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Brooklyn

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on Tuesday, 01 October 2013
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Am I allowed to say "I've been busy"? Is that an excuse?  It's true, in any case; and I have neglected posting to the blog lately.

Some of the "busy" has included spending a weekend in Broklyn, where I was given the "Best of Brooklyn" award, given each year to an author wihth a connection to that city...ah, excuse me, borough.

I lived in a Broklyn as a very young child, when my father was trnsferred fomr there after being in Hawaii, where I was born, for several years. We were in Brooklyn on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and that is one of my very early memories. I was four. My father was outside, about to get into the car. My mother heard the news on the radio. She began to cry. Honolulu was our home until so recently. I ran outside and told Daddy to come in; Mama was crying. I have a memory that she told him he must put his unofprm on. (He was a US Army majpr then; but it was a Sunday; he was wearing civilian clothes.) I have always wondered if it was announced on the radio that military personnel should be in uniform. I couldn't have made up that memory...it is so specific.

But always there are questions you don't ask your parents in time, and then they are gone, and you wonder forever.

My father had to go off to the war, and Mother took us (my sister and me) to Pennsylvania, where her parents lived. Later, when the war ended, we would go to live in Tokyo.

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Say Cheese.

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on Monday, 26 August 2013
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This morning, by appointment, a photographer came to the farm to do a portrait of me. Not a head-and-shoulders smiling photo for a book jacket. But a here-I-am-in-my-milieu portrait to be included in a possible book of Writers in Maine, the proceeds of which would  then go to the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, to a restricted fund for Maine's independent bookstores to use for author visits, signings, book parties. etc.  All in all a good thing. And I for one would buy such a book...not to see myself in it!...but because I love to peek into other poeple's lives, especially other writers' lives; and because I love photographic portraits, no matter who the subjects are.

I did find myself hoping, before he arrived, that he would not do yet one more here-she-is-in-front-of-her-bookcases pose. I would have been willing to do that if that's what they were looking for. But...whew...they weren't.  He wandered around the first floor of my house; and then through the studio, which is separate from the house, and then...YAY!...into the barn. The barn is my favorite place, at least for photographs. The light sifts in with little bits of dust floating in it. The wood is weathered and in some places gnawed by critters of past generations.

Many, many years ago, my great aunt, a photographer back in the early 1900's, did a photograph of a young boy in a  barn. He stands in a hayloft, with the light from a window behind him, making him into a silhouette. I don't know the history of the boy or the photo...only its date, 1911. I used that old photograph as one of the illustrations in my book The Silent Boy.

This photographer selected an old staircase leading to a loft in my barn, and I sat there on the rickety steps beside a wooden post scarred with toothmarks (horse? cow?) and watched him move the dials of his Hasselblad and remembered fondly the days when I also was a photographer of people and looked for the right light, the right backdrop.

I just found an old photo of the stairs on which I sat ths morning, and another of the back entrance to my barn...there is Alfie, looking out. He wouldn't sit with me on the stairs today for a portrait!

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Has a cloud come over the sun?

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on Sunday, 18 August 2013
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The other night, at the farm, a friend was visiting and we flicked around the TV channels and settled on watching Bette Davis in "Dark Victory."  1939. I had watched it several times over the years, but not for a long while, and all I remembered was the ending when Bette Davis is out in garden, looks up into the bright sunny sky, and says something like: "It's going to rain. A cloud has come over the sun"..and we (the audience) know that this is it, she is about to die....because earlier in the movie we have been told by her doctor/husband (George Brent) that she has a particular kind of brain tumor from which death is inevitable...and more than that, her death will be preceded by her vision failing.

I had forgotten a lot. Like the fact that a very young fatuous Ronald Reagan has a minor role. That Humphrey Bogart has an important part but is woefully miscast as a Irish horse trainer, complete with a bad brogue. That the music is overwrought (soaring violins as Bette Davis, just in from the garden and suddenly blind, fakes to her husband that she is fine, wishes him a cheery goodbye as he sets off on a trip, and then feels her way to her deathbed). That everyone overacts. That the dialogue is terrible, and the plot preposterous.

