A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

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This first morning of this new year is shrouded in fog and wet with drizzle. Rufus made it only as far as the hedge to lift his leg before heading back inside. The gloomy weather suits my inclination to draw inward. I have faith the sun will break through soon enough with warmth and light so I am grateful that today, nature has provided this close-up lens to better see what’s outside and within me.

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I write this from my bed, luxuriously and without guilt. The three windows in my bedroom have the best view although I mostly stare at this screen until distracted, then inspired, by bird activity. Who is zooming back and forth? Tossing off my quilt, I pad barefoot into Molly’s room for a view of the driveway and front yard. I peek down at the feeder where a squirrel, upside-down and glommed on, is successfully keeping the sparrows and downy woodpeckers watching from the hedge for the rodent to be done. The birds that roused me out of my own perch, are grackles. A group of grackles is called a ‘plague’ and a few dozen cover the lawn and driveway busy getting tipsy on fermented crabapples. I watch until they lift off together, their wings flapping so furiously in unison, it sounds like a gust of wind! Watch and listen!Listen! At the end you’ll hear the gust as they lift off!

I could spend my day bird and tree watching and would consider it a good one. This is who I have always been and am increasingly embracing: content to watch the wildlife, the seasons, the light. It is almost noon and I might remain here even longer to watch the slow drama of rain droplets, glistening like ornaments on branch tips, hanging on even with the swaying of a breeze or the raucous swarm of birds. I admire the fractal genius and grace of these branches, even the tiniest lifting towards the sky. Curiosity? Longing? Joy? And imagining down below, beyond my view, magnificent roots mirroring this reach – but into the darkness, for sustenance, history, love. A marvel.

It is a good morning after a good night. In past New Year’s eves I have set expectations for myself – to do the ritual cleaning, make some meaningful food like lentils or noodles, black-eyed peas – whatever good luck meal I’d read about that sounded delicious. Likely, I would spend the evening drinking and eating with generous friends, forcing myself to stay up to midnight for the countdown with not-my-music blaring, noise-makers at the ready. Not this year. In bed before 11, I read before turning the light off to sleep — only vaguely aware of the amp-up of firework explosions marking midnight. Cozy, so content to be doing exactly what I wanted. It feels like a gift of aging that has been hurried along by the restrictions of this pandemic: ignore the expectations of others and (harder) myself and follow my true nature. I know that more social beings have been suffering in this plague and I am sorry for that.

My wish for us all in this new year is joy, LOVE! and so much laughter – but also plenty of contemplation, flora and fauna filled hours!

A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

This first morning of this new year is shrouded in fog and wet with drizzle. Rufus made it only as far as the hedge to lift his leg before heading back inside. The gloomy weather suits my inclination to draw inward. I have faith the sun will break through soon enough with warmth and light so I am grateful that today, nature has provided this close-up lens to better see what’s outside and within me.

I write this from my bed, luxuriously and without guilt. The three windows in my bedroom have the best view although I mostly stare at this screen until distracted, then inspired, by bird activity. Who is zooming back and forth? Tossing off my quilt, I pad barefoot into Molly’s room for a view of the driveway and front yard. I peek down at the feeder where a squirrel, upside-down and glommed on, is successfully keeping the sparrows and downy woodpeckers watching from the hedge for the rodent to be done. The birds that roused me out of my own perch, are grackles. A group of grackles is called a ‘plague’ and a few dozen cover the lawn and driveway busy getting tipsy on fermented crabapples. I watch until they lift off together, their wings flapping so furiously in unison, it sounds like a gust of wind! Watch and listen!

Listen! At the end you’ll hear the gust as they lift off!

I could spend my day bird and tree watching and would consider it a good one. This is who I have always been and am increasingly embracing: content to watch the wildlife, the seasons, the light. It is almost noon and I might remain here even longer to watch the slow drama of rain droplets, glistening like ornaments on branch tips, hanging on even with the swaying of a breeze or the raucous swarm of birds. I admire the fractal genius and grace of these branches, even the tiniest lifting towards the sky. Curiosity? Longing? Joy? And imagining down below, beyond my view, magnificent roots mirroring this reach – but into the darkness, for sustenance, history, love. A marvel.

