the next writer in the series: july 1, 2014

fenton johnson

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

stoneham, andover, tewkesbury

I was just reading over the upcoming November 1 How We Spend Our Days post by Mari Strachan (which is wonderful).

In her post, Mari recites the names of some Welsh towns, each one of which sounds magical. Her list reminded me of a list I had jotted down in June on my way to Vermont.

I flew into Boston and was driving on 93 N to Montpelier, Vermont. The signs announced the towns:

Stoneham
Andover
Tewkesbury
Lowell
Manchester
Concord
Plymouth
Portsmith

Is it just my love of the northeast that transforms the names of these towns into music? Or is it the fact that the names are unfamiliar to me–in the sense that I’m not usually driving by these towns?

Yesterday, I was driving from Columbus to Birmingham. I passed signs for Opelika, Auburn, Alexander City, Sylacauga, Pelham. I didn’t make any notes.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to the Alabama towns not to list them vertically.

help wanted

As a perfect follow-up to the photos I posted on Sunday, a friend gave me an early holiday gift today that now hangs on the door to my study:

At this time of year, when the demands/desires of the holiday season are heaped on top of our already overflowing lives, all of us could use a personal assistant.

And now I’m going to be my own PA and stop the forward progress in order to reap the benefits of feeling more comfortable in the moment. I’m going to return books to the shelves, file, discard, consolidate. Then I’m going to sit back with a glass of wine and read one of those books you can see on the other side of the door.

it’s been another year

It’s been another year and I missed it–completely never even thought about it until Friday night when I was visiting another blog, reading a post about how that week was that blog’s two-year anniversary–still not thinking about it–and then at the end of the post, this question: how long have you been blogging?

and I thought well, how long?

I remembered celebrating one year. And then I thought, surely another year has not gone by already.

has it?

yes, it has. September 4th was two years. Wow. That was fast.

And it was a big year: I started back to school for my MFA in creative writing. I also started what is turning out to be another novel. I saw Jackson Browne, Carole King, and James Taylor in concert. September seemed to be all about Infinite Jest. January about reading like a writer. In the spring I was traveling and then recovering from traveling. May was all about Annie Dillard and The Maytrees. July I went back to camp, and August was the mini-David Jauss festival. Both my novels placed in the 2010 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition: my first novel, The Painting Story, on the Short List for Finalists, and my second novel, Between Here and Gone, as a Semi-Finalist. We’ve now had a whole year of the How We Spend Our Days series. Also, I updated the look of the blog and added new links and new pages.

So here’s the annual look back at the words, still hoping to see some sort of pattern emerging. I’ve linked to a few of my favorite posts, but if you see another one you’d like to explore, just pop the words into the search rectangle on the sidebar or go to the archives for that month, also on the sidebar. If you have a favorite post, I’d love to know which one it is.

A big thank you to all the readers out there. And a really big thank you to all those who posted the 1560 comments (double the number from the first year). You have made Catching Days better than it could have been on its own. As you read the words below, I wish for you, as always, fond memories and new discoveries…

***

September 2009: A Day in the Life of Dani Shapiro-those were the days-wage peace-the splitting sound-from creede-finished-infinite autumn-the germ of everything-the library, and step on it-yellow letters from a shoebox on a rainy pm-the empty armchair

October 2009: A Day in the Life of Adam Braver-unfamiliar-wildlives-still playing with books-poemcrazy-to be read-12 keys to stronger writing from Annie Dillard via Alexander Chee-eucalyptus-a practice-i give

November 2009: A Day in the Life of Sheri Reynolds-the sweet in-between-waiting for me-snooping-what’s Jackson Browne got to do with it-writing retreat-a brief history of time-winter spring summer fall-abandoned things

December 2009: A Day in the Life of Elizabeth Benedict-books to trees-what have I done with my life-the signal-the ordinary day-it is all just shopping-send in the elves-Christmas magic-a new book bag-VCFA visuals: 1st 3 days

