Friday, September 30, 2011

September 29, 2011

Flamingo/tangerine roses are the first to peek out of the dimness at dawn. Behind them, cyclamen like pink gems tossed casually across the ground. The pale pumpkin angel’s trumpets are festooned with magenta volunteer morning glories. The effect is sublimely bold.

Pulling onto University Heights, I almost hit a motorcycle which was turning–cutting off the corner of my lane–in front of me. I simply had not seen him. My gratitude for the near-miss has lasted through the day.

Schubert on the CD.
September 28, 2011

First run-through last night was not particularly disastrous, especially considering the quite long rehearsal span, and the time we have before us in which to amend.

My time is devoured utterly. I go from one ordained task to another with gap enough only to catch some desperate sleep. It is good only in the sense that I never have to pause and ask myself, “What shall I do?” Otherwise, it is horrible.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 25, 2011

Afternoon sun, home from Lake Logan. Got my affairs in order and planted peonies and narcissi. Enough time had passed to shake off the disgust of the weekend. People wonder why I hate it so, and I have nothing to say that makes sense, even to me, but the emotion is real, and should, in times to come, be finally heeded. Maybe it just focuses endemic sadness. Did have a walk up the Pigeon River until the going got too rough, and I had turned my ankles on too many football-sized stones. The day and the way were roaringly beautiful. The mountain was a bowl of light, and the purple and pink of autumn flowers blazed along the water. When I reached the end of that adventure I turned the other way and walked the trail that leads up Sunburst Mountain to a gazebo and an overlook. I met the camp director (I suppose it was) who adamantly refused to let me proceed unless I had someone with me (I didn’t, though I expected to meet someone on the trail) or waited for him to fetch me a map. My protestations that I was a fairly experienced hiker met with renewed insistence. I was at the point of simply defying him and walking up the trail, but I didn’t really want to escalate to that, so I waited while he drove somewhere and got me a map. It was not the time to put me through another pointless frustration, and only exhaustion kept me from withering him when he returned with the stupid map, after his having been delayed by a fire alarm. How I hated him. That is the end of my contributions to Lake Logan. I did in fact get lost, and his comments about how to follow the orange markings did in fact get me back on the trail, but I would have righted myself in time, and my disgust was not much abated. Met Russell and Maria and several others as I ascended, as had been my purpose. We walked down the mountain together. Everyone had orange anti-hunter vests but me. I marked that as a victory. My knees are now annihilated. Russell and Maria found a baby snapping turtle and a scarlet salamander. I found nothing. They are blessed and I am not.

On Administration

A disinterested observer might conclude that the central occupation of our university administration has become to thwart, defy, marginalize and humiliate the faculty. Several administrators I overhear, and among them the highest. can barely manage to open their mouths without expressing contempt for the faculty. Every faculty conversation concerning the university carries as a subtext resentment of the administration, and wonder that it can be so wrong so consistently and yet continue down the same path, our good counsel set aside as a kind of weakness. How did it come to this? Faculty let it, is the answer, largely through politeness and collegiality, compromising where no compromise was reciprocated, believing without investigation tales of necessity, allowing people who smiled and promised to become martinets before our eyes. Not all in the administration lean toward the dark side, but if they lean in other ways it seems not to make much difference. The central folly is that those who want to seize the reins are exactly those who have nothing to do legitimately but carry the baggage. The simple fact is that what is necessary to a university are students and faculty. That is the end of it. Groundskeepers and cooks and the like are desirable if there is to be more than a few scholars huddled in a room, as it was in the beginning of universities, but all the rest are add-ons which can be as easily take-aways. Administration in Paradise raises money, pays bills, manages the payroll, and has nothing to say about the actual process of academia. An employee should not be fired, a parking space removed, a policy changed without express faculty approval. Administration is a convenience to and a luxury for faculty and student. When it ceases to be convenient it is merely a luxury, and in these times luxuries, especially obstreperous ones, cannot be afforded. The fount of offense is far away, I grant, Chapel Hill or Raleigh, but one takes aim at the target one can see. Most of the projects the administration–near and far–hands down to us have the deliberate end of making it seem like their oversight and input is actually necessary, and have nothing to do with the actual delivery of curriculum. I wish I too could get paid for inventing and imposing projects which exist solely to justify my salary. Not all those in the lofty offices are dead weight, of course, but too, too many are, especially in this time of dearth. The “top” has become a parasite, sapping the vitality of the whole. I have too many projects on my hands to do anything about this, even if I could think of what to do. I believe we could defeat the beast merely by ignoring it, but it is hard to recruit participants to that action. Too much fear. I feel the fear, but I fear the destruction of the university system (or the transforming of it into a corporate system, which is the same thing) more than I fear the wrath of anyone on it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 22, 2011