It is a good morning after a good night. In past New Year’s eves I have set expectations for myself – to do the ritual cleaning, make some meaningful food like lentils or noodles, black-eyed peas – whatever good luck meal I’d read about that sounded delicious. Likely, I would spend the evening drinking and eating with generous friends, forcing myself to stay up to midnight for the countdown with not-my-music blaring, noise-makers at the ready. Not this year. In bed before 11, I read before turning the light off to sleep — only vaguely aware of the amp-up of firework explosions marking midnight. Cozy, so content to be doing exactly what I wanted. It feels like a gift of aging that has been hurried along by the restrictions of this pandemic: ignore the expectations of others and (harder) myself and follow my true nature. I know that more social beings have been suffering in this plague and I am sorry for that.

My wish for us all in this new year is joy, LOVE! and so much laughter – but also plenty of contemplation, flora and fauna filled hours!

Where in the World? (Suggestions Welcome)

Forgive me for not being faster about updating you on the results of my previous post, but as you probably gathered, alas, I did not win the contest for an all expenses paid month in Portugal. A heartfelt thank you, for voting and kind words of support. It was actually quite a fun little adventure! And the winning couple seem perfect – both are writers and she’s already a travel blogger. I look forward to their insights on Portugal. And yes, I think I will also go see for myself – although winning would have given me the kick in the pants to get started.

It’s exciting being in the running for things, don’t you think? I love a good raffle and will buy the occasional lottery ticket for the thrill of a chance. Similarly, when I used to send queries to agents about my memoir, the let-down of rejection was less than the excitement of possibility. Entering the Portugal contest reminded me of the joys of having my hat in the ring. And I’m not giving up on the move overseas-for-retirement notion.

I’ve had this idea percolating for over a year as I try and figure out how life can be less expensive so I can stop working sooner than later. Where would be a more suitable place for the next, increasingly creaky chapter of my life? I look at Europe because I love so much about being there and because I have Irish citizenship.

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Anyone else have photo albums of weirdly colored photos from the 70s?

I have mostly been looking at Italy because it’s familiar to me and has always brought me (mostly) comfort and joy. Even my daughter Molly decided it was the place to be, appearing almost 2 months early rather than sticking to our birth plan for Cambridge, England. My very first taste of Italy was at 18 when, halfway through a solo 4 month trip around Europe, exhausted and lonely in cold and grey Germany, I hopped on a night train to Venice. I can still conjure the heat of the stone beneath me as I stepped out of the station and sank down on the steps to marvel at the canal, the light, the warmth and a palpable joy. Neil and I used to drive from Zagreb to Italy to escape the weight of the war, even for a night and once just long enough for lunch – and as soon as we crossed over the border from Slovenia to Italy, everything seemed brighter, including our spirits. It’s a place that has always made me feel good. And the food can’t be beat.

Always, the question is where? Ostuni the village in Puglia where Molly’s name is written into the book of births is stunning, but I’d need a car there. I’m more drawn to northern Italy for living. Trieste, an elegant city on the edge of the water is a maybe and of course who doesn’t adore Florence? On another break from the war in Bosnia, I hitched a ride on a French transport plane out of Sarajevo to Ancona and took a cab to a place called Senegalia with sweet beaches on the Adriatic. I like the sound (and apartments) of Livorno and the Mediterranean coast too. I am more of a sea than a mountain gal. And I want to be close enough to a big airport that getting to my loved ones here doesn’t seem overly arduous. So no Greek Islands for me, I’m afraid, as much as I’m tempted.

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My sweet porch. But I’d have to keep working forever to keep living here.

I like to be cozy in my home and want to ultimately live in a place kind of like I live now, (if my house was paid for and if there was national healthcare, I could consider staying – I mean… look at that porch!) or where I lived in Kyoto or in Zagreb or Brindisi. On the outskirts of, or in a not-too-big city because – practical for my aging self. Preferably with even just a small outside patch so I can plant things, have a bird feeder and putter about with a cup of tea or evening drink. And I need to be able to walk or bicycle or bus/train everywhere as I will never, ever be able to drive stick shift. (trust me, I have tried!) I would do a little vespa. Can you see me with my grey hair blowing in the wind?

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Climbing the 100 plus steps to our amazing flat in Zagreb. 1994

I spend a ridiculous amount of time scouring the real estate listings in Europe including Cheap Italian Dream Home. More than once I’ve fallen in love like with this place – yes, it’s cluttered and crazy looking but look at that fireplace! More practical because of space might be this one. I’d need at least one extra bedroom for Molly and other visitors. I must have light. Lots of light – a view. And a fireplace or wood stove.

