Sunday, May 31, 2015

The difference.

Today was my writing group, at my house. It's the last day of May. I haven't been teaching, and more importantly, grading, or going to (many) meetings, or writing reports, for weeks. Which meant that last night, when I thought about what I might make for my writing group's lunch, I felt like this:


instead of like this:


Oh what a difference the end of May makes! (also: the poem-a-day project for April, the cruelest month, is a good one, because you always have a poem to bring to writing group. Just fyi.)

Well, anyway, I also had this thought, expressly shared with me by Jamie Oliver, and also his ten kajillion Instagram followers:

this is a personal message to me from Jamie O. He knows how I feel
about cake.

It is, and I quote, a 'proper classic school dinner dessert,' whatever that means, and also 'one of those loyal and humble cake recipes that is pure nostalgia through and through.' In other words, 'Jammy Coconut Sponge.' So good. It's a sponge cake made with butter and eggs, with freshly made blackberry jam, and coconut pressed on and all around it. It was fantastic--I highly recommend this loyal and humble cake. (We also happen to have leftovers.)

Also: Nicoise salad, and pineapple with mint sugar. And bread and cheese.

I got up early-ish and went to the store, bought all the ingredients, and in an unhurried fashion made the cake, the jam, and assembled the thing. I roasted the asparagus, beets, and potatoes for the Nicoise, and washed the lettuce and sliced the scallions and the radishes. I whipped some cream for serving the cake.

And printed my poem, of course.

We had a lovely time. And then I took some naps. Because that's how Sunday, at least today, the last day of May, rolls.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On grief.

We spent a good part of today at a funeral. Our close friend and his family lost their daughter and sister.

All day, I kept thinking of the injunction from my faith tradition's scripture, to mourn with those that mourn; but also of how we have such awkward language for thinking and talking about death. On a day like today, that scripture felt like, perhaps, the only adequate words, for the terrible loss, for the way the living go on in the face of it, for the longing afterward, and for what any of us could do to help.

When the service was over, and the interment, there was food waiting--the Mormons at the church house next to the cemetery had prepared it. People from every sector of the mourners came in, in bunches and pairs and threes. We sat with people we knew, and after awhile, our friend came over holding a plate of food. You could tell he felt he should talk to us and listen, but we told him to eat, we just wanted to sit with him. So he ate, and we sat with him. That's all, and for those few minutes it felt almost, briefly, all right.

Tonight, I am thinking of him and his family, and also of my dearest friend, who recently lost her son. These words, inadequate as they are, are for them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Very short letters.

Dear leftover half of my burrito,

Today, you were in my thoughts. You were my ace in the hole. I had you in mind the whole time I was out and about, mailing off a packet of poems, paying my library fines, working out. And when I came home, sweaty from all of the above, you were just as good as I hoped you would be.

And thank you for being a whole burrito before you were a half--that way, there was enough of you to give joy two days in a row. However. I now have to point out that even though you were the best, now you're gone, which quite honestly makes me resent you. I'd prefer it if there were always, or nearly always, half a leftover burrito, waiting for me in the fridge.

Please organize your brethren, the legion leftover halves of burritos, and deploy a small squadron of yourselves to replenish my supply.

I said please, but I really mean just do it,



Dear two scarves that came in the mail yesterday,

I love you. I love you because you are summer scarves, and because one of you is yellow and the other is red. I love you because one of you is linen and one of you has perforations. I love you because you arrived in a tidy package, and just two days after I ordered you.

Scarf in the mail day is always a good day,



Dear packet of poems,

I hope that you are humming 'Up All Night to Get Lucky' whilst wending your way to the editors who will decide your fate. I don't know if you can hum, but I feel like you could hum, if only silently, to yourself.

Oh, just do it. I mean: please.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Soup and bread.

Today I spent a lot of time with this guy, and all the people who talk about him:

Francis Bacon A Terrible Beauty from Feenish Productions on Vimeo.

It was a quiet day. I told a friend, with whom I briefly chatted, that I feel like I've been waiting for this--for the quiet, when I could sink into the project of a poem--for such a long time. It was wonderful.

I made my breakfast and read the paper. I set to work. I retrieved a book I have about Bacon and his studio. I read multiple accounts and interpretations of the studio reconstruction, the moving of the studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

I realized I didn't have an idea for the beginning of the poem. That's okay. What's wonderful to me about this process is that sometimes the poem comes to you, overtakes you, the shape of it and most of the words or tropes, and you just channel that overtaking and get it written down. After that, you can revise and revise away. But sometimes, the idea of a poem crystallizes slowly. Layers and layers, arriving in stages. Once, Larry Levis, in a workshop, told another poet that his draft was one of those that you could work away on for awhile, a slow process, like making stock for a soup. You would work on it but it would need time to develop. The way he talked about it, it sounded like pleasure.

I had a day filled with this pleasure.

I also had lunch with my son, where we talked about basketball. When we got home, we took a look at one of the couches in our living room--Bruiser had, in his goings and comings, basically disarranged the entire cushion set up. Also, the cushions looked dingy. We agreed, basically on a dare, to take the coverings off and wash them. They are hanging dry as we speak, much brighter and cleaner. Also, I vacuumed copious amounts of dog hair in the bed of the couch. Wow, is all I can say.