Rain on and off. Allegri on the CD.

R tells me of his conflicts with the money people over money that is rightly his and which he rightly spent in good faith on the Cambridge program. Their denial is based on intricate rules to which only they, apparently, have access. Justice did not enter into the negotiations.

Unreasonable dread of upcoming weekend at lake Logan. Unreasonable does not mean unreal.

Sick before retiring, moments after discovering a certain oakey Riesling was my favorite wine so far.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011

Renaissance church music on CD, soothing me before there has been that much to agitate me. Still flat dark outside the windows.

I approached the pond to see if my frog is still in residence, and he is, known to me– like so much else–as a brilliant swirl disappearing into the depths before I have quite taken him in. This rain will fill the barrel to the brim and allow him easier access and egress.

First off-book in Our Town. I note these things as a stay against the looming clouds of senility– which do not loom yet.

Ultrasound yesterday to see if something is wrong with my kidneys. I never thought there could be until I was lying there, imagining horrible crabby masses in my thorax. I hope (and assume) this will be one of the prudent wild gooses chases my doctor has sent me on, trying to stay ahead of calamity. My own philosophy is “don’t look; don’t worry.”

Reading Eliot, then not reading Eliot. I keep coming to the conclusion that he’s not really very good, and that my passionate reaction to “The Four Quartets” has more to do with my own fanaticism than the quality of the verse. His correspondent Conrad Aiken is a better poet, I think, and almost never spoken of. His criticism is often wrong (and often transparently self-justifying) and even when it’s on the money, its effect arises as much from mandarin self-assuredness of expression as insight. I ponder why Pound honored him so much, and I think it’s in part the delight of a teacher in a bright pupil who has fulfilled one’s expectations without slavishness, without being deliberately too much like oneself. Certainly no writer ever built a century-dominating reputation on so little actual writing. I do, however, remember the electrifying moment when I discovered “The Hollow Men” in my 11th grade English text, unassigned, appearing as if my magic at the end of poetry I thought I knew and understood. It seemed a new world. I was confident that, in that room in Ellet High School anyway, I was the only person, or at least the first person, to plunge forward into it.

Much can be understood about Eliot if we realize that he wanted to be Henry James.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 18, 2011

New poems in Slant and Comstock Review. Pile of magazines with my work in them, which I have not catalogued, don’t care to catalogue. It didn’t used to be this way.

Planted blue hyacinths.

Looked at 21 acres out toward Barnardsville. Liked the previous owner’s gardens. Like the baby goats on the farm across the road.

Despairing of time. Everyone wants a piece of it and each request, taken in isolation, is acceptable. It is the mass which is annihilating.

Handel’s deeply strange Aci, Galatea e Polifemo on the CD player.

Backyard pink with turtlehead, cyclamen, rose of Sharon which I got tired of cutting back.

