. A few weeks ago, I chatted with him a bit about the book and about this character. We talked about the difficulty of creating fully fleshed villains, and he said that it was hard to create humanity in Kent, but that he hoped he'd been successful.

Wally has volunteered in a women's prison for nearly two decades. He teaches writing, and has read a lot of stories written by the inmates. He cites a staggering percentage of sexual abuse among their histories. Through this, Wally has insight into the connectedness of victim becoming villain and the cycle that perpetuates. Insight which most of us will never have, nor would we want.

Yesterday morning the shuffling of recreational vehicles was underway again. I watched the camper being pulled by a black SUV, and called out "Kent Jr. is on the move!" The name became a running joke after Dolce and I read We are Water together. It gave us a way to name our discomfort and wariness without requiring discussion. But yesterday I felt ashamed of myself for saying it. For reducing this person, these people, to caricatures. No humanity was involved in the Kentishness I had created. No recognition of a tortured soul or a reformed mind or the simple presence of the very image and imprint of God. Just a caricature of a child abuser and his (imagined) partner in crime.

I'm still ashamed at the memory.

So Wally, if you are out there, and God, who I know is listening, please forgive me. And please be proud of me for my shame.

Today I will go back to that sex offender website. I'll find out my neighbor's name. And the next time I see him, I will say hello.

Monday, May 26, 2014

River City Renaissance

My latest feature story in Merrimack Valley Magazine highlights the latest revitalization efforts of our fair city.

River City Renaissance

Friday, May 9, 2014

Holly Robinson's Mother's Day wisdom

http://www.amazon.com/Beach-Plum-Island-Holly-Robinson/dp/0451241029

I'm working on an interview for Merrimack Valley Magazine with my friend the prolific and talented author Holly Robinson. The focus of the piece is her latest book, titled Beach Plum Island, which came out in April.

The novel is set on nearby Plum Island, a place of shifting sands and idyllic summer memories.

Each time I profile a writer I discover that the real story is so much bigger than what I can hope to capture in 800 words. There are stories within the story, all worthy of being told and of being written. Holly's case is no different.Because of that, I expect I might find myself quoting her here and there and everywhere.

For today, on this eve of Mother's Day weekend, I offer you a passage from Beach Plum Island. It will toll in the heart of every mother with grown children, resonating with sweet painful truth. And it will flit in and out of the minds of young mothers along with the hundreds of other helpless platitudes offered by those of us who have marched ahead: "Pay attention and enjoy this time! It will go by faster than you think."

Here it is.
"She supposed it was a universal truth that mothers, after tearing out their hair and tacking their raw beating hearts to the outsides of their clothing for anyone to see, were given no warning that someday their baby-holding days would be over. When that day came, there was no clanging bell or siren, no banner flown across the sky to pinpoint that single precious moment when you rocked your child for the last time."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recovering a Vane Art: one family's effort keeps the historic creation of weathervanes alive

Just posted one of my recent pieces for Merrimack Valley Magazine, for your reading enjoyment and visual pleasure: Kevin Harkins did his usual wonderful job with the photography.

Recovering a Vane Art, Spring Home Edition 2014

http://www.smdewitt.com/p/recapturing-vane-art.html

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rite of passage



Yesterday I went outside to untangle Charlie and help him reach the dirty ball resting in the grass barely a breath away from his nose. His unreachable-ball yelps summon me several times a day.

He loves his new yard. Sometimes I look out to see him sitting on the slope of the small hill. Just resting. Watching. Listening to birds and traffic. Sniffing for neighboring dogs. But most of the time he is in motion, pouncing his torn soccer ball, or tossing a muddy tennis ball and chasing it as it bounces away. He knows the full extent of his run but lengthens it when necessary, pulling like a draft horse till the cone of cement that should have stayed in the ground where I poured it drags along behind him. He strains and pulls in the thrill of the chase.