And made carrot soup and corn bread. The carrot soup had onion and garlic, some sweet peppers and a jalapeƱo, all sweated in olive oil then simmered in stock, then blended. Coriander and cumin as well. The corn bread, I made in a pie tin. It's a recipe I have been making for decades:

1 1/4 c. flour
3/4 c. corn meal
a little sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/4 c. safflower oil

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry with a whisk with a few strokes, till the batter is almost smooth but not quite. Bake at 375 for 25 min. or so, till a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Butter, honey, etc.

I want weeks and weeks with days like this in them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Notes on glass houses.

I'm thinking about glass houses, because I am working (nominally) on a poem about the radical insufficiency of art.

The house on the bottom row, second from the left, is designed by Carlo Santambrogio, and is located in Milan.

It's a concept house--nearly everything in it, except the bed, is made of glass. It's theoretically livable, though--the exterior walls are thick, and sealed, and it can be heated.

I'm thinking about two things: first, the idea, one that I can't place definitively (a visiting scholar years ago when I was a grad student at the U talked about it, I think), that in the psychodrama of human existence, a common trope is that of mistaking a threat for a shelter. And second, the idea of art and art spaces as being shelters, temporary, that substitute in the moment for the shelter we need. Which, of course, is never quite available.

A third thing: Frost, writing in "Directive," about a lost home:
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
and in a town that is no more a town.
And a fourth thing: this discussion of how Philip Johnson and his companion David Whitney actually lived in the series of structures on the 49 acre Glass House compound. This note
The house was astonishingly tchotchke-free. "I don't think clutter was allowed," the painter Jasper Johns, a friend of both men, once said. "One was always aware of their ruthless elegance."
I find particularly telling, since my own house is not tchotchke-free, in fact it is the opposite of that, and in fact, I believe that it is in that tchotchke-ness that my house's artistry resides.

One more thing: I'm thinking about the Francis Bacon reconstructed studio in the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin. I wish I had had time to visit it when we were there. That art space--the art made in that studio, the studio itself as a home--seems, if not sufficient, at least approaching sufficiency.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I had the best day.

First of all, I woke up and the pink roses outside my window arched along their thorny boughs in their full extravagance. Second, I made oatmeal and read the paper. Third, the house was quiet as I contemplated my day. I already had a plan, but I still had time to contemplate it. That's actually the fourth thing: a plan, and time to contemplate it.

I went to school (i.e., work), but first I went to Target (the sixth good thing). My plan, the one I had already made and then contemplated, was to finish printing the full edition of my class's publication. I had six or seven broadsides from each student that had not been through the etching press, and thus had no monoprint upon it. Because the semester (at least for English classes) has not yet started, I knew, or hoped, that the Publication Center would be mostly quiet, and that I would be able to print in that quiet.

Let me pause to say that I have not ever printed all by myself on the etching press. We got that etching press last summer, and it is a beauty, and I have printed with my colleague the inestimable Kat Allred, but I have not done it all by myself. But I really think that, with things like this, you need to have a solo adventure, first of all to summon up and practice what you actually do know how to do, and second, to recognize where you still need to learn.

I got there, and I was right: mostly quiet, mostly alone in the Center. So I began. I retrieved the broadsides with words but no images from my office. I retrieved the linocuts that would be the matrices for the monoprinting. I got out the inking plate and the ink, the brayer and the knife. I summoned up the spirit of Kat and I squeezed some ink--not too much--on the plate. I used the knife to spread the ink so that it was even, then more even, and then I used the brayer to make sure the ink was in a thin, thin layer.

I planned out how to make four prints at a time, using four different matrices on four different broadsides. I worked my way through six or seven prints of each broadside, then moved/changed the matrices on the press bed.

The ink I used was Caligo, Process Blue. It is an indescribably beautiful blue. As I used it, I learned what this ink looks like, and what the subsequent print looks like, when there is slightly too much (very blue, deep deep indigo, and a little blurry), and what it looks like when there is slightly too little (a gorgeous cobalt, a little faded around the edges). I also saw what it looked like when I had just the right amount of ink (perfect).

I made a little over a hundred prints today. I felt my amateurism as I was making them. I felt myself learning. Outside the tall windows of the Center, I could see rain falling. I fell into the spell of that blue and I washed my hands many times with blue soap, to remove the traces of the ink on my skin. Then I started again to take the tattoo of the amateur printer, blue spots on fingertips, as I moved the words to face their inked matrices, turned the crank, the cylinder rolling over it all, and lifted the pages, a little tacky, from their ineffable blue pictures.

Monday, May 25, 2015


I hate to say it, but on our way down to Arizona, I kind of had a small tantrum at the airport.

Let me diagram it for you. Because I had my reasons.

1. What is the point of checking in online and printing one's boarding passes from home if you just have to check in again at the kiosk at the airport? I ask you.

2. Why are the passable restaurants and food purveyors always not sited at the concourse from which one's flight departs?

3. Other minor issues that are, in fact, too petty to mention.

Of course, in the end, we arrived, the airport traumas are behind us (BUT NOT FORGOTTEN!), and that was that.

However, today, on our way out of Arizona, at Sky Harbor International Airport, I was happily surprised to find all sorts of nice things:

  • An artsy gift shop that had, among other things, robots made out of recycled materials. "So it's environmentally sustainable," said the clerk.

  • Art installations, like this one, of cyanotype prints sewn into clothing:

  • even a little gallery, which had some pretty great stuff:

Also, the security line was quick and untraumatic. And I found a salad called "Big Fancy Salad" at a restaurant on my concourse that was pretty darn good, including the fact that it had delicious, delicious cannelini beans. 

