Archive for April, 2010

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Smart things said by other people

April 26, 2010

I’m posting these quotes mostly for my own benefit — I have them written down in my beloved cheap spiral notebook, but I keep forgetting to look at them when thinking about how to balance the many things I want and/or need to do in a given day.

What one is looking for is . . . the sense of extraordinary awareness of being, and more than just awareness, responsiveness also, openness. And that is damaged, wiped out by the diurnal — the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention.

The curious factor is that the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build whatever you are capable of building. If you deny the day completely, you’re lost.

-Stanley Kunitz, from The Wild Braid

And, perhaps contradictorily:

It was in some ways the typical twenty-first-century up-and-coming American poet’s life — the pick-up jobs and the scramble for publishers, the fellowships and relationships . . . , the constant effort to find a way of staying alive without allowing one’s lifeblood to congeal into a career.

-Christian Wiman in Poetry, October 2009

It would seem that Wiman is letting me off the hook, in terms of trying to find a real, grown-up job where I go to the same place every day and don’t sometimes have to buy groceries with my credit card. Those are dangerous, potentially, in that if you put too much time and energy into something else, you might get so engrossed in it that you forget you’re a writer. And I’ve definitely read magazine articles recommending that the really serious writer get a really boring job, thus leaving plenty of brain space for more important things.

Kunitz is less dismissive of doing work outside of writing, though, and I tend to agree with him, because not only does outside knowledge actually provide something to write about, it gives you a context. Say you’re a doctor and also a poet (like William Carlos Williams): you may never write a poem about performing brain surgery, but your precise technical knowledge gives you a whole new vernacular to describe everything else in colors nobody else would have thought of.

The bottom line seems to be that knowledge is good, and experience is good, and without them you haven’t got much to talk about. The tricky part is in walking the line between doing something undemanding but uninspiring, and having a fantastically engaging, fulfilling job that leaves you no time or energy to do anything else. I would seem to sit comfortably in the middle — I do really like most of what I do, most of the time, and I’m not really too busy, and I have not yet failed to pay rent. (It helps that my rent is even more microscopic than my paycheck.) But I also waste a lot of time feeling guilty that I don’t have a Career. And wishing for bigger adventures, some of which would probably be precluded by said Career.

I guess I find the Wiman perspective comforting in its acknowledgment that plenty of people don’t have the balance worked out. Whereas Kunitz sympathizes with the difficulty of working within the paradox, but also reminds me what it’s supposed to feel like when I succeed: awareness, responsiveness, openness. That sounds like a pretty excellent place to be.

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Plant a radish, get a radish

April 23, 2010

I have an awesome summer job. I work as the intern program music director/assistant mainstage music director for the excellent Weathervane Theatre in New Hampshire, where we produce 5 musicals, 2 straight plays, 4 intern musicals, and 3 cabaret/showcase performances over the course of 11 weeks (whew!). The paycheck is pretty minuscule and the work is pretty exhausting – yes, it’s theater, which is fun, but it’s also a 72-hour work week – but the quality of productions is very high, and you get to work with some amazing people. And it’s not so bad to have mountains to look at while you walk 2 minutes to rehearsal every day.

But. There are things I miss out on by living in the woods all summer.  One of these things is the Quincy Farmer’s Market*, which I only got to enjoy for about a month and a half before it shut down for the winter at Thanksgiving (we moved in September and it took me a while to figure out where and when it was). I miss it dearly, and it doesn’t open again until June, roughly two days after I leave for the summer. I know there will be plenty of kale and butternut squash and green beans and rutabagas waiting for me in September, but I want them NOW.

(There is a also a farmer’s market in Littleton, NH, conveniently scheduled on Sundays, our one day off. It’s pretty great too, arguably much greater than Quincy’s, since there’s a better selection of fancy breads and goat cheese and home-jarred kimchi in addition to the veggies. But I don’t really cook while I’m in NH — workday meals are provided, thank goodness — so I can’t take full advantage of the offerings.)

It is also the time of year when supermarkets and hardware stores and everywhere else boast big colorful racks of adorable seed packets, and while we have no yard to speak of, we do have enough porch space for a couple of good-sized pots. I would love to get going on some radishes, sugar snap peas, lettuces, and herbs, but Jacob assures me that he will not take care of them while I am gone, and more importantly, I wouldn’t be there to eat them. I have considered, very briefly, the possibility of taking a pot of something with me, but I am sure that would end in disaster, and again, I won’t be cooking much anyway.

*Note: By this I do not mean either the Quincy Market food court, which is not in Quincy, or the nearby Haymarket, which is decidedly not a farmer’s market, contrary to the belief of many misguided people who post on Yelp. Harrumph.

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A good day in the kitchen

April 21, 2010

It’s school vacation this week, which is not such a big deal now that I don’t work in a school any more.  It does mean that I’m not teaching piano lessons, since many of my students are out of town, and therefore I’m home for dinner every day. I’m not going as crazy in the kitchen as I might normally be during vacation, since I’m also in tech week for City of Angels, which means I have to be out of the house around 5:15 to get to rehearsals. But early dinner is a lot better than just grabbing a bagel to eat in the car. And yesterday… well, yesterday, I was hungry.

I’d been craving scones and had some frozen raspberries on hand, so I made raspberry scones for breakfast. Then I was thinking I should make some hummus to go with the 79-cent pita I bought at Building 19, and I got to remembering all the awesome things I’ve acquired from Building 19 over the years. Like my paella pan, which I almost never use for paella, since I cook mainly for myself and my boyfriend, who keeps quasi-Kosher and doesn’t eat fun things like chorizo and shellfish. Sigh. But it occurred to me that the fish I was going to have for dinner would be much tastier in paella than not, and that I would go to rehearsal much happier for having spent the time to make something yummy and slightly labor-intensive.

