Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Patience is a virtue, just not one of mine.

America, we are having the time of our lives on this trip. We had a close to perfect time in Ireland, although I admit that I have a few notes for a couple of the bed and breakfasts we stayed at, including this note: bed and breakfasts are just inherently kind of weird, a subject that I will perhaps engage at greater length at a later date, but for now, let me just say: coming into a stranger’s house, to sleep, and make/not make noise, and in general feel like an interloper, and they make you scones in the morning, and the eggs are just not quite right. But I digress.

Our Ireland trip was so good, and then the time came for our beloveds to fly back to America. We all said our goodbyes in the airport, and then the historian and I flew to London and paid an extravagant amount of money for a taxi because ugh, HEAVY BAG, and found ourselves dropped at a hotel’s front door. Possibly a hotel. A very nice, handsome young man begged our patience while he took a guest’s bag up the stairs. (I had read about this in the reviews: no elevators. No big deal, I thought.) He returned to look up my name, and lo, it was not there.

“May I see the booking number, please?” he said, respectfully.

I showed it to him. “Oh, you’re staying at the college,” he said, “not here.”

“Is that a hotel?” I asked, hopefully.

“It is not a hotel,” he said, firmly. “But you’ll be all right.”

We schlepped our bags (HEAVY) around the corner to the decidedly shabbier reception for the college. We retrieved our keys, then hauled the bags (&c) down the street a few more doors. “Georgian manors,” is a phrase the listing had said of the rooms. Well, maybe, but in fact what we had booked was a college dorm. A suite-ish, but still: college dorm-suite.

Oh, the flurry of feelings then to be articulated and aired! How furious was I? So furious. How terrible was it? Pretty terrible. Sort of terrible. Well, not terrible, just not delightful.

We poked around. The overhead light in the kitchen wouldn’t turn on. And although there was a washing machine—an amenity!—it would not work.

I called the phone number, which the young woman at reception had helpfully provided, with the assurances that I could call day and night if there was anything that needed to be attended to. I reported the outages with crispness, and asperity. “I’ll leave a note for facilities and they’ll see to it tomorrow,” she said, somewhat languidly, I thought, given the state of things.

We went out to get food. It was rather late, and we didn’t really have our bearings, since the address we thought we’d be staying at was actually halfway around the block, and who even KNOWS what north or south or east or west is, in London? Not a person who is staying in a college dorm, I can tell you that.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hightouchmegastore, why didn’t you just find another room, at a better hotel? Well, here’s the thing: we had only three days and four nights in London. Would it have been worth it (and would it have been worth it after all?) to work on finding other accommodations, and trying to decide about pursuing a refund for a room I purchased with points through a rewards portal (is that even a real thing? It totally sounds scammy, when I write it that way)? Well, maybe it would have been. In the end, though, we decided, over freekeh salads  (that *is* a thing, even though it sounds like fantasy world food) that we could at least give it a night and see. So we bought some yogurt and granola and strawberries and snacks at the Waitrose about seven minutes before it closed, and trekked back to our shabby digs, where we actually slept pretty well, and woke up to rooms that, though shabby, were light-filled, and decided we could make the best of it.

The next morning, a facilities guy did in fact show up and fix the wonky light in the kitchen. He was not, however, a washing machine fixit guy, he informed us. “If they haven’t fixed it in a week, give ‘em another call,” he advised.

I did not share with this handy person that we would likely never see the fruits of our having reported the non-functioning washing machine, since we’d be leaving sooner than a week. But I did share with the historian that I didn’t expect to see that washing machine working before we left. Once you’ve booked a college dorm room when you thought you were booking a hotel room, you lose confidence in the little graces.

Do you think this is my story’s happy ending—my new equanimity-stroke-cynicism? Well, it’s not. I am at this point, on the one hand, full of adventure and a strong sense of competence for having organized so many logistics for this trip (despite having booked a college dorm as a hotel, I’ll think about that later), and I am interested in walking very fast everywhere I go. In a word, I am impatient, raring to go and don’t slow me down, please. Meanwhile, to prepare for this trip, the historian systematically took care of a billion things, like the bills that would need to be paid while we were gone, getting the yard and the house ready for us to be gone, and  so many other things—so this morning, as we were getting ready to go, and we began talking about a money detail that necessitated, in his view, a call to our credit union back home, and I expressed myself in an impatient way that I regretted almost instantly, and said so. I felt anxious to make it right.

