Friday, November 23, 2007


I’m a glass half full kind of girl, cultivating an attitude of thankfulness all year long, each and every day. Some days this practice is harder than others, but mostly I am thankful for all the blessings of my life, including the habit of thankfulness, which keeps the edge of everyday life from cutting so sharply.

I’m thankful for my parents, who taught me to say please and thank you and yes ma’am and no sir, but thank you for thinking of me. I’m thankful for reasonably good health and for the doctors and medications that support that state of life.

And as I discussed with my mother on the phone yesterday, we are both thankful for the crowd of people who help take care of us. Carpenters and painters, snow plowmen (for me) and dock haulers (for her), grass cutters and car repairmen, their mundane contributions are deeply appreciated. Taken together, these small tasks make a great gift—our capacity to live alone, as we choose to do. Imagine, we joked, if we had to sleep with some old man just to get our chores done.

Yesterday I had dinner with part of my support system, a couple who have become dear friends, not least because my German Shepherd puppy Cassie started her life in their home. We ate turkey, one they had grown, and fussed over Cassie’s mother, her sister Nellie—same mother, same father, but a year and a half younger, and Miss Abby, the newly-self-appointed leader of the pack. My Cassie-scented sweater was thoroughly sniffed on the way in, then sniffed again when I returned home covered in the scent of German Shepherds who were not Cassie.

There were human friends, too, and the quintessential couple of Thanksgiving strangers. Last minute invitations as they were dug out of their driveway, they came into a warm and hospitable room, and chilled it. There was history, you see. Nobody elaborated on the back story, but we could not entirely overlook past bills unpaid for services rendered and past ungrateful behavior.

In my past life, I spent many hours helping the man set up his dream business. It’s okay, I was paid for my work, and even accepted that many people feel it is their right to treat public servants badly. Still it rankled when he disappeared without a word one day, neither to me nor to the small business counselor who had also spent days on his dream. He tried to explain yesterday—he was busy. One can only imagine how she justified not paying her vet bill to a room full of the veterinarian’s staff. Justified in her mind, that is, not a word was spoken.

They left early, and the room warmed up again. There were enough German Shepherds for us each to have one to mess with. We didn’t give the ungrateful pair another thought, except to be thankful that we don’t need to know them.

We all have behavior that we aren’t proud of, and in a small town people know about it. Our history is written in invisible ink on the backs of our parkas, and although people may continue to extend courtesy, warmth is another thing altogether.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why we love winter

Bright sunshine on the first snow cover. What seasonal light shifts take away, the glare of sunshine on snow gives back.

Puppies tunneling their noses through the snow. We forgot how much fun it could be to run puppy chins along the ground, or to roll gloriously in new snow. We forgot that puppies love to eat snow, to crunch ice. There’s a rush of puppy energy, even for the old dogs. They really love the snow, and watching them, so do we.

Monochrome. Funny, but after the riotous color of autumn foliage, gray and white soothe the senses.

Crunch and crash. The leave are gone, with their ability to deaden sound. Instead we have unaccustomed echoes, magnifying the crunch of sleet underfoot.

Surprise. Each winter has its own new topic: the door that freezes shut for the first time, the frisson of what if might be like to be trapped in the car for and-I-quote-several-hours. What supplies should be on hand for such an eventuality?

And finally, surprise of surprise, how agriculture clings well into winter. The fields across from my house are paisley’d brown as manure is spread across the season’s first snowfall. If you don’t think about what it is, or maybe only if you do, it is really quite beautiful.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


To Google oneself is an interesting exercise. I have discovered that I have a broader and longer digital footprint than I expected, partly due to working for a few years in a sort of public job in a state that takes open meetings seriously. As a result of that experience, my name is frequently listed as “in attendance,” and sometimes my comments are quoted.

There are as yet only a few brief traces of my newest venture, and that probably won’t change. I live again in the world of private business, after all, so beyond the bio on my employer’s websites, there isn’t much exposure to the digital world.

What really surprised me is that work I did, almost off the cuff, in my early twenties had staying power. It was just a little paper, based on one of those Wait-just-a-cotton-pickin’-minute moments that come to all of us from time to time. A brief observation dating back to the time in my life when SAA meant Society of American Archivists instead of Stowe Area Association. A simple thought backed up by analysis of grant proposals, propped up by statistical support from my former husband.

The simple thought was this: If we really don’t know how long it takes us to organize collections of personal papers, how can we write grants that say we will finish this number of collections of this size? At some level, deeply and collectively, we must have some notion of how long it will take.

Further, in a world of limited resources, we are always making tradeoffs. Perhaps it would be better if we assessed those tradeoffs up front, rather than bending in the breeze of opinion.

It’s nice to look back and realize that the work we did in the MIT Archives in the late seventies and early eighties was creative work. Maybe even groundbreaking in its small way. Younger, more energetic archivists have moved the bar forward since that time, but I find it touching that they would have quoted me, that they have built a theory of archival processing if only in part on our work from that time.

