Monday, October 29, 2007


I have two new books, Patricia Hampl’s I Could Tell you Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory and Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. I ordered both on the basis of reviews I had read. The Doidge is about how the brain can change itself, case studies in the relatively new theory of neuroplasticity. I have read the first two chapters. At first I wanted to go right to the chapter on coming back from a stroke and the one on improving your memory, but I decided that it was better to proceed in an orderly fashion.

This morning I also received clothes I had ordered for Bill and me, part of my plan to improve us. I realized when Bill was in the hospital that his eccentricity had turned from being that of a lovable absent-minded brilliant professor to being that of a crazy old man. I resolved to change his outward appearance. This got me looking at myself. The difficulty with all my self-improvement schemes is that I don’t really know how to improve either him or me. I study other old women’s hair-dos and clothes, but I don’t really have an appropriate model.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I am going to change the focus of my blog slightly. I realize that lately I haven’t been doing much “tracing my way from birth.” My preoccupation with Bill’s medical troubles has me looking forward rather than back. My blog has become more like a random diary (log, I suppose, web log) with no focus at all. I want a focus. Many years ago a writers’ group I was in heard our friend Ted read from his fishing journal, accounts of his various fishing trips. This gave him wide liberty to talk about himself, the weather, the setting, as well as the fish he caught. Bill decided he wanted to write such a journal, and his took the theme of his beer bottle trips. The boy across the street had bought a bicycle with the proceeds of his bottle hunting, and Bill was amazed and impressed that so much money could be accumulated just by finding and redeeming them. While hunting for bottles, he could note the birds, foliage, herbage he saw. He could ruminate. I forget how long he continued this journal, and I don’t know what became of it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Gaston Bachelard devotes a chapter to corners in his The Poetics of Space. “The point of departure of my reflections is the following: every corner in a house, every angle in a room, every inch of secluded space in which we like to hide, or withdraw into ourselves, is a symbol of solitude for the imagination…”

I love the words “nooks and crannies.” I remember a space in a house we lived in for only a short time, when I was three or four. The space was enclosed, under the stairs to the second floor. I don’t remember anything else about the house. The house my parents were finally able to buy after moving from place to place (9 houses in 9 years) had a nook under the stairs, with bookshelves, a wicker loveseat, a lamp. When my younger cousin, a bookworm from early on, would come to visit us, he would sit there and browse, obviously at peace. He was only 7 or 8 when he began this custom. Our cellar here in this house has a space under and in back of the stairs, and it was inhabited by our son for a while, and later our grandchild made a clubhouse there.

When I decided to make myself a nook, I imagined being snuggled up in the chair, reading or writing, a snowstorm raging outside. It would be my refuge, yet still with a prospect to outside.

The painting is of my father, done by one of his colleagues in the artist room of the Boston Globe. The table was constructed by my husband of the box of a broken stereo and slabs of concrete, during his concrete phase of object making. The room was an addition to our tiny house. All we really needed was another bedroom and bathroom but the woman who designed it told us we could have a room on top of the bedroom for very little extra money. It has huge windows on all four sides with a sliding glass door leading out to a screened-in porch.

The Corner Dweller

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Holiday

I am taking the day off. Last night I got the coffee ready to go, bought an apple pie at the church bake sale (a favorite New England breakfast), and after the coffee was made, went back to bed to have my coffee and pie and read one of the three newspapers we get. Today I will only do things I enjoy. This afternoon we will go for our daily walk (we have missed it two days in a row) and either call out for Chinese or go to a restaurant for supper. A year ago I decided to make myself a nest, a refuge, a cozy corner, for reading and contemplating. Last week I finally got it done. Today I will make use of it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I began writing a column on celebrity, intending to make something of the subject in relation to the arts. I have now written 623 of my 800 words and have no point to make at all. I still have 4 days to come up with some stunning insight, but I am not too confident it will happen. For quite a while I was ahead of the game, having one column nearly ready while working and thinking about another, but various circumstances have put me behind and I am now just barely one step ahead of the deadline. I worry that I am repeating myself or that the columns are getting less interesting. Ten years ago I also wrote weekly, but at that time the pieces were profiles of artists, writers and craftspeople, and so there was an endless supply of subjects with no chance of repeating myself. The people I wrote about made the articles interesting. Now I have to dredge subjects up out of my own innards although I do get inspiration from articles I read and conversations I have.

I usually start out with a subject, and just the process of writing gets me ruminating, lets me figure out a point or if I am lucky, several points. I wonder how long I can keep this up. When I was first asked to do the column, nearly a year ago, I said I would do it every other week, but the person they got to do it with me didn’t work out and they asked me to do it weekly. I wish now that I had declined. I have a new appreciation for those weekly columnists I admire: Rex Murphy, David Brooks, Garrison Keillor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Various Edens