So where should this sweet flat or house be? Scanning the listings I get sent by this newly launched site I subscribe to Bargain Homes Abroad, Scandinavian houses really appeal to me – but that part of the world flunks on sun and food and, well … brrr! France also has some beauties but my terrible high school level attempts make me feel inept in a way that Italians nor the Spaniards made me feel while butchering the language. Spain? My friends who are the most inspiring and joyful couple I know, just bought a place there. Ireland wins on delightful people and of course being able to speak the language plus the bonus of wonderful family — but while the light is pretty when the sun shines, it doesn’t do that enough for my ‘SAD’ inclined soul. And it’s not cheap. Same goes for England – where I count friends and beloved family – dearest Zoe and Gemma and their beautiful broods.

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Loving sisters play the who’s tallest game. (aren’t they beautiful?)

Maybe the Portugal venture was my prompt to explore a place that ticks so many of my boxes, with no memories that might inspire melancholy. Someone who has done more recent traveling than me said her vote is for Portugal – saying that everything works better there. And a writer I know who moved there from these parts a few years ago says she knew immediately it was right and it still is. Politically and socially it’s more progressive than the other southern European countries and certainly, more than we are and that’s important to me. And it sure looks pretty. Time to add Portuguese to my language learning app? Now if only this damn pandemic would settle down…

Okay friends, what do you have for me? Taking all suggestions!



What Next? (Help! Time’s Running Out!)

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Just Married – Sarajevo 1994



I’ve spent the last twenty-five years working at the same job as the sole support of my little family. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that along with the joy there have been challenging and tragic times. Life is good now and the past feels lighter. Most importantly, my cherished daughter is launched, happy and solvent so I have started to think about what I want my future to look like. A future that I accept becomes more finite with every year. So – what next?

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Out in the field as a UNICEF Program Officer – Croatia

Do I (CAN I?) retire? Or should I keep working until they send me off with a piece of cake in the break-room? Are you in this boat too? Chances are at some point either we or our employers will decide that it’s time for us to move along. I don’t know about you but the thought of living my life without a regular paycheck and benefits makes me nervous.

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Dubrovnik – on to another adventure with Molly in tow. 1995

But an even bleaker thought is working until I drop — even if my excellent employer will let me. I LOVE the thought of having my days to myself to write, to read and maybe I’ll even start painting again. Sleep late and spend the day puttering? Travel to see my friends around the world? No problem! Sounds dreamy to me.

However, the fact is that no matter how much I do the math, without my current income I would not be able to live for very long in my beloved little house in my wonderful community.

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Premie Molly’s first day out of Brindisi Hospital – home in Ostuni, Italy.

But there are options and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Mostly, my scheming includes moving to Europe. Did you know that there are places we can live that are cheaper, charming and maybe, a little warmer than where you live now. Not to mention that the healthcare is excellent and affordable. I have experience in this and I can vouch that it’s true. Back in my earliest travel days I successfully applied for and now have Irish citizenship – certainly making it easier to dream about this.

In the Japanese Countryside

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’ve happily lived and traveled in other countries. I dug out some of these old snapshots and you can tell it’s been a long time so I’m pretty rusty. For inspiration, I subscribe to International Living magazine – to get a sense of what people like me – my age and with a taste for adventure and maybe not the biggest bank account – have figured out. I recommend at least following them on social media.

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Leading a tour in Yalta – in the last year of the Soviet Union’s existence.

I’ve never been to Portugal but it’s one of those places where the living is cheaper and it sure looks lovely. I’d love to go try it out and that’s why I need your help! I entered a contest that would allow me to do just that: a ‘trial retirement’ in Portugal. In the link below, you’ll find my entry video. I promise if I win, I’ll post like crazy all about the good food, drinks, views and share lots of tips with you – in case you might be tempted too!

Please ‘LIKE’ my video — before November 22 when voting closes. Three finalists will go on to the last round. THANK YOU – for sharing with your friends – any help you can give in making me one of them! xxx

https://internationalliving.com/win-a-dream-retirement-overseas/

New Chapters

At the airport (thank you Lopes family!)