A couple of  hours or so later, when we had taken in the exhibit of Leonardo’s notebooks at the British Museum, I stood near a couple of giggly Italian women, and thought, ugh move along, gigglers. They were standing in front of one notebook folio, so close that no one else could even see the interpretive placard, just hogging the viewing space and giggling, and I admit it, I thought rude and uncharitable thoughts. I made what was probably an audible exasperated sound as I moved further along in the exhibit, where they weren’t taking up the space with their Italian giggling.

The historian and I sat in the cafe after that, to catch our breath after the intense museum-ing, and to check in with each other about what to do next—more in the British Library, or move along to the British Museum?

I recounted my exasperation with the gigglers. “They were just huddled so close to the glass, and you couldn’t even see the exhibit material. So rude! I thought to myself, quit your effing giggling and let me see the Leonardo pages!” I said to the historian . Then paused: “so that’s the person you’re married to.” (In the British Museum, there were so many people, so many that when I tried to navigate to the gallery with the thorn reliquary, then realized we were going the wrong direction, upon turning around as if a fish attempting to reverse course in a cascade of water, I said, in a cadence that escalated in volume, “This is UNACCEPTABLE.”

[“What was it I said on the stairs in the British Museum today?” I asked the historian, as I was thinking about writing this post.

“I think you said, ‘this is effing UNACCEPTABLE,” he offered.

“I don’t think I said effing,” I said. Hoping that I hadn’t, because I knew that the volume alone had been pretty aggressive.

This is who you’re married to, the historian. Seriously, I’m really so sorry.]

In case you’re wondering, they did come and fix the washing machine—the very afternoon after I had  expressed my grave doubts. And today, when we returned to our dorm, they had replaced that washing machine, which was actually working, with a brand new one, that created nothing short of a seismic event during the spin cycle. I’m still walking super fast and I will probably be patient when I’m dead. But it remains true that we are having a superb time, and the historian is really, truly,  the best of men.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

In which I have left my hermitage and ventured back into the city.

On the day before the very last day of my retreat I had a bit of a panic. On the one hand, I had come through my usual summer dip, wherein I discover, in a blaze of insight, that all my work is crap, it’s probably always been crap, why do I even both when it’s all crap, and there’s literally NO HOPE OR EVIDENCE that it will ever be anything but crap—are you with me? I came through all that, and found new focus and a better frame for the work I had come, verily, to Ireland to do.

On the other hand, I hadn’t done everything I thought I might do, i.e., write new poems, write revisions of all the old poems, finish all of it and have it ready, more or less, to win the universe. Did I really think I would do all that? No. But did I sort of really think I would? Yes. It’s my nature. I’m a maximalist. Why dream small when you can dream outlandish and impossible? is my motto and credo.

Also, the night before the day before my very last day, my sleep was interrupted by the long light, late and early, of my more northerly latitude. 

Anyway, what all of this meant—having come through etc., my maximalism and shoot the moon disposition, my lack of sleep—was that I could barely figure out where to start on getting anything at all going. A revision, a new poem, a new mood, a new outfit—anything at all.      

Late in the day, I went out for a walk, feeling rather out of sorts and possibly disgusted with myself. I ran into Will, one part of the dynamic couple that run The Moth and its various enterprises. He was taking a look at the lush hedgerow bordering their homestead.   

“How’s it going?” he asked.   

I offered an abbreviated version of the above. Possibly some of the out of sorts/disgusted with myself vapored off me.

He said, “But you’ve gotten a lot done, haven’t you?” 

I assented, with a shrug. “Sure.”

“And you’ve got the whole year off, don’t you?” he pointed out, helpfully.

And, reader, the sun burst through the clouds. Metaphorically, and literally. “True,” I said.

“You’ll be fine,” said Will, with a small encouraging smile, and off I went, and when I came back, I wrote a  big pile of notes for a new project, one that ties together an couple years old failed draft and its central gesture with a different subject matter, metaphors, and language, that works beautifully, I think I hope, with this current project. 