January 2010: A Day in the Life of Abigail Thomas-filled up & emptied out-an equal stillness-frozen-the first residency-reading like a writer: part 1-reading like a writer: part 2:taking it to a new level-reading like a writer: part 3: questions to ask-reading like a writer: part 4: reading a story-reading like a writer: part 5: taking a story apart

February 2010: A Day in the Life of Alexander Chee-over the weekend at sea island-devotion-lines connect in thin ways-from santa fe-from the jersey shore-not firmly based-not that i’m counting-hidden from view

March 2010: A Day in the Life of Miciah Bay Gault-rearrangement-let me in-the days cottages-reasons to live-i’m in italy-another last night in rome-madame this is not your day

April 2010: A Day in the Life of Robin Black-starting with the moment-no longer what I want-the conversation-evidence-iworld-four women and a sheep-the water is wide-what it is like-the birthday of an author-if I loved you

May 2010: A Day in the Life of Daniel Asa Rose-from their flat, yellowed pages-the maytrees-time to adapt again-the person underneath-so this morning-6 things I learned from Annie Dillard-structure echoes content

June 2010: A Day in the Life of Lucia Orth-framing the past-four poems-more of this world-rejoyce-the old swing set-day dreams-core-some saturday morning fun-mrs. somebody somebody-back in vermont again

July 2010: A Day in the Life of Tracy Winn-the second residency-places that call us back-hoping to discover-proof-writing my way there-my name is mary sutter-staying in the room-not searching for structure-i cannot get you close enough-a life in stories-odd disjointed pieces at strange times of the day

August 2010: A Day in the Life of Diane Lefer-because the detail is divine-you are not here-alone with all that could happen-crossing borders-out my window: 8/17/10-out my window: 8/18/10-toes-look again-catching lives-jane’s passions-Eudora Welty’s potato salad

***

During the next twelve months, I hope even more of you will join the conversation. I’m looking forward to it!

 

writing my way there

I walk every step of what used to be the camp, of what is now Kingsland Bay State Park. Then I sit in a white Adirondack chair with my pen and paper, looking across the bord de l’eau to the Adirondacks. I bring my vision in to the flag pole cemented to the ground. The cement tells me it’s the same one that was here when I arrived for the first time in July of 1970.

Why do I want to come back? For proof I was here. For clues as to who I used to be. I just want to stay long enough to…

I think this place has something to tell me.

I remember friends I made here, but I no longer keep up with them. It’s this place I miss, not the people who were here. Is it this place or the person I was here?

I was my best self here. I learned how to be myself here. It was my first time away from home for a long period of time–eight weeks that first summer, nine the others. Each summer I got closer to me.

The metal rings holding the flag clang against the pole. The water of Lake Champlain laps against the shore. People spread cloths on the picnic tables. A motor boat zooms past a large sail boat that seems to linger in the moment.

Writing about it again this morning for this post, I finally get it. It’s the continuous life. That’s why I’m here–to understand that the girl who was here in 1970 is the same woman who is here now. I’ve been tagging these posts all week with those words without seeing it.

As Mary Gordon wrote so well in The Rest of Life:

“She sees that she has before her an important task: to understand that all the things that happened in her life happened to her.  That she is the same person who was born, was a child, a girl, a young woman, a woman, and now she is old.  That there is some line running through her body like a wick.  She is the same person who was once born.  All the things that happened to her happened to one person…’I’m trying to understand what it means to have had a life.’”

Final post in 4-part series on
Ecole Champlain:
Part 1: places that call us back
Part 2: hoping to discover
Part 3: proof
Part 4: writing my way there

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places that call us back

Among other places–and I’m trying to discover which ones–Ecole Champlain, the French camp in Vermont where I spent three summers–1970, 1971, 1972–is a place that now seems mysterious to me, as if it’s withholding secrets instead of holding memories.

In an interesting symmetry, I have now revisited three times as an adult–in October of 1996, in July of 2001, and a week ago, on July 3rd–this last time with more openness and intention than the other times. Curiously I think this openness comes from writing over the last six months without intention.

It’s as if there’s a surface that I’m trying to get below or a window I’m trying to see through.