Molly has moved all the way across the country. I wager she misses our dog Rufus as much as she does me, her mother. I get it – and regularly send her pictures of him. She responds with emojis – mostly hearts and texts like: “My boy!” “I miss him so much!”. But after I’d texted her the cute photo below, she wrote: “Mom, I think his harness is on backwards lol!” I’d given Rufus a bath a few days before because he’d rolled in something putrid that he thought smelled lovely. He’d been wearing it like some inside-out, backwards shirt since. Molly immediately Face-timed — both our faces scrunched in laughter and wet from belly-cramping guffaws. Through time and space, there we were, still sharing a silly moment together. We laugh a lot at goofy things like this. And we hug multiple times a day and always when we say goodnight. Mostly I am the beneficiary of back cracks but we both get all the love. I do miss those hugs – not yet available through FaceTime.

Harness Fail

It’s been a few weeks now. I think we’re both getting used to it. For the first few days I felt heartbroken and like some creepy stalker, I regularly checked the location app on my phone, staring at an address 3,000 miles away. It was strangely reassuring that I could sort of see where she was and kind of visualize it – imagining a palm tree or two and the impossibly blue sky out there. What I know of Los Angeles is mostly from the movies and television. More than 30 years ago, I was there for less than 24 hours to drop a car off to what turned out to be Ringo Starr’s mother in-laws house. That’s a good story but not the story I’m telling now.

In fact, there is no story yet for this new chapter of our lives of us apart. I’m still digesting the end of the beautiful long one that began when COVID stranded my daughter at home with her mother. Poor kid. It was not her plan to still be with me.

The plan was to land a job, preferably in the entertainment world of NYC and maybe even in a position where her dramaturgy degree would be relevant. She’d commute until she saved enough to move into her own place – she figured six months or so. Then COVID happened. It’s a story I know shared by many parents who mostly, at least the ones I know, agree – loved. Of course, COVID is terrible – but in our little world, hunkered down together, Molly and I – who of course love each other because we’re mother and daughter – discovered that we absolutely adore each other as people well. And we are good roommates.

In some ways, I had the better deal. I work from home and Molly mostly took care of me. She ventured out into the world to buy what we needed, planned incredible menus and cooked fabulous meals. She took on the formidable task of pruning the privet hedge that surrounds our property. We became YouTube fix-it queens – replacing our toilet, fixing a hole in our ceiling (yes, they are related). She wallpapered the bathroom, repaired the garage door, she sewed slipcovers for the cushions on the cool vintage rattan furniture we found on marketplace. She watered our community garden plots, sending me video updates on new blossoms and ripening tomatoes, bringing home garden lettuce for salads and the best BLTs. Every evening, we both went for a long walk with Rufus. It got so he insisted we both take him, turning back to the house if one or the other of us tried to walk him alone.

Summer weekend mornings we launched our kayaks into the Long Island Sound to paddle out to the islands, pulling our boats up on sand bars to watch the birds, read, swim. We binged on favorite shows, read the same books so we could talk about them. We spent hours drinking tea in the morning and coffee around 2, cocktail around 5. Hours of watching the world from our porch, discussing the state of the world and our lives, past, present, future.

I miss her, but seeing her face regularly, as she gives me a tour of the latest improvement she’s made to her room or a walk together down her new street, laughing together on FaceTime, has made the distance seem not so great. With help from modern science, I am adjusting to life on my own.

Don’t get me wrong – when I walk into her room and see a neatly made, empty bed, I miss her. I miss that she’s not within ‘Molly, will you open this jar for me’ distance. But this is exactly what we parents who are graced with healthy children, are supposed to do: let them go. It’s what’s supposed to happen. And she is so ready! I see her joy at being in an exciting and beautiful new place on her own adventure with wonderful friends and feel absolutely content. Fly, my beloved girl! xxx

Fruit and Labor

My daily clock is managed by our dog and I don’t hate it. Yes, I’d rather get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and I grumble when I hear that nudge-bark at 5:30 in the morning, but once I’m up and on the street, I appreciate the early start. This is precious time I claim for me before work or house duties take over my life. With Rufus’s help I move into the day yawning out of a fog of quickly fading dreams. I throw a jacket over my pajamas, fill the kettle, snap Rufus’s leash on and wander down the street. He walks slowly, sniffing the weeds for clues of who might have visited during the night, then lifts his leg to reclaim the neighborhood as his.

The early summer mornings are light as we meander besides a stretch of city land, overgrown with bittersweet and poison ivy. Last year we had regular face-offs with a fox and though disconcerting, I miss those mystical encounters. Lately there are only bird and bunny sighting as we wander only half way down the street because I am in my pajamas after all.

