W is for Writing

It’s been hard to keep up with this blogging challenge in pandemic times.  Hard to think or write about anything else.  I believe we will likely be staying at home for many more months, and that I will be teaching online in the fall.  The administration at my college is holding out hope for an in-person experience, but I am not optimistic.

I do not have a word for this malaise.  It’s a creeping worry and uncertainty.  Not knowing is hard for us planning humans.  I waver between an appreciation for what’s simple—having a place to live and enough to eat, being able to go outside every day, keeping in touch with loved ones.  Working from home feels artificial and temporary, and when the Zoom screen turns off it all goes away.

I could easily just sink into introversion on my laptop and in books.  It takes effort to write, and to go out and take socially-distant walks with friends, but I am always happy to have done so.  We do things we don’t want to do so we’ll feel better later.  I even wavered on Zoom yoga today, but I did it, and was glad I did.

One foot in front of the other.  One word after another.  One blog and then another.  Almost at Z.


Zooming with my sibs.  We are all holding up our right hands.  Wut.


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V is for Voice

Not everyone writes, or writes much.  Writing is not the distinctive expression of the self, for everyone.  But I am close to some people whose voices in writing capture who they are, and their writing moves me, more than their presence does, sometimes.  We can be bored together in person, but when we choose to write, and share our writing with another, when we write about something urgent and pressing—the self comes through.  And I treasure those selves shared with me in writing.  This is why we feel we know great writers, whether they write about themselves or not—their distinctive, crucial voice feeds us, and we know them.

I have written about reading my own journals from age 12 on up, and how my voice is essentially the same over all these decades.  And I have written about my daughter’s first grade journal, and how thrilling it is to hear that familiar voice, through phonetic spelling and simple sentences.  There are others whose written voices have brought me close.

My friend Lena and I became friends gradually in person, cautiously spending more and more time together, becoming housemates, but the summer after we first lived together we began writing letters.  I recently reread one of her letters from that first summer, 1980, and there she was, the same person I have loved for over forty years.  The letter was full of soul-searching, as letters from 20-year-olds often are, and I remembered that earnest friend, and how our closeness thrilled and relieved me.  Here was someone who poured herself out to me in letters as I did with her.  She moved to Japan and we kept up the writing, tiny words filling aerograms and onion skin paper in air mail envelopes.  We’d talk on the phone every month or so, counting the minutes, which ticked off their price as we gabbed on.  Today we live near enough to see each other regularly, and once in a while I email her and it feels familiar, that writing voice writing to her.  The me that she loved and accepted.  And I can’t throw away her letters because there she is, then and now.

When my mother died, I called her cousin in Wyoming to let her know.  I had never met her, but when I went through my mother’s address book, calling people I remembered her mentioning as important, I knew I had to call Cousin Jane.  Jane knew all about me, from my mother’s letters and long phone calls.  She knew my mother’s version of me, a beloved, accomplished daughter.  Now and then other cousins send me letters my mother wrote to them, and I get to hear from my mother again, in her letter writing voice, and she is so alive to me.

My first love and I were separated by an ocean early in our time together, and he wrote magnificent, witty, searching letters.  He wrote his way further into my heart, and I felt I knew him even better when we came together again.  Whole courtships can be conducted by letter, and have been.  I missed his voice when we broke up, and I still have those letters.

So many voices fill me up.


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U is for Um

U is for Um

I just looked at my blog statistics.  94 people checked my blog yesterday.*  But who are these people?  Few leave “likes” or messages.  I do not understand the blogging world.  I am in it only reluctantly.  Someday when I have a book to promote I may promote the blog more, but I am not very enthusiastic about doing all the things you’re supposed to do to be a writer these days.  I won’t join Twitter.  I have my limits.

This anonymous reading is gratifying and mysterious.  Hello, anonymous readers!  Feel free to leave a like, or a message, or even a didn’t like.

Um.  Searching for an Edward Gorey image for my last entry led me into his world, which is a lovely sort of macabre.  I’m glad eccentrics exist.

Every March, Smith College holds a bulb show in its greenhouses, just when we are thirsting for color at the end of winter.  They put it all together this year, but closed down a day or two after opening because of the pandemic.  They put together a virtual tour, but what I missed was the intense smell of daffodils and hyacinth the overwhelms you when you first walk into that greenhouse.

