Writing outside, a French garden, summer

May 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm (Gorgeous Writing, Literary spaces)


The Professor had succeeded in making a French garden in Hamilton. There was not a blade of grass; it was a tidy half-acre of glistening gravel and glistening shrubs and bright flowers. There were trees, of course; a spreading horse-chestnut, a row of slender Lombardy poplars at the back, along the white wall, and in the middle, two symmetrical, round-topped linden-trees. Masses of green-brier grew in the corners, the prickly stems interwoven and clipped until they were like great bushes. There was a bed for salad herbs. Salmon-pink geraniums dripped over the wall. The French marigolds and dahlias were just now at the their best — such dahlias as no one else in Hamilton could grow.


It was just the sort of summer St. Peter liked, if he had to be in Hamilton at all. In those months when he was a bachelor again, he brought down his books and papers and worked in a deck chair under the linden-trees; breakfasted and lunched and had his tea in the garden. He was his own cook, and had laid in a choice assortment of cheeses and light Italian wines from a distinguishing importer in Chicago. Every morning before he sat down at his desk he took a walk to the market and had his pick of the fruits and salads. He dined at eight o’clock. When he cooked a fine leg of lamb, saignant, well rubbed with garlic before it went into the pan, then he asked Outland to dinner. Over a dish of steaming asparagus, swathed in a napkin to keep it hot, and a bottle of sparkling Asti, they talked and watched night fall in the garden. If the evening happened to be rainy or chilly, they sat inside and read Lucretius.

From The Professor’s House by Willa Cather


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Oops! I Married a Lobster

May 17, 2009 at 10:25 pm (Asperger's Syndrome, Childhood)


I was so tired when I got home from school. I had been working all day with students, finally kicking the last two out of my classroom at 5 PM and driving one home. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I grabbed three pizza crusts and some ice cream, read a little Laurie Colwin, and curled up for a short snooze.

At 6 PM, Andy screamed up to me, “MO! Is something wrong with you?!”

“I’m just taking a short snooze.”

“Well, get up! We need to think about dinner and figure out calves!!”

I’m tired, I thought angrily, swinging my legs out of bed and pulling on a pair of jeans.

“I just don’t get why you would want to take a nap at 6 PM! We’re going to bed in two hours. Why don’t we just get done what we need to and then go to sleep?!”

Because I am tired NOW. I want to sleep NOW.

It’s pointless to say this, especially now that I know where this is coming from, Andy’s pea-sized amygdala. No conception that I worked a day. No conception that anyone but a farmer could be exhausted. No Theory of Mind. He simply CANNOT imagine why I could be tired, and his need for completion and efficient timing requires that all my work must be done before HE can relax. Argh!!!

Saturday afternoon, I woke up from a nap (legitimate because it was mid-day and we had both worked in the garden all morning and we were both napping) and looked over at Andy’s head on the pillow beside me and felt like I had accidentally married a lobster, like a man-sized crustacean was lying on the pillow next to me with its juvenile brain stem and little pincers flailing in the air. If I tried to talk to the lobster, it would scuttle slightly and wave its little tentacle eyes and think its primordial lobster thoughts.

When I realize that Andy cannot instinctively understand another’s experience or not feel bombarded during even the most routine of days, I realize just how different we are, almost like different species. I see in my mind the “primitive nervous system” in my high school biology textbook and the diagrams of the “Asperger brain” from the internet and I become nauseous. How can I remain married to a being that is practically another genus?

But then I imagine Andy’s other traits, his childlike wonder, his extraordinary ability to comprehend and synthesize complex systems, how overwhelmed he must be sometimes. And the lobster on the pillow anthropomorphizes and is suddenly standing at its dressing table, like that whimsical engraving from Alice in Wonderland. It has a heart-breaking look on its face as it preens and prepares for the Lobster Quadrille.

lobster_boySo sad, the heart of a lobster, as he “Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.” I see Andy as a child, protecting his shirt tag from excision by the neighborhood bully. I see him in his sixth-grade class photo hunched in the back row, with his cavernous eyes so scared and alone. I see him in college, charged with political fervor, striding across campus in his black overcoat and keffiyeh, his long Roger Daltry curls bouncing down his back. I see him at the Szykowski farm, running a tractor for the first time, so glad to be out under the hot Holyoke sun.alice36aAnd I see that the lobster I have wed is a Lewis Carroll lobster with personality and an Englishman’s brain, with sophisticated emotions inside its crustacean body. And I have sympathy for and understanding of the very real emotions of this creature:

When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,

And will talk in contemptuous tones of the shark;

But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,

His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We all talk a good show when the things we fear are far, but when faced with anxiety, our souls become timid and tremulous, or worse, we betray our Julia with the rat an inch from our face. The only difference is that the lobsters can’t hide it as well. When they are afraid, we know they are afraid, they act afraid, that emotion is worn on the sleeve. We non-crustaceans have those fear reflexes as well, the stimulus does effect the response, it’s just that we can process it in the frontal lobes, understand that it is not life-threatening, and keep it hidden.

Perhaps the lobsters in our midst simply remind us too clearly of those core emotions we have learned to hide socially, can actually hide as a reflex, our great big amygdalas allowing us to do the socially advantageous thing and bury those feelings far beneath the surface. The problem is that for us, those neural impulses just go somewhere else, into a headache, into misdirected anger at a goose, into an hour of web-surfing old boyfriends at the end of the day, into resenting the lobster on the pillow next door.