Later life is a sequence of learning things which would have been useful to your early life, had you but know them then. I was listening on the radio to an interview with a man who had written a book on the development of a child’s brain. He outlined the times at which certain kinds of learning are optimal, and while he spoke I gained one more clue as to why I am the way am. When I was a baby and a toddler, my mother was sick and I seldom saw her. My father attended upon her, and I seldom saw him. I am simplifying considerably, but basically telling it as it was. In addition, whenever you’d dip down into our life at home, or my sister’s, you’d find a remarkable lack of stimulation. No books, no pictures, no music, no conversation, a few flowers in the garden. Because of sickness and my father’s inclinations, you wouldn’t find much society either. There were the rooms we lived in and the natural world outside, and if I were to have company, I needed to create it myself from the most meager materials. Any offhand comment from a friend, any hint for something overheard on the radio, a random sentence in a book I would turn into a realm. I remember when my parents took it into their heads that I should learn to play an instrument. It never occurred to them that I had never seen a flute or a violin played, and my failure to learn them certainly had something to do with complete ignorance of what they were supposed to do. When DS stayed with us for a while, he observed that he had never gotten better grades, because there was nothing else to do in our house but study. In any case, when my brain was hungriest, there was nothing to feed it. So it went into itself. My colossal, pervading, untempered imaginative life is the result of having to have a life of some kind, and that being the only one available. In most ways it was a good thing. Because I would have died of boredom had I not found ways to fill the hours, I am almost never bored. My hunger for knowledge and beauty endures longer than the average of my race, as does my openness to new experience. I will never fill the void left by the lack of experience in my childhood, try as I may. On the other hand, I am myself like those twins who form a private language, having no one else to talk to. Even when they learn the common tongue, the deepest and first things must remain unexpressed. I simply have not lived in the same world as everybody else. Eloquence and adaptability disguised this fact from others, but not from me. I have been a spy in the world of men. I have enriched myself–and possibly them–but there is no home, no sure place to store the riches in. I am exactly as un-entailed as I was the day I was born. Maybe my imagination was not so powerful after all, as none of the destinations I imagined for myself ever became manifest.

Chris’ room is full of admonitions to better writing taped to the wall, the tables strewn with books to make him a better man and therefore a better writer. He has one laptop, but changes his position behind it after surfing the internet, so that writing remains sacred.

SART, without comment, pays me half the fee they advertized for Vance. Am I meant to be content with that? Am I meant to wait for the rest? Was I supposed to say, “Oh, no, it’s not necessary to pay me for my labor, as you do everybody else”? Can’t even find the lines I’m evidently meant to read between. Bailiwick never paid me for Anna Livia, and I hated them too much to ask. When I was in Cambridge, some magazine in Arizona said I’d won their fiction prize, which involved $1000. Haven’t heard from them since. The road neither ends nor bends.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17, 2011

Intricate and teacherly dreams before waking. I was writing samples of truly elegant prose, and comparing them with other examples, both mine and others’, to judge their effect and dispatch. Ann was my partner in the comparisons. She was all the time bringing in the Florentines. Unusually, the prose came with me out of sleep, and I will begin writing one of the stories down as soon as I finish with this.

Cold snap. Summer’s end. It’s cold in the house, and only the near approach of morning prevents me from turning on the furnace. My days have been crushed with duties, so I have neither written nor thought very much, but now it’s Saturday and my head is full of ideas.

Futile property-hunting yesterday. One place pleased me because there was a wild turkey in the yard. Otherwise, my heart isn’t in it. It’s not that I’m trying to please a companion or that I have found my dream house, just a vague notion that change might do me good, hobbled by a more definite notion that it will be more trouble than it’s worth. This one is too much in the shade. That one sits wrong in the yard. Here it is too noisy. Never get up this hill in the winter. Don’t trust the well. Wrong trees in the yard. And so on.

Tried to watch the British import Portrait of a Marriage, about Harold Nicholson and Vida Sackville-West. What a wasteland of melancholy glances and thousand-mile stares. The beautiful interiors seem created to set off human misery in the higher relief. How tedious love between women is to a man, who expects, once in a while, a little sweaty action.

