06 December 2009


I'm not referring to real, actual fog. That's something I haven't seen since moving to Wyoming. I hear that it exists in this state, sometimes even densely enough to warrant a warning for road safety, but it's not here. There is only one forecast for the state it seems, for everything that isn't tucked into a corner so far it's nearly another state. Yellowstone creates its own weather. The rest of us share one report, though the state is as big as three or four other states (or more, but let's go with averages along the mid-Atlantic).

No, the fog I'm talking about is much more localized. You know, the kind in your head and behind your eyes. We've reached the end of the semester, and it's its usual, exhausting self. Add in the first proper cold of the winter (both the rhinovirus and a cold snap that is going to keep us in the single digits for the better part of a week) and a kind of dry my body doesn't understand, and there you have the thick, gray curtain of hazard. There is grading to do, and it will get done, but the pace is glacial. There is not enough liquid in this world to keep my throat from seeming to crack.

I know what I have to do. I have to buckle down and buy a dehumidifier. It's not that hard, it's not that expensive, and most everyone I know in this state has one. "You have to," I'm told. And it's not that I don't believe people, and it's not that I don't notice how much better I feel just out of the shower, when there is a protective cloud of steam that seems to ease the spiny air. It's that I am from the shaded, misty bones of the Appalachians. I have never lived in a house that didn't have a dehumidifier. Both the house I grew up in and the house I left in New York were damp and dark enough to grow mushrooms in the livingroom if one were so inclined. One had a dehumidifier that had a large plastic tank that my dad emptied nearly every day. The other ran nearly constantly, and there was a hose connecting its tank to a sump pump in the basement. To consider now purchasing a machine to deliberately wet the air makes my brain ache. Also, perhaps I've already grown a western stubbornness: it bothers me to understand that my body cannot take this climate. My fingers crack and my lips chap and my skin feels like the dust in my throat. I don't want to change my environment. I want to adapt to it. But I can't last for eons while my skin changes how it responds to water, while it learns to absorb moisture wherever it encounters it. I need to respond to students and can't wait while these soft tissues grow more dense hair to protect them, bison-like, or until they scale and harden to a lizard's imperviousness.

I have to go to the store, and I do not want to do it.

23 November 2009


This morning, I found myself walking behind a single person in the hallway, and with every step, I heard the corduroy swish of said person's trousers. I have yet to meet anyone who can walk silently in corduroy--no matter if one has thighs the circumference of a stork's shins, one walks loudly in the cozy, ridged fabric. Blue jeans, too, have their quiet sound, though perhaps not if they are old and worn enough. There is little opportunity for me to wear that perfect, butter-soft, decaying denim at work, though. Perhaps if my office were not a scant hallway from the college president's, I might be so bold.

The sounds of walking aren't a revelation--how many odes have been written on a leaf's crunch or gravel's grate or a new snow's peculiar hush, and how many have I written myself, of course--but indoors, they are different. No one waxes about the flapping slap of flipflops springing from carpet to heel, or about the purposeful clack of someone's sensible business shoes on tile. I remember high school: the principal's shoes--always the boxy shine of professional's leather, always with heels so dense and hard that they exploded on the linoleum like little firecrackers as she walked--harbingers of doom. She couldn't catch a soul at anything because we heard her coming for miles.

I remember that, and I dress as quietly as I can. I walk toe to heel on the short indoor-outdoor nap of the halls. My arms do not swing in any jackety rustle. Sometimes I hear my trousers make their muted swish--not even corduroy, but polyester and wool blends--and I slow myself. I take more care. I do not think I am visibly bow-legged in my efforts, but I suppose I couldn't see myself to know. I wear boots with thick rubber soles or sneakers cut low and close to my feet so that when I am trying at all, I can turn any corner with surprise.

I don't know what I'm hoping to sneak up on, but I certainly won't find it if it hears me coming.

17 November 2009

Slant of Sunlight

For the first time in my life, I am in an office where I have had to close my blinds so that the sunlight doesn't render my computer screen unreadable. I am fairly certain that this is the first office I've ever had where there's been any sunlight at all, and I feel quite guilty shutting it out in the name of productivity. I'm hoping to find a happier solution by rearranging my office at the earliest convenience, as it's still a very ecru-walled institutional space.

