Sunday, December 21, 2014

An antipodal Christmas

Christmas here on the other side of the world is rather spectacular, including hedgehogs and talking pigs. But what I really need to write about is the "Maori and Colonial Museum." Let me grok that some more before I go public.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Volunteer

Adam on his way to deal blackjack at "Las Vegas Night," the big Montessori fundraiser. 
As another year draws to a close, magnificent ruins are piled around us.
     I think of Greenwood without my grandmother—after a hundred years of her presence within the same 100 or so square miles. I’m not really sure how many square miles it is. Just that it seems very little, for a life—for someone like me, who has moved over and over again.
I think about all the things she did and did not do, as far as I know. About the stories that people are telling about her. Somehow I feel that she has settled in my mind, that she is waiting for me to tell her story.
     Adam’s dad, who (to me) is an occasional sound like a landslide in the background. Who seems like a legacy of eradicable influences.  
      Another ruin--the dream of freedom we were having. A particular kind of freedom we’d grown used to, freedom with daily struggle.
     I don’t know exactly what we have replaced that dream with. Now that I’ve been from one end of this island to the other, it feels very small. A small space in which to live a life. We look out at the horizon. Make lists of islands. Tortola, St. John, Jost Van Dyke. St. Croix. Vieques. Culebra. And just beyond that—you can see the mountains of Puerto Rico. The rain forest. Lists of what is within reach.
I’m sitting in my office with a stack of papers I’ve graded heartlessly.

I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking of the students and how they could have done better. And how I could have done better.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Weekend at the Agricultural Fair

Retired racehorses, and
miniature Puerto Rican ponies--
face painting, by one of my students, and
attitude with a stick of sugar cane.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Grandma Byrd's funeral

It was something I'd imagined attending. My mom had paid for the funeral years ago, chosen the casket, everything. Grandma herself had planned it all out, the hymns and the readings. Death hadn't been unwelcome. We'd stood together over the grave of my Aunt Betty once. She'd said, "I'll be down there soon, Jess." Sounding like she was looking forward to that--rejoining. Moving on. My sister told me that her last words were, "I'm tired. My mama's coming to get me." 

I thought about the story that she was born out of wedlock, raised by her aunt--her real mother always nearby, the favorite aunt. 

One hundred years in the northwest corner of South Carolina. Now there she was in the front of the church, lying in that paid-for casket. I tried to imagine what she would look like. At the end of the service, they turned the casket and started rolling it back down the aisle. Show's over, everybody. That was a life.

We rode to the cemetery in a Cadillac limo, the police escort blocking the intersections--momentum keeping that sense of solemnity. A short graveside service and the funeral director, an appropriately condolent look on his youthful face, beckoning everyone to come away while the casket was put in the ground. We cousins stayed. Feeling that we needed to bear witness to that casket disappearing into the red earth. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Weekend in Tortola

Making key lime pie 
Pelicans floating in the current, swallowing minnows
The view of where we came from
We looked up and noticed the boat from the neighboring mooring ball sailing on the horizon, and decided to take off, too--weather was perfect for the five-mile sail to Tortola. Now we're back and contemplating preparations for Tropical Storm Gonzalo, which sounds vaguely Shakespearean.

Friday, September 19, 2014

We are having adventures. They're not what we expected, some months ago, imagining our way into a voyage south, thinking of nutmegs in Grenada and rain rushing in torrents down steep little roads. (It’s funny the scraps of things people say that stay with you and make a picture in your mind that takes on weight.) It’s not the cafes of Cartagena. That life passed us by inches, leaving a shudder in the air.
     For now our adventures are of a different kind.
     We bought a 1999 Nissan Altima, cheap, that needs the transmission rebuilt, the first car we’ve had in eight years. I’m grading papers again—thinking aloud in front of the class is fun—a little high-wire act I can usually pull off.
     Sometimes I feel these cold pendulous drops of sadness, like a sudden rain has come up, and then wind. Bowled over by a fierce longing for my past life, which feels sealed off, an artifact. Wondering why I didn’t enjoy it more, savor it more, now that it’s rolling away from me. Now that I know everything was going to turn out OK.
     From the window of the safari I see “The Lord Is Risen He Is Risen Indeed” written on either side of the entrance to the cemetery. Beyond it are two rows of low white tombs, oriented side to, going up a hill in the scrubby low grass. The rising of the graves looks like no accident. Like they’re going towards the lord—but the journey’s truncated abruptly. Death is just death, with no other meaning.
     Pale-skinned people start to look like snails without shells, worms after the rain. Vulnerable, ill-suited to the climate—even after centuries, still here by mistake.
     “I kind of wish we were still traveling,” I say to Adam. “I don’t,” he replies. “Really?” I marvel. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say that. If his loose-limbed wandering has been quelled for the moment, I guess we really must be here for a reason.
     The weekend—my birthday, a stack of papers. Celebrating this year with the realization that what I’d thought of as my personality was just habit. Not understanding that inspiration comes in those leisurely, unscripted moments I’d felt guilty about, thinking always about the things I might never accomplish.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dawn in Red Hook

We are making the transition. It's working. Tomorrow we're probably even going to buy a car. More posts to come, once I get rid of this cold.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Tallulah's eye view of mom copyediting for a living
Our lives have been, over the past--forever--frequent confrontations with our options. There might be an infinite number of paths if you know how to look at the whole thing right.

And they may all lead somewhere entirely different. Literally. Our boat life: in half an hour we can be on our way to the other side of the world. Slowly--but anything’s possible.

For now we have tumbled toward St. Thomas. Fatefully, maybe, back toward some of what we left behind. Time sort of coiling on itself--the process of trying to make sense of life, trying to see some kind of order, seeming stupid and futile, if irresistible. 

And yet things do seem to have an air of adding up to something. To taking all this learning, stewing in a crucible-shaped vessel, and doing more with it.  

Professor mom works here

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tallulah's projects

Cat Coming Home from Work

Octopus and Roses


Friday, July 25, 2014

The underworld of unfinished novels.

The toil of writers like the coal stokers on great steamships, with smudged faces. This world is not normally visible, below the sphere of accomplished things--the manifested. And yet this striving is the  work of dreaming.

Wait. Does that metaphor work? Are these toilers and dreamers really making a huge machine go? Are they indeed working for some greater good? Does their mostly unrewarded labor help everyone else up there--those who don’t see them, who only feel the movement of the ship? Stoking coal. A task that probably no one would choose, all things being equal.

I’m trying to give some contour to a desperate exercise. Another metaphor: Grabbing a vine, and swinging out over the jungle. And laughing so hard while you do it that you almost let go. Because this daredevil act is exhilarating, and meaningless, and somehow--ineluctable.