– Front of the envelope

I hadn’t even opened my pay stub — there it was, dropped on my desk — when I called its envelope into service. My office mate, Karen, and I were talking about things to read, journals that might consider our work, and women’s magazines that should not be overlooked.

Sometimes, you just have to write something down, and it cannot wait for the notebook.

– Heart breaker, list maker


Leanne told me that she and her spouse have become one of those families with an extra freezer in the basement.

Then she told me the part that made my heart beat faster and gave me goosebumps: Mark keeps a notebook on top of the freezer, with a running list of the items and quantities inside. Leanne, what a catch! I love that about him.

I have often joked that, when looking for a romantic partner, it would be helpful to identify someone who can both dance and cook. These qualities might sustain your life with both joy and food.

I’d like to add a third quality to that list, and suggest that someone — like Mark Mason — who can make and keep a good list is a rare and wonderful find: a sustainer of order. Ah.


P.S. Thanks to Leanne for the photo, and the introduction to MM.

– Not too comfortable

Notebook page This week I audited a lecture given by the lead professor of a big mechanical engineering course that I’m involved in. I was there to signal my interest and get some information on an upcoming assignment.

At some point, the students were prompted to draw a human-powered hovercraft. I was sitting next to another communications lecturer, Mary, and we looked at each other, as if to say, Are we gonna do this, too? After all, we don’t draw — we write, we speak, we teach.

And yet, we were there. So, we gave it a whirl, too.

Anyway, mine is powered by a jolly human who steps up and down on resistance pedals, like on a stair master. The action of the pedals somehow fills a series of air bladders, which collect compressed air, and then force the air, incrementally, down into an air reservoir. The air forcefully puffs out of an array of pores, which creates a cushion of air between the craft and the ground.

I certainly felt humbled by doing the exercise — what I can’t draw, what I don’t know — but I also, by drawing, thought much more deeply about the challenge than I would have if I had just watched the students in the class draw.

Hover craft

It was a good chance, actually, to be a student myself for an hour.

And rudimentary as my drawing is? Once I submitted to the spirit of the task, making it was fun, like being 12 years old and building a fort with the neighborhood gang.

– Joy of the pain

Yesterday I took Eli, pal Cody, and Grace to Savers.  Cody claims it’s better than Goodwill, because everything hangs on racks in sizes.  And, indeed, it does.  Eli found a shirt, Cody two of them, and I got a pair of Ann Taylor cords and Old Navy canvas pants, $6.99 each, preworn and prewashed.  Grace bought $6.00 worth of knick-knacks and a pink basketball. We were moderately delighted.

As we went through the cashier’s line, I started paying attention to the music.  No Musak at Savers.  Perhaps in bargain stores the employees, and not headquarters, get to choose the music. Whoever made the playlist that was playing last night, chose good. When I heard “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze, I turned to Eli and said, “This was one of my favorite songs when I was in college.”  He liked it.

And though I love the song, I had never seen the video, until a few minutes ago that is, when I searched for and found this on YouTube.  Watching it and wincing, I thought, Well, it was the ’80s.

Still…. GOOD song. The words matter. (And how many songs do you know that feature both “coffee” and “notebook” in the lyrics?)

– Parallel play

It’s heaven to lose yourself in the company of others. In this instance, I’m thinking of Saturday afternoon in the Kind Cafe in Selinsgrove, PA with fellow writers James Black and Jimmy Guterman. For an hour, we sat together, ignored each other, and wrote. For me, it was utter peace, focus, and fellowship.

The two of them are fictioneers. I thought about joining them and taking a stab at a story, but couldn’t work up the energy (or was it courage?). I thought about starting a new essay, which feels like my writerly occupation now, and immediately my energy dropped — I’m temporarily tired of exploring the known. So, I took some notes (see top right corner of the page in my new notebook, below). Then, I thought about poems, and writing one. I mean, I like characters, and I can’t help but do setting, and yet I’m not so hot on plot. Don’t only narratives have plot? But, I’ve been reading again the longer poems of Louise Glück, and I like the story quality to them.

Jane's new notebook, 11.1.2008

Jane's new notebook, 11.1.2008

At the top of the page, after the bulleted notes, I wrote a note to self: “narrative poem — why not?” I dove in. After a couple of pages of 4-line stanzas (an impulsive decision), I stumbled over an image I liked and circled back and slapped a provisional title on it: “Ghost Dances.” Here are the first few stanzas. Very DRAFTY.