But oh my, it was fun watching it.

Speaking of clouds covering the sun...they aren't. It has been one glorious day after another, with cool nights now as fall approaches. I have company coming and going and I am picking the last of the blueberries and freezing them. Yesterday I drove to Brunswick, Maine,  and went with my friend Middy to an outdoor arts festival with food and music and all kinds of art, good and bad; as well as all kinds of people: tourists, aging hippies, townfolk, probably pickpockets, and many many children.

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Vital Phenomena

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on Monday, 05 August 2013
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Last night I was reading a book with an impossibly unwieldy title...A Constellation of Vital Phenomena....and I kept turning to the back flap to look again at the author photograph because he looked so impossibly young to have written such a mature and complex novel. 28, one reviewer described him.

OKay, then. 28. I thought back to myself at that age, in 1965. I had majored in writing in college, had wanted...had intended, had hoped, had aspired...to be a writer.

Why wasn't I, at 28? Well, I had four children by then, and in 1965 they were 3, 4, 6, and 7. I also had a dog, a cat, and a husband. I remember myself perpetually at the sink...why is that? Ah, I remember: I had no dishwasher.

I had a sewing machine, though, my mother's old Singer portable. I made my own clothes as well as my two daughters'. Those were the days of dresses.

To get out of the house, for my own sanity, I worked one night a week, 7-12, as a volunteer at the local hospital. (It strikes me now as illogical that I would escape the chaos and bedlam of home for the chaos and bedlam of an emergency ward. But at least they were someone else's kids who had smashed their motorcycles, blown up their fingers with fireworks, or played with daddy's chainsaw.)

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A beautiful day

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on Saturday, 03 August 2013
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Well, first of all, the weather: 70s, clear, dry, breezy. A fabulous Saturday.

With so many blueberries at their peak, I made a batch of blueberry muffins. Then, because the flour and eggs and sugar were out there anyway, I made a batch of brownies.

Then I put all the ingredients for a beef stew into the slow cooker and set it for seven hours.

I played probably 5 games of Words with Friends.

I got an email from a dear friend whom I hadn't heard from in two years.

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Back home from Hollywood

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on Wednesday, 31 July 2013
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The filmmakers making THE GIVER are not obligated in any way to consult me. They own the rights to the movie and are working hard to make it the best one possible. But they have kindly invited me to peek at the inner workings, to give my opinions and suggestions. So last week I flew out to LA and spent two days doing just that (and upon returning to Maine have continued to do so through email).

It's facsinating to watch the inner workings, the preliminary hard work that takes place before the cameras are ever turned on (as they will be in South Africa, where the movie is to be shot, in September). Set designs (spectacular)...in progress. Costume designs (fascinating)....in progress. Casting (impressive)...in progress. Script tweaking (endless)...in progress.

Yes, the boy Jonas will be older in the film than the book...as will his friends Asher and Fiona. Some readers are already annoyed (in some cases outraged) about that. Entertainment Tonight apparently says that I should be, too. I'm not. A book and a movie are not the same thing. A movie needs visual stuff, and action; and this is a laregly quiet and introspective book.  In the film there will be things happening that are much more believable if an older teenager is doing them...the escape of the boy and the baby is much...what would the word be...bigger, vaster, harder. Epic.

Here I am, at the home of director Phillip Noyce, with Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, who will be playing Jonas alongside Jeff Bridges as The Giver. He has, you'll notice, dark eyes. "They're removing my eyes for the movie," he told me (with those very same eyes twinkling) and I'll have artifical blue eyes."  "Hah," I replied. I admire the sacrificies you are willing to make for your art."

Of course they can (and will) give him blue eyes. And of course they can make a red apple appear suddenly in a black-and-white scene. Movie-making is about magic.

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Going Cuckoo

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on Friday, 19 July 2013
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Recently a number of people have asked me what I think about the J.K. Rowling controversy...not sure "controversy" is the correct word here. The news. The situation. The whatever.

