Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Some of you may remember that I participated in National Novel Writing Month last November. The resulting 50,546-word novel was a joy to create (except when it was agonizing). So I've decided (as of about 11:30 p.m. on March 31) to participate in Script Frenzy this year.

It's the same concept, but with a script: To "win," you have to write 100 pages of a script during the month of April. I came up with a bad, bad idea and began right at midnight. That's why I am up at 2 a.m. as I write this.

So...I thought you might like to know. Four pages down...96 to go!

Friday, March 26, 2010


I love New York. I always wanted to live here, and here I am. It is never disappointing. Every day, I remember that I am lucky. Every day, it is my job to check on Black River Bay, and this is a good job.

And so I do not say what I'm about to say in order to convey any kind of sadness, because I am not sad.

For the last three weeks, I have dreamed over and over about the coast of Mississippi. I used to live down there...not quite on the coast, but just up from it. We were stationed in Italy, and the Iraq part of the war had just started. When my husband went to the war, I went to south Mississippi. I was getting my doctorate down there and had to go to class. Then, after a year, he came home, and I went back to Italy to stay with him. But the next year, he went to Afghanistan, and I went back to Mississippi. And so on, until I finished my doctorate and we moved way up here, to New York.

The first part of the war was incredibly awful. Communication was difficult and slow, and people kept getting hurt and killed. And graduate school, for those of you who haven't been, has some difficult parts even though it's fun. So it was a hard time all around. But I lived in south Mississippi, and there were no sharp edges there for me.

My apartment was on the second floor of a two-story building. Long into the hot nights, me and my neighbors -- college students and National Guard people stationed at Camp Shelby -- would sit out on the balcony drinking tea, passing around the resident baby, petting the stray cats our landlady encouraged us to spoil. In the day time even, on the weekends, I'd sit out there boiling, reading inscrutable literary theory and making notes for my papers. And sometimes, when the war was too terrible or the sky was that deep blue it only gets in Mississippi, I'd leave everything I ought to be doing and drive 45 minutes to sit by the ocean.

Sometimes I'd drive straight from work. I'd be down there in the dirty sand wearing my dress shoes, sharing donut holes with the gulls. This was before Hurricane Katrina, so if I looked one direction, there were lovely huge houses and if I looked the other direction, there was the bay. To a girl from Oklahoma, smelling the ocean is miraculous. My Mississippi friends teased me for loving it. They didn't consider their beach a beach or the bay the ocean, but it was salt water, there were jellyfish, and I couldn't see its end, so to me, it was the ocean. It was everything I needed right then.

Every time I drove toward it, I'd feel like I was going to find out it wasn't really there. That's how much I loved it. And unfortunately, one day, much of it really wasn't there anymore, after the hurricane. It was a long time before we could drive down there, and even then, driving down there wasn't the right thing to do unless you came to help. So I came to help sometimes, but not enough. And I never helped the Mississippi coast as much as it helped me.

I hate that every time I talk about it now I have to talk about the hurricane.

I haven't been dreaming about the hurricane. When I dream of the coast right now, it's like it was before -- a little dirty, a little tacky in places, a quiet place where I could sit on the sand and watch banana boats. There used to be a restaurant with a lobster on its roof and a casino shaped like a pirate ship. The Mississippi coast wasn't an idyllic place, even before the hurricane, but there are a lot of beautiful things missing from it now.

Still, I love it, and I wish I could go there. I think I dream of it because it still sometimes seems weird that my husband is deployed and I'm not in Misssissippi. I never considered being anywhere else. I keep dreaming I park my car by the pier in Gulfport and start walking along the beach, then forget to stop and realize I've walked all the way to Alabama and it's getting dark. Last night in my dream, there was a party going on all along the water's edge, so it wasn't scary walking back. Everyone was making big vats of shrimp and dancing.

I'm so happy in New York, and this deployment is no worse than any other so far. Like I said, I'm not sad. But there is a longing that is not sadness, and that's what I have: Wishing so deeply that if I just blink my eyes real hard I'll find I dreamed myself in New York but I'm really lying across my bed in Mississippi with the window open and the humid heat all through me and my car full of gas so I can just get in and drive through the longleaf pines until I can't go any farther south.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Census

I LOVE filling out the census form. I like statistics, and I enjoy filling out surveys of all kinds. I don't know why, but I find it very relaxing. One time, when President Clinton was in office, I was called by the GALLUP POLL!! That was a very happy day for me, and the Gallup person was very surprised to have someone so excited to be polled.

So today, I finally had a moment to fill out my census form.

I'm not a particularly maudlin military wife. I panic when someone knocks on the door and have those days of driving around the block before getting to my house just in case there's a government car there. I left a Coke my husband had been drinking on the coffeetable for over a month out of sheer sentimentality. But those are all normal things, I think, and they don't take over. For the most part, I take deployment as a big adventure for both of us and the fulfillment of my husband's childhood dreams.