Perhaps we’d do well to allow a little of the lobster in ourselves, to go somewhere alone and beat a pillow or address the pine tree with our boss’ face and tell it exactly how we feel about it, or actually confront the obnoxious colleague who deserves to be put in his place. Should we, then, join the Lobster Quadrille?

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!

They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the dance?

You can really have no notion how delightful it will be

When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!

He waits for me, wistful lobster, on the shingle. All the turtles and lobsters are eagerly arriving, there, under the moonlight. They smile and chat, the slow and odd, the misunderstood, the savants, they are together and accepted here, they know the measures and etiquette of this minuet. Here, they are the norm and I am in the minority.

I give my analytical eyebrows a knit and linger on the edge of the beach near a rock. I am too controlled to join this group. Besides, I realize as the dance begins, that if I join I will be thrown far to sea and I resist.

But the snail replied, ‘Too far, too far!’ and gave a look askance—

Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.

“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.

The further off from England the nearer is to France—

Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.

And it is true that life with an Aspergian has taken me to some far-off shores, many of them exotic and magical. I now see every wild animal in the landscape no matter how small or far. I understand economics and agriculture in their intricate and dazzling patterns. I can mow a ten-acre hayfield and not miss a blade or waste a drop of diesel. I can cry at the birth of a calf or feel the beating heart of a kitten beneath its endearing fur. I can restrict my anxiety and write exactly what needs to be written in a letter to my supervisor. I can sit in the woods still enough to have chipmunks run across my foot.

I have tasted meals from Andy’s hands that would rival those created by a four-star chef. I have tasted fresh lettuce and ripe strawberries that he has called forth from the earth. I have splashed into a glorious pool from a beautiful deck that was already manifest in his mind months before shovel touched earth. I have smelled fuchsias and lilies and lilacs that have flowered under his touch. I have seen a run-down farm flourish into a profitable Dairy of Distinction. I have felt the tender touch of a man instinctively expert at animal responses. I have read love poems from him that come from a sense of wonder deeper and more pure than I know. I have stripped off some of the endless layers of social veneer that protects me from intense experiences. I have been to the far shore, seen the wonders of France, drifted there under a moonlit sky with a water-wise lobster at my side, my hand safe in his pincer.

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

Yes, I think I will. Lead on, my lobster love.


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A Cold Spring by Elizabeth Bishop

May 16, 2009 at 11:27 pm (Farming, God, Gorgeous Writing)

for Jane Dewey, Maryland

Nothing is so beautiful as spring. -Hopkins

violets-rsA cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited,
carefully indicating their characteristics.
Finally a grave green dust
settled over your big and aimless hills.
One day, in a chill white blast of sunshine,
on the side of one a calf was born.
The mother stopped lowing
and took a long time eating the after-birth,
a wretched flag,
but the calf got up promptly
and seemed inclined to feel gay.

dogwood1The next day
was much warmer.
Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood,
each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette-butt;
and the blurred redbud stood
beside it, motionless, but almost more
like movement than any placeable color.
Four deer practiced leaping over your fences.
The infant oak-leaves swung through the sober oak.
Song-sparrows were wound up for the summer,
and in the maple the complementary cardinal
cracked a whip, and the sleeper awoke,
stretching miles of green limbs from the south.
white_lilacIn his cap the lilacs whitened,
then one day they fell like snow.
Now, in the evening,
a new moon comes.
The hills grow softer. Tufts of long grass show
where each cow-flop lies.
The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs.
Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
–exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
–Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.


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Writing by candle, sleeping porch, summer

May 15, 2009 at 10:17 am (Childhood, Gorgeous Writing, Literary spaces) (, )

sleeping_porch“That summer Chrys slept on a cot on a little screened porch at the back of her grandmother’s house.  It was all her own place and nobody disturbed her. A big honey locust tree, full of white, scented blossoms, hung over the sleeping porch and let moonlight come seeping through the leaves onto her face as she slept. Under her bed Chrys kept a shoe box with some of her very personal and secret treasures, like the diary Cordy had given her on her birthday and the letter from Mr. Banks that had come from far-off Wisconsin where he was spending the summer with his family, and the ring shaped like a snake with a green stone eye that she had found on the way home from town one day. There were a spelling tablet and a well-sharpened stub of a pencil in the shoe box too. The spelling tablet was no longer used for such tiresome business as spelling. In it Chrys had written three poems, one about trees and one about kittens and one about falling snow. She had never shown the poems to any person in the world, not even to Cordy. She did not know if they were good or not, but they were hers, her own, and she was not ready to share them with anybody.

candle“Before she undressed, Chrys lighted a stub of a candle that sat in a saucer on the orange crate beside her bed. She sat on the bed and read over her three poems, and then she began to write on a fresh page of the spelling tablet. ”

From Louly, by Carol Ryrie Brink

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May 14, 2009 at 4:54 pm (Gorgeous Writing, Literary spaces)

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and THIS is Joy ….

May 9, 2009 at 3:43 pm (Family, Farming, God)

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THIS is Spring

May 5, 2009 at 8:15 pm (Farming)

By the first week of May there is enough fresh pasture to let the cows out of the barn. They have been inside (cozy, warm, well-fed, and protected from the elements) since the previous November. By May 1 the cows can smell the grass growing and they start to look out the windows hopefully. All Andy has to do is walk through the barn saying “What good girls are going OUT today?” and the older cows all start to bellow and trumpet. They know what’s coming. At the end is my favorite cow: Jill.

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