Still an airport, but as airports go, the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport made me hate airports just a little less today. In the end, I kept my airport tantrum tucked away for the next time an airport fills me with rage. 

The Sundays.

We have had the best time here, some of it constructed out of little contingencies. This happens when you're visiting over a series of days--you may think you have your days planned, or at least a rough outline of activities, but things change, things happen, stuff you didn't expect becomes part of the architecture of the visit.

Today, I had a lovely, on the fly breakfast visit with a friend who lives in Tempe. I wasn't sure it would fit, but it did, and for a couple of hours, we talked about teaching writing and the ways we were each thinking about genre and assignment design. It was perfect, including the fact that we ate breakfast.

While I was gone, everyone else went to a park, except for my son, who had a church meeting. When I got home, after driving around Tempe

[see above for map of how I navigated Tempe, before I found my way home after a couple of corrective phone calls]

it was time for everyone to eat lunch and to don their church togs and then, in fact, to go to church. I like going to church with my kids. It reminds me of when they were younger and things were different. Anyway, we went, listened to an interesting if desultory sermon, and my son and I chatted in the foyer.

After church: what to make for dinner? What to make for dinner is the ultimate contingent decision. Even when you've just gone shopping, maybe the dinner solution is not apparent. Luckily, soft tacos. After that: feed the chinchillas. Yes, chinchillas: friends who have two pet chinchillas were out of town, and my son and family were doing the caretaking duties. In case you want to know, chinchillas have a diet of chinchilla-specific food pellets, straw of some sort, and lettuce.

Then, because it was the end of a church-y day, and therefore the kids needed to run off some energy, we went to a park and played soccer. The light was beautiful and the weather, just as it has been the whole time we've been here, was perfect.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Errands & a plan.

I am big on the idea of a plan, as readers of this blog may remember. I am also a believer in the notion of a routine. It's like a mini-, quasi-religion with me, and especially in the summer time.

The following is a reenactment of my mental state, come summertime:

Me, speaking to myself, silently. In my brain: Okay. First of all, what is my plan? What are my goals? How many weeks are there in the summer? How many have I already spent doing nothing, or finishing my grades, or taking naps? Speaking of naps: I want a nap to be a part of my routine. Like, daily? Maybe daily is too much. A 45 minute nap wouldn't be too much. Also, I want to work out. Beginning of the day? end of the day? Why am I thinking about working out, when the most important thing of allll is writing? I want to write every day. Even a little bit every day. How much is a little bit? Is 45 minutes a day too little? That seems like too little for the most important thing of alllll. Okay, 3 hours. Every day, three hours, or sometimes a little less. So: when should I write and when should I work out? Also, I want to cook every day. Also, I want to organize all my books.

It gets a little crazy up in there.

One of my plans/goals/agendas for coming down to talk to my son about his plans/goals/agendas. Not that he needs my help, realistically. I just feel better knowing everyone's plans/goals/agendas. Seriously: like everyone's.

Reenactment of my mental state about everyone's plans/goals/agendas:

Me, speaking to myself, silently. In my brain: I just want to know everyone's plans/goals/agendas. It will help me sleep at night. Is this so much to ask? (insert extra question marks, for emphasis.)

As you can imagine, I don't get nearly the amount of plans/goals/agendas, submitted for my database, as I would like. But it's also true that, from time to time, I have to remind myself that, while a certain amount of planning and goal-setting and agenda-making is useful and healthy, a lot more flexibility, looseness, roll-with-it ease is even more useful and more healthy.

Today we walked around Tempe Town Lake, where we saw a heron, a bunch of ducks and duck-like birds as well as what seemed like an enormous hawk flying overhead. Also, we got buzzed by a rogue ensemble of irritated bees, which caused us to flee from a shelter where we had been briefly sitting. We--seriously--called the cops on these insects, because my son, no bee-hater, informed me that there is some situation with the bees at ASU. I wasn't quite clear on this, but the dispatcher didn't seem to think this was a joke. A few minutes after the call, some officials came by to check the bee situation out. We weren't nearby, so I can't report what the discussion was like, but I imagine a little something like this:

Reenactment of the bee cops, examining the bee situation:

Bee cops, talking to each other: These bees seem pissed. Better back away. I'm putting up the 'Angry Bees: Beware!' sign [flees]

I realize I'm talking a lot about bees. Our encounter was actually quite brief. But we took another route, we retraced our steps across the bridge. We threw some stones into the lake. And our day ended up pretty great, with sandwiches and, later, really delicious Middle Eastern food, and stories at bedtime, all agendas and plans and goals and angry bees aside.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Here in Tempe, the schools are out this week. One of my grandsons' school was out on Wednesday. The other's last day was today, and his mother, my daughter-in-law, who is a first-grade teacher, also had her last day today.

We went to pick the school boy up. His mom the teacher would stay a little longer to finish putting away her classroom for the year. Children were lined up for the bus and saying goodbye to each other and their teachers. I saw a few kids who looked like they'd shed a few tears.

Putting away the school year, for a teacher, is such an enormously freeing feeling. My oldest friend, who is also a teacher, has said that she needs to have a day or two to curl into a fetal position and cry, releasing herself, and then the summer can start. I remember--as if it were only yesterday, or two weeks ago!--when I woke up the day after having posted my grades. I checked my online course spaces a little nervously, once, twice--and then, at once, I felt like it was over, it was finished, and everything else could begin.

We got celebratory snacks, played Mario Bros. (you guys, I am the worst.), then went out to dinner. After that, we went to the movie in the park. Everyone was in such a good mood. People chatted throughout. My grandson wanted to discuss the reality--or rather, the non-reality--of mermaids. (The park movie was The Little Mermaid.)