The yard is littered with fragments of the soccer ball's exterior, along with windblown sticks and acorn caps. Most of the surface-level garbage is gone; we harvested repeatedly last summer and fall, and the retreating snow made the job easier in April. The other day we dug up jutting rocks and loose pieces of rotting wood, uncovering a rusty saw blade, a strange, dirt and moss covered doll/animal cross breed, and a small white container labeled "Lube Tube". We've found broken segments of Lego and beads, plastic chip bags, rusty pieces of metal, faded Coke cans smashed into the dirt, 25 railroad spikes, and enough broken glass to envision our own Kristallnacht.

A single mom of five lived here before us. The youngest were a set of 6 year old twin girls. The eldest was a teenage boy named Eddie. One day the mom came home from her job at Walmart with new bikes for the twins, and Eddie picked up a football size chunk of rock and took his rage out on one of them. Our neighbor Dave is always puttering around in his yard, so the little girl dragged the bike across the street to him in hope, asking "Can you fix it?" But one wheel was bent nearly in half and the frame was broken. There was no fixing it.

The moat of broken shards surrounding the house is Eddie's creation. We'll be picking it up for years. We worry about Charlie's paws when he digs his holes, covering and uncovering balls over and over again as if unearthing a new rodent each time.

We recently bought a bunch of marigolds, petunias, and red geraniums, along with two red outdoor chairs to match the front door. Painting the door was one of my earliest projects. I brushed the cheerful red over dents and dings and kick marks. I painted the rusty uprights that support the front porch roof silver. I painted the vertical face of the crumbling front steps black.

Our reclamation is slow, but steady.

Last year, Dave and another neighbor brought riding mowers over and took down the knee-high weeds and grass. Their relief at our having moved in was voluble. A week ago Dave gave us an 8-year-old push mower, in immaculately maintained condition. For several weeks before this gift, I'd look out the kitchen window while making coffee each morning, watching the robins pecking around and wondering how much longer it would be before we'd have to deal with getting the grass cut.

I've mowed before, at other houses, but it was generally my husbands reluctant job. When my son grew tall enough, the task shifted to him. Those yards had been purchased in both of our names, but within that turbulent and dysfunctional marriage, there were very few things that felt like mine. The property we owned together wasn't one of them.

But I bought this house on my own. I depleted my retirement savings and took an incredible tax hit, but this house feels like mine. Dolce and I have made every selection together and worked side by side to make it habitable and interesting. When we look around at the end of the day, at all that has been accomplished and all that remains to be done, we feel pride and connectedness.

Today we'll go to Walmart and get a gas can. We'll stop at a service station and fill it up. I'll make another careful circuit of the yard to pick up stones that might ruin the mower's blade.

Dolce will transplant the marigolds.

And I will mow our yard. For the first time.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Watching over the scent of honeysuckle


We did a lot of driving when I was a kid. We went to visit a grandmother, a great grandmother, some aunts and great uncles, and various friends. The trips weren't very long, but they were frequent.

A few times we stopped unannounced to visit a friend of my Mom's. I think they worked together at an old folk's home before Mom had to quit due to heartbreak. We'd pull in the driveway wondering if they'd be home. They would invariably welcome us in, and we'd stay for a few hours.

I'm not sure what my brother David and I did on these visits. I don't think other children were present. I don't recall much about it, actually. But I do remember the bathroom.

The bathroom was bright and modern, especially compared to the room dedicated to the same purpose in our own house. We lived in an old place purchased from a pair of Victorian sisters, a sort of urban farmhouse of the era. It was set in a neighborhood rather than farm country, but it had a huge back lot on which several apple trees, a plum tree, a grape arbor, strawberry plants, and blackberry brambles were drifting into wildness. The sisters left a crank telephone on the dining room wall, a wonderful enameled hutch in the kitchen, and a toilet positioned in a tiny closet space. I have no idea where the elderly girls must have bathed. Perhaps they heated water on top of the stove and poured it into a galvanized tub.