We turn back into our driveway and take a detour up the three steps to where the blueberry bushes are heavy with fruit. So is the mulberry tree and the garage roof is covered with smooshed and decaying berries. Look up and you can spot at least 3 birds between the branches, gorging themselves before flying off to leave their purple waste on our cars and always, the white laundry on the clothesline. I leave the mulberries to the birds but will compete for the blueberries. Lifting branches, I find a small handful to throw into my yogurt. Last year we covered the bushes with netting but not a day went by without having to release catbirds that always found a way in but not out. And we still didn’t get any more berries than now. Besides, I adore our resident catbirds and am happy to share with them.

I am a little annoyed about our pears. There’s not a single piece of fruit left on our two trees and there were at least 50 perfect little (still green) pears. The peaches, while diminished in number, are still there. In an attempt to taste at least a few, Molly and I are trying a trick that her friend Lily shared with us. After months of saving plastic fruit and salad containers, we taped them around a few of the peaches as protection from critters.

We’d like to at least get a taste of a few fruits off these trees. We’ll see how it works. Do you think it will?

Today is my final day of vacation so I climbed back into bed to drink tea, maybe read, maybe fall back asleep. I’ll do whatever I want! Bliss. It took 6 days to detox from work-mind and I can already feel it creeping back in. I am grateful for my job and the paycheck but I need to remind myself that my job is not who I am. Working from home is a pleasure but my boundaries have blurred. Ten hour days have become normal and even during down time, my mind is full of thoughts of what needs doing. During my first days off, my inclination to check emails was overwhelming and it took all my self-control to let the phone battery die and not open the computer. Day 6 and the work anxiety is now a simmer, not a roar. I remind myself I am not a heart surgeon and no one will die because of what I do or do not do. Still…

I vow to guard my life and soul as I guard my peaches – save some fruit for my own pleasure and sustenance.

If you have a job, how’s your work-life balance? Do you have boundaries? Any tips on fruit, labor or both?

Summer’s (almost) Here!

And like that, we are into another season. When I attempted this post a few weeks ago, spring was in full bloom with summer just licking at its heels. This weekend we made the leap into July-like heat. Garden season.

I can barely keep the English Ivy from swallowing up my property at home yet signed up for not one but two community garden plots. The new one is in the upper field where animals seem to be less of a problem. Almost no one has a fence up top and the bounty seems better than what us poor neighbors below harvest. Or maybe it’s just me. I’ve been at this for years but am not a particularly skilled gardener.

I thought I was clever when I planted a cover crop of rye last autumn. I did no research beyond reading the package I’d picked up from the cool, organic local herb farm. As you can see from the photo above, it made a lovely thick lawn in my limited square footage. After earning nice blisters trimming the grass with hand clippers before it seeded, I left the clippings to dry and a few weeks later turned them into the soil. As you can see below, now it looks like a great mess. I’m hoping all the great rye grass nutrients in the soil (along with seaweed Molly and I gathered from the beach) will make for some tasty vegetables. I’ll keep you posted.

I can’t help noticing that everyone else’s plots look more organized than mine. This won’t surprise anyone who has ever seen my work desk. My neighbor’s gardens have rows marked with string and little markers identifying what is planted where. I imagine their kitchen shelves are similarly organized. I admire, maybe even envy a little, that way of being but I have never been that person. With anything. I made a conscious effort to try and wrap the hose in a nice loop when I was done with it and this is how it ended:

Seedlings are starting to sprout in the new patch – and I’d tell you what they are but I made no sweet tags to remember what’s what. In the past I stuck a stick through the seed packet that usually fades or blows away in the first storm. I didn’t do that this year. I vaguely remember planting carrots in here and beets there. Or the other way around. I was strategic in how I planted the lettuce – sprinkled where they might benefit from the shade of tomato plants. They don’t appreciate the hot sun for too long. Spinach and peas I think are in the middle. It will be a mystery until the first true leaves are visible. This is the way I garden. A little chaos to keep things exciting. No need for perfection in my life.

Any gardening tips?

A March Salute

I’ve always considered March, my month. My birthday is only one day but I claim the entire wild month, famous for gusty winds, changing clocks, unpredictable weather and betrayal. Even in the darkest days, there is a promise of light and warmth. Frigid temperatures and the threat of snow may still be in the forecast where I live here in New England, even into April — but the end of winter is well in sight and any fluke-flakes soon melt in the warmer rays of the sun.

