Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today's Menu

Today's Menu: Mattaponi Queen, by Belle Boggs

Drinking: Tea

Thinking: Another stunning collection of contemporary stories. Hallelujah!

I discovered this book through an essay Boggs has in the most recent issue of Orion Magazine. “The Art of Waiting” moved me so much I went on one of those writer-hunts I sometimes go on. And found: Mattaponi Queen, a collection of interwoven short stories that take place along the banks of the Mattaponi River in King William County, Virginia.

Susan Straight wrote about the collection: “The setting was so perfectly rendered that I saw the river, the dirt roads, the woods, and most of all, the way each character moved in that landscape. The interwoven stories remind me of Annie Proulx crossed with Ernest Gaines—the dry humor, the understatement, and the wonderful dialogue that sounds as if I’m hearing it while sitting on a folding chair in a yard.”

I agree with all of that, but what floored me from the get-go is how Boggs manages to avoid the multitudinous pitfalls of stereotype so easy to fall into (or back on) when writing about rural America. Her tender stories contain plenty of hard edges (alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty) but she doesn't rely on those edges to make her characters or her stories come alive. The stories don't depend on tragedy for their dramatic flair. They are written from the perspective of whites, blacks and Native Americans, and though it would be easy to make the stories about race, Boggs masterfully weaves that diversity into the fabric of her landscape without making it a centerpiece (as I imagine it is not, in the lives she is writing about). There is no incest in this collection. No physical abuse. No car accidents.

What there is? Vividly rendered houses, Indian reservations, back roads, antique river boats, city streets, and yes, the ever-flowing river itself. Characters that feel so real and original I wake in the morning feeling I've known them. Arresting sentences. Honest tales of those who have left and those who have never left and those who have returned. Tales of dreams and thwarted dreams. And best of all? Love. The fabric of the book is soaked in it. The characters feel it and you feel it and you know Boggs feels it. You don’t have to question, while reading, why she is writing about the lives or the place she is. It’s clear she’s seen things, and clear she cares.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I couldn't be happier to say that an essay I wrote a little under a year ago, "Sugaring," is in the most recent issue of Orion Magazine. It features my daughter (above), my intrepid, bus-driving mother, and yours truly pissing in a snowbank having consumed a bit of highland Scotch.

If you happen to find it on a library shelf or at your local bookstore, enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

thank you

I started this blog just about a year ago. I did so because, as I wrote at the time, it was midwinter, I was home all day in a small house in the woods with a two-year-old, and I yearned for and needed connectivity. I also began it with an immense amount of trepidation. I abhored the word "blog" (thus deeming these pages my "dream-trailer-in-park-nowhere"); I was squeamish about becoming yet-another "blogger"; and I feared the ease of pressing "publish post" and the ensuing risk of embarrassment.

One year later, I may have embarrassed myself some, but I no longer question the worth of this venture/hobby. In the past year these pages have had over 8000 visitors from places as far afield as India, Pakistan, Germany, Alaska, Russia, and Kenya. Three of the essays I wrote have been published (or will be soon) in journals I greatly respect, and thanks to this "dream trailer" I've been asked to contribute to an NPR show featuring voices from Vermont. On a no-less-grand level, I found reasons to articulate something about what I was reading or thinking or seeing on days when I otherwise would not have. There is no scalpel more effective at clearing the fog of my brain than words, and sometimes I need a good excuse to do so.

Lastly, and most importantly, I found that elusive thing I was seeking: connection. I found kindred souls in far-flung places and became dear friends with people I'd known only peripherally. I found windows into worlds I otherwise wouldn't have seen and had conversations about books and reading and writing and mothering on days when I never left my snow-bound hillside. So thank you, dear readers. You are all my valentines. May the good work you do also lead you toward clarity and connection and an enriched daily experience of the lives you live.


(PS: if you start a blog, I'll read it.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

love letter

I was recently invited by an NPR show to write a love letter, of sorts, to Vermont. Could I imagine anything more fitting or fantastic? Anything I'd rather do on a morning to myself on the day before Valentine's day?


So here is the sun-drenched chair I sat in for the first half of today, about a foot from the wood stove, nursing a head cold and trying to find the perfect 400 words to describe why I'm in love (and hopelessly entangled) with this place where I was born and have returned to live.

Intimidating and difficult and heart-racingly impossible.

Also? Pure pleasure.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

marilyn munroe, emmylou harris, the beatles, rothko, avah, flannery o'connor, peacock feather
From the copy of Wendell Berry's Clearing that I filched from my grandmother's bookshelves:

Now let me feed my song
upon the life that is here
that is the life that is gone.
This blood has turned to dust
and liquefied again in stem
and vein ten thousand times.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Today's Menu

Today's Menu: Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Drinking: chai (my latest addiction)

Thinking: What a delicious thing to dip back into the deep, lyrical waters of Marquez' rendered world and prose. This first volume of his autobiography has all the magic, beauty, humor and enchantment of his finest novels. Each night I read five pages before drifting (at around 9pm) into a wonderful, watery, deep and majestic sleep. Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for bringing my third-trimester sleep such murkiness, fantasia, mystery, light, drama, romance and levitation.

PS: Also, for filling my dreams with such stunning names: Tranquilina, Wenefrida, Francisca Simodosea...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Apple Tree

I just received my first check in the mail for a piece of writing, a whopping $250, which is the most prized paycheck I've yet to receive. In honor of that check and all it entails, I purchased a second-hand camera today from my friend Sarah Lavigne: a Panasonic Lumix which I took for a walk while Avah was at school. I felt like a teenager again, traipsing through mud and sun and snow, camera strung around my neck, desperately trying to capture the way I see the world. Above is a fruit of my labor: a photo of my favorite apple tree. It grows on my grandparents' hillside and is half old-New England variety, half crabapple, which grafted itself (or was grafted?) onto the closer branch. In spring the tree blooms at two different times, and in fall bears two different varieties of fruit. Lately there's been an adolescent beaver prowling around under its riotous branches, seemingly getting drunk off scattered fermented apples.