We moved the toilet into the adjacent room which had once been used as a bedroom, and installed an old fashioned claw-foot tub. The only other thing in the large room was a closet, but it wasn't just any closet. This closet was a place of seething life. A place where puppies were birthed, and where a multiplication of mice once broke out of their overfull Habitrail and scattered throughout the house.

The room was dim with age-browned wallpaper and a dark linoleum carpet. A picture of an angel by a pool in a garden of peonies hung near the sink.

In contrast, the bathroom of my Mom's friend was small, and tiled, and bright, and scrubbed. It was like visiting a foreign land.

Two things are vivid in my recollecting. The first is a creature standing sentinel atop the tank of the commode. She was an odd sort of watchman, dressed in a picture hat and an ankle-length hoop-skirted gown. Her eyes were glazed from the tedium of the assignment, her arms stiff from maintaining her erect posture.

I couldn't not touch her. I had to pull her up out of the confining tube and make sure she had legs. They were there all right, unbending and rigid like her arms. Santa had recently delivered my Malibu Barbie, who's long shining hair hung straight as a curtain. But this doll's hair was spun from ultrafine strands, like the flossy artificial snow you carefully stretch across the branches of a Christmas tree. She was much lighter in weight than my Barbie. Hollow. Insubstantial. Somehow less-than.

Once assured that the legs were there, I would slip them back into position and fluff up the many layers of crocheted skirt to cover up the paper roll, hoping that our hostess wouldn't notice that the doll had been fiddled with.

The other thing I remember about that bathroom was the jar of Avon Honesuckle Cream Sachet that was displayed on an open shelf. I'd unscrew the lid and sniff in the defining scent of this place and these (now) faceless people. It was foreign and exotic and cloying. I could never quite figure out if I liked it.

None of these things exist anymore. Not toilet paper dolls or cream sachets or simply dropping by unannounced. Now we text first, tuck extra rolls of tissue in rustic woven baskets, and buy our scents from Bath and Body Works rather than Avon.

The world has moved on.

But in my memory, she still stands there, that Southern Belle of a not-Barbie. Waiting for me to come back, and keeping watch over an era.

Monday, April 28, 2014

On gratitude for shared light


My recent experience at the Newburyport Literary Festival cemented a conclusion that has been slowly forming over the past several years.

I've never spent time with Hollywood celebrities or rock stars. Given the stories you hear about so many of them, the divas and arrogance and insincerity, who really wants to? And though I've never specifically thought about whether the literati would be similar, I think I must have assumed it.

But let me be very clear: it's not true.

This year's literary fest had a stunning line up of authors, including Wally Lamb, Richard Russo, Jenna Blum, Caroline Leavitt, Ann Hood, and Newburyport's fair-haired, dark-headed, black-sheep of a hero Andre Dubus III. We are blessed that Andre lives here, but the rest chose to take time away and come. Sure they want to sell books, but there is a lot more to it, and to them, than that.

The camaraderie among the great lights was palpable and endearing. They clearly know each other, like each other, and respect each other's work.

But the camaraderie extends out beyond this little circle. They seem to actually enjoy helping other writers. The little guys, scribblers like me who write and wait and wonder if we can ever make a living or a difference by doing what we do. Perhaps it's because so many of them are lettered professors of the craft, trained and practiced in sharing encouragement. But I don't think so. I think it goes deeper.

I think the secret lies in empathy. To be a writer you have to be empathic. You have to want to climb into the skin of another person and live out their story. The world each of these authors knows best is the tortured world of writing. They know it first hand, upside down and sideways, so it doesn't take much for their empathetic natures to respond, offering stories about writing processes and work spaces, about how they seek feedback or protect their work like forming fetuses. They explain that there is a cost of public acclaim which can include paralyzing fear of failure. They cite numbers of rejections so that we'll feel better, and reminisce about phone calls from Oprah to give us hope.

They repeat their stories because they know we need to hear them.