But today, I had A Moment over the Census form.

Because we just bought our first house right before he left, and I had to put on the Census form that I live here alone. He gets counted in an "overseas" count. They ask us not to put deployed people on our forms so they don't get counted twice. I understand that. I know filling out only "Person 1" doesn't mean he' s not my husband. But would have been more fun to put us both on there, with the little checkmark by him as the homeowner.

Oh well...I'll probably feel better when I finally do our taxes and they are "joint." :)

Also, filling out the Census form as just myself will make a funny note in the statistics. I'm just imagining the people (or computer, I guess) thinking, " weird that a single Creek woman lives in Sackets Harbor." Because I PROMISE you I'm the only one!

And, despite the Census form, I am a good man's "Person 2"!

Now, back to eating nachos for dinner, taking up the whole entire bed, driving around with the heater on full-blast, watching marathons of "19 Kids and Counting" and all those other good things about war.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sleepy Weather

Today it is cold and drizzly and gray. My early students did an admirable job of trying to be enthusiastic, but my later students could barely keep their eyes open no matter what I did. I forgot my umbrella, and I didn't wear a thick enough coat.

I wish I could go to bed with the little dogs. I like how they smell when they are wet -- stink and ALIVE. I wish we could lie under heavy quilts and I could read and give them treats.

But I have papers to grade, as always. I'm going to make some hot tea for that endeavor. It is hard to set my mind to it, but it must be done.

How do people with children do this? How do my students, who have classes AND full-time jobs AND children do this? How are they not spread so thin they disappear? I'm a lucky person, with time to blog about how the rain makes me sleepy.

So I'm trying to act lucky.

(Oh how I wish I could get into bed!!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bah Humbug

We got about five minutes of snow followed by thirty minutes of sleet that melted when it hit the ground.

So it really must be spring.

As I said, bah humbug.

Oh well. Band practice was fun, and we did a fine job on "Immigrant Song" for a bunch of people who hadn't played it before. So at least we can SING about snow if we can't have any.

Guess what!

I'm about to be late for band practice, so this may be my shortest blog ever, but I have to tell you: It's snowing!


But still.

I've printed out the lyrics to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." One of our drummers likes to play it. I think it's an appropriate song for the day.

"Come from the land of the ice and snow..."


Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Very Exciting Quilt Show

People here are used to long hard winters. I believe that is why they are so very happy and festive in the summer and, apparently, the spring. I thought I'd have to wait for summer to see the celebrating, but it has come earlier than that.

Our first day of spring was gray and a little cold, but the people here determinedly celebrated it. People worked in their yards. At the Sackets Brewery, they had put up a game that involved what looked like a short volleyball net and a football. Young people (they looked like soldiers) were out there playing it, listening to music, and the dogs and I could smell hamburgers cooking behind them.

But the funniest thing is how excited everyone got over our village's quilt show.

Sackets Harbor is a nice village where people come to eat good food, shop for expensive little pretty things, go out on boats and eat ice cream in the park or under the gazebo by the lake. It closes for the winter, and people miss it.

Today, we had our first bigger public event of the season -- a quilt show at the Seaway Discovery Center. Quilt shows are nice, and people like them. But usually, they only draw a few enthusiasts. Not so our quilt show. There were almost no parking spaces left along Main Street. Smiling, jolly people walked around discussing the quilts, eating in the restaurants, and watching the newly-thawed lake. The clouds never really parted, but everyone seemed determined to live as if it was a sunny spring day.

I'm from a place with lots of sun. Most of our seasons are kind of harsh: Winter is cold and slippery. Spring is full of tornadoes. Summer is dangerously hot. Only autumn is really nice, and sometimes it's not. Here, they have the long, freezing winter, but when the sun comes and stays, they live in a flowery green paradise followed by famously beautiful autumn leaves. So after the hardship of snow, they leap up and celebrate. They can quit bending over snow shovels and layering clothes over their skin, and so they throw themselves into the good time of warm weather like people in Oklahoma don't have to, because we have plenty.

It's fun to be with them when they are like this, so hopeful and ready to have a good time. And it's especially fun to live in the lake village where they come to have it. I miss the snow, but I'm glad to see our village waking up and the visitors coming to see us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The helmsman steered us through

The lake is breathing.

This morning, instead of a patch of moving water way out in the middle, there is a huge swath of moving water. I guess the ice melted some time yesterday while I was at work. I'm sorry if I missed the dramatic sound of breaking. But I think our ice has been thinned so much by the sun that it probably just eventually went out altogether like the flame of a candle after its blown out, as Alice had it.

Anyway, not all the lake is uncovered and moving. Lots of it still has ice, with small holes and thin places. It rises and falls like the chest of a sleeping person and the movement of the water makes a sound like breathing.