Faculty reading with CL yesterday. His enthusiasms are refreshing. I found him playing with a soccer ball in his yard, and took him for a teenager, almost asking him if he knew where he was.

Brewed tea in my green Spode FitzHugh and am drinking it from green filigreed glass, to see if a little ceremony at the beginning of the day might change things. Dawn is still an hour away.
September 14, 2011

The last summer moon has crossed the sky in multi-hued brightness for many nights. Yesterday was a bowl of light. The sun was almost irrelevant. Pure light flowed and pooled on the walks and between the shadows of the trees. It was like the opening lines of Genesis, where light comes of itself, before there were sun or moon to father it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2011

Took the sunny Saturday to attack the front terrace, shearing deeper into it than has ever happened since I was in residence. Now all is at least accessible. Wild honeysuckle is the worst. I stopped the last attempt there when I disturbed a towhee’s nest, but it is late enough that this time I had no such fear. As sweat poured from me, Jonathan David phoned from downtown to offer a window to meet him and his girlfriend, S, in town for, it turns out, Andrew Gall’s wedding. I showered and sped. Met them at Malaprop’s, where I was asked to sign one copy of A Dream of Adonis that a colleague was buying as a gift for the Chinese people (I listen; I hear, I do not always comprehend), and to sign other copies of the book for the store itself. We strolled and chatted, colliding again and again with the smallness of the world and the many points at which our social empires touch even at distance. Lunch at Scully’s. JD’s setting of “The Taut String” is very much more elaborate than I had imagined, and it was gratifying to hear of all the knotty music that will hang upon my handful of words. He reminded me that I must be in New York on December 11. We got along famously. S is trying to get him to move to Asheville, and if that happens I will have new friends and collaborators. Part of the evening spent watching the New York Open with DJ (the people we wanted to win, did) and going to Richmond’s opening at the Pump. He was surrounded by his family. If I were a good person I would not have mentioned their failing to meet me at Vance, but I am not a good person, I do always bless him in my heart. No one in my acquaintance strives more diligently after the good.

Moon in glory the last few nights, creeping from my east to my south to my west windows as the world moves.

Figured out why I hate jazz. I am not cool. Garrison Keillor was going on about how the kids in his college radio station who did the night jazz show were so cool, and I realized, like Saul getting clobbered from his horse, that my anti-coolness has stood between me and jazz all this while.
September 10, 2011

Had a chat during a lull in rehearsal with a pleasant kid, B, who is one of those in the crowd who has realizable hope of a career in theater. Another, who plays my son, can sit in full lotus and then bend over his own legs with his chest against the floor, reading the script in that way, in apparent comfort.

Bought wine from Kathy and Les downtown. Bought wine on Charlotte Street from B, who was a jerk when he was a student, but who is now a sunny, knowledgeable, delightful young man. He always had the beauty of a faun. B was ill-served by the theoretical. Now that he is among real and solid things, all goes well for him.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 9, 2011

Devil’s pokers half price at Reems Creek Nursery. I buy more than anybody needs, hack a gap in the strangling vines to plant them in.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Lise uncovers textual variations among various scripts for Our Town, pentimenti apparently based on audience reaction to lines and scenes. Where does one go to learn how Wilder was in the professional theater scene? How did he see himself?He looms not large in the academic horizon, so far as I can see, but it's clear he was a serious theater artist, evolving and, in some ways, visionary. I might like his fiction better, but there are passages in the play, such as when Emily critizes George's character, which are telling, insightful, and related with wonderful economy. The sentimantality of the work has enough edge that it may not be mocked outright. The whole is a little ennervated, but there are passages of which American Literature can be proud. The posthumous scenes are disturbing, and I suppose that's good, but they do make it seem that the actual action of life is elsewhere, and the life depicted in the play was a sort of warm-up exercise, among company whom you would one day outgrow. One might think it wanted to be a musical.
September 8, 2011

. . . so many things about which one must hold one's peace . . . .