Anyway, one year there was an Edward Gorey theme, with lots of black and white backdrops to the bright colors of tulips and daffodils.  Black curtains and even a black pond, with the tiny hands of a drowning nurse peeked out.  The juxtaposition of Gorey sketches and lush flowers seemed incongruous, but was strangely satisfying, like Gorey’s work itself.  Google wanted to tell me a lot about Gorey, but I resisted.  I don’t want to be an expert on Gorey.  Just as I don’t care about knowing all the names of the flowers in the bulb show.  I just want to take it in.

*Oh wait.  I just looked at the weird little charts on my blog stats page.  There were only four visitors, but 94 VIEWS of my many blog entries.  Someone read a lot of Alice Knox Eaton yesterday.  I hope you enjoyed!  My busiest day was Day 1 of this blog challenge, with 42 visitors.


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T is for Torpor

Torpor, noun:  a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy.

Yep.  My pandemic go-to state.  It’s also a good word, that excites me a little and makes me less torporous.  Torporish?  Neither are actual words.  But this word play energizes me, a little, though I am lying in my torpor position, a little less slouched than sometimes, in my comfy chair.  Enjoy freshly washed hair and clean clothes.  Less torporous than usual.

I thought I was going to write about turpitude, another great word, but it turns out I didn’t know its real meaning.  I thought it was a kind of torpor.  Google says it’s simply depravity and wickedness, but if you add the adjective moral to it, it’s a legal concept.  Who knew?  Probably lots of people, but not me.  Moral turpitude is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.”

I imagine depraved and wicked people languidly violating norms, like Edward Gorey characters.  Turpitude just sounds so lazy.

Google word play.  It’s all I’ve got today.  Pandemic blues.


From Edward Gorey’s 1968 book The Blue Aspic
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S is for Semantics

I keep seeing articles that assert that what we are experiencing is grief.  I resist, feel growly.  I don’t like being told what it is I’m feeling.  And this doesn’t feel like grief.

Disorientation, foggy headedness, lethargy, mixed with gratitude that I have a steady paycheck, mixed with guilt that I kind of like having to stay at home.  I have some fear when I go out into the world, shopping, confined with people, but I am comforted by articles that say the chances of getting the virus from shopping is fairly low, especially if the proper precautions are taken.

This is not grief.  This is limbo.

The people living in the hot spots may certainly be experiencing grief.  I won’t look away from the photos of the trucks in New York City being loaded with bodies.  I won’t look away from the numbers.  But I won’t claim grief for myself when others grieve deeply.  I have not lost much yet.

I know grief.  Grief was pure and stark when my mother died.  The finality of death astounded me.  The retracing of every action I took in organizing her care when she was slipping away.  The enormous love she held for me, a cloud of comfort I didn’t know sustained me through every day, suddenly gone.  The ways she had irritated me became irrelevant; the ways she loved me were all that mattered.  And she was gone, gone, not coming back.

I remember the little smile she gave me a few days before she died, still loving me through the hard work of dying.  How it filled me.  How I needed her and never knew I did.

That was fifteen years ago, and the pain has subsided, though I miss hearing what she would have to say about pandemic, science, Trump.  She may have seen Obama give his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, his launch into national prominence, but she cast her last ballot, absentee from the nursing home, for John Kerry that fall.  She never saw the Obamas in the White House.  In 2008 we had to figure out who to vote for without her, and ever since.

This was, this is, boundless, bottomless grief, losing a great love like the love of my mother for me, for all of us in her family, her love and unfailing curiosity about the world.  This was loss.

I know grief may be coming, for me.  People are dying.  But I won’t claim grief while others have so much to grieve.

It is good to name enormous feelings and phenomena.  Shell shock became survivor’s guilt became Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD became evident in more than just soldiers.  It is good to name and know and identify.

But this isn’t grief.  It’s a fog.  It’s surviving, mixed with gratitude that I have so much—an income, walks every day in spring green, escape into stories on Netflix and in books.

It’s limbo, anxiety, waiting.  Grief is on the other side.  No need to rush to claim it.  It will come.