It was a gift beyond measure to be  able to to spend that time alone, to have that emotional crater and rebound from it, to find my way to new language and new poems-in-progress, and to do strong revisions of a number of poems. To be with my own self as a writer, to give priority to that. And it was something, to do it in this exact place, far from my usual diversions and entertainments and self-soothing mechanisms—it wasn’t just conducive, it was constitutive. I walked to that ruined abbey and round tower a couple of times, and seeing the time-wrecked place, abandoned and also not, with graves there dated as recently as the 2010s, helped certain questions and lines of inquiry about faith and its forms take a different shape.

Oh, how glad and grateful I am for this.

The day before I left, it was beautiful, sunny and balmy. We sat together in the garden as the evening fell, talking and laughing, then went into the kitchen for a little more conversation when it got a bit too chilly. It was perfect, the kind of perfect where you know things are coming to an end, but fittingly, and with such a conversation as an unsought blessing. The next morning, the family drove me into Cavan town to catch my bus back to Dublin. On the way, we passed a fantastic building, with a great dome, very imposing. 

Cavan Cathedral, can you believe it??

“What’s that?” I asked, gesturing.

“That’s the cathedral,” Will said. After a pause, “That’s where we were married.”

Really.” I said. I mean, not that people don’t get married places like that, but REALLY.

“All the Cavan celebrities get married there,” he said. 

Previously, I had seen Cavan in a jet lagged blur, and then really only the Aldi, where I bought oatcakes and whatnot. Everywhere you go, the reminders of what you have and haven’t done. No visits to the Cavan town sights, no Cavan celebrity weddings. On the other hand:

Swan.


Two and a half hours later, I disembarked and I dragged my giant bag (refrain of this entire adventure: I dragged my giant bag through the streets of [town]) from the Dublin bus station to my hotel—across the Liffey, down some blight-y streets, then into a lovely street where my hotel gleamed. Lo, my room was ready, so I could drop my [giant] bag and go out. I walked until my feet felt a bit the worse for wear. Then, I saw Late Night in the Irish cinema with a bag of popcorn and a diet 7Up, which felt approximately perfect after walking amidst the ruins and the swans and loughs and the wilds of my own emotional and imaginative life. 

I walked back on my the-worse-for-wear feet and ate a perfectly delicious dinner in the hotel lounge, cod and mussels and a delicious herbal-tasting tomato broth and colcannon fritters, dang! So good. I watched the US v France Women’s World Cup match, an excellent match, it must be said (and I am delighted with the outcome). Then fell asleep, first drawing the curtains so that I wouldn’t be awakened in the night by city light.

Friends: today is the Pride parade in Dublin! A factor which I had not calculated into my plans, or in my hotel choice. It turns out that the parade route goes right by my hotel, and the parade ends with festival activities on Merrion Square and environs, also right by my hotel. This explains why I sent this text to my daughter in Scotland, who happens to be in the same time zone as I am: 




Two salient points: fam is arriving, and soon! And I have plenty of snacks nearby! Next phase of international adventure, IGNITE!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A few remarks.

It’s evening here, right about solstice time, and it is still just as light as it can be:

circa 9 p.m., good grief

I am going to revise and/or make notes on a poem or two before I start reading and I hope fall asleep with relative ease and very few hiccups. Sleeping is, on this side of the Atlantic, not without its little ordeals. I’ve had a few blissful nights, but more where it was hard to fall asleep and then too easy to  wake up too early. I’m still working with all the potential variables: drawing the shades for the windows, hitting the right mix of the hour when I lie down, what to read, how long to read, and what about a snack? And don’t forget to do the dishes! &c.

I have reached the following points in my retreat trajectory:

1. Get things organized and tidy. Articulate an agenda.
2. Recognize that the agenda you have articulated is your placeholder agenda, are you kidding? Your real agenda has to emerge, from reading and writing &c &c.
3. Recognize that the “manuscript” you thought you had is basically worthless and almost all the poems are dross.
4. Recognize that you are a hack and everything is stupid and basically nothing you’ve ever done is any good.
5. And that’s where we are, currently.

Dispassionately, I know that this is par for the course. I don’t even have to have a retreat in Ireland to experience this delightful sequence of events. I basically experience it every single summer, which I know, because I’ve reread the journal I keep of such things.