"They would have to breathe underwater forever, and that just wouldn't work," he explained to me, with some intensity.

"What if they had gills, though?" I asked.
"That's not happening," he said. Very decisive. He had issued a science ruling on the matter, and that was that.
Even so, in our little park territory, it was a singalong Little Mermaid. Some of us knew all, or almost all, the words.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Often, in May, we've found ourselves in Scotland. We've worked it out so that we can leave as soon as our school is out. This year, my daughter in Scotland is doing training to be able to teach in Scottish elementary schools, and is currently placed in a school for the whole month.
What this means is that the order of things to which I've become accustomed is upended. I'd like to be able to tell you that I didn't pout about this for a minute or a few weeks. Just like, having had some successes, big ones, come my way poetry-wise doesn't mean that this morning when I was sending off groups of poems to magazines I wasn't gripped with feelings of unworthiness, cynicism, and maybe even nihilism. Poetry-wise.
Well, these things come and go. But right now I am feeling so many compensatory joys: the aforementioned successes can be brought back to a grateful mind. Also, the roses are in bloom, and iris. Often, when we return from Scotland at the end of May, the first bloom of plenty of things is almost concluded. This year, we're here to enjoy it.
We're in Tempe, having just arrived, for a visit with my son and his family. My daughter is having a baby soon, and I'll be here to snuggle her and help out a little or a lot. I got to take her and little Gwen to buy an advanced wrappy-thingie that will make holding the baby close while still doing this or that much more possible, and while we were at it, we bought a berry-flavored Refresher at Starbucks for the road.
And I've been able to work on my manuscript, and I just got the first look at the cover and layout of my book.
So: joys. You just have to let go of your pout and your anxiety enough to see them.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Things under consideration.

1. Chris Hemsworth's arms and general Thor-ishness.

2. Mark Ruffalo, the very best The Hulk of all the Hulks.

3. Okay, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, full stop.

4. The fact that I am possibly, maybe, getting a little bit stronger.

5. The fact that I am not working at the moment, at least not at my job job, and thus, I can be firm about the need for flexibility--i.e., my need for flexibility--when I am asked to work work at my job job. ('job job' is kind of fun to say.)

6. Today is the birthday of both Timothy Olyphant and Matt Czuchry--all hail the hotness.

7. The splendor that is the SLCC Publication Center, where I made little bound notebooks today for various people.

8. How thoroughly daunting it can feel to gather one's wits and one's poems to begin sending them out again.

9. HOWEVER with superior mental toughness and so forth, the dauntingness can be contained.

10. i.e., I am sending out packets of poems tomorrow.

11. Vanilla Icebox Cookies.

12. Rain.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not that I'm counting.

While we were watching, sort of, the Golden State-Houston game (game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals, for those of you not paying attention)(what a game! promises to be a great series.), I noted the historian counting silently.

'What are you counting?' I queried.

'How many weeks there are in the summer,' he replied.

He liked to keep track of things, and especially, he likes to keep track of how much time I will have to do what I like in the summer. He is zealous in his pursuit of my having a summer that is optimal, because he thinks that I do too many work-related things in the summer, and thus my summer will be less that fully restorative. (He is pretty amazing, and this is but one of the reasons why.)

He has a point. For one, I went to work both yesterday and today, to do work-related things. And point two, this is, effectively, week two of the summer. There are approximately sixteen, by my count, and while I don't want to get into the game of evaluating my summer while I'm having it (oh, how I don't want to do this! no better way to make summer feel anxious!), I am hoping to do less of going to work and more of not going to work.

Point three, this morning, I woke up to an email from a student (not mine) who is anxious to get into the Publication Center and get help on a publication project that has a deadline (also not mine)! Good grief.  Point four, I am also going into work tomorrow.

Well, enough of that. Today, I visited my salon genius to get my hair shaped up, and I also went to a movie with my beloved aunt Sal today, Hot Pursuit, which was about what you'd expect--a summer vehicle that wasn't quite as funny as it should have been, but still funny, at least intermittently, and we both enjoyed ourselves, and sat around talking afterward, getting a down payment on a let's-get-caught-up chat. She had an ice cream and let me take bites. Lots of fun.

Then I went and worked out, came home, got a shower, and went out for a reception thing downtown for a visiting Mexican film tour. That sounds kind of deluxe, doesn't it? except for the showering and going downtown for the second time today part. Even so. The reception was at a fancy Mexican restaurant, the hors d'oeuvres were swanky, I did my member-of-the-board duty, and it was fun.

In conclusion, I also had an outfit that made me feel swell for a rainy day in May:

taking pictures of yourself in a window? #narcissistic.
great outfit? #requiresaphoto.
that's all.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A few thoughts on sleep, with inexact metaphors.

The people, these days, I have been resting an awful lot. Not today, not particularly. Today, I had breakfast with a poet friend, and then went to the Film Society for a couple of meetings, and then met with my colleague. And then drove out to a southwest corner of the valley to fetch my cell phone, but never mind. But yesterday, Sunday, I slept like nobody's business, pretty much all day long.

I think I am catching up on the sleep I haven't been getting for months. It feels compensatory. It feels like a kind of balancing of the books. It's like my sleep accounts have been depleted, like the way I was living my life was basically going to the Sleep ATM and withdrawing hours and hours and never putting any back. Does that metaphor even make any sense? I can see that it mostly doesn't, but I do feel like I have robbed myself--but why would I do that?--of something necessary and precious, and now I am going to sleep until I have paid myself back.