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R is for Restless

What new can be said for being stuck at home?  Everyone’s commenting on it.  The quarantine blogs could become part of a historical record of this time.  Hard to write about something you’re in the middle of.

The days consist of Zoom and snacking and a daily dog walk.  Computer games and binge watching and worry.  News and no news and too much news.  Concern that yet again, we rely on the people at the bottom of the economic ladder to keep us going.

Masks and hand sanitizer and putting things off, like eyebrow shaping, hip replacement surgery, dying your hair.  Showering whenever because when does it matter?  Moving from couch to bed to table.  Yearning for sleep but insomniac at night, sleepy in the afternoons.

When does restless become restful?  That ticking need, exaggerated by caffeine, to Do Something.  My Zoom yoga class got interrupted by a bad internet connection.  As I tried to reconnect, getting up off the floor to sit at my computer, I felt my stretched muscles pulling me to stay with it.  So I got back on the floor and improvised my own ending—a few favorite poses, warrior two, triangle, then sweet shavasana.  Then to a work Zoom meeting, internet restored, holding on to my yoga zen.

Then nap.


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Q is for Quacumpaug

The Narragansett Indians called it Quacumpaug Pond, the settlers called it Schoolhouse Pond because they built a schoolhouse to assimilate the Indians there.  I can’t find the meaning of Quacumpaug on the Internet.  My second cousins were members of a lodge on this pond; they called their lodge Quacumpaug, the Narragansett name, but the members were all white.  In the 1980’s, the Narragansetts reclaimed the land and the lodge too; a few years later the lodge burned down.

I visited Quacumpaug with my cousins once when I was very young.  I compared it to Pausacaco, the lodge we went to every year on another lake, and found it reassuringly familiar, yet with exciting differences.  At the end of the long pier extending into the pond, the water was still shallow, with a sandy bottom, so you had to be careful jumping in. The sandy bottom was a plus; no murky bottom with bloodsuckers like at Pausacaco.  But I gave Pausacaco a check mark for deeper water that allowed us to dive in.

I believe strongly in the right of Native American tribal groups to reclaim lost lands.  The lodge our family goes to, Pausacaco, sits on Pausacaco Pond, or Carr Pond as it appears on maps.  There are only two other houses on the pond, and only one is visible from the porch.  If you go out to the middle of the lake, you can see the third house, now a private dwelling, that has the same architectural structure as Pausacaco.  It used to be called Medicine Lodge, because it was founded by a group of doctors from Providence.

It seems plausible that the Narragansetts could reclaim Pausacaco too, as they did Quacumpaug.  My cousins, who are now members of Pausacaco, still mourn the loss of the lodge of their childhood.  Pausacaco’s membership is still all white.  I notice a confluence of blue eyes at our annual meeting every spring.  My siblings and I fear losing Pausacaco to fire—it burnt down and was rebuilt in 1922.  We must consider the possibility of loss to the land’s previous inhabitants.  Our little haven, hemmed in by Route 1 and Route 1A to the east and west, and Route 138 to the north, sits in its quiet spot amid a hubbub of tourism and second homes near Narragansett Bay.  We hope that its relatively small acreage makes it less desirable for reclamation.  We hope to hang onto our white privilege.


Collier’s, 1910.
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Named for a Narragansett word meaning “abounding in bats,” Pausacaco (pronounced paw-sah-KAW-ko) is a wooden lodge with a wide, inviting porch overlooking a small lake.  My grandfather’s two brothers and five other men built the lodge in 1906.  In the early twentieth century, Rhode Island was dotted with dozens of lodges like Pausacaco, built and maintained by professional men from Providence.  The lodge had no electricity and no running water, relying on a well system accessed by an old hand pump in the kitchen.

1922.  My mother’s earliest memory—a blackened chimney over smoking embers. She and her father step out of their Model A to see the wreckage of the house his family built, the house where she was conceived, the place where he poured all his spare energy.  The chimney rises against the sky, pale in early morning, and beyond it the lake laps blue, oblivious.  All that water, just feet from the lodge, useless in the face of a raging oil stove.  No one got hurt, but Paul is responsible—his guests lit the stove.