I went out to buy a lemon for the hummus and some arborio rice and veggies for the paella. I threw a couple of roughly-chopped scallions into the hummus, since I’ve got lots of those around at the moment, then snacked on that while I got things ready for the paella. I used this recipe, but without the chickpeas, roasted pepper, or asparagus/green beans; I did add some zucchini and an extra 1/2 tsp. of paprika, which gave a nice subtle spiciness (I used Hungarian hot paprika – I think smoked Spanish is more typical, but I’m a little bit Hungarian, so that’s where my paprika loyalty lies). I broiled the fish — 2/3 lb. perch, which is mild and fairly firm — with some salt and pepper, then tossed it on the paella before baking.

Jacob (the aforementioned boyfriend) remarked that the dish hardly needed the fish, but it was nice how it soaked up the surrounding flavors. I was too busy having seconds to reply.

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Lichens are slippery

April 21, 2010

It seems to have become spring quite suddenly.  The maple trees outside the kitchen windows are full of fat red buds unfurling into little wrinkled leaves, and the trees across the street are leafy enough to filter the light in that way that makes me think of lazy summer afternoons.  Hypothetical ones, anyway.

Looks like spring.

Looks like spring.

I went hiking on Saturday during the couple of hours when it wasn’t raining.  I thought the ground would be squishy from all that rain; it wasn’t, but the rocks were covered in slimy wet lichens. I had intended to start on the Braintree Pass Path and branch off onto the Skyline Trail, heading west into the part of the park I haven’t explored yet, but I saw a smaller trail I hadn’t noticed before, and decided to follow it to see if it connected with someplace I knew. (This is my other favorite game: developing my ability to recognize familiar parts of the landscape that are not all that dissimilar, and not distinguished by obvious trail markers. Kind of like learning to drive in Boston.) A lot of the walk felt familiar – lots of steep rocks, which I navigated by finding the pockets of dirt and pine needles, where it was easier to get traction. Finally I hit the tree line and found myself in my favorite spot, the summit of Chickatawbut Hill. Not that I needed confirmation, but the big rock with “LOVE” spraypainted in blue left little room for doubt:

Rock of love

I haven’t brought binoculars out in a while — there hasn’t been much to look at — but I will now, because it’s pretty hard to play the track-that-birdsong game when there are five different birds calling simultaneously in various directions. I’m also used to peering up into the canopy, so it’s different when I’m actually above most of the trees. I only found one this time, a robin, but next time I’ll come better prepared.

I was careful enough to avoid slipping on rocks while climbing up the path, but I fell twice on the way back down, and now I’ve got some mossy stains on my jeans and a fascinating bruise on my thigh. Fortunately I fell on my right side both times, since my phone/camera was in my left vest pocket. I kind of understand now why people like trekking poles, although I don’t think I’ll be getting my own anytime soon.

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Introduction

April 8, 2010

I shuffled nervously into the office of my thesis advisor, the excellent John Skoyles, to discuss the first draft of my MFA project in creative writing.  He’d assured me it was no big deal, really – we were just going to sit down and talk about some poems.  My poems, the ones I’d written during my almost-three years at Emerson and was now attempting to revise into some sort of cohesive whole.  I wasn’t afraid of John, but I still didn’t know quite what to expect.

“I have two words for you,” he informed me, peering over the top of his glasses.  “Up and out.”  He went on to clarify that I had a bit of a penchant for prepositions, one which was not apparent upon reading the individual poems, but over the course of a thesis, added up to something rather excessive.  He fanned through the pages to show me all those little words he’d circled, words pointing the poems in one direction or another, describing the path of a person or a gaze. Words that I loved and would now have to strike out or replace.

In retrospect, “up” and “out” are words that go a long way towards explaining me, or the me I’m trying to be.  Out of the house.  Up the mountain.  Out from under the doubts that hold me back far too often.  Up the ladder, through the clouds, until I can finally see a little of the road ahead, a little of what waits for me if I really work for it.

Since moving to Quincy last fall, I’ve rekindled an interest in hiking, something I always wanted to do more but could never find the time or place. Maybe everyone feels this way, or more people than I realize, but I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at the trees on the side of the highway, wanting to pull over and go run through the woods. I don’t follow through: I’ve got places to be, and I wouldn’t just abandon my car, and who knows whose woods those are anyway. But the first time I set foot in the Blue Hills reservation, it was like I was finally giving in to those urges, like I’d found exactly where I’d wanted to be all along. And the higher I climbed, the farther away from cars and buildings and people, the happier and more at peace I felt.

Madeleine L’Engle writes eloquently about the need for solitude, for reconnecting with the nonhuman, in A Circle of Quiet; when I read that book, I thought how nice it must be to have a giant sprawling farmhouse in a remote New England village, one where your own personal quiet place is just a few minutes’ walk away.  I feel incredibly lucky to now have a place I can go anytime I’ve got seven minutes to drive, where I can tromp around in leaves and pinecones, find the source of a bird’s call, watch a hawk glide lazily over a tree-filled valley.  A place where I can work through my doubts and fears as I walk, or leave them behind for a while.  I am hoping that the mountains I conquer out there (small ones, for now) will give me the strength and the self-confidence to tackle the ones back here in civilization.