On the plus side, the hedgerows and gardens are filled with stuff like this:

Pink.

I made a note to myself yesterday to try to sink into this place a little more. I took a longish walk yesterday, then did the same walk today, but in reverse. The road, which is a big circle, is mostly narrow, so it means paying attention to cars approaching from both directions, on the side of the road I don’t expect, but who’s counting.

Last week, my daughter proposed that a bunch of us make Spotify playlists of our top ten (plus one, potentially a ‘guilty’ pleasure) songs of all time. The big bonus of this is several playlists that have given me an intense hit of the person who made it, and that has been a real pleasure to me. I listened to two of those playlists today. (Here’s mine, in case you want to know). Anyway, I took my walk on the narrow road whilst listening to music and simultaneously remaining alert for cars, and that kept me going, I’ll tell you what.

The chickens are in their coop, and a few minutes ago, a magpie strolled up, to troll them, I think.

If I were in America right now, I would be planning which movie to see and also probably planning some guacamole for dinner. I would also have full access to my sweaters. But I wouldn’t have access to the full and extravagant range of my emotional world, vis a vis being a writer, and all that that implies. So, you know. On balance, it’s good I’m here.

It really is, though. I wrote a draft of something that is currently pretty lousy but is on the trail of something I think is productive. It would be much harder for me to have done this at home—to get started down a new road, narrow and full of unexpected approaches, because I would have been planning that movie and guacamole and would have had a whole mad wardrobe of sweater choices to distract me.

Well, all right. The goings on around here are mostly related to (a) flowers, (b) fowl of the barnyard, water, and song varieties, (c) strange noises in the night, (d) donkeys, (e) light sobbing, or (f) snacking. In regards to all of these, This is, such as it is, my report.

Guacamole-less in Ireland,

HTMS at your service.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Dispatches from my hermitage.

1. Toast is one of the best things ever invented by whoever invented it. I have two kinds of bread here, because bread is ALSO one of the best things ever invented by whoever invented it, and there is a chic little turquoise colored toaster in the kitchen, which does a fine, fine job. So what I’m saying is, I have toast at least once a day and usually more than that, so my data is fresh, and here are my findings: toast is one of the best things ever invented. By whoever invented it.


Also, the Irish butter I have on hand is excellent.

2. I am feeling it, the way my time does not coincide with the time of most of my people. I wake up to a group text that has fifty-six updates. I text someone and know that they will not see it for half a day, never mind the fact that maybe I shouldn’t text them at all because what if they are a light sleeper? And have some sort of haptic buzz (pretty sure that’s not how haptics work) set for when a text comes in? And my silly and inconsequential text wakes them up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. or some other ungodly hour?

On the other hand, I am in the same time zone as Scotland daughter, which means that we can chat at will, and it is great. BUT: she has a job and so, boo, I guess I shouldn’t bother her while she’s at work, I GUESS.

3. I am a discreet observer of life at this little country homestead. Right now, for instance, I can hear children’s voices. The other day, the two mules who live here went galloping by one direction, then galloped back the other direction. Chickens have a whole conversation of their own.



4. I wrote a draft of a poem today, who knows what to make of it? not me, certainly.

5. Reading like mad. So far:
  • Jericho Brown, The Tradition
  • Khadijah Queen, I’m So Fine
  • half of Sycamore, by Kathy Fagan
  • 7/8 of We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Many articles in these old New Yorkers.
  • Have begun Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
and possibly some other trash. Which I will keep to myself.

6. No television feels weird. Okay, but weird. Keeping it very quiet here. Which means I can hear all of the lovely sounds—the songbirds, the dog colloquy, the mule gallop, tractors huffing on the road, and so forth. 

7. Vegetarian sausage almost always oversells itself, tragically.

8. I used to say—I had this conversations with The Historian the other day—that in a democracy, it was one’s obligation to be an optimist. (And all that that implies—to do the work to bring a hopeful future into being—it’s not just the believing that will make it so.) Now, I’m thinking about this and this and this as I’m working on a poem (different one than dispatch #4 above) which may or may not be too fragile a vessel for all that thought, but I’m not done with it yet. It may yet become sturdy enough.