Ellen, at 3, knows only that Pausacaco, the place where she and Sally play, where her family retreats from the hubbub of Cambridge, lies before her, a pile of smoking timbers.  The woods look the same, with their two paths in opposite directions from the house, and she wonders if the outhouses have burned at the end of each path.  The lake looks the same, inviting her, though it is too cold to swim.  But the house is simply gone.

The morning of the fire, Paul had risen early with some departing guests.  He had let someone else start up the stove, and with the guests on their way, he and another friend take a canoe out onto the lake.  When they get to the middle of the lake, they hear odd crackling sounds.  They turn back to the lodge and see leaping flames.  In seconds, the outlines of the house disappear.  By the time they paddle back, furiously, futilely, most of the house has fallen in on itself.  Guests in their pajamas stand far back from the flames.  Someone has driven to town to summon the fire department, but when the engines arrive, there is nothing to save, just a few large beams, which the firemen don’t bother with, the same beams Ellen sees smoking the next day when her father brings her down from Cambridge in the Model A.

Paul, frantic with guilt, throws himself into remaking the lodge in every loving detail.  The Pausacaco founders raise the money to rebuild in short order, appealing to the lodge’s many loyal visitors.  Expert craftsmen donate their time to recreate beveled cabinet doors and locking window frames.  In a little over four months, a new structure rises up, identical to the one that disappeared.  Ellen sometimes doubts her memory of that moment with her father, driving down to the lodge at first daylight.  But someone took a photograph, and there it is:  the charred chimney, alone against a blank space of sky.  The photo hangs on the landing of the rebuilt house, next to the framed 1922 newspaper story with photos of the familiar fireplace, and the headline, “The Fire That Built a House.”  She cannot tell which of her memories of the house come from before the fire and which after, so she chooses the dividing line of the black chimney as her first one.


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O is for SpirOgraph

The gears are shaped like jagged O’s.

We lost one of our Spirograph wheels, the third one from the corner, the best size.  Spirograph engrossed me for hours at a time, and losing a wheel was a deep disappointment.

I must have been a dastardly child.  One day at my friend Amy’s house, we were playing with her Spirograph set, and I snagged her wheel in the size I lost.  When we were putting it away, she accused me and I smugly denied the theft.  She said that’s the same one that you’re missing.  You took it.  I said, no, it’s that other size, pointing to the size just below.  But she knew.  I was aware of the wheel poking into my stomach through my pants pocket.

I felt satisfied at home with my now complete Spirograph set.  But after that first flurry of play, one season perhaps, I don’t recall returning to Spirograph much.

I found an old Spirograph at a tag sale decades later, and brought it home for my kids.  It was a hit, but I was haunted by my theft of Amy’s wheel.  I thought of it every time I played.

Recently, on Facebook, Amy and I had a short exchange that led her to reminisce about playing Spirograph with me for hours.  I immediately private messaged her with my true confession.  She had no memory of it.  I wasn’t always that nice to Amy, but she doesn’t seem to remember that either.  The little crimes of childhood haunt only selectively.


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N is for Nosie Nellie

When I was eight or nine, I wrote and illustrated a full-color, stapled-bound book entitled Nosie Nellie.  Nosie Nellie and her friend Naughty Nancy, drawn wearing skirts and large bows in their hair, are confident, opinionated girls—empowered, one might say.  In Chapter 1, they visit a woman’s house and destroy her doll collection.  My illustration of the hacked-up dolls emanates the glee of destruction, and the horror of a hapless adult.  I do not dwell on the consequences of this act.  In Chapter 2, Nellie and Nancy encounter two boys, whom they dismiss as “show-offs.”  Fittingly, the boys are hypermasculine in their appearance, wearing football uniforms, complete with padded shoulders and helmets.  The boys take chase, but the girls outwit them by hiding in a bush.

I love this book, and the eight-year-old Alice who wrote it, listing her other book titles inside the front cover—Lazy Linda, Pete the Pig, Cat and Mouse.  (I never wrote those books.)  I love the vision I had for myself as an author.  I do not recall showing the book to my mother or to anyone, but I do recall the pleasure of its making.

My first feminist manifesto.

2020-04-17 16.17.01

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