My cousin lives in southern California in the middle of the fires. She has a fantastically gorgeous garden. She lives in what appears to be the perfect climate in an area of stunning beauty. I, on the other hand, live in what most people would regard as an inferior climate. Once during an ice storm the power was out for 80 hours. We live at the top of the hill, and before we bought a four wheel drive Subaru we were often slip-sliding our way home from downtown. The temperature gets so low that when the kids were little, I would walk them to school for fear they would fall and die of exposure. When we first arrived here, people would ask, incredulous, why we had left North Carolina to come to this place. I would explain that in North Carolina we had encountered poisonous snakes, a rabid dog (fourteen shots in my abdomen when I was 7 months pregnant), black widow spiders and suffocating heat. Here we have black flies. We have a TV program on beautiful gardens, “Recreating Eden”, and two of these were set in Bali. But Bali has terrorists. My husband’s colleagues all retired about the same time he did, and most of them moved from here. They had to stay in Canada because of our medical system, but I am sure that if it weren’t for that, they would have moved to a better clime, and indeed most of them do spend winters in the south.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have just filed my State of the Art column. This one is about memoirs and journals. I maintain that even people who don’t read much like them. Self-published ones are often more interesting than commercially published ones. I think this is the reason that reading blogs is so appealing. I find Zhoen’s accounts of her operating room experiences fascinating; they have the ring of truth, they are dramatic, they include the jargon of the specialist. And of course, every one of us expects sometime in our life to be the patient on the operating table, and we would like to understand what is happening. A nosy but practical interest. I ended my column with this paragraph.

“One of the most moving journals I have ever read is That Time of Year: A Chronicle of Life in a Nursing Home by one of my favorite professors. In his introduction Robert Tucker writes, 'I have asked myself, as one also interested in composition, how Joyce Horner manages so effectively to sustain a public interest (a stranger’s--my own, for example, as reader—for I never met her) in these originally private jottings.' I don’t remember anything about Miss Horner’s two novels, but I remember vividly this journal of her three years in a nursing home.”

How was it possible to make the account of such a restricted life so entertaining?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I have begun a new novel. Writing my arts column (the editor named it State of the Art), writing e-mails, writing on this blog, are all satisfying and keep me going. But creating a new world and new characters in that world is not only satisfying, it is joyful, one of the great pleasures of my life. I am trying something new. I am writing it on the computer rather than in notebooks. And for the hundredth time I am to trying to outline a plot. I seem to have no talent at all for plotting. I have a novel nearly finished, but it is about a woman whose husband has had a stroke, and because my husband had one in January, I can't bear to go back to it just now. I haven't published a novel for thirteen years although I have written many since then. If I needed the money, was more ambitious or wasn't so lazy, I would perhaps be more persistent at revising and sending the novels to publishers. Or perhaps I just can't bear the rejection.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ready, Set, Go

Last week at our writers’ group we were discussing autumn. One of our members was bemoaning the turning and falling of the leaves. “Thank God for conifers,” she said. Another said autumn was her favorite season – the beautiful foliage, the cozy feeling when it gets dark early. The men didn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other. When we first came to New Brunswick, for several years winter arrived without my being prepared. Lawn furniture or hose or bicycle was left outside and covered with snow. The kids didn’t have new boots. Our winter clothes weren’t out. The furnace hadn’t been checked. As the years have gone by, I have become more and more obsessed with getting ready for winter, and this year, having been battered by all sorts of unexpected crises, I am more obsessed than ever. The other day when my aunt phoned, I told her I was getting ready for winter. She was amused. Her parting words were, “Go get ready for winter.”

Friday, October 12, 2007


Our church ladies are having a rummage sale tomorrow, and the gym is crammed with stuff, an unbelievable amount of clothes, lamps, geegaws, furniture. They never sell it all, and on Monday the Anti-Poverty people will come take the remains to their on-going rummage sale. I loathe rummage sales, and Bill loves them. I loathe holding yard sales and attending them; Bill loves having them and attending them. The university women’s club has a yearly book sale with thousands of books. The sheer number of books discourages me. The ladies have made some attempt to sort them, but with so many people crowding you, looking for any particular book is impossible. And yet in our basement, I have a room crowded with “archives”, my fancy name for the photographs, letters, clippings, kids’ report cards. Whenever I try to file the papers or otherwise make sense of them, I think I should throw some of it away. But I am unable to make judgments about should go and what should remain. When we were cleaning out our aunt’s apartment, we were faced with many photos, some of them of very interesting looking people obviously from a foreign clime, and knew there was no hope of figuring out who these people were, where they were from, how we were related. We reluctantly threw many of them out, but even now I wish we had kept the four or five photos of the young girls in embroidered pinafores picking grapes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Destructive Metaphors

I am writing a column about the kinds of metaphors that I consider destructive, root metaphors that have so taken hold of us that they provide a world view. The main example I give is the one that uses war as a metaphor for curing diseases, especially cancer. Every day I read in the obituaries that someone fought a valiant fight against cancer. Or waged a courageous battle. I have many objections with this metaphor: the enemy is elusive and war is such a hateful activity are two. It is hard for me to get away from the Cartesian dualism – my body as the grubby vessel for my superior mind and soul. In all our nine months of dealing with various diseases, including three cancers, I didn’t hear any doctor use the metaphor of waging war. Bill’s body had somehow produced something that should come out, like a tooth cavity, and it was taken out. No doctor proclaimed himself the general of an army. He or she were part of a “team” of doctors.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Coming Home

I hadn't realized how long I had been away. The last time I wrote I was getting ready for summer. Today I started to get ready for winter. Bill has had nine months of various medical troubles, but, knock on wood, we are coming out of the woods. The good news is that he didn't have to have chemotherapy for the lung cancer and the other cancers have all been excised.