In a recent post, Lindsey at A Design So Vast, wrote about the spaces that hold our memories:

Sometimes physical space seems so mute, so indifferent; it surprises me that somehow the important moments that have transpired in a place don’t remain there, echoing, animate, alive somehow. Maybe they do. Occasionally, in returning to a place that hosted an important moment in my life, I can feel that moment, hovering, bumping into me, invisible to the eye but not to the spirit.

During this next week, I hope to write more about my return to this place and why some places call to us from the past, why they draw us back as they do.

Do you have places that call you back?

1st post in 4-part series on
Ecole Champlain:
Part 1: places that call us back
Part 2: hoping to discover
Part 3: proof
Part 4: writing my way there

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framing the past

The summer I was thirteen I flew by myself to Vermont for seven weeks of camp. Somebody in our cabin had brought a record player, and it was there in the woods that I first heard the music of James Taylor and Carole King. After I got back home, I bought their albums. I still have them–although they now hang on a wall.

On Thursday night in Atlanta I heard Carole King and James Taylor live as part of their Troubadour Reunion. This round stage that rotates slowly was created specifically for the tour, with small tables for two around it–an attempt at recreating within an arena the nightclub atmosphere that King and Taylor played to in Los Angeles at the Troubadour.

The concert started a little late, around 8:15, but they were on stage almost 3 hours–until after 11–with only a 15 minute intermission. They played So Far Away, Smackwater Jack, Sweet Baby James, Country Road, Fire and Rain, Natural Woman, Up on the Roof, You’ve Got a Friend, I Feel the Earth Move….

from the first half

I’ve seen James Taylor in concert many times, and he was as wonderfully mellow as ever. I’d never seen Carole King before. She didn’t seem quite as comfortable, but the audience loved her. She’s small and wore stiletto-heeled boots the first half. She sang, played the piano and the guitar, and jumped around all over the stage. She sounds the same as ever–and Tapestry came out almost 40 years ago.

from the second half

There was something about seeing the two of them together that really took me back, that made me realize just how long ago (and far away) that cabin in Vermont was.

And speaking of years, Carole King is now 68 and I now have a new vision of what it means to be 68. James Taylor is a mere 62. And together they can rock the house down.

It’s not too late to see them in concert. Here are the remaining dates for the Troubadour Reunion. And look for them on The Today Show on June 18th.

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Madame, this is not your day

Because I’m always writing about how much I LOVE traveling, full disclosure compels me to tell the story of my trip home from Sirenland. I am only just now able to speak of this–now that the story has come to an end and I did in fact make it home. As a foil, I will sprinkle the story with lovely photos from the trip.

One of the amazing things about Sirenland is that it includes spouses in the dinners, the readings, everything except the workshops. So my husband was with me in Italy. He and I left Positano Saturday morning around 8:30. We took the train from Naples to Rome. After a pasta lunch with friends near the Piazza del Popolo, followed by a walk to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, then a glass of wine in the courtyard of our hotel, I began to feel sick. I went up to the room to lie down for a minute. Then I started throwing up. Which went on for hours. From my bed, between trips to the bathroom, I could see Cal on the balcony looking out at Rome. I could also see a couple across the way. Cal told me later that they were pointing at me on the bed and him on the balcony and laughing.

Anyway, even though I stopped throwing up sometime around midnight, I was dehydrated. My body felt all achy and feverish and so weird that I could not make myself get out of my clothes. Also, I could not stop myself from worrying about having to be on a plane in a few hours.

Sunday morning, I washed my face and brushed my teeth but did not have the strength to dig into my suitcase to change clothes. I told myself if I could just make it to the plane, I could curl up and go to sleep and by the time I got home, I would feel better. I would not breathe on anyone, and I would keep my anti-bacterial gel in my pocket.

At the Rome airport, I accepted the boarding pass the agent handed me, and I checked my second carry-on because I could barely lift my purse. An hour later, as Cal was about to leave to get on his plane (we fly separately), he noticed that my boarding pass had me going to Boston instead of Chicago.

The agent in the Alitalia Lounge helped me untangle the boarding pass mess and tried to reroute my suitcase but no luck there.