There is nothing so purely wonderful as falling into sleep--easily and without anxiety, just drifting into that dark, quiet place. That's what it has felt like as I have fallen into sleep over and over again, with no resistance, no fretting. Just falling into the dark.

I think I had my brief cold last week as a means of ensuring that I would do nothing, nothing whatsoever, but resting.

Currently, I am rereading a young adult book that I've read many, many times before. It is the perfect company for my sleep binge.

This sleep, it feels simultaneously like a luxury, like a kind of indulgence, but also like drinking water until a thirst is slaked. It feels like both things. Not that I feel I have much choice about it, but I am going to sleep until I have had my fill, until I am no longer indebted, but paid in full.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday morning: coffee cake.

Some Sunday mornings, you're the second to last person out of bed. First, your beloved, because for some inexplicable reason he woke up at quarter to seven. The last will be your son, because he just rolled back into town and was out late late late.

So you're in bed, half-sleeping, half-thinking. You have to shake off the dream where you're having your oral examinations for the Ph.D. you abandoned a long time ago, and also some other high-stakes exam that, in the light of day, you can't quite identify. No. No exams, no need to reschedule one to accommodate the other. So, whew, you know?

The next question, after dispensing with anxious dreams, is always, always what shall I make for breakfast?

"Sometimes, thinking about what I'm going to eat for breakfast is what gets me out of bed in the morning," I told the historian a couple of days ago. He laughed, but I'm serious. That's why, when the cupboards are bare, it's tricky to start the day.

But my cupboards are not bare, because I have flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and whole milk plain yogurt.  Which means I can make coffee cake.

When I was a child, I had the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys & Girls. In fact, I still have it, having recently acquired a copy in better shape than my childhood copy, which I also still have, with the black grease pencil marks by the cookie and other recipes I wanted to try. That cookbook relied rather heavily on convenience foods that happened to also be branded Betty Crocker, but it was nonetheless inspiring. I made all sorts of things out of it and it is one of the formative books of my youth and even my identity. I'm pretty sure that this cookbook was the place I first heard of coffee cake.

As the version of The Joy of Cooking that I use frequently notes, on the subject of coffeecake: "Coffeecakes are a nice excuse for eating cake any time of day. We subscribe to the illusion that cinnamon and nuts--in the form of streusel--or blueberries have the power to transform the richest cake into breakfast fare." To this, I say: yes, and Sunday morning is the best possible time for such illusion to become breakfast.

I offer the following, the very recipe I use and which my children--particularly my daughter in Louisiana, whom I wish had been here to have a slice or three with me--love.

[click to enlarge]

NOTE: if you use yogurt, make every effort to have whole milk yogurt. It is better and makes the whole thing taste better. I hope that we're all getting over this notion that low-fat is better automatically. Whole foods, people: whole foods (and I don't mean the store).

NOTE 2: My streusel is stripped down and I stand by it. Since you use 4 T. of butter for the cake batter, I use the other 4 T. in the stick to make the streusel. Today, I grated the cold butter using my box grater--pretty genius, although this technique works best when the butter is straight up frozen. So: 4T. cut up or grated butter; 1/2 c. flour, 1/4 c. sugar, brown or other; a little bit of cinnamon. Mix it up till it's nubbly. If you have grated the butter, then just mix it up. Press it evenly on top of the cake batter. #easy

Friday, May 15, 2015

Today: the facts.

1. I wore a white dress.
2. I saw two movies.
3. A red cardigan arrived in the mail.
4. Also, two books of poems.
5. I submitted my manuscript and also four poems to a journal.
6. I made and ate pancakes.
7. I answered my own questions about three different poems, partly by cutting stuff and partly by relineation.
8. I ran to and from buildings in the rain.
9. I ate Vietnamese noodles and read poems.
10. I laughed at a cat video.
11. I wrote, edited and submitted a panel proposal.
12. I ate a tostada with the historian (he ate chiles rellenos)
13. We walked the dog.
14. I chatted with my daughter in Scotland.

And now it is time for bed.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Short letters.

Dear sleeping in till eleven,

(dramatic reenactment of my
morning wakeup time.)
Let's start with the fact that before you, there was 'waking up at 3:30,' and then 'still awake at 4:30,'
and then 'getting up to read till 5:30.' It was like Stations of the Insomnia around here, the tossing, the turning, the remorse over too much, perhaps, cold medicine, and whatnot and thus and so. Blah, is all I can say about this sequence of the 'am I asleep yet?' stratagem.

However, after I got up at 7:30-ish, rehearsed to the historian this sorry little set of events for which he himself was blissfully asleep, more power to him, I ate a bowl of shredded wheats of the frosted variety, and read some of the paper, and saw him off to work. Then, I brushed my teeth and found my way back to bed.

That's when you, sleeping in till eleven, became today's bff, and how mighty and awesome you were and are. I am not overstating the case, not in the slightest.

Still finding you delicious in retrospect at 10:30 p.m.,



Dear my new shoes,

(Not my actual shoes.)
You are perfect.

Let me be specific: first, you have height. Second, you are sculptural. Third, you are bronze. Fourth, you are leather. Fifth, you are shockingly comfortable, for sculptural shoes with height. Sixth--and this is not more important than the fifth specific, but it rivals the fifth specific--you make everything I wear look instantly more magnificent.

