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The Most Natural Thing in the World

I was visiting my twin sons’ school today, sitting in the hall just outside the preschool office, when they walked by. J & R were holding hands on one side of a teacher. On her other side, she held the hand of a fellow three-year-old, a boy I hadn’t met before, no doubt a new classmate of one of my sons. My sons broke free to give me hugs and kisses. R said, “I love you, Mommy!” Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the other boy, the boy I’ve never met, looked me right in the eye and said, “I love you, Mommy.” Was he confused? Or was he copying the speech of my son, as three-year-olds do? An hour later, I would come to believe he was, in fact, doing the most natural thing in the world. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t his mother. In that moment, in a big school, this little boy saw a mother, and it spilled right out of him, the I love you, Mommy he’d likely been holding onto all morning through playground and snack, circle and books. In the hallway, I didn’t hesitate. “I love you, too,” I said to the boy, sealing our first meeting. Then all three boys waved and waved (peeking behind to make sure I was waving back) as they walked the rest of the hallway, which was, thankfully, quite long.Processed with Rookie Cam

New Print Publication: Santa Fe Literary Review

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Tacked above her kitchen sink, my mother kept a list of our names: daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. She titled it: “Happiness is…” When she died, I got the list, since my twin sons were the most recent addition. It’s in my new house above my kitchen sink. Though I have it in a protective plastic frame, it’s fading. What used to be black ball-point is barely pale fern. Maybe moonshine. I think about retracing my mother’s letters, but I keep putting it off. I’d also taken one of her lipsticks, but when I tried it on, the sudden flood of rose made me so uneasy I had to throw out the tube.

In “Happiness,” published in this year’s Santa Fe Literary Review, I consider what happiness was to my mother, and what it might have been before she had her list of names, when she was a traveler. Kate McCahill (a fearless traveler—check out her new book, Patagonian Road, here), is SFLR‘s faculty advisor and a lovely classmate of mine from VCFA. I’m lucky to share this issue with another VCFA comrade, Emily Brisse, whose story “Confluence” brings rising floodwaters to eerie life.

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Beauty shot of SFLR, with its vast and inviting western sky, taken on a very New England stone wall under the peach tree by our post-and-rail fence. My mother would have loved our new yard, and more, she would have loved that one of her listed loves, my eldest son, got so excited planting bulbs along the fence he is planning to ask Santa for gardening tools. We have all fall and winter to prepare for spring’s punch of gold happiness.

Salon Esse: A Retrospective

It really was ten years ago this summer I attended Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and returned to NYC with the idea for a writing salon. No critical feedback, no suggestions. Just read new work to each other on a monthly Friday night. We were compelled to write, but not anxious about having that raw work torn apart. We were inspired by each other’s literary sallies. We listened to non-verbal reactions and made notes for revision. We learned to keep our readings to under 1,000 words for the sake of getting sleep. We crossed genre. We met on rooftops and in gardens in midsummer. We wrote about each other. We hugged a lot. And we always brought something for the table. Eat, drink, listen.

Our first gatherings were on my couches, and soon they spread to the couches of other members around the city. So many members joined and then left, while some are in their tenth year. So many children have been born to members (most of them boys!). Other salons have even popped up around the country, founded by former members and interested friends. And so so so many pieces have been read, there’s no way no to count, though during my tenure I tried.

I left after year eight to move to the sticks. Salon, beautifully, goes on and on. A measure of how a simple literary exercise needs nothing more to be sustainable than love of words and kindness toward each other.

Dana Perry, one of Salon’s keepers, is taking us public next week for a ten-year celebration. I’m working on a new piece, and as with Salon many times before, the imminent gathering compels me to write, to eke out time readying this new piece enough for a reading with my friends, to have the very first show of it as a somewhat shaped thing be for Salon.

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New Online Publication: ink&coda

One of the many ways I tried to excavate my lost childhood memory is music—specifically, playing my childhood piano. I got the idea to write about it while talking with my mentor Diane Lefer at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Actually, I told her what kind of memory hunting I was doing on the piano, and she said, “Write about it!” I did, and after many versions—the last of which my generous friend Jen Bowen Hicks read and nursed and even named—“Each Measure an Echo” appears in ink&coda. The journal publishes both music and prose. Take a listen. I’m particularly into Osnat Netzer’s “Pillars” as it features the kind of keyboard finger work I could only dream about, even, I believe, if I could afford hundreds of hours of lessons. (Just after the three-minute mark, piano gives sax a break, and sings.) A bittersweet publication: this is ink&coda’s final issue!

