The Farm, The Weariness.

posted in: Family 3
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me

Claus came over from Chicago for a visit while I’m here. Aside from the interest he has in seeing where I grew up, it’s objectively great for him to see a quaint Midwestern village. It would be the same for me if I were in Germany; I’d probably travel miles to see a “real life” German village. I’ve shown him the theater; we went to see some covered bridges; we’ve eaten several meals at the local Northside Cafe; we checked out the high school football field.

And this afternoon, we took a drive into the countryside. But it wasn’t just any old Sunday drive; we drove seven miles south-ish and west-ish of town to the farm where I grew up.

Lord Almighty, all our old pains. So precious, so deep, so white-knuckled. Our most blinding pains are woven into us and the older we get, the older the pain gets and don’t you dare pull that thread. It’s the first tragedy of my life, leaving that farm, and the story of it — mythic, epic, now — has been squatting on my heart ever since, despite hours of therapy, true love, art. Despite travels to Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, to the far reaches of the galaxy, to Florida. I’d love to say it was different, that I’m resolved and actualized and enlightened by age if nothing else, but I see that farm and it all comes back. Blah, blah, blah.

I was little. My sisters were little. My mom and dad were getting divorced. My sisters and I got on the school bus one day. We never went back to the farm. We didn’t know we wouldn’t go back, we just never did. We never slept in our beds again. We never saw our toy box again. We didn’t say goodbye to our cats. We were country kids, then we were not. Cry me a river. Amazon.

Why go out there? I don’t know. One may select from a variety of Sunday afternoon activities and ghost-hunting is an activity one may choose to select when you’re me, in Winterset. It’s all out there, just seven miles out, south-ish and west-ish of this particular and particularly quaint Midwestern village. The acreage looks a lot different from when I was eight, but it’s the same. It is exactly, exactly the same and I would know because I know every inch of that place.

There’s a long drive to the property from the road. It’s not possible to get to the house without making a big production of it: you don’t visit my farm by accident. I don’t know the people who live there, so Claus and just parked the car on the road. That was for the best. I wouldn’t be able to handle touching the yard, the doorknobs. I just know I couldn’t. Squinting at things from far away was plenty.

Claus took pictures of the landscape and of me. Of all the pictures he took, there’s one that truly works. It’s a closeup of me. I’m wearing my Iowa Hawkeyes hooded sweatshirt. The wind is blowing my hair around and I’ve got one hand up to hold it back. My nails are lacquered red because I got a manicure for TV taping tomorrow. The sun is glinting off the gold baby ring I never take off. I’m squinting because the sun is behind the camera. I look every day of my thirty-six years. I’m not smiling. But I’m not crying. The farm is behind me, blurry.

*There’s more about all that right here.



Mission: Peeps

posted in: Day In The Life 0
I may be looking at the next quilt I want to make; I may be looking at cheesecake. Photo: Claus
These guys are a start. Photo: Claus

I’m on a mission. “Mission: Peeps.”

Here’s what my life is like: working, traveling, writing, sleeping, running errands, hanging out with Claus. Many of you will find that list is roughly your life, too, except for the Claus part — I hope. It’s a busy kind of life, but it’s important to not lose sight of what’s really important. Community. Relationships. Friendships.

I talk to friends and family in my life and write sincere emails, comment on posts, and send/receive funny texts and things. I have people I love and I assume these people love me at least a little bit or they wouldn’t send me .gifs of dogs getting blowouts. There are catch-up calls with long-distance friends from time to time, but those are often months apart. Even years apart in some cases.

The problem (and I hope this is not a problem for you) is that I don’t hang out with people much. When someone asks me to do this or that fun thing, I’m out of town. When I’m home for a spell and want to get together (in the past year or so I was never, ever home for a spell but that’s another story) other people are on vacation. Or they have a commitment, or they have a baby. So it’s all texts and emails and it’s better than nothing.

But then I need a friend and there’s no one there. “There” like on my couch “there.” One friend would be fantastic; I don’t even let myself dream of a whole crew coming over and hanging out just because. It used to be like that. In high school, in college, people just dropped by, and your whole world was your relatively tiny campus, so it was easier to have a close community. If you were going through something, sometimes you wished you could isolate and think for five minutes, but nope, there’s The Fons coming in in her leather jacket going, “Eeyyyyy!”

This has to change for me, this lack of real-life peeps in my life who I see on a regular basis.

When I come home from a teaching trip, I can’t keep doing what I’ve been doing for a long time, now: flop, bake things, write things, work on the next thing. I have to call people. People who are in town, not six states away. There’s a once-a-month sewing group that my (fabulous, steadfast, now longtime) friend Heather hosts. I love going to sewing group and even if I’m bushed, I need to go to sewing group. And I have to connect with and follow through with new friends from sewing group. I need to make friend dates and keep them. I need more women in my life and I need them in my house, not just on my text message screen. If I can go to someone else’s house, great. Not only will new relationships form, hopefully, I enjoy seeing the inside of people’s homes.

The great news is that it’s already begun. In fact, I began Mission: Peeps almost two months ago. I’m happy to report it’s working. You just have to say yes to things. For me — an introvert who likes activities that are usually done on one’s own, e.g., writing, sewing, bathing — it’s a challenge to say yes. But I need people around me like anyone else and I’m not going to stay stuck in a place that on a really bad day, has an echo.

