Readers will notice I mention goats often in my work. One reason is that we own two goats of our own, Oliver and Olivia. The other reason is that we are near-neighbors to a goat dairy, Polymeadows. On sunny days a hundred of their goats dot the fields. When I run past the farm, the goats scamper away from the roadside fence. (I'm very intimidating.)
What has always inspired me most about goats is that they come out so sturdy. They are up on their feet in minutes, punching their mother's udders with rock-hard heads until they find what they're looking for. Goats spring forth ready for the world.
You can watch a video about Polymeadows below. It's long, but it's also worth watching a minute or two so you can see the baby goats scampering around. Enjoy a piece of my writing inspiration!
A picture from our travels last weekend. Here I am, in front of the fire at the Dogtor's mother's childhood home in Pennsylvania. I had just finished putting our 2 year old down for the third time. I was exhausted. The picture is bleary, but so was I. Minutes later we dove into the historic books (some of which you can see behind my head).
The bourbon was cold and delicious, and for once no cats were chasing my yarn ball. (Cats are so cliche sometimes.)
And yeah. I can totally knit and drink at the same time. (It helps that I knit unambitious squares.)
My husband, the Dogtor, is a very patient muse. He has brought me to some beautiful material, such as the blood donor cats at the veterinary school he attended.
You can read my Ode to the Bloodbank Cats
, published in the Oxford American
You live at the end of a winding cinderblock hall lit by fluorescent bulbs, in what feels like the catacombs of the veterinary school. Nearby, sick dogs cry out from kennels. Their anesthetized moans are drowned out by Gregorian Chant music on NPR, which blares from a small radio hanging from the doorknob of your room.
But this is a worthy soundtrack: You are whiskered angels, mewing cherubs, givers of platelets and life.
There are ten or more of you, plucked from the shelter's death row, or unwanted circumstances. Orange tabbies, Maine Coons, gray domestic shorthairs crammed into a glorified closet. Sublime orphans, street cats, discarded pets. You have been chosen for your generous size, your temperament, your ability to give large amounts of blood. Gentle giants all, you are the kind of cat that takes a needle in the jugular at moment's notice and resumes purring. Read More
(Picture of Noir, our very charming clinic cat)
Here is a video of me discussing Birds of a Lesser Paradise, with some nice home footage of my daughter, our rescue beagle Jack, aka Monsieur Scooty Beags, and Pi the one-eyed-cat.
Filming this was really cool. For one, I put on a dress, and then really got crazy and wore lipstick - a little different than my yoga pant/Bean boot uniform at home. There were lights and they were so bright I couldn't see anyone else in the room. I was sitting in a director's chair. I had a mic pinned to my dress. We filmed the day the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree went live.
A woman was singing opera in the subway as I left the Simon and Schuster building, and I felt that I was living someone else's life. I'm always thankful that I actually get to do this. Enjoy the video (and the guitar).
This weekend we loaded up the girls and went south to the Dogtor's homeland, a place where his mother's roots run deep. Since her death we have worked to keep a connection to the place and people. One of those people is Mom Mom, the Dogtor's 93-year-old grandmother. A nurse who was shot by friendly fire in Burma and full of carefully-worded witticisms (Do the evening's delights bear the light of morning's reflection?), she makes me feel boring. And quite happy. Mom Mom looked at me during dinner and asked - with a gleam in her eye - why don't you try for six more kids?
As you can see, Bebe Z thought it was an excellent idea to pull up on the dear nonagenarian's legs.
Our two-year-old had lots of (sometimes uncomfortable, high volume, and overly honest) questions for Mom Mom's peers, like: What's that lady riding in? Is she asleep?
One of the best parts of the weekend was the box of old books procured from the attic of Mom Mom's homestead. Most of them were from the 1800s. I marveled at the fonts, but most of all the inscriptions and sepia-toned, inked names of my husband's relatives. My favorite is a french version of the New Testament once owned by "Anna Valentine." (And yes, I'm calling dibs on that pen name. So when you see poisonous tirades on housing developments or Monsanto, written by sweet little Anna Valentine, be suspicious.)
I like the thought of passing down my heavily annotated books to my girls, and their children, and so on. Any favorite old books you have on hand?
I'm five feet tall. Sometimes people give me an inch on that. I make up for my small stature with inherited blue collar grit and an impressive stockpile of bad words (don't be fooled by the blond ponytail). I'm a mercurial southerner who will smile, bake you a pie, then swear at you if you offend my child or, for that matter, my dog. I have long been instructed by my husband, whom I refer to as The Dogtor, to please refrain from making crude gestures while driving. If Sarah Palin didn't have a trademark on Mama Grizzly, I'd look into it.
(Did I mention I'm really phobic about grizzly bears? And am prone to writerly jags of exaggeration?)
I do love female pluck, and fell in love with the subjects of an essay Oxford American asked me to write
on the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. My favorite line from their song "Jump Children": I may be small but baby have no fear...I can climb a hill without shifting gears.