9. Is it time to go for a walk? I think it might be time to go for a walk. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Snacking & writing, writing & snacking.

Friends, when you are in the wilderness, or, say, the countryside, you have to lay in provisions. You have to bring half your life as measured in a vast weight of paper. You have to bring a certain number of shirts, and a certain number of shoes. And other clothing too numerous to enumerate, as the packing adage goes (too many tee shirts = just enough tee shirts). AND you have to buy food for, let’s say, a week—and, in an unfortunate turn of affairs, you must do this provisioning when you fully in the throes of jet lag.

Here are some things I bought at the Aldi in Cavan Town:

  • Fresh pasta
  • Two jars of jam
  • Two smallish loaves of bread
  • Basil, cilantro, mint
  • Salad leaves (as they call it over here—cress and other pungent flavors)
  • Two packages of fresh tomatoes
  • Asparagus, green beans, two long pointy red peppers, garlic, onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Packet of crisps
  • Two bars of chocolate
  • Two kinds of Irish cheese
  • Box of oat cakes
  • Milk
  • Extra nutty granola, luxury style (oh, the good granola over here! So good!)
  • Butter 
  • Almond butter
  • Irish strawberries and blueberries and some bananas
  • Some smallish yellow-skinned potatoes
and probably a few other things I can’t remember at the moment. Oh!
  • Vegetarian sausages
  • Greek yogurt, plain, two kinds
My hosts have provided me with eggs from their hens, who are, as we speak, roaming around the yard looking fairly smug. 

And I am doing okay, food-wise, to be honest. Here is how my day goes:

1. I get up. I make tea. I have a breakfast—yogurt and granola and fruit, plus toast with almond butter, or eggs and potatoes and toast. Either way: lovely. I love breakfast.
2. I begin my work. Today, some writing I’ve been sort of plodding away at really kicked into gear, and I am feeling good about that. I’ve also been reading a bunch of things—books of poems I brought, plus there are lots of interesting books around here.
3. I go for a walk at some point. Or yesterday, I went for a run. I used an app which meant that after each kilometer, my phone spoke to me. Fairly unnerving, I must say, the first time it happened. On the plus side, I actually ran four kilometers and that made me feel like a boss.
4. I have a snack lunch.

DIGRESSION: Snack lunch is amazing, and I am a big proponent of it. My snack lunches have so far consisted of:
  • Oat cakes
  • Some of my fine Irish cheese
  • A few tomatoes
  • Some Kalamata olives (add: Kalamata olives to the list of stuff I bought)
  • A cup of tea
  • Half a banana
  • Maybe instead of oat cakes, I have toast and almond butter. Or maybe I have both.
Whatever assortment of these things I eat, they are satisfying, and they make me feel right at home here and also like I am doing as the people do here, which, I have no idea if that’s really the case, I’m just an American, shutting herself up in a barn to write poems, not a cultural anthropologist with expertise in foodways. 

I might also have a spoonful of that jam, in honor of The Historian, who loves a spoonful of jam or so. Frankly, I have a hard time keeping us in jam—I’ll bring home a couple of jars and maybe a week later, I’ll be looking for some jam to stir into a bowl of yogurt, and there is no jam to be found, and TH will just shrug and say, I finished that off years ago, and I’ll be all, damn, I have a hard time keeping us in jam, and that’s how the jam situation is chez us. DIGRESSION OUT.

Friends, I have two things to say: 

1. I’m pretty sure that my snack regimen is the reason I am having the good writing day I’m having. (Maybe another factor is the small nap I took, on account of the fact that for the second day in a row, I could not get to sleep until the light at yon window broke around 5 a.m., LORD. Also another factor: the year-old New Yorkers laying around here, in which there are all kinds of riches, who knew!? Maybe I should read the magazine when it is delivered to my own mailbox at home, but who has time for that in ordinary life? I traveled across an ocean and seven time zones to have time for reading the New Yorker, apparently.

2. I’m a little worried about my oat cakes stores. I have eleven oat cakes left! That’s three snack lunches plus a more paltry snack lunch!

Obviously, I can find my way to a store to re-provision up. In which case, I might also find some cookies. There are no cookies in my house and I don’t know how I’m supposed to have writing breakthroughs without them, if you ask me. 

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