I've been slammed by teaching lately...just one thing after another. It gets like that sometimes, especially in the spring. So I feel for the lake, which isn't holding together as it was, which is changing form to meet the season, which is uncomfortably in the middle of things, with dead fish and lost tools and plastic bottles rising up to the top where everyone can see them. Nobody would call our lake beautiful right now, but nobody is here to call it anything.

The summer people will be here in a few months, and the lake will be bright shining. It will be glimmering and cheerful under the clean white boats. People will get married under the gazebo with the lake making its little wave sounds behind them.

But for now, it's dirty and full of holes, breaking itself up in the sun. It's fine to me. I like to know it so intimately. I like to be like it. I like to think of us both free in the summer and solid in the winter, surviving these middle parts in our privacy together.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fear not, fear not, thou wedding guest...

This body dropt not down.

But it would like to.

Teaching is an honor, touches lives, is a sacred duty...all that stuff that gets carved into plaques and printed on t-shirts with letters from the alphabet and pictures of apples. It is also a whole heap of intellectual and spirtual work. And, ironically, if you don't watch out, it can eat away at what you loved about your discipline in the first place. So I watch out. And repeat the Rime like a mantra.

Thank goodness for my colleagues, for my office teacup, for Rice Krispy Treat Day in the cafeteria (Wednesdays!), for review copies of Norton's anthologies coming to the department addressed to me (because that is EXCITING, dear reader!), for getting assigned to one of the last classrooms with a chalkboard, for a big ol' New York salary, for the deer that hang around on campus, for occasional excuses to go around in voluminous robes, for sharing a building with the library, for getting to write "professor" on surveys that ask for my employment, for spring break and summer break and Christmas break, for all kinds of good things about my college.

Because students wear me out when they are worn out, brilliant, struggling, triumphing, asking, answering, arguing, revolting, rebelling, discovering, talking, thinking, growing weary, growing wary, needing this and that...It's sometimes like being overrun by puppies. And my students are adults! How schoolteachers survive I can't imagine.

My students are karma. Everything I ever did to a professor is being done to me. I kind of wish I'd been the sort of student who sits quietly in the back and just hands in her work. But oh no...In English I spoke all the time and was always sure I was right. In math I refused to try. In science I baaaarely paid attention and didn't do the reading very often. In history I came to class every day with a defensive attitude. In geography I daydreamed. I didn't do much in political science...because I skipped it so often to play guitar out on the lawn with the other truants. Now, I'm paying.

But it's still the best job I can imagine. Except "housewife." And I'm terribly unqualified and unsuccessful at that one.

So I am not really complaining...I'm just saying I'm tired. I don't want to hear a voice. I don't want to see a word. I want to pile two little dogs on my feet and lie in the dark and think about when the lake might melt.

It is an Ancient Mariner, and he stoppest one of three...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Very Short, Probably Boring, But Must

Ladies, Gentlemen, Daddy: Tonight at gymnastics class I did a back hip circle on the bars all by myself. I mean ALL by myself, without a spotter anywhere near me. This is an amazing feat, and I just had to tell someone. I wish I'd filmed it. Maybe I will next week.

Those of you who know what a back hip circle is are probably not too impressed...but keep in mind that I'm 35 and haven't done one since I was 14.

Is this too close to bragging? Especially for Lent? I don't mean to brag. (And not just because that might jinx me.)

Think of it instead as good news. And when you talk about me, please say "My daughter/friend/cousin the gymnast..."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The year's at the spring

The lake is still frozen, but most of the grass is uncovered. The snow has melted, except where it was piled up by the plows. And so, except for the frozen lake, the world is starting to move around and look normal: The grass is green. The sky is blue. Birds are singing. The sun is shining.

I could be anywhere.

I loved living in the surreal world of long winter -- even though our winter wasn't particularly intense this year. The snow wasn't high, the blizzards were few, the wind couldn't even phase this Oklahoman. But it lasted longer than winter lasts at home, so it was unusual. And the lake froze, which was miraculous.

But now it's starting to be spring. It's still cold, and there is frost on the grass in the morning. Black mud is everywhere. My dogs track it in on their feet. I shampooed the carpet, but it's already muddy again. I give up.

Now, I guess what I have to look forward to is the ice breaking up on the lake. I am excited to hear what that sounds like, if I can hear it from four blocks away. I'm excited to see the big pieces stand up then roll over into the water. I'm excited to see the lake like a puzzle as the ice pieces thaw. I wish I could get on one and ride to an island like The Penguin Who Hated the Cold.

But everyone here is so happy for spring to come. They are even nice about the mud because it's a sign of spring. They tell me spring is hideous, muddy, cold, rainy, awful...but they love it because it leads to their idyllic summer, which I will miss because I'll be in Oklahoma.

So I'm griping today. But at least I'm not in Oklahoma yet, where they're already having tornadoes. And soon, in Oklahoma, the snakes and ticks and chiggers will start to awaken. So if I must have spring, at least it's only muddy and cold, not actually dangerous.