I finally got on the plane, took my shoes off, put on my face mask and got under the covers…only to hear moments later that we had to get off the plane for mechanical difficulties. When I walked back into the lounge, the agent who had helped me with the boarding pass was still there and I told her I was on the plane to Chicago, and with her lovely Italian accent, she said, “Madame, this is not your day.” No kidding.

Delayed one hour, then two more. Then they sent us to the airport Hilton to await instructions. I threw off my shoes and collapsed on the bed to sleep for 3 hours. Woke up, washed my underwear and socks in the sink, aired my other clothes, wrapped up in my raincoat, and watched movies on TV. Oh yeah, and the air conditioning was not working in the hotel. When our instructions came in, we learned that we would not be leaving until the next morning at 8, and that we should be at the airport at 6.

Back at the airport on the way to my gate, I got trapped in the train along with two other women. They had to come manually open the doors. Then the plane was delayed 30 minutes–fueling and catering…

By the time I got home–Positano to Naples to Rome to Chicago to Atlanta to Columbus–I had been in the same clothes for 3 days.

So sometimes, although I hate to admit it, I don’t love traveling. There. I said it.

Coming soon: more pictures from Italy, stories from Sirenland, and lots from my workshop with Ron Carlson. Also, on the first, a new guest post in the How We Spend Our Days series!

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a new book bag

As some of you know, French was my first passion. The summers after seventh, eighth, and ninth grades I spent seven to nine weeks in Ferrisburg, Vermont at Ecole Champlain, a French camp on Lake Champlain. I just loved it.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit Middlebury College. I decided that’s where I would go to school. And I would live in their dorm Le Chateau and speak French all the time.

When I was a junior in high school, I spent a weekend skiing in North Carolina–in blue jeans. I froze. I decided I could not possibly go to school any farther north than North Carolina. I found a school as much like Middlebury as I could in North Carolina–Davidson College. That’s where I went, and I loved every second of it.

Nevertheless, I have always kind of regretted that I wimped out on my dream.

Tomorrow, with a different dream, I’m finally heading into a Vermont winter. I have snow boots, a down jacket, a hat, a scarf, gloves, and a new book bag. I’m going back to school–to Vermont College for my MFA in Writing.

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eucalyptus

DSC00118I sit at my desk and write on this cloudy fall Saturday, working on this new story. Outside, the leaves are changing. But what keeps drawing my attention is this eucalyptus bush in the left panes of the window. When I first started this blog in September of 2008, the top of that bush, which I planted, was below the window.

I sit at my desk and write. Sometimes it’s easy to see change.

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a room with a view

So the logical, orderly side of me  is distressed that I haven’t better organized this trilogy of posts–my writing room, the writer’s desk, and today, a room with a view. Instead it’s the writer’s side of me that has let one thing lead to another and then overlap and circle around. My first choice would be to delete all three posts, reorganize, and re-post, but I’m trying to go with it.

In the last two posts, I’ve felt the absence of two things. The first is a more specific reference to Virginia Woolf’s words read to the Arts Society in October 1928 and collected in the book, A Room of One’s Own. She writes:

IMG_2336“But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction–what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?…a woman must have money and a room of her own is she is to write fiction…”

Saving the subject of money for another day, what she was saying is that a woman needs freedom in order to write.

In these essays, Woolf also describes the relationship of fiction to life:

“…fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

Straight ahead where Tuesday night I spotted a 10-point buck

what's in front of me

To my right into the woods

To my right into the woods

The second thing I’ve felt the absence of in these posts is the subject of what’s in front of us as we write. Some people don’t want any view, but last summer when I was staying in a hotel in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina, and all I had to look at was a wall, I felt claustrophobic. I shoved my computer in my purse and headed for a view. If I could pick any, it would be the ocean. It doesn’t really make any sense.

If I’m writing, I’m looking at my screen. I can’t explain it other than to say, if I have a choice in the matter, I prefer the feeling of limitless possibility and of things opening up in front of me.

When you’re writing, does it matter if you have a view?

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