And we do.

Thank you, you glittering line up of literary stars, for your generosity of time, talent and compassion. You help the rest of us, for at least one more day, to not give up.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New England Weathervane Shop


Merrimack Valley Magazine recently posted a video to accompany my story about the New England Weathervane Shop in the recent Spring Home edition. Check it out!



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Latest clips


I posted my latest Merrimack Valley Magazine feature story and a few Little Bitz for your viewing pleasure:

Vintage Jewelry Makes and Inspired Comeback
March/April 2014 Little Bitz

Now run out and get yourself a copy!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Simple industry, simple pleasures



This morning I saw one of the friendly neighborhood squirrels pawing in the soft dirt outside our kitchen window. He sniffed around to find a likely spot and began digging, quickly unearthing an acorn and tucking it into his cheek.

I've often watched squirrels in the fall, scurrying around as if a nor'easter could blow in any second. But until today I'd never seen them recovering the fruits of their labor.

The house was still asleep. The coffee began to burble and steam. The cat wound around my legs in greeting.

Simple pleasures.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January is site cleanup time!

Bill Partridge of Piel Craftsmen in Newburyport, MA restores an antique model ship. This shot comes from a piece called The Call of the Sea in the November/December 2013 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine..

I'm getting ready to pitch several story ideas to a few recently found (and awesome) magazines, and so I've cleaned up this site a bit, and reorganized my clips for easier reading.

I've got more to post, so check back soon. Meanwhile, wish me luck on the queries!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Their creatine shake brings the boys to the yard



Today I realized that girls aren't the only ones with body image problems.

I stopped in GNC looking for something to prevent women of a certain age from spontaneously combusting or melting like a lump of lard on a cast iron griddle. The company stopped carrying my preferred mix of high-priced chemicals so I stood in front of the lady section, trying to figure out if any of the other products might keep the home fires at bay.

It took a few minutes, and I wasn't enjoying myself.

As I squinted at labels printed in microscript, three other customers asked for help from the young man behind the counter. He looked like he could be Carrot Top's younger brother, sporting a strawberry blonde bowl of shaggy hair rather than bright orange curls, and wearing a thin white tee shirt to showcase his muscles.

All three customers were also young males, teenagers I'd guess, so the customer service was spot on. Baby Carrot clearly knew where they were coming from, after all, he WAS one of them. They were there for help. They had to find the stuff to take to improve their workout results.

One of them cited a particular elixir that had been deemed "illegal" for his football team to use. He was there in search of a replacement.

Another wanted something to give him lots of energy so that he could work out harder and longer. Lil Carrot had just the thing, describing the goods and assuring him that it would blow his head off.

And then there was me, flaming my way to the counter to chat about menopause.

I really just wanted to run away screaming, and not solely because of the ridiculous prices. Instead, I forked over the denaro for my Evening Primrose Oil and slunk away worrying.

What the heck is happening with these young guys? Why the need for supplements? Why not just exercise for health and well being? How safe is all this junk? What might the effect be long term?

And another question: When did the whole body image thing cross the great gender divide? Wasn't it bad enough already?

Stop it boys. Just stop it. Otherwise you might end up looking like this:


Sunday, October 20, 2013

My brain on rehab

A dear reader from days gone by emailed me yesterday to make sure I was alive, given that I've not posted on any of my blogs for some time.

(Thanks for checking on me Ike.)

We've been rehabbing a house since mid-August. The deadline for moving out of our cozy little Newburyport haven ticks closer with increasingly deafening tocks. My days have been filled with driving, painting, sanding, spackling, hammering, measuring, planning, complaining, and rejoicing. I am perpetually tired and my body aches in weird places.

My brain hurts worst of all. The inability to spend time capturing the thoughts ringing in my head feels like the build up of a gigantic mental sneeze. If it blows, it'll look something like this:


(Minus the bristly nose and mustache.)