Where she stands. At the edge of the
yard, her back to the cedars, she
faces her own house, the life
inside, like a movie

playing for her. Or Hollywood Squares, each
window a light, a character, a
small stage. Not the world. The world
is a stage, but this is not

the world, only hers. Life is boxed,
parceled into bits. There, the kitchen:
a woman bowed, hair falling away
from shoulders, tipping toward dishes

that her arms, white and bare, wash.
Light glows down on her. Woman washing
is holy and this is what Grace, feet
planted on dirt and moss skirting

the trees, churns up at when she
watches this movie, the one with the good
golden girl. Even the audience wants her,
only Grace doesn’t. She wants the dirt

I wrote many pages of this in longhand, and experienced many discoveries, while working quietly alongside my friends. Note: Grace is simply the name of the main character of this narrative poem. She bears no resemblance to my daughter of the same name. It’s just a lovely name, and it was on hand, so I used it.


P.S. Dr. Poppy also inspired me today with her post on handwriting.

– Last beach day

August 31, 2008.  Cold Storage Beach, East Dennis.

Pages from August 31st notes

Pages from August 31st notes


“It’s Michael Krantz’s birthday,” Jimmy says when I ask him the date.

The family near us has a boy about Grace’s age with the same insulin pump as mine.  I talk to the mother.  Among many interesting things, she tells me about Cheating Destiny, and parts about history of insulin.  At some point we talk about my parents’ crying when my brother was diagnosed, and the boy says, “I have seen my mother cry four times.”  He grins and adds, “And it was because of me.”

Two families away there’s a guy my age who is fit, who knows it, who wears dark yellow trunks and, over his nape-length curly graying hair, a navy blue bandana tied pirate style.  He’s reading a hard-covered book called God of Sex, I think, although all I can see on the black cover are the big words “God” and “Sex” — I filled in the preposition — and he holds a fluorescent yellow highlighter.  His lady friend (no ring) is blond and wears a yellow bikini.  They are listening to Jack Johnson. It’s loud, which drew my attention to them.  That’s the point.

I am reading Stephen McCauley’s Alternatives to Sex.

In the channel out of the harbor, the lobster roll boat has struggled in the unusually choppy surf and turned around. $20 for a lobster roll and aborted boat ride.  Lazy American recreation.

We all talk about the Lobster Roll Boat.  “Think about boats,” Emily says: “what they mean to fishermen and what they mean to us.”  Yes, I have been on boats and not ever to fish.

I go in the water.  Partly out of guilt: my mother says, “Look at Lydia alone out there, she wants you with her.”  Partly out of peer presssure.  Em and Jay are out there, and it looks like fun and I want to be a fun one, too.  Partly because I waded out to my waist then realized it was not too cold to bear.  Out there, I lick my lips.  They’re salty.  I’m young again.

A young woman, brunette in a white bikini and Paris Hilton glasses sits in a bright pink and white striped chair.  She’s with her father.  (She’s not old enough to have such an older boyfriend.)  Out of their cooler she takes a bag of Dole lettuce mix and a plastic container.  She pours something from the sm. container into the Dole bag, then bunches closed the Dole bag and shakes.  Ah, salad in a bag.  Again and again she puts a fork into the bag, which she holds on her bare legs, and spears some salad.  She eats and eats, the whole thing.  Perhaps because she is so beachy glamorous, she makes this efficient eating, well, charming.  No, cute.

Jason left and came back w/ Nutter Butters and Heineken.  I haven’t had a drink on the beach since I was 15 or 16 and went to Maine w/ Heidi C. and her mother brought a pitcher of gin + tonic along w/ the picnic basket.  I tell my mother this.  She’s alarmed, too late.  “Sandy let you drink?!”  She shakes her head.

At 3:30 it feels like 5:30 did two months ago.

God/Sex pirate and his sexy wife (can’t be girlfriend) have three sexy teenage children.  It’s not only that they’re all good-looking.  They’re supple, and sit in poses. Louche.

Later, Grace walks out to end of jetty and Jimmy follows.  Our caravan gradually leaves.  My father and I still sit in canvas chairs.  He remembers carrying Eli, as a toddler, out to the end of some jetty.  He remembers carrying a little Eli from Boston Public Garden all the way back to Brookline.  He and my mother — always walking.  There are no more babies to carry; the grandchildren are all school age.  I realize that a person only gets, at most, two turns at babies in his/her life: as parent and grandparent.  My parents have had their two.