Monday, September 5, 2011


September 5, 2011

Suzanne writes:

I think it was about 37 years ago tomorrow we met in a TA meeting at SU, with the prof (whose name, but not face, escapes me at the moment--he was a gentle sort) who supervised the TAs; he was filling us in on our duties and charges. I mostly remember you and Sally and Tom Gardner (hadn't they spent the summer on the Hudson River on Pete Seeger's boat?) How I wish I had been more mature and able to take my space there. But how thankful I am that you befriended me, slow and silly girl that I was, and granted me this gift of your friendship for all the years that have passed. I hope you've plunged safely and smoothly back into the academic year. Let me know what you're up to.

I hadn’t thought that this date was any sort of anniversary, but Suzanne’s remembrance brings it back. I had been told less than a week before that I should be there, as I had actually (with a sense of desperate fatalism) applied for the following year. The Baltimore debacle had proven difficult to rise above. But there I was. I, like her, remember that first meeting, which seemed so portentous of our lives to come. Latched on to Tom immediately as a sort of cosmic complement to myself. No one in the room frightened me. That was the first time I’d felt invincible. Liked the feeling. Cultivated it.

Sweet rain comes in the wake of tropical storm Lee. Bought a huge water garden tank at Jesse Israel’s, and the last cinnamon fern on the shelf, which looked so lonely and scraggly I had to adopt him. He (the fern) got planted in pouring rain, beside his own kind and a pair of hart’s tongues. When I looked at him again he was stiff and healthy and as demonstratively happy as a plant can be.

The house is crawling with the tiniest brown ants. Maybe driven inside by the rain. Two scurry across the keyboard as I type.

Assembled a new book of poems, The Ones with Difficult Names.

CoCo and Tom stopped by with a yogurt pie for my birthday.

L sent me a video series from Great Courses on Wine. In the course of an evening it gave me a new hobby. I’d thought wine connoisseurship was a lot of hooey, but the lady on the video revealed what all those terms mean, and that they refer to things actual and objective. So, I got the one bottle of real wine I had in the house (an Italian red which did not list the grapes used) and scrutinized it carefully, looking, sniffing (chest, chin, nose), tasting. Not much fragrance, notably acidic, sort of bland (but in a pleasing way) with the slightest petroleum overtones (again, pleasant) and a dignified, satisfying aftertaste. Guessing that at least some of the grapes were cabernet sauvignon. Bought a French pinot noir and a golden prosecco for the next round. From now on I shall be insufferable.

September 4, 2011

Evening. Just before night. Frog is singing from his pond. The first voice in all the earth was amphibian. I may be hearing the oldest song in the world.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

To My Snippy, Cowardly, Anonymous Neighbor

It's not exactly true that I don't care whether you like my front yard or not. I'd rather you did. It makes me a little sad that you don't. but it makes me sadder that your life is so barren you have to latch onto this to worry about.

In the blog you, anonymously and cowardly, comment on, I mention again and again the beautiul things happening in my garden, things which you are, at any time, welcome to climb the stairs and see. But you don't care about that. If you attended the nativity you'd be bitching about the ox dung on the stable floor.

The terrace is not ugly to me. It is not exactly beautiful, but I see it as a work in prgress, half way between being planted as I like and being planred as God likes. Wild vegetable profusion is a necessary temporary step to prevent erosion.

I have asked my neighbors who are near enough to have a vote, and none of them minds. What makes you think you have a vote? Here's my suggestion: if there's something you don't want to look at, don't look at it. Pass on. Avert your glance. Carry a photo of yourself to look at for when you fear all around you may be unlovely.

Finally, friend, the secret and the anonymous instantly negate observations which might otherwide have had some use. Keep it to yourself, or announce yourself. unless you want me knocking on doors.