Traditional wisdom says that I lack discipline, and that if I got up earlier, stayed up later, read less, and didn't spend time letting my brain congeal in the blue glow of a screen, I could get some writing done.

But the reality of deconstructing and constructing is mind numbing in a way I never imagined. The apartment is a shambles of half-packed boxes and listing piles of paper. The house is a construction zone with only days left before we move in. I'm logy from too much takeout food. My eyes are bleary from sheetrock dust and cost calculations.

So writing?

By the time I sit down in front of a keyboard with an inkling of an idea to capture, the vacuous call of Facebook proves irresistible, and 10 minutes later the idea is gone, or I'm no longer able to form a cogent sentence.

Which explains this spiritless and prosaic post. But doesn't excuse it.

Hopefully I'll do better in a month.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On damage, and growth


It's raining today.

Just a simple, steady rain. More than mere mist, less than a deluge. Hard enough that Charlie came home from our walk wet and raced around the house until I could towel him off.

I snapped this picture while we were out. It captures a section of sidewalk immediately below a section of damaged eaves trough.

The rain hits in this section particularly hard, and waters the wall enough to encourage moss growth in this spot alone.

It hits so hard that it's worn the smooth, top layer of cement from the courser stuff beneath. This wouldn't have surprised me if it occurred over the course of years. But that's not the case. This is a new sidewalk. It was poured in May, around the time when I posted about saving an inchworm.

The erosion illustrates how much damage can be done in less than 3 months. Not by scraping or pounding or sanding, just by the regular fall of rain, concentrated in a single place.

Erosion below. Growth of life above.

Monday, July 1, 2013

An arctic blast from the past

 I just had a weird encounter with my past.

Charlie and I were on our usual morning circuit. At the halfway point I noticed a man shambling toward us. He wore knee-length khaki shorts and a green tee shirt. The shorts were ragged on the bottom and speckled with paint, the tee shirt was color-leached and thin. He was solidly built and not very tall, and his light brown hair was cropped closely to his head.

A variety of scrapes were healing on his face. Scarlet slashes ran across his nose, and scabs crusted over on his forehead and one cheekbone. The older wounds looked like they might have been brush burns. There were other gashes, but I didn't want to stare. He would have noticed my eyes darting from laceration to laceration as we talked.

He said "This probably sounds strange but do you know if there's a dead end street near here?"

I began to answer, but he was still talking.

"Because I'm kind of at a dead end." He said with a lift of his eyebrows, a tipped shoulder, and a shaking of his head.

There is in fact a dead end nearby, and I tried to explain it. But his story needed telling.

"I'm trying to find something. I woke up without my wallet. And my job probably."

Me, helpfully: "Wow, that sucks!"

"Yeah. But I know there's a street that just comes to an end somewhere around here."

I started to tell him where it was again.

"I woke up without my keys or my wallet or my job." He repeats. "No phone. I don't really know what I'm going to do."

Me: "I have a cellphone. Is there anyone I can call for you?"

"No. I can take care of myself."

Me, still helpful: "Gee, I'm so sorry!"

He starts to turn back the way he came, following my directions.

"I'll pray for you!" I call out in a weird, cheerful tone.

He doesn't reply.

Charlie and I finished our walk, confident that my keys are in the basket atop the mantle at home, and my wallet in my purse. I wondered if I should have walked him to the dead end because my instructions had been so lame. The clamor of danger bells had quieted, but it still didn't seem like a good idea.

The whole event was an encounter with the past.

Years ago I was in a relationship with a man who had a drinking problem. He was a daily drinker, but every few months he'd come up with some mandatory work outing or guys-only function and I'd end up waiting at home wondering when he'd make an appearance. Sometimes it was still dark when he arrived, other times the sun would be up.

After one of these nights he weaved home shortly before dawn, and was snoring off his toxicity. Around mid-morning the doorbell rang. I was busy pacing around the house, steaming and waiting for him to be lucid enough to comprehend the rage I planned to unleash.