You are the kind of purchase that makes me worry about what will happen when you wear out. I know it's ridiculous, but I kind of want to buy a back up pair.

I won't, but it will be hard,



Dear revising my manuscript in perfect quiet,

(in the interests of full disclosure,
my actual new manuscript is not this fat.)
How I have waited for you. How you have gleamed from far off, the desideratum of my work worn
days. How poetic you seem, so much that you lead me to say things like 'how you have gleamed from far off' and use words like 'desideratum' and phrases like 'my work worn days.' How, in a word, I have  yearned for you.

Today, after I woke up at eleven, there you were: my manuscript, waiting for me in the quiet, with my notes dispersed all over you, the record of my many voicings of you, potent but silent.

You did not disappoint.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Time for another dose.

After getting up and going to the Living Wax Museum at my grandson's elementary school--

Deacon as Albert Einstein.

all the kids were re-enacting historical figures, from Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart to Harry Houdini and Abraham Lincoln--you pressed the green button and they would tell you all about themselves--after that, I went on home to resume my role in a play entitled The Post Semester You Betta Rest Blues. It's a revival. We do it every May at the megastore.

Today's rendition involved a mid-morning nap, consumption at regular intervals of the generic Cold & Flu Mucinex, a certain amount of laying around, a brief rally in which I considered my manuscript, another brief rally in which I cleaned and straightened some shelves in the bathroom cabinet, and then some more laying around. Watching a few episodes of Veronica Mars, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. If you haven't ever watched it, I recommend that you get right on it.

I considered thinking about the semester, as in: did I do all I could do? etc., but in the end, laying around was more of an all-consuming activity, leaving only a paltry amount of brain energy. Insufficient, really, for soul searching. I'm about to get back to laying around right now.

By the way, I recently ran across this on my cousin's college-age daughter's Facebook feed:

I'm telling you, this is priceless.

You guys. I would never have coded myself an introvert. But hey, according to this map, I'm at least halfway there. This post-semester letdown/breakdown is getting my in touch with the 'I want to be alone so I can sleep' that is, evidently, at the core of my being, at least for now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In the last five minutes before the grading deadline falls, I shall

consider the unknowability of all other humans, for what they do as students is inexplicable to me, including

  • attending class right until the very end, but nonetheless not turning in the one thing that will give them a passing grade
  • not dropping the course even though they have long since stopped attending
  • writing beautiful work--beautiful!--then disappearing, despite my plaintive entreaties to come back, come back--
and so on.

However, what I will not do in the last five minutes before the grading deadline is grade. Because I am finished.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A little ode to almost.

Almost is not bad. In fact, it's actually, usually, pretty good.

Like when you say, I almost died of hunger...but I didn't. I didn't die of hunger. Instead, I lived!

Monday was the day I thought I would be finished grading. Instead, I am almost finished grading.

Or another way to put it is: the end of grading will actually happen on Tuesday.

Since I am no Pharisee, I made today a hybrid day. I graded, I cleaned, I worked out. Also, we ate leftover

Thai food. And I took a nap. That's because almost really set me free from the tyranny of I will or else. 

But tomorrow, I gotta. I really really gotta.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ten things I love about my mom.

Listen, I know it--Mother's Day--is problematic. But I'm going to go ahead and love on my mom, not that I need a special occasion for that, but on the other hand, a special occasion can't hurt:

1. She knows how to do things right. That goes for her hairstyle, her outfit, a dinner party, making people feel welcome, staying in touch with friends, decorating a Christmas tree, making hand-dipped chocolates. When she does it, it's beautiful and right, and that is a gift, my friends, a gift for living a good life.

2. She plays her piano every day. Because she has a piano, she knows how, and that beautiful instrument makes her happy. On top of that, she has a beautiful voice.

3. She watches out for my dad. Not that the man can't watch out for himself, but he does like to sneak a snack that is not on the approved list.

4. She loves flowers and likes to show them to me when I visit. I am always delighted to get a tour of the garden.

5. She checks in on me. I can get in a whirl sometimes and not stop to touch down. I get a text or an email from my mom, and that reminds me that life is more than that whirl.

6. She had a pair of orange patent leather slingbacks in the sixties. I know, because I played dress ups in them. They were rad.

7. Same time period, she had a pink sharkskin mini. That's right. Mini. She was happening, the people.

8. Because, when she was growing up, money was tight, one of the symbols of plenty for her is a drawer full of clean, fresh socks.

9. Strawberry jam. She knows how to make it, and it is good.

10. She is no nonsense. She is good and she is kind, but she is also tough, and I so admire this about her. Not a whiner, unlike some people we could mention.

BONUS: once, when she had had surgery for an aneurysm in her brain, I was standing nearby as she was coming out of anesthesia. She was pretty sleepy. She opened her eyes and saw me. I had her hand in my hand. She closed her eyes again and smiled and gave my hand a little squeeze. That's a perfect little synecdoche--the part standing for the whole--of my mom, and how I know she loves me, and why I am so glad that I am hers.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! You are the best of the best of the best.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

In the rain.

I bought a bowl of lettuce plants for my mother.

I bought two bunches of peonies, one white, one pink, that are now on my kitchen counter.

I drove my son to the airport, and then drove from one valley to another.

Got briefly lost, since my sister's house had apparently shifted in its coordinates.

Drove home. Read a poem on my phone while idling in road-work-that-was-not-actually-happening.

Bought batteries.

Slept for an afternoon hour.

Graded and then we drove to get Thai food.

Graded some more.