Here is my take on it. I don't think for a minute that she—or her publisher—orchestrated the whole thing in order to sell books. Rowling doesn't need more money. Publishers, of course, always need more money.  But more than that, they need to maintain a mutually happy relationship with their top-selling author.

I think she simply wanted the freedom to write a book without the celebrity, the demands, the publicity, and the endless mindless circus that had begun to accompany her previous publications.  The publisher respected that wish and agreed to publish her new book under a pseudonym. (I think their mistake was making the alleged author seem so interesting—and unlikely—that people started investigating)

It got good reviews, which much have been gratifying for her. It got minor sales, which is typical of a first novel; and probably she would have gone on to write more under that name and gradually built up a reputation and greater sales and a few fans.

It would have given her the kind of job most of us have as writers: to work hard, in solitude, taking pleasure in the act of writing without the overwhelming demands that Harry Potter had probably placed on her toward the end.  Having her cover blown has ruined it, has destroyed that possibility. And then on top of it...to have some of the public accuse her of masterminding it....well, I feel really sorry for her.

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Hooray for Hollywood

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on Wednesday, 17 July 2013
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Mayor Menino has inked a deal to author a book chronicling his life, career, and long reign in City Hall’s corner office in Boston.

 

This is a recent announcement in the Boston Globe. I have no quarrel with Boston's long-time mayor, and am sorry that his health has become an issue so that he is not running for reelection.  But inking a deal to author a book?  My quarrel is with the creation of verbs from nouns. INK is a noun, people. So is AUTHOR.

I know I am fighting a losing battle here. I lost it a long time ago, the day PARENT turned into a verb.

I am leaving my beloved farm for a week on Monday...and missing one of my most valued times in summer here, the Tuesday night chamber music concert. (Last night's was dazzling: Beethoven and Mendelssohn, both Felix and Fanny)  But I have been asked to fly out to Los Angeles...(or, as the Boston Globe would perhaps prefer me to say, I am going to airplane to Los Angeles) for a meeting with the movie-makers as they embark on the film of The Giver.

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Summer is flying by

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on Thursday, 11 July 2013
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It's hard to believe that it is a month since I posted anything here.  So busy!  And a lot of company. Today I am alone...though expecting a writer friend who lives in Portland for lunch...so I'l take a minute to update things.

My granddaughter 19, finished her almost-3-months in Costa Rica, where she was atending language immersion school and also volunteering in a national refuge for rescued animals, and came here for a brief visit before returning to Germany.  She came away with a great love of the country, a lot of new friends from everywhere, and a conversational comfort with Spanish. 

There was a tragic interruption when one of the volunteers was murdered by poachers/drug runners.  He had been patrolling sea turtle nests at night, guarding the eggs, which bring a hefty price and are therefore valuable to poachers. There is now a reward for the capture of the murderers and there has been a lot of publicity (google MURDER LIMON COSTA RiCA), but no arrest yet, and it was a devastating set of events for young idealistic volunteers.

Here is Nadine, with a knkajou, which is actually related to the raccoon family.  She also worked with baby monkeys.

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Be My Guest

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on Wednesday, 19 June 2013
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I was tidying up a guest room today because previous guests have gone and new ones are arriving on Monday. I was thinking about how much I enjoy having guests...and about guest rooms in general, and what they shoud have in them. (Not a cat! Begone, Lulu!)

But they should have an alarm clock (check) and good light for reading (check) and also some good books (check)

And that brings me to the topic of books. Yesterday I went to our wonderful local bookstore, Bridgton Books, on the town's one main street. I entered through the back door, as I usually do, and made my way oh-so-slowly to the front, where I handed my armload to Justin and said, "You got me again. Impulse buyer."   Justin and Pam, the owners of the store. place a lot of things there near the back...discounted (I can't call them remainders) books...cookbooks, and I am a sucker for those...  All that good stuff.  Yesterday I bought two half-price cokbooks AND..a real find (now in the guest room): William Trevor's short stories.