Just wait until I get those pink flamingos up--

September 3, 2011

Mio ranocchio bravo is capable of great stillness. He is probably not aware that, squatting on the inorganic rim of the barrel, he looks like a schematic drawing for “frog.”

On his inspiration I went to the Tractor Supply store in Weaverville and bought great tubs, one plastic and one aluminum (or steel, maybe) to increase my water gardens. I already dig a foundation for the plastic one, with more labor than was advisable on a hot summer day.

The last and biggest of the angel trumpets blooms a deep orangey-gold.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


September 2, 2011

Here is the most blessed thing. I knew something was living in the water garden with the gold and the scarlet waterlilies, for there was movement in the water when I passed. I didn’t know what it was until I crept quietly to the window just now. It’s a large bullfrog. He’s perched on the rim now like a lord on the battlement of his castle. I’m not going to try to imagine how it got in there, or how he negotiated the high, slippery walls of the tank. I’m just going to whisper “welcome,” and accept him as the guardian spirit of the garden. May he eat a thousand times his weight in mosquitos. I can’t even explain why this makes the ruin of a hundred “important” things well.

Cast as Dr. Gibbs in Theater UNCA’s Our Town. It may be a sweet experience. Apropos of other casting choices, I am reminded that alternative casting is generally a bad idea. Race is less of a problem than gender, and still less of a problem as time passes, but I think it’s pretty much always a bad (or desperate) choice to alter the gender of a character. Color is just color, but for as long as we have been a species we have been alert to the differences between male and female, noting them, missing them if absent, uncomfortable when they are mixed or blurred. A female Hamlet is always a female Hamlet and not Hamlet. I watched an otherwise fine version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sunk by a female Guildenstern. Even a great actress in a great role (I’m thinking of Vanessa Redgrave’s Prospero at the Globe) is to some degree, unavoidably, a raree show. A role which can be played equally well by a man or by a woman is probably badly written. Community Theater’s thin resources create dozens of female soldiers and conspirators, and there’s probably never a case where they pass unnoticed, just the character rather than a female version of the character. Renaissance playwrights who expected boys to be playing women wrote for boys playing women, and expected their audience to understand that. What is needed to give women experience in great roles is to write more great roles for women, not steal them from the men, which keeps them from being great in any case. I am still haunted by a local all-female Lear, and that may have been twenty years ago. The horror remains fresh.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September 1, 2011

The peckish cats got me up exceptionally early, which is all right, as I feel oddly energized. Maybe it was the cosmopolitans last night, made by myself so they were sweet and invidious.

Whole raft of Facebook birthday greetings this AM. Made me smile. I guess that’s why one joins. My email address was hijacked by another social site, whose stupid name I forget, apparently sending out messages of friendship to everyone on my mailing list. Sent one to me asking me to be my friend. Pathetic. Anyway, I get all these sweet messages from people who must, on principle, decline, and I have to find a way to write back and say I never sought to be their friend, in that way, in the first place.

Circe the cat lies on the keyboard, making the whole right side hard to use. She doesn’t mind being bumped in the face at every keystroke.

Cecily’s osprey nest rode through the hurricane in Annapolis.

Call-backs last night. The kids were sweet. I wonder what they could have been thinking, so see me there. Unlike 28 years ago, I hadn’t been invited.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August 31, 2011

Showed our dance version of Gilgamesh to my Humanities class. It was really quite magical.

The disturbed girl did, by some tangle of bureaucracy, turn up in class. It was the most disrupted class I’ve ever experienced, but not in the least out of malice on her part, but by a genuine disconnect between what she was doing and what she thought she was doing. She was a parody of a good student, contributing wildly, constantly, but so far off the point that you couldn’t always bring the point back round. The students averted their eyes, while I tried to weigh my duty to her against my duty to them. Someone dropped the ball and allowed her where she is not ready to be. I don’t know what chain of command to shake.

Parked the car last night at exactly the moment when the odometer read 666.