Added some notes to a poem that may or may not be forming on the horizon, like a greatening cloud.

I considered whether it was too cold and/or too wet to take the dog for a walk.

We took the dog for a walk.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Clearing the decks

is a metaphor, among the many metaphors I have for finishing one thing before starting another.

Of course, I'm just talking about grading again, which I will be until I am finished with it. Which will be, who knows when. I'm currently pretending that I can still finish by the end of the weekend. This optimism is immeasurably aided by the fact that tomorrow is Saturday and not Sunday, which I briefly lost track of. Phew! Still two days in the weekend.

I just did the math. I will be grading on Monday.

I want to work on my manuscript with a clear head, not with a grading mind.

The above represents a hypothetical and metaphorical state of affairs which, in reality, has never occurred, not every, not even once.

Also, I want to celebrate my mother and go to a movie and take my son to the airport. I'm glad I did the things I did today--breakfast with my friend, movie with my son, birthday outing with my grandson--that meant I graded for two hours instead of a lot more hours.

I have thought about acknowledging the limits of my 'clearing the decks' metaphor by starting on my projects while still grading. Sorting through my clothes. Working on my manuscript. I might be able to manage the first, but not the second. It's a superstition, maybe. Or maybe it's real--there's a cleared-er state of mind that is requisite for revising poems, and it can't be simultaneously working on grading. Not enough processing power.

On Monday, then: on Monday the decks will be cleared. My metaphor will, if briefly, have force. And then, things will be messy again, same as it ever was. But I will have fewer clothes (please!) and a head clear enough (please!) for poetry.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Short letters to America.

Dear America,

The vegetarian sandwich option used to be cheese. Cheese sandwich is a time-honored, noble tradition. Hummus on whole wheat with lettuce? Not a time-honored, noble tradition. Green tortilla filled with cold vegetables and a dubious dressing? Not a time-honored, noble tradition. Please return to time-honored noble traditions such as Muenster with brown mustard, pickle, and tomato, with lettuce.

At least the noble traditions of my vegetarian people.

Don't make me regret my vegetarian(-esque) return,



Dear America,

My grading is not, as it were, begun. Someone needs to begin it. Probably me. As it were. So please, stop having meetings that I have to go to, agreed to go to, or in some cases, called myself. America, help me help myself, and help me, thereby, start grading.

I don't see any other way,



Dear America,

Is it too much to ask that my comfortable shoes be comfortable for all day long?

I don't think so,



Dear America,

I really really really really really really really want to start writing on Monday. PLEASE help me get my grading started, middled, and finished by then.

I'll take any help you have to offer,


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Wednesday night at Target.

I should be grading. That's first.

But also, and second, it was my friend's birthday a month ago, and we're having breakfast on Friday, and all the things I picked up and then put back at T.J. Maxx were too literal.

After dinner, I drove to one of the several Targets within range (not the one I went to earlier in the day, however.), and engaged in a meditation walk. The meditation involved objects, and a consideration of their uses, and and imagination of the objects in the hands of my friend, how she might receive them.

I could hear it when the rain started. Such a big box, so well lit, so full of things, and still the rain was  a counter rhythm to my walk. And then the thunder. Big percussive music. I was halfway round the store when it began.

I was there for forty minutes, more or less. I put a few things away--a soft scarf, a blouse that had dark blue embroidery, but unfortunate fluttery sleeves that I knew would be a mistake. I found something for my friend that feels at least a little bit poetic. I'm happy with it.

Rain, I said to the cashier.

I know! she said. I just want to be home to listen to it.

Me too, so I left with my purchases, and drove home with the headlights and wipers on.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The unbearable tristesse of grading.

Not that I'm actually grading. Not at all. I'm getting ready to grade. This means making contact with a handful of students who have been there all along, who have contributed in various ways to the class, and yet who have, somehow, managed not to turn in enough major assignments that the inescapable conclusion is--as in I cannot escape it--they will not pass. So: emails. You know, and then waiting for emails.

Perhaps you might say why are you doing this now? why didn't you do this weeks ago? At least these are questions I am asking myself. To which I reply, to myself: I was doing some things. Important things. Or anyway, I don't know, stop yelling!

It's kind of noisy around here, all the yelling, while I'm getting ready to grade.

Today was the last--the very last--day of teaching this semester. My poetry class met and we assembled our beautiful folios and then had a reading. When the students had a broadside from every other student, signed, I watched for a moment as they assembled and reordered their collections. It was perfect. It was everything I hoped for--the work of their colleagues collected in their hands.

This is why, at the moment, I feel a little sad. In fact, I had to lie down for a moment, that's how blue.

The way it works is, you prepare to grade (by grading, if you know what I mean). Then, you face the actual shape and scale of the reading ahead of you. You pace yourself (this is the luxury way of grading--if you are rushed, then your pace is a rush, and it is horrible and I do not recommend this rush strategy). You realize that you will be reading for a few days. You settle in for the pleasures (and frustrations and despair) of it all.

Essentially, you grade your way out of the melancholy, and that is good. It's the way of teaching, and it's a good way.

I am not at the moment on the 'having surmounted the sadness' side of grading. Also, I am still in need of more sleep. Tomorrow, I believe, it begins. And in a few days, I will feel better. If you're a teacher and you're about to grade, you will too.

Monday, May 04, 2015


Today, I put the grommets into twenty three folios.

Wait, let me start again.