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Father's Day

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on Sunday, 16 June 2013
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I have a big gap in my childhood life when i think about fathers. My dad was a career army office and was gone for the duration of WWII...he was in the Pacific...and again duing the Korean War (he was in Tokyo, at the hospital there, tending jaw and facial injures coming in from Korea. We had been living in Tokyo but when the war began, he sent his family back to the USA)

All of that is TMI, I suppose. But this being Fathers' Day,I was thinking about the general topic. Both of my sons were/are (I have to use the double verb because one son died young) enthusiastic and wonderful fathers. Looking back at old photos of them with their children, I see very hands-on relationships. My father was less so. He was a caring and commited father, but I don't recall any wrestling or tickling or piggyback rides. Our life was a little more formal; and, of course, he was gone so much.  My book "Crow Call" is about his return from the war when I was in third or fourth grade and he seemed a stranger to me after such a long time.

I'm aware, too, that many of my books have very strong and important father figures in them. There are "real" fathers, too, but what interests me are those that have an absent or distant father, and so the child protaganist has found a substitute. Off the top of my head, I am thinking of A SUMMER TO DIE, RABBLE STARKEY (one of my favorites, all but forgtten now), THE GIVER, MESSENGER...and I know there are others.

I'm sure that a lot of fiction refects autobiography even when the writer isn't aware of it.

Here is me with my dad (from CROW CALL), and my son Ben with his boys:

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At Home

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on Friday, 31 May 2013
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My mother had calling cards. Yes, really.  Engraved calling cards. In those days women paid formal calls upon each other. There was always a small silver tray in the front hall, where the calling cards were deposited.

And there were certan hours when a woman was "at home"...which meant one could call upon her.

Now we have business cards, printed, not engraved, and they have our cell phone number and our email address and they look quite, well, businessy, not at all like my mother's.

Nonethess, I am now "at home." In my new home. Several neighbors ave come to call, to introduce themselves, and they have come wearing jeans and sneakers and apologizing for the gardening dirt under their fingernails. Times have changed.

The dog was terrified at first, of the strange yard, probably because I had had an underground fence installed, encircliing it, and he got zapped when he checked out the boundaries. Now, though, he is in full command; he lies on the front porch observing, and he seems happy with his new home.

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O Come Let Us Adore Me

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on Monday, 22 April 2013
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I have a wall of shelves in my dining room, here in the house that I am about to leave, which I have always called my "Wall of Perpetual Self-adoration."  It contained all the framed certificates that announced my selection as 'most popular author in..(fill in the blank)'...some honorary degrees, some little bits of statuary engraved with my name as recipient of... ...whatever. Me me me.  It always seemed embarrassingly self-absorbed (hence the title I gave that wall) at the same time that I have always been genuinely appreciative of those honors.

In any case, as I dismantle this house, of course those things hvae come down and been packed into boxes. My new house is smaller and has less wall space. I have paintings I want to hang...many by friends...one wonderful sunflower painting by Ashley Bryan, for example...and I realized I probably would not re-create another Wall of Perpetual Self Adoration.

So I had Boxes of Self-Adoration waiting to be moved, along with boxes of dishes, linens, books, etc. etc.  They were not yet labeled because I hadn't figured out what their label should be! "Reference Books"..easy. "Yellow Crate-and-Barrel China"...easy. But: Narcissism? Awards? Hadn't decided what those boxes were to be called.

While I was in Europe last week, a company called Clean Out Your House came, by pre-arrangement, and hauled away the stuff I had piled in a section of the basement. Old soaker hoses. A broken chair. Bags and bags and bags and boxes and boxes of...stuff.

You can hear what is coming. I had not adequately separated or identified the boxes of awards and plaques and  certificates.

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GUTEN TAG

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on Saturday, 13 April 2013
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I am in Badem, a small town in the Eifel region of Germany, where my granddaughter lives. She is preparing to leave soon for two months in Costa Rica, where she will  work in a national park and also on her Spanish at the same time, since in the fall she will enter the University of Trier to major in languages.

Yesterday I was a visitor at the English cłass that my daughter-in-law teaches. Her students are older adults...most of them retired...and it is so impressive and humbling to see these hard-working people who are working so diligently to learn a new language, something that I would find almost impossible, I think.  And Englísh  is tough!! Picture trying to describe the difference between "must" and "have to"! That's what Margret was doing yesterday. 