We lived in a bad neighborhood at the time. The kind of place where toddlers waddle down sidewalks at midnight and the sounds of fighting in the street wakes you at 3:00AM.

On this particular morning I went to the door and peered out so that I could decide whether or not to answer. A middle aged black man stood on the step. I didn't recognize him, but he didn't look scary so I opened the door. He smiled and held out a wallet, which he said he'd found in an even worse neighborhood than the one I lived in. He'd checked the license and brought it over. He was very nice.

It was my man's wallet, of course.

I got the story of his adventures later in the day, during his short "remorse" phase. Or I got -a- story. At that level of drunkenness it's hard to know how much he actually remembered, and how much of what he remembered he was willing to divulge. The story went like this. He and his buddies were doing shots of Tequila, which he claimed had a bad effect on him.

(No comment.)

As a result of the Tequila, he got into a fight with one of his superiors from work. He said something about wrestling around on an asphalt parking lot. That explained the brush burn across his nose.

Given where we lived, and that we were young, you might assume that he was a redneck, and ran in crowds where this sort of thing was common. If so, you'd be wrong. He worked for an investment firm.

Through a cloud of dehydration and poison he worried about losing his job. Just like the guy on the street this morning did.

He'd lost his wallet, just like today's guy.

Here's how I imagine last night went, here in lovely Newburyport. The man gets drunk and goes home with a friend to continue partying or to crash. Things get ugly. There is a tussle. Drunk guy makes his way to his car and tries to leave, but his friend has taken his keys. He falls asleep in the car, which must be a few blocks away. When he wakes up, he can't find his keys to go home, he doesn't remember where the house is other than having a hazy memory of a dead end street, and he has no idea what happened to his wallet.

And somehow, a boss or coworker is involved.

It's a cold, dark blast from the past.

Back then I wasn't a pray-er, and all my worry and anger and fear and resentment were channeled straight out of my mouth and directed at his head. A volley of sound and rage. If it were to happen now, I would have better mechanisms for managing. I would also recognize the futility and unkindness in demanding change from someone who is not able to do so.

This morning's encounter gave me a chance to go back and pray for that man, years ago, for all the healing he needed and may still need. To pray for this morning's man, trying to return to a location of shame while his head bangs and spins. To pray for all the men and women caught in cycles of addiction and deception, and for the people who love them and don't know what to do.

Good luck finding your dead end, Sir.

May it be the bottom out of which you begin to crawl toward the light.




Plan a Parade Crawl for your Holiday week!




I put the piece below together as a Merrimack Valley Magazine Little Bit, but space prohibited it's inclusion. Thought I'd post it here in case it is useful.

Have a wonderful holiday week!

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Parade season has arrived! Parades are a great, free outdoor activity for the whole family (if you can manage to resist the strolling street vendors). We’ve collected the dates for some of the parades around the region. Get them on your calendar now, and plan your own parade crawl!

7/3              6:00 PM      Gloucester, MA: Horribles Parade
7/4              9:30AM       Plymouth, MA: Independence Day Parade
7/4              10:00AM     Chelmsford, MA: Independence Day Parade
7/6              12:30PM     Pepperell, MA: Independence Day Parade
8/4              12:00PM     Newburyport, MA: Yankee Homecoming Parade
9/14           2:30PM       Pelham, NH: Old Home Day Parade
9/15            10:00AM     Billerica, MA: Yankee Doodle Homecoming Parade
9/21           10:30AM     Hollis, NH: Old Home Days Parade
10/27         1:00PM       Woburn, MA: Lion’s Club Annual Halloween Parade

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hot off the presses! (Let's get some shoes.)

Merrimack Valley Magazine just posted this picture on Facebook:


It shows some of the pages of the July/August issue, which includes my first Little Bitz pieces along with a story about traditional shoe stores in the valley.

Check out the cool shoe photo that the talented Kevin Harkins took at Pennyworth's in Newburyport!