Yesterday, strange hot winds gusted through in the afternoon, as if to shift the seasons, pushing the last of winter’s stale air out. This morning on my sunrise walk down the street with Rufus, I gathered branches blown into the middle of the street as a neighborly deed and as kindling for cold nights yet ahead. I’ll hold off pulling the plastic off the windows as March is a fickle month and there are still cold days and nights ahead.

But signs of spring appear rapidly around the garden. Like victors in the battle of the seasons, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths push through decaying leaves. Branches are softening, new buds pushing through in reds and greens, softening the look of shrubs and trees. Of course I’ll love the return of leaves to the trees, the sounds like voices as they move in the breeze, the dappled light through their canopy – but I have come to love what bare branches have to offer. Better to admire fractals and easily spot a bird and see off into the distance.

March is the month that cracks winter, starting slowly, some days fooling us that spring is here on schedule before drawing back again as cold and gloom settles in for another stretch. We worry about the survival of crocuses and daffodils in night frosts. And then, like a bicycle spinning faster and faster down a hill, the weather shifts and before we know it the lawn needs mowing, tulips are spent and it’s too hot for a sweater. April and May are gone in a blink. But in March, things are still going slowly, the shift over is gradual – even teasing us, reminding us with taunts of winter-cold that now is our chance to savor renewal, re-birth and the warmth of the sun.

Stardust Memories

I have decades worth of journals I never read. Today, curious about what I used to write about and if I would recognize myself, I randomly pulled a ragged blue spiral-bound notebook off a shelf.

Neatly written on the second yellowing page is December 2, 1975. The final entry is April 8, 1976. This was the winter and early spring of the last year of high school and also of any semblance of ‘family life’ with my nuclear family. I’d spent most of my childhood growing up in apartments mostly in the Bronx with my 3 siblings and parents and a dog that bit. The truncated version of our family – my parents, one of my brothers, the vicious dog and I – moved when I was 15 from our apartment on Broadway to a white, wealthy suburb in Connecticut. A few months after my last entry in this journal, my father unexpectedly left my mother and moved out of our lives. At the end of that summer, my mother sold the house and moved to a wall-to-wall carpeted apartment in Stamford. I went to college and on to my life from there.

All entries in this journal are in only lower case letters. No doubt an E. E. Cummings inspired affectation. I wrote (of course) bad poetry with apparent ease, often about the stars. I was observant, scrawling pages of overheard conversations heard on the train to NYC or in the noisy school cafeteria. I noted a school trip to see Sam Waterston play Hamlet and went to a Joni Mitchell concert in New Haven. I went on a few college visits to snowy New England towns that I wrote about half-heartedly because I had grander fantasies of traveling the world. I wrote that all I wanted was, “… a hunk of time for me — for romance, to read, paint and draw bad picture and write bad poetry.” Yes, I’d still like that.

While mostly these pages are excruciating, I appreciate how often my entries became poetry-efforts. Of course they’re sappy and bad but there was a fluidity to how I wrote down my thoughts and images that that feels true to the creative process of diving in. When did I decide I was no good and should stop? Now I rarely read and never attempt to write poetry telling myself it’s hard and I don’t understand it. That it was a phase. And yes, I think it is a phase that young creatives go through – bravely trying out different mediums, digging our way to the soul. I gave up on that one – probably because I thought I wasn’t good enough. Squashing life experiences pile up as do demands on our time and energy and we lose the sweet momentum of youth, don’t we?

I was busy. Besides school and literary magazines and school play productions, I waitressed in a tiny Indian restaurant. It was just the cook and me and while I worked there, we were friends. Singh told me that he was from a small village in the Himalayan mountains. He’d been living in the US for a few years when I met him, his wife remained in India and no longer wished to join him. He had a daughter. He sat on a step-stool in the kitchen exhaling smoke from one of his endless cigarettes, (the 1970s – people smoked everywhere) he told me he couldn’t remember what she looked like any more and in 3 years, a child changes. Singh was always sad and drank and smoked his sorrow. At night he blasted the Average White Band as we cleaned up.

Between delivering plates of curry, I filled my blue notebook. I wrote about the customers. One of them courted me — successfully, writing love notes on corners he tore off the yellow placemats. These days, he could have been arrested: he was 24 and I’d just turned 17 and I was willing and smitten.