– Postcard to me

On the evening ferry from Oak Bluffs back to Hyannis, I finished reading the last few pages of the book I had brought along, and then I completed a chronological list of the little events that had comprised my day.

Next to me sat a couple with their two young children. The little girl — I’ll call her Rachel — was about six years old and full of energy and sweet sass. She complained about her parents’ lack of a pen, so I loaned her one. Then she enlisted her mother as a scribe. Rachel said out loud the words she wanted on postcards to various friends, and her mother wrote them down. The girl would say, “Dear Maya. Um, today we went to the beach. I had a hamburger for lunch. Then I had chocolately crunchy ice cream -.” Her mother interrupted, “That’s boring.” Her father, who seemed to have educational intentions, gently added, “Rachel, people don’t only want to know what you did; they want to know what you thought.”

Rachel tried again, “Hmm. Today we went to the beach. It was fun. Then I had a hamburger…” She seemed to be thinking. Her mother, who really did seem to be kind and loving, said softly, “Still boring.” Her father said, “Rachel, give your thoughts.”

I sat there, wondering what he meant. Rachel seemed perplexed, too. She kept listing her day. To the mother’s credit, she continued to transcribe although a few times she said, “Boring.” They managed to write about five or six postcards this way until the mother decided to take a break. The girl did not protest. Five or six postcards is a lot of writing for any six-year-old, even one with Rachel’s spark and persistence.

I love getting postcards. They could say anything: “Beach. Kite. Hamburgers. Ice cream. Bicycle. Thinking of you.” It makes me picture my friend’s travel day a bit, and I feel remembered, even in the midst of vacation distractions. Plus, who doesn’t like to get real mail?

I wondered what the family would think of my postcard to me, or what I wrote in the last four pages of my notebook on the ferry ride home. Here it is, with only a few lines about a private conversation omitted. Continue reading

– Conservation

If you ever accidentally dump a bottle of water into your purse or bag, as I’ve absentmindedly done a few times and Grace unwittingly did yesterday, and a notebook gets drenched, take heart: It is possible to save your writing, if not the paper itself.

Grace, notes

Gently tear the wet pages away from the binding, and lay them on top of drinking straws on top of a textureless cloth or mat. Let them dry for a day. Transcribe the stories — Grace, anticipating the end of the school year, has one on “No Homework!” and another on “Weather this Summer!” — into another notebook or file.

– A day’s notes

Here are the scraps I collected on Thursday, February 28th.

1. From the viewing deck at the pool, during the swim team rally, I can look over the coach’s shoulder and see the words she has printed out in these colors on a sheet of white office paper:





2. In the locker room, I come around the corner from the changing area to the mirrored vanity area, and I see one thing I expect to see — a woman with a blow dryer — and one thing I do not expect to see — another woman seated at the vanity, with a laptop open in front of her. Grace is dilly-dallying, so I have at least 10 seconds to figure out the scene. Under Laptop Woman’s chair is a Barnes & Noble bag bursting with paper. On the vanity counter are check stubs and W-2 forms. She holds and examines a W-2 form. She keys numbers on the keyboard as she looks at the form in her hand. Although it’s warm and humid in the locker room, she wears a coat over her street clothes, which is strange, because she looks as though she is set up to sit there for a while. Why is she doing her taxes, or someone’s taxes, in the locker room? Is she making good use of time as she waits? Does she carry the bag of receipts with her everywhere, in case she has an hour of free time?

3. The Trader Joe’s flyer offers Organic Instant Oatmeal for $2.99. The same flyer offers a “tub” of “washed, peeled, and most importantly chopped” Mirepoix for $2.99, so that “you can focus on your next culinary creation knowing that these ingredients are at the ready.”

Fast. Portable. Instant and at the ready. Is this how our days go?

– Future man of letters?

Scene: outside kindergarten wing today, 2 p.m.  Woman walking with a child who is not her own.

George: Jane, are you going to my brother’s Bar Mitzvah tomorrow? 

Jane: Yes.

George: Would you take notes for me?

Jane: Mmm, okay.  (pause)  Why?

George:  Because I want to tell my teacher all about it on Monday, and my mother is going to be too busy to remember everything.(pause)  So write down everything. And then give it to me. 

Oh, these articulate five-year-olds!  And, at the same time, how wonderful it is to be given an assignment.