.Tomorrow I will take the train to Paris where I will spend a week with a friend. In the meantime my house back home is being increasingly stripped and packed as I prepare to move.  When jet lag wakes me at 4 AMI start thinking about things like the junk drawer in the kitchen....how to pack those paper clips and batteries and unidentified keys...?

i am writing this on my brand new iPad .... Such a handy thing or travels! 

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Chaos

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on Saturday, 30 March 2013
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I have not posted to the blog for quite a long time. Sorry. Moving means chaos and I have had to set aside some things that I ordinarily tend to.  Blog being one.

Last Tuesday a wonderful non-profit called MORE THAN WORDS which teaches kids, often at-risk kids, how to run a business...in this case, a used-book business...came and took away 50 boxes of books from my house. In a way it was hard to see them go. But I like the idea of new people picking them up and opening up the same pages that i once enjoyed.

It was mostly fiction that set off on this adventure.  I am saving biographies, memoirs, and collected letters...they will go with me, to my new (smaller) (fewer bookcases) house. I will be living very close to a nice library and plan to become a better library user than I have been in the past.

In the midst of packing for a move, I head to NYC next Wednesday, for two days...I'll be speaking at the Schwartz Childrens Center of the Museum of New York at 5 PM Thursday, and then spending Friday at Horace Mann School.  After I return from New York, a week late,...I head to Europe for ten days. Is this wise, when I am moving May 7th? No, of course it isn't. But it was a trip I planned long ago: first to Germany to see my granddaughter, who just graduated with honors from the Gymnasium; and then by train to Paris, where I will meet a friend and spend a week in a flat we have rented together.

I have spent the past two days in Maine, overseeing the construction of closet interiors in my new house; meeting with an insurance agent about medical insurance...because, suprise surprise, my medical insurace from Massachusetts will not transfer; arranging with Invisible Fence to install said fence around my new yard, for Alfie; measuring windows and ordering "window treatments" (I hate that phrase; it is so pretentious); and on and on...stuff.  Necessary stuff. And of course back here there is much MORE necessary stuff to be done.

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Bless This House

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on Sunday, 03 March 2013
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It has been a while since I have posted anything on this blog. Last time I wrote, I was in Maine; and now I am back in Cambridge, but frequently I have to take my dog and cat and clear out because the house is being shown. So far, I would guess that maybe 30-35 people have tromped through my house, and though I am not there when they do, I picture them saying, "Oh god, isn't that paint color hideous?" or "Well, of course we'd have to replace the horrible window shades"

In the meantime, as they do that, I am busy choosing paint colors for a new house, and measuring furniture to determine what I can take with me to a smaller place.  And I have been giving, and throwing, things away.

I will miss this house.  There have been wonderful gatherings here. I could put little plaques around the house saying things like: Katherine Paterson slept in this bedroom and Art Spiegleman stood in this garage, smokng, when I wouldn't let him do it in the house and Phyllis Reynold Naylor sat here with a yellow legal pad, working on a book and Ashley Bryan recited poetry at this dinner table...and countless others.  Those are all memories, though, and I will take them with me.  I will donate my crock pot to Goodwill but you don't leave memories behind.

I remember leaving from here for the airport probably hundreds of times, for trips of all sorts. I remember returning, always glad to be home even after the most wonderful of adventures. I remember my youngest grandson, 3 at the time, asking to see the attic; and when I took him there, he looked around and quoted "Finding Nemo"..."It's wicked dark in here!"  I  remember planting the weeping cherry tree, now huge, in the front yard. How many boring Oscars parties I have had here....and some exciting SuperBowl gatherings.

I remember how quiet the house was on the rainy spring morning almost two years ago, when Martin died.

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At the Farm

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on Saturday, 16 February 2013
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I came up here to Maine yesterday and will be here all week, hiding out while my house in Cambridge goes on the market and realtors tromp through; putting my tax stuff together, always a dreaded task; and starting work on a new book.

