Some thoughts about the work…

This is how I remember work on the farm — a picture of my dad (beside the wagon) and either a brother or cousin on top. We cut the hay, raked it (see my poem, “The Hayrake”), shocked the hay into big stacks, loaded it on the wagon, and used a huge fork on a pulley to lift the hay into the hayloft of the barn. I remember riding on the wagon in from the fields. I remember how the hay got under my shirt collar and up my sleeves. I remember getting sunburned and feeling dusty and parched and, back at the barn, drinking water straight from the tap. The water tasted like rust and was incredibly cold.

I have been thinking about how writing can sometimes fool me into thinking it isn’t “work,” that I have to feel inspired or even caught off guard in order to write well. When it was time to harvest the hay, we didn’t have that sort of luxury. If the hay was ripe on July 4th, we hayed. (I guess that’s a verb.) If the hay was mature and there was no rain in the forecast. In any case, it wasn’t going to wait until someone felt inspired to bring it in.

Some years ago I heard poet Eavan Boland say that she learned from artists that you can’t wait for the muse — you paint when you have the light. Same with writing, or farmwork, for that matter. You get up in the morning and you do it. And you get up the next morning.

Today, feeling utterly stuck — as well as a little pressured because I had plans to meet an old friend at 10:00 — I decided to go to (I think that’s the address) and set the timer for 15 minutes. I wrote in my journal for 15 minutes. Then I reset the timer for 20 minutes and worked on the novel. Then for 20 minutes more.

And I still had plenty of time to get dressed and meet the Edmonds Ferry at 10:00.

Plus there is no chaff down the neck of my shirt, and I’m not sunburned.

Begin Again

Begin Again is the title of a collection of Grace Paley’s poetry. It’s also an excellent title for a short blogpost about my weekend at the farm. My nephew and his family are now living there. There is a wading pool in the back yard, a tricycle and a bicycle with training wheels and a pink push car in the driveway. There’s a new kitten, Enya.

I am home again, with several additional boxes of stuff, plus four quilts made by my various ancestors, a very large cabbage slaw slicer, an old handsaw, and a porcelain chicken.

I need to get my manuscript out and turn myself back into a writer.


Two days ago my friend Shawna visited. She brought me two bird candles and a stone with the word “stillness” etched on it. Today, in Barbara Abercrombie’s A Year of Writing Dangerously (which I highly recommend), I came across this:

“To be engaged in reading a book or in writing, to connect to your inner life, goes against everything contemporary life, with its bells and whistles, is about. To be quiet, to be still, in this raucous world can be scary. But sometimes just acknowledging that fact helps to take some of the fear away.”

This is something I’ve been brooding about, with my teenagers away. My teenagers with their TV and phones and I-Pods and …. They, too, have been without their technology this week, doing good work on the Campbell Farm in Yakima, Washington. And river rafting. They get home today, just when I seem to have finally acclimated to the stillness, to appreciating how the living room, after I cleaned it on Monday has stayed clean all week. Just when I’ve mucked out the bathroom and lit candles…

I can’t wait to see them.

Yes, You Can Have a New Dress

I’m overdue for a post. When my daughters are around, underfoot, messy, loud, social (we always seem to have three or four extra kids here), I’m convinced that if they would just go away — just for a few days! — I would get some writing done. Then, they all take off and I stumble around the house, bereft, cleaning, calling people I haven’t seen in ages, reading novels that I really don’t need to read.

Finally, today, I stayed in my chair. Remember BIC? Butt in chair? Whenever I felt really really frustrated, as though I would explode if I sat for one more moment, I conjured up someone like Jane Yolen or Anne Lamott, those masters of getting-work-done, and they told me to keep sitting.

I thought, often, of Naomi Shihab Nye who I  once heard proclaim at a poetry reading (was she reading or just proclaiming?): “Sometimes I pretend I’m not me, and I just work for me. So I check in. I ask, ‘How are you doing? How’s the work going?'”

Today, after several hours, I could finally say the work was going fine. Now, with 55 pages cleaned up and printed out (and a new character added!) I can stop. I have a wedding to attend this weekend, and I think I will go buy a new dress.