House

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We bought a house. Twenty-two years after moving out of my mother’s house (which means 22 years after living in a house at all, which also means 22 years since meeting my husband), we have, together, bought a house. Exactly 75 miles west (as the crows flies) from my childhood home, and 41 miles northeast of J’s. Just 10 miles upriver from our sparkling Connecticut coast. A house.

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A house! With its quirks, needs, gifts. Features that surprise each time we unload a few boxes. The same way I’ve often studied the human body, I now study oil, propane, HVAC, electric, septic, well, water treatment, vapor shield, ventilation, insulation, filters, and floors. I study the pumping, flowing, buzzing, angles, and light that make a house—that make our house. I love our sliding barn door, our fireplace, our chimney that climbs through S.’s new room. Our half-octagon dining room and our bright red door. I love that the flora and fauna echo my mother’s yard completely. I love meeting the longtime residents: wisteria, allium, lilac, hosta, catmint, chipmunks, house crickets, chickadees, and at least one woodpecker who, so far, has signaled only with sound.

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We’re no longer hermit crabs, though I may be growing into a hermit in a house in a valley in the woods. A house in a small town that’s building a bee highway. A house nestled into an eastern slope by a brook, which feeds a river that runs by my sister’s place before supplying the Sound. Land that climbs the western hill and ends in giant granite ledges. A bowed wooden bridge that has our little boys say, “We’re standing on top of the stream!” A house where we can leave muddy boots by the firewood. Because it’s a house that comes with mud and firewood. Because it’s a house!

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New Print Publication: Copper Nickel

S-Town the podcast captivated me. I finished it in the first 36 hours. In transit between work stuff, kids’ stuff, and home stuff, I couldn’t put down my headphones. S-Town is lovely and loving storytelling. Horology plays a central role in the story, and I’m reminded that my short essay about my mother’s preoccupation with clocks appears in the beautiful Copper Nickel this spring. Nonfiction Editor Joanna Luloff commented on how much story was “packed into 3 pages,” which made me feel good and grateful my piece found this home. My mother’s relationship with time was as complex as the lunar-phase longcase I inherited when she died. On the one hand, my mother, sisters, and I packed so much into our bedrooms, basement, into our hours after my father died. On the other hand, our dozens of clocks ticked painfully on time, rooting us quietly in place, when a quickening would have been welcome. Time seemed, with sadness, to circle back. Copper Nickel was founded in part by Jake Adam York, whose life as a poet and person will be celebrated for a long time, and who died too early. York was 40 when he died suddenly, having lived just 31 days longer than my father had lived before he too died suddenly. After receiving my copy of Copper Nickel, I got to reading up on the poet who started this gorgeous journal, and learned he spent most of his childhood in Alabama, a couple counties from Bibb, the home of the horologist at the center of S-Town.

Setback

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A tiny hole in my molar, some dozen years ago, led to two root canals and a traumatic tooth extraction that fractured my jaw. (I wrote about it here and here.) After living with the bigger hole, the hole left behind by my tooth, for several years, I decided to fix it. It took two bone grafts and a sinus lift to prep my jaw. My implant arrived in June 2014. I remember flaunting my sweet new tooth. Sent a playful pic to my husband.

But lately, my new tooth has felt a little wiggly. Implants aren’t supposed to wiggle.

So yesterday morning, I walked into my oral surgeon’s office to get it checked out. Not easy these days: he’s in the city, I’m an hour away by train, I’ve got work and three young kids. But I arranged for it.

Over three hours later, I walked out, new bone in jaw, tooth in hand. The oral surgeon had seen what I now know was inevitable: holes. Holes in my gums, holes in the bone surrounding the implant.

Past bone grafts had been scheduled in advance and done with deep sedation. But yesterday, when the doctor swept in to say he’d cleared some time and we should try saving the implant right now, I agreed. Uncharacteristically, I lay rigid throughout the surgical procedure, even during the 20-minute intermission clamping down on iodine-soaked gauze while an assistant walked ten blocks south to another office to grab some more bone. Toward the end, as the local anesthetic began wearing off, I wondered why he was flossing my teeth. Then I realized he was stitching.

A molar-sized hole is back for another four months or so. I should have guessed my permanent fill would not be permanent. Stories about holes don’t have endings.