A gift from the internet twenty—almost thirty—years after the fact. A flashback to work in an earlier time. A reminder that our creative brains work in pretty much the same way at twenty and at fifty. Thank you, Google.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Living in your head

A long time ago now, I used to be married to a mathematician. In many ways, it was not an easy life, although it got easier when I came to understand that I was responsible for all things mundane, from electric bills to finding dinner. The man lived almost entirely in his head, except when he blew off steam by hiking or biking, as if the explosion of all muscular synapses would be the only thing that could counteract his habitual over-concentration in the brain.

To an extent, I also live in my head. I can see that many people don’t relate to my craving for things intellectual. But there are degrees of everything, and most of us are very, very different from mathematicians. Or physicists. Anyone who spends a lot of time in a world that is pure abstraction. Don’t feel sorry for them; their lives have a purity and clarity than many of us miss. And if they miss human connection, it is for the most part something they don’t know to miss, just as most of us don’t miss the joys of their lives.

This morning I saw the movie version of David Auburn’s Proof. Very nice. The guy gets mathematicians. The scruffiness, the obliviousness to anything other than mathematics, the fear of being past their prime before they are out of their twenties. The idea that work trumps all other demands. And whoever did wardrobe for the movie was a genius.

Catherine wore a variety of interesting and intricate knits, particularly when she was most herself. Cables and patterns in muted colors. When she feared she was crazy like her father, she tossed off her sweater, as he had shed his winter coat in the snow. When she was furthest from accepting herself, she wore denim. Knits are the perfect metaphor for the mathematical mind, turning linear thread into flat surface.

When I knit, I can get into a zone that is, at least in my imagination, something like a mathematician’s creative ecstasy. I’ll never know that particular passion, but I like to think I can discern its shape. And knitting or writing or painting the house, I do experience the joy of living in my head, a joy that is not available to everyone.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


It’s been two full painting seasons, but I think it is time to declare victory and move on. There is still one door to be painted black, and there is the porch floor and steps, and already some spots need to be touched up, filled in, and otherwise redone. Still, now when I drive up the hill, I see a house that looks pretty darn good. If I do say so myself, as I shouldn’t, as they say where I come from.

Lots of help was provided on the upper peaks, as I decided that not only was I afraid of being on a ladder that high, I was right to be afraid. And I was determined not to drift into a third year with my house in multiple colors, dressed as the Vermont equivalent of white trash.

The patches of red and gold on the trees—I can’t take credit for that painting job, nor for the dusting of white that speckled my deep green roof this morning. It’s winter now, and time to rejoice that my house is painted. I need not paint another drop until spring.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Once again, a new life

No major changes on the horizon, not yet. Rather, I am just now feeling settled with the new job I started in April. Six months, that’s about typical.

Like most humans, I struggle with change, but maybe less than most. I love the excitement of newness, and I crave intellectual stimulation. I’m a person who lives mostly in my head. But the right dose of routine is a comfort, and routine only becomes routine with time.

I’ve adjusted to new colleagues, or they to me, probably a little of both. I’ve adjusted to driving an hour to work and an hour home, which has required a new commitment to staying on schedule to conserve my energy through the week. The dogs have adapted, too.

People ask me if I will move closer to work. Certainly it is too soon to make that decision. You don’t really know if a job is working out for at least a year, sometimes two. Optimistic creature that I am, I can convince myself that things are going fine, then be flattened by other people’s foolishness. I’m thinking of one past boss who ran away to South America, leaving his family in tatters and disrupting the office, too. This kind of thing can happen anytime, of course, not just in the first year of a new job.

I’m not sure I would move anyway. This will startle people who know me, because when it comes to living situations, I am a change junkie. I love to move. There is something wonderful about coming into a new space. I love to roll out my carpets and arrange my furniture, pick colors and find the best spots to sit for morning coffee or plant the herb garden.

But here, thanks to my last job, I have gotten to know people. I can catch up on small town gossip and actually know some of the topics. I can sit in the same spot each year at town meeting and chat with the people next to me, the same ones from last year. And there are people who take care of me: the guys who fixes my car and cuts my grass, my painter/carpenter who is married to Cassie’s breeder, my knitting teacher who is also my dental hygienist, my plow guy who is also the one I call on the rare occasions I need something dug up. At work in the “Big City,” they laugh at this, but here at home, I feel well supported.

At the end of the day, after that long drive, I feel I am somewhere. The herb garden is well established. Here is the view from the porch where I sit with morning coffee when the weather is fine. I still have interior walls to paint, enough to keep me entertained. And we know seven different places we can go for off-leash dog walks or play dates.

In this moment poised on the front edge of winter, it’s home.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Young love

Cassie has a crush. She has always liked television, preferring animal shows, particularly shows about dogs. One recent evening, I was concentrating on my knitting when the new Jeep Liberty commercial came on (you can see it here )

As my German Shepherd girl skidded into place in front of the television, I realized that she was loving this commercial, most particularly the wolf who drops into the jeep. Thanks to the miracle of DVR, I was able to replay it for her.

"Oh mom," she seemed to say, looking back at me over her left shoulder, "He's so fine."