Guest Post: Rebecca West’s Heartbroken Letter

posted in: Art 0
"Marcella" by Kirchner, 1910. Image: Wikipedia
“Marcella” by Kirchner, 1910. Image: Wikipedia

Up on Washington Island we have a copy of a book edited by Shawn Usher called Letters of Note. Both Mom and I had an interest in the book; she bought it and I read it all during the week of the wedding. It’s a compendium of “letters deserving of a wider audience.”

There are scanned-in images of actual letters from actual people, e.g., Elvis to Nixon (he wanted to come over in the middle of the night), Aldous Huxley’s wife to her daughter (she administered LSD to Aldous, at his request, as he lay dying), Michaelangelo’s shopping list from 1518 (this is in Vol. II, actually, which I cannot wait to get.) There was one letter in the book that I cannot, cannot get out of my head. I found it online and I read it over and over again. If I get in big trouble for including it here, it’ll be worth it and of course I’ll delete this post.

Writer Rebecca West was in love with H.G. Wells. They eventually got back together and had a kid, but earlier in their relationship, Wells dumped her. She wrote this letter to him in 1913 and it is the most heartbreaking, beautiful piece of writing, I can hardly stand it. Take the time to read it. You will probably never forget it, especially if you’ve been in love and dumped. Most of us have been.

Dear H. G.,

During the next few days I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death. At any rate I shall be quite a different person. I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene.

I don’t understand why you wanted me three months ago and don’t want me now. I wish I knew why that were so. It’s something I can’t understand, something I despise. And the worst of it is that if I despise you I rage because you stand between me and peace. Of course you’re quite right. I haven’t anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don’t want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort. I never nurse them except when they’re very ill. I carry this to excess. On reflection I can imagine that the occasion on which my mother found me most helpful to live with was when I helped her out of a burning house.

I always knew that you would hurt me to death some day, but I hoped to choose the time and place. You’ve always been unconsciously hostile to me and I have tried to conciliate you by hacking away at my love for you, cutting it down to the little thing that was the most you wanted. I am always at a loss when I meet hostility, because I can love and I can do practically nothing else. I was the wrong sort of person for you to have to do with. You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn. You can’t conceive a person resenting the humiliation of an emotional failure so much that they twice tried to kill themselves: that seems silly to you. I can’t conceive of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.

You’ve literally ruined me. I’m burned down to my foundations. I may build myself again or I may not. You say obsessions are curable. They are. But people like me swing themselves from one passion to another, and if they miss smash down somewhere where there aren’t any passions at all but only bare boards and sawdust. You have done for me utterly. You know it. That’s why you are trying to persuade yourself that I am a coarse, sprawling, boneless creature, and so it doesn’t matter. When you said, “You’ve been talking unwisely, Rebecca,” you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don’t think you’re right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.

That is a subtle flattery. But I hate you when you try to cheapen the things I did honestly and cleanly. You did it once before when you wrote to me of “your—much more precious than you imagine it to be—self.” That suggests that I projected a weekend at the Brighton Metropole with Horatio Bottomley. Whereas I had written to say that I loved you. You did it again on Friday when you said that what I wanted was some decent fun and that my mind had been, not exactly corrupted, but excited, by people who talked in an ugly way about things that are really beautiful. That was a vile thing to say. You once found my willingness to love you a beautiful and courageous thing. I still think it was. Your spinsterishness makes you feel that a woman desperately and hopelessly in love with a man is an indecent spectacle and a reversal of the natural order of things. But you should have been too fine to feel like that.

I would give my whole life to feel your arms round me again.

I wish you had loved me. I wish you liked me.



P.S. Don’t leave me utterly alone. If I live write to me now and then. You like me enough for that. At least I pretend to myself you do.


posted in: D.C., Luv 0
The monthly average maximum temperature of Los Angeles compared to Washington.
The monthly average maximum temperature of Los Angeles compared to Washington. This graph appears to be a school project. My apologies to any professional meteorologist I have just gravely offended.

For New Year’s Eve, I will be here in Washington and Yuri will be in Los Angeles. We texted and have arranged to talk at midnight tomorrow, which means that now I have plans for the evening. When I woke up this morning, I did not have plans. I don’t know if this suited me or not; New Year’s Eve is always a little problematic on account of all the people wearing paper hats and drinking Rumplemintz.

You know what’s hard? Breaking up.

You know what’s harder? After all that.

I’ve been working my house pride. There were leaves on my stone steps; I swept them away before any snow could fall and lock them into the corners. I’ve been sewing up a storm the past few days; I tidied my sewing table and vacuumed up thread this morning. I did laundry. I baked. Keeping the ship ship-shape is my tendency, but now, anything less than sparkly is non-negotiable. I can be on my own, in a new city, with colder weather bearing down; I can miss my boo and actually ask various people, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” with no hint of irony, but I cannot do any of this with a sinkful of dirty dishes or mud on the living room rug. Only clean countertops will do.

Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: If you are going along after a breakup and feeling relatively fit and optimistic, do not under any circumstances begin to hum the Rosemary Clooney rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” This is dangerous. Circling sharks dangerous. You’ll forget one of the verses and be so crippled by how applicable this gorgeous, sad song is to your very life, you will have to go online and find it and listen to it.

Oxygen masks. Flotation device. Emergency exit. Oh, dear.

What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I’m blue
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
When I am wondering
Who Is kissing you
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
With just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do
With just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?