However I was not interested in the teacher, the advisor for the literary magazine I worked on, who showed up on my doorstep. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say hello and offer you a creative writing deal.” He wanted me to go to a bar with him “for a coke” to discuss some writing and would I edit it? Next, he is in the living room. I perch on the edge of the couch – he sits next to me and reaches over to move my hair out of my eyes and asks if I’d ever heard of Veronica Lake? No, I say, grabbling my hair away, hands shaking, biting the skin on my fingernails wondering when either of my parents would get home. I remember his breath smelled of liquor and he took off his glasses to show me a scar on his face.”What’s your weekend schedule? I was hoping we could get together and you would read this piece I’d written.” In my memory, he is old – in my journal I wrote that at least 45 years old. Old – when you’re 17. I answer him again with a NO, I have to work and have loads of stuff to do for school. “Where do you work – should I come and eat there?” No – it’s awful. He notices the piano that no one plays. He gets up, squeezing my leg before sitting on the bench, running his fingers across the keys before banging out what somehow I knew was “Stardust”. I see my mother’s car pull into the driveway. I’m shaking and my eyes blur with tears. My mother comes up the stairs of the split level and I give her a horrified look. No surprise registers on her face, instead, as if she’s heard her cue, she begins to sing. “Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain, my stardust melody!” I don’t remember any discussion with my mother about how strange and wrong this was and the teacher never approached me again. Things like this simply happened back then. Apparently my mother thought so too.

Throughout the pages, scribbled notes of homework assignments, history readings and math assignments and this: “Psych. – brown bag. one side showing you as you’re expected to be, 2nd side – you as you think others see you and on the inside – as you want to be or think you are.” I wish I could look at that bag now. Who did 16-17 year old me think she was?

What compelled me to write things down over the years? I used to fear that until I wrote it, whatever happened did not exist. Floating at the top of one page, perhaps from my mind or read somewhere – this: “Writing is my need to rework life – or at least say something right.”

Phew.

Winter has ended. Four years of bitter night. I have been hunkered down, building fires to keep the darkness at bay. As the possibility of another term of continued insanity loomed, I made contingency plans to flee to other shores. While horrified by the hate played out everyday through all outlets, I felt overwhelmed and sickened by my own abomination for that terrible, criminal man and his cronies. But now: he is gone!

It is day 2 and I still wake and pinch myself that it’s true and breathe deeply, thirstily gulping the cold air. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for years. I have. We are still in a dangerous time as lies and ignorance are traded like dirty currency. While I was happy on election day and exhilarated on Inauguration Day (whooping and banging a pot on the porch when Kamala was sworn in!) the numbers weren’t high enough. Not really. We are not out of the woods. Will we ever be? Why wasn’t it a landslide, why so close – even in Georgia? Who are all these people? Never mind that last question — I can look at my own neighborhood and probably tell you. Did you see that creep proudly marching through the Capitol with a Confederate flag? That image is my retort to any ‘but…’ response.

For four years I have struggled to find the internal quiet I need to be creative but have been unable to find a regular space of inspiration. Anger doesn’t leave much room in my head or heart. I know there are many talents that have beautifully channeled these feelings but I am not eloquent enough to engage with his supporters — I feel too much outrage and in the end, the only result is ugly. Social justice is not something I have an opinion on — that I can agree-to-disagree on. It is intrinsic to who I am yet I have felt neither talented or smart enough to write about it. My frustration and fury paralyzed my creativity as if a massive wall (haha!) was preventing me from writing, as if blocking the light. Besides, as an aging white woman of privilege, beyond shouting my support from the rooftops (and marching and sending money) it is not my voice that needs to be heard on this. And yet speaking about anything else felt wrong and frivolous.

No, it is time for voices like that glorious poet on Wednesday – the genius, gorgeous, Inaugural Poet – Amanda Gorman. I will try and take my cue and inspiration from the closing words of the poem she so gracefully shared with us – The Hill We Climb :

“…When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it”

There is another week of January left and plenty of dark, bitter days ahead of us. But have you noticed the days are getting longer? And if you look closely at the trees, buds of new life are beginning to swell, visible even from a distance. Out my window I see there is a softening in the complicated tangle of fractals in the wood across the way. And in my yard, pushing through the frozen dirt, there are glimpses of the bravest green.

Hope, my friends, there is hope!