My poetry class is producing a publication. I had a vision of it long before we at the Publication Center ever got a press. A Takach etching press, to be exact. My vision was this:

  • a collection of broadsides (each student produces one broadside in a class-size edition)
  • sometimes these broadsides were tiny (broadside being used loosely in this instance)
  • sometimes these broadsides were largish. Close to tabloid size.
  • the broadsides would be printed (sometimes in my vision, they were letter pressed) and would have an image on them.
  • the broadsides would be gathered and held--bound, in a word--in a portfolio, which would be
  • a beautiful piece of heavy weight paper, printed with the title, and tied with some sort of lacing that would 
  • lace through both sides of the portfolio.
In all versions of my vision, this publication was exquisite.

I talked it over with my Publication Center people. We all agreed this was doable. We came up with dimensions for the broadsides (slightly smaller than letter size paper) and the portfolio (a tabloid piece of dove-gray medium weight cardstock). 

"How will the lacing go through the paper?" Charlotte asked.

"I don't know. Just, like, holes?" I approximated.

"You're gonna need grommets," said Charlotte, with certitude and firmness. We talked about grommets and how that would all work, and it was decided.

"What are you going to lace it with?" Charlotte and Kat asked, on different occasions. 

I thought maybe gray suede lacing, and/or maybe gray satin ribbon.

Kat said, "Maybe the narrowest"--she held her index finger and thumb infinitessimally close--"gray grosgrain ribbon." 

This all sounded good to me.

Cut to now. I have visited three different stores in search of the elusive narrowest gray grosgrain (or satin, either would do) ribbon, and gray suede lacing. Here's what I have instead:
  • satin and grosgrain ribbon, gray, but not the narrowest--medium narrow
  • black suede lacing
  • lovely soft gray wool yarn
  • the very narrowest black grosgrain ribbon
  • sheer gray ribbon, also not the narrowest.
Also, today I put in four grommets per publication by hand. The people, I brought a hammer and a nail to work. A hammer. (and a nail.) Putting in grommets is sort of meditative, if by meditative you mean using a hammer and also wondering if you're even doing the damn thing right at all. Or what.

But it is going to be beautiful, I swear. That part of the vision is coming true. Also the part where we have doughnuts from Fresh Donut & Deli. Doughnuts are always the refreshment of choice in my visions.

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Last night, I slept something like a normal amount. That felt like a miracle. I am now, I would guess, like 22% caught up. I intend to make gains on that figure tonight, but I guess we'll see.

Last night when we were walking the dog, the historian said, "...and you were going to work out tomorrow, right?" and I realized that I was faking not having an agenda for the weekend, so I could feel like there was room for taking a breath. Like I would be able to make myself believe that there was nothing but room for breathing.

Even so, today I ran up the canyon to

  • put a deposit down on my daughter's wedding venue (!), and then I did 
  • work out (which felt amazing), and then 
  • to Joann's (more about this below), and then 
  • to the grocery store, which felt so overwhelming that I purchased pretty much nothing but snacks and grapes. And then 
  • I came home and checked Canvas to make sure that no one was having a freak out (no one was), and 
  • thought about what I was going to do tomorrow.

Last night, I thought we might go see an Argentine film tonight, but today I decided that "half Almodovar, half Tarantino" sounded toooooo gruesome, even if the film is a "black comedy." So we saw a sports movie--the kind that is so formulaic that you can point out the parts you just want to skip over--but we both nonetheless enjoyed it enormously. It was formulaic but also something else, something grittier and smarter.

It's been a good day. Tomorrow, I have to

  • buy the other groceries I didn't have the strength of will nor the brainpower to buy today
  • find the things I should have been able to buy at JoAnn's, if JoAnn's had not turned into an explosion of candy-colored, fluffy fleece-n-crafts since the last time I visited. JoAnn's! Why are you such a whirligig of madness, wherein it is impossible to buy the ribbon I want and grommets, because they are not to be found? 
  • hang up my clothes
  • straighten my study (it has reached the point where the squalor is actively competing with my ability to focus)
  • maybe buy some plants and plant them, or maybe I will do that on Monday.
And also: breathe. Nothing but breathing.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Movie-going triage.

From the red chair, with laptop, this morning:

Me: Looks like there are a lot of great movies at the Broadway. (cheerful and bleary-eyed--Friday, and jet lag, respectively)

The Historian: There's that new one with Juliette Binoche. (By "Juliette Binoche," I assume he means "The Most Radiantly Beautiful Actress in the World, and Perhaps in All of Movie History." Or maybe that's just me.)

Me: ...but also that Russell Crowe one we haven't see yet. The water one? (By Russell Crowe, I mean, "Arguably great actor who hasn't lost the ability to movie star it up.") And some other ones, I think. (the James Franco-Jonah Hill thing, for instance. This one is implied by 'some other ones, I think,' but not spoken because it's too early for being complete.)

Historian: Also that documentary--what's it called?

Me: I don't want to see that one. I feel like I already know what its argument is.

Historian: (laughs:) Okay, so we'll see one of them, then.

Later in the afternoon, after having collapsed on the bed with Metacritic:

Me: (James Franco/Jonah Hill thing: nope. "Turgid."  Russell Crowe thing: apologist for the Armenian genocide? Can that be true? NOPE. Documentary: never.)

[ancillary review of a bunch of movies in second run theaters, whose titles I don't recognize: nope, nope, and nope. McFarland, U.S.A.? A definite maybe. Could I talk the historian into this movie? Nope. Sci fi thing? ditto: No cyborgs for the historian.]

Juliette Binoche* it is, then.

*worth it.


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