The Sweethearts were the first racially-integrated, all female swing band. Here are some highlights: They started out mostly as orphans learning second hand instruments in a vocational school in rural Mississippi. After some measure of exploitation, they actually ran away with the bus and instruments and went pro. Because the band had both white and black members (and Chinese, Hawaiian, etc), Jim Crow laws prohibited them from performing - but the white girls permed their hair and put on dark make-up and went on anyway.
Humor me and read this essay
- I want more people to know about the Sweethearts. They have cut deep into my imagination, and certainly earned my respect.
I have not yet gotten used to so much good news. I'm excited about two recent developments, both of which I consider major honors for a new writer, and am completely grateful for:
1 - I will be a "literary debutante
" for One Story this spring!
2 - Birds of a Lesser Paradise has been chosen as a March 2012 Indie Next
I'm also excited for Lauren Groff
- her third book Arcadia
is an Indie Next pick as well. I've been following Lauren's work since reading her story L. Debard and Aliette
in the 2006 Atlantic
Fiction issue. I was sitting in an airport, angry over my non-creative existence and frequent business travel, and looking for inspiration. The issue (which I still have) was fantastic; I anxiously read Tim Gautreaux's story "The Safe." But Lauren's story made me ache. The first line has been stuck in my head for years: "He is at first a distant wave, the wake-wedge of a loon as it surfaces." Read this story! Read it now!
I'll have the honor of reading with Lauren in Boston and NYC in March
. Perhaps some literary relationships are a matter of professional convenience, the utterances of praise a little forced. That is not the case for me here. I came to Lauren's work first as a fan. She is honest, economical, playful, insightful, and inventive, but what always astounds me is her facility with language. Her lines give me obscene bouts of writer's envy.
So there are many perks of being a new writer: galleys, farcical debutante balls with talented peers sponsored by a journal you love, seeing your own work in print. But getting to read with one of the people who made you want to write in the first place - that's cool.
(Picture of my one-eyed cat Pi roaring over Lauren's book.)
My mother is the world's best housekeeper. I would not prevent but encourage
my children to eat off any of her floors. That is not hyperbole.
She cleans using traditional methods, and, to her credit, does not hoard animals or have two children under three. As a working mother, I have to employ unique strategies - ones that make her gasp.
One of my secret housekeeping weapons is the 4-Legged Clean-up Team. I'm always in the kitchen, and I cook dinner nearly every night - but I never give myself enough time (writing, editing, teaching, reading to my girls, running). So I'm chopping, hurling, rinsing, banging and clanging my way through meal prep. I'm a small storm, and look not unlike the Muppet chef with my manic chopping. Meanwhile, my two girls are slinging yogurt and cheerios all over the kitchen. But I don't flinch, because I know within mere seconds my dogs will have licked the floor or high chair clean. CLEAN.
Above are pictures of the most agile members of the clean-up team (Captain Nemo can't get up very easily these days - but as the tallest, he counter cruises and cleans Baby Z's high chair). Also featured is the apple pie I baked last night - cutting the lattice work one-handed with a baby on my hip. The clean-up team was all over the flour sprinkles, dollops of butter, and discarded dough.
Whenever I cook at other people's houses, I have the bad habit of dropping a broccoli floret or crust of bread and leaving it on the floor. Not because I'm lawless and rude, but because I expect a slobbering pack of dogs to swarm upon it.
The problem with the 4-Legged Clean-up Team: they make more mess than they clean. 16 muddy feet!
Hi guys -
Goodreads is giving away 10 copies of my book in a contest. You can enter to win a free copy here
I've been really pleased with the thoughtful reviews on Goodreads so far.
I'm grateful to have some new followers on the blog. I thought I would share an essay I wrote a year ago that gives some background into life events that shaped my collection of stories. The farmhouse I speak of in the essay, my husband's childhood home and the house we live in now, is pictured above (a different winter, when we actually had snow.)
An excerpt of the essay is below, as well as a link to the entire piece, which was published on the Ploughshares blog. Enjoy.An Excerpt from My Essay "Learning the Taste of Stone":
Donald Hall is a thing of beauty. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak–seeing
him speak–twice at Bennington. The second was in June 2009–six weeks after my first child was born, a week after attending my beloved mother-in-law, Anna’s, memorial service, and days after leaving my family in North Carolina to settle in Vermont with my husband in the house where he grew up.
Donald Hall was wearing a rumpled tie-dyed t-shirt and trousers. His hair was long and his beard curled over, and at times into, his mouth, giving him the otherworldly look of Confederate veterans I’d seen in vintage photographs, or an elderly Walt Whitman. His lips made oblong shapes when he spoke about prosody. His voice moved between a whisper, a growl, and a specter-like song, pausing at invisible line breaks. His casual posture gave you the feeling he was in the mood to be recklessly, charmingly honest about meter, Robert Frost, and baseball.
You want to know what really turns me on? Hall said. Assonance. Assonance turns me on.
It was the first time I’d laughed in weeks, in a time when I’d forgotten I was capable of laughing. I was still fat and achy, a post-partum mess of grief and haywire hormones. I was attending my graduate residency at Bennington College, but painfully aware of the grieving family, unpacked boxes and colicky infant that waited for me back home, a few miles down the road.Read the entire essay at Ploughshares.