But last night my dog drove me crazy. He went to sleep on his LL Bean doggie bed which is at the foot of mine. But sometime during the night he jumped up on the long windowseat in my bedroom, nudged the shade up with his nose, looked out and saw stuff. And woofed. Not a bark, but a muted woof, meaning, I think: Lookit that!

The windows there look down on a long expanse of meadow, which this time of year is covered with snow. I can only guess what he was seeing because I kept burrowing under the covers trying to ignore his woofs...which went on...and on...and on.  In the summer I see all sorts of wildlife in that meadow: many, many deer; foxes; once a coyote; plus of course the small country life that one hopes to avoid:porcupines and skunks.

I'm guessing they were out there last night and that he could see them against the white snow.

And tonight I think I am going to sleep in a downstairs guest room at the back of the house. Eat your heart out, Alfie.

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Fantasy Night

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on Thursday, 14 February 2013
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Last night I went to a dinner party at which some of the guests (Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman) were writers of fantasy, one was a writer about fantasy (Maria Tatar) and others were artists of various sorts: a filmmaker, a rock musician, et al)...and during dinner the question came up: which character from a children's book...a fantasy...would you like to be?

A lot of people chose critters from Wind in the Willows. Neil said Badger. I think it was filmmaker Chris who chose Rat and Mole, for the messing around in boats. And Gregory went for the Darling boys in Peter Pan: not Wendy, but the her two brothers; he liked being on the periphery, he said.

The rock performer Amanda Palmer said The Cat in the Hat....she pointed out that the cat in the hat goes into people's houses, creates chaos, then leaves. I guess that's what a rock star does, as well, so it was the right choice for her.

When faced with such questions...which usually happens around a dinner table...I always feel rushed and wish I had more time to consider it deeply. But I said Stuart Little, I guess because his smallness, his yearning quality, and his optimism appeal to me; and in the light of day, 24 hours later, I still like my choice okay.

I am going to be sorry to move away from Cambridge, which has always been the type of place where such dinner parties happen.

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Oh dear! Competition!

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I am told that the home of Alan Dershowitz...which is in my neighborhood...is also for sale.

Here are the two living rooms.  Do you think people will be wringing their hands in indecision...or perhaps we will attract different buyers?

 

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It is snowing...

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...but only lightly, and they (the radio people on WBUR) say it will not amount to much. My guests for the Super Bowl will get here okay and we will eat my casserole and Peggy's salad and Carol's dessert even though none of us really care about the SB now that the Patrots are not in it. I wonder if Tom and Giselle will even watch. Maybe they'll just play with their kids and watch a Netflix movie tonight. You think?

It is a quiet time here while I prepare the house for showing...tucking away all the family photos so that people tromping through, (half of them will just be bored on a weekend, and the wife will say to the husband: Let's go look at Open Houses and the husband couldn't care less but agrees so they won't have a fight and she won't complain when he wants to watch basketball later)..yes, THOSE people...won't be staring at my grandchildren. And I am neatening my desk so that it will look pristine, as if I never ever do any work.

I will not hang around. There would be nothing worse than lurking and listening to people murmur to each other:  Don't you hate that bedspread  or  Look in this closet. God, does any one wear shoes like that stilll?   I am fleeing. I am taking my animals to Maine, and while I am in Maine, staying in the farmhouse where I spend summers, I am also going to look at my NEW house, the one to which I will move, and will decide where bookcases should be built, and what colors I will have the walls painted. Also I will choke back sobs in the new kitchen, because I designed my current to-die-for kitchen and will never have one like it again. The new one is a perfectly good kitchen but never again will I have the amazing bulit-in spice shelf, or the endless endless storage space, or the....

....I must stop agonizing over it.

Last ngiht I was reading Richard Burton's Diaries. Don't ask why. Sometimes one must do something odd, and for me that often takes the form of reading something out of the ordinary, something none of my friends will ever read, like a badly-wrtten true-crime account of a murder in Indiana, perhaps; or a translated-from-Japanese confusing novel in which people seem to move very slowly and think only in metaphors, or...yes, you got it: Richard Burton's Diaries.

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