The first addition to the office, though, is a very lovely, warm-glowing floorlamp that a friend picked up for me from Ikea. After having been on campus last night well past the hours of natural light, I can say that it creates a very pleasing atmosphere for work. The one thing that does concern me is that the dimness might make people think I am not here (though my door is open).

11 November 2009

On a discarded corduroy slipper

I've been taking a slightly different route to school these days, essentially the L side of the L7 square that is one full block in my walk. I'm not entirely sure why I changed--perhaps the perception of it being 50 less feet in the sometimes rather chill mornings, but more likely I've changed because it's on the less-traveled sides of the streets. It's a mostly unremarkable change--still residential, still perilously sidewalked, and perhaps skirting a marginally less affable block, but nothing that anyone can honestly notice at eight in the morning or four in the afternoon. I think the reason I keep walking that route is because one of the yards contains a discarded black loafer. It's got a red plaid interior, and the shoe appears to be in fine condition. It doesn't look chewed or stained or soiled. But it is certainly a black corduroy loafer near the farthest reach of their fence (because most yards have fences here--to keep dogs in or to keep dogs out or both, in fact). I don't stop to look more closely at it--no one wants an odd, trenchcoated person eyeballing her yard before lunch--but I wonder who is looking more closely at it. Certainly it's not the yard-owners, because it's been there more than a week. But there is a spindle-armed shrub that grows through the fence not ten feet from the slipper, and every morning and every afternoon, it's full of small, busy sparrows. I have to walk around the naked hedge because it spills over the sidewalk, but I am close enough that the little flock--four or five of them, not dozens--puffs and flits to the next shrub. I pass that one, too, and they hop along to the next, and it's only after that do they mutter into their stitching feathers and go back to their original place to contemplate that single slipper. They rattle like crumpled paper in the dry branches, making leaf-crunching noises where there are no leaves to crunch.

05 November 2009

Vampire Bats

Seems like a more appropriate title for a post from last week, no?

Yesterday, I attempted to be a responsible, health-conscious adult.

Yesterday, I failed pretty spectacularly at it.

There was a free campus blood draw & test (the kind where they take your blood and then mail you an analysis of all of those things adults are supposed to know and monitor: cholesterol and glucose and triglycerides and so on), and I decided that I would go. (Not only because doing so would help along a program we have for reducing one's insurance premiums, but because I'd never done so before, and I would like to know what's going on with my hemoglobins.) Friends of mine were also going, and so it was going to be a group activity and, because I was expected there, I couldn't chicken out. (Believe me, I thought about it.)

You see, I have an incredible aversion to needles. It's not the pain level (it's really a very tiny pinchy feeling), but it is the kind of pain and the concept of it. It's invasive, and having teeth drilled doesn't freak me out even a third as much. Also, it's traumatic: I have small veins, and I have blood that doesn't really want to come out of them. My one trip to the Red Cross Blood Drive left me with a collapsed vein and a full hyperventilation. How very embarrassing, on top of everything else.

I reasoned that yesterday would be different because they weren't trying to fill a bag; it was just a wee test-tube. I was nervous, though, and just holding my arm underside-up is enough to give me palpitations. The elbow is there to bend and protect, like the knee, and I don't even like to look at the insides of my elbows, let alone bare them for needles. It's against every instinct I have.  But I survived the stab, and I felt the needle withdraw, and I was relieved. I hadn't cried, I hadn't hyperventilated, and it was over.  And then I was told (because I certainly wasn't looking at the process) that she'd missed, and rather than stab me again, I was to be sent to Roanna, two tables down, who was an expert, and she'd get it in the other arm, no problem.

Roanna did, indeed, get the blood lickety-split, with no fishing or anything, but the damage was done, so to speak. While I didn't hyperventilate (thank God) this time, I teared up, I shook, and I was thoroughly mortified (because there's nothing like being sniffling and blotchy in front of people you've only just met).

Luckily, there was a good 2.5-hour cushion between that and my needing to teach, so I sat in my office and answered e-mails until I calmed down, and then I had coffee with one of the friends who went along and tried very valiantly to be comforting and cool about the whole thing. And I survived. But I'll be wearing long sleeves and avoiding my own elbows for days.

Here's the question for discussion, then: how does one get over fear of something if doing the thing consistently contributes to the fear?

31 October 2009

An Alcove of One's Own

I spent my afternoon trying to carve a suitable writing space out of the downstairs room with the books.  It's not an office, as it also houses our dressers and so many bookcases that there isn't room to put a desk down there. It's not a spare bedroom, as there is no bed (or any other furniture on which to sit or lie). It's just a room, and its predominant feature is books. There isn't, in fact, a spare 6 inches on any of the walls against which to put a desk, a card table, or even a collapsible tray table, which is what I have right now as a working flat surface. There is an empty space in front of the closet (a seldom-used closet that houses seldom-worn coats and boardgames), though, and so I set up my folding tray table and one of those collapsible canvas camping chairs in front of the closet, facing one of my bookshelves. I set up a lamp, too--effectively in the center of the room--and toted in my electric space heater (as the "downstairs" is half underground and the carpet, I am certain, is the only thing between my feet and the cement foundation, and therefore I could also hang a side of beef down there without worrying about spoilage). My goal is to procure an electric blanket instead of the space heater as it has greater efficiency and practicality (when the writing is done, I vacate that room post-haste), but so far, this is a decent stopgap, I suppose.

I also made an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my writing for at least the month of November. For some reason, I am motivated by numbers, despite my general hate-hate relationship with them, and I am willing to take any motivation I can rustle up. Why November?  It's National Novel Writing Month.  I'm not officially a NaNo participant, but the aura of writing floating in the ether is helpful. I'm not tallying on a single project, but I'm taking the month as a chance to finish up some things I've started or to get some projects onto a running start. Words are words: however they come, I'll take them.

26 October 2009


I was in the seventh grade when I first encountered a pomegranate. My enrichment group was putting on a pantheon supplement for the whole grade's Greek Week, and, of course, we had a Hades and a Persephone in our group. At the time, I refused to be anything so domestic as a member of that (or any) complex couple. I was Artemis, solitary huntress, and I made a bow and arrow from slim branches and string. I stole my brother's model paints to make it all silver, and my fingertips were stained ungoddessly gray, too. But my gray fingers are not the point of this piece. They did, however, factor in: our teacher--flawlessly hip and hatted in rural Pennsylvania where no one was hip or hatted in any way beyond the baseball cap--had purchased pomegranates. They were to illustrate the Hades and Persephone story, and to give our very limited palates something new and striking to process during our historical and mythological course plan. I don't know where she got them. She must have driven the forty miles south to Harrisburg; our grocery stores didn't carry anything more interesting than kiwifruit until 2000. And those pomegranates turned my fingertips a wet kind of ruby, and I'm certain that some of that model paint wore off under the fascinated touch of my tongue. I was and am a lover of all things sweet, but the tart, bright burst of each aril amazed me. Amazed us all, standing in the basement hallway of our aging middle-school, wrapped in togas made of the cheapest bedsheets our mothers could buy. We picked the seed-shards from our teeth with our fingernails and ignored the grapes and the plates of dense bread and olive oil, and we were all of us far, far away, clustered around red-stained paper plates, tasting the legend of longing, of hunger, and of a kind of soured passion we were a decade from even scenting.

18 October 2009

Sunday Quiet

It was mid-week when all of the leaves quit Casper. Taxed limp and brown by too-quick snow, they leapt into the lost Wednesday wind (some balmy remnant of September curls around Natrona County until Monday's sweep east, taking shelter in the mountain's lee before the work-week starts again), but the cold melted their crisp spines, left them without the capillary bones to kite the air, and they fell, muddied and silent. There is no crunching underfoot, no sound to echo back for the bare, waving, sunlit limbs.

09 October 2009

Early and Often

I won't apologize for the blog being something of Wyoming Weather Report central.

This morning we had our first shushing kind of snow: enough depth and heft to quiet everything on the surface. The clatter of dry stones in the side-streets of Casper halted; there was no rustle in the cottonwood leaves. The cottonwoods themselves have their frosty jackets on always: silvered leaf-backs that flutter up and show with each breath of the west wind (don't tell me that has come from some bag, Ulysses and Aeolus--it comes from the Absaroka Mountains and follows the snakelike North Platte). But today the trees show nothing because the snow is white gravity, holding down even the air. The small, white flakes fall vertically today, dense as wet sand, and it's just the kind of thing that gives me reason to read to my class my favorite paragraph in modern English: the last 160 words of James Joyce's "The Dead."

30 September 2009


Today is the sort of day that made me hate autumn less: nothing bare and raw in the wind, no lingering, distant promise of snow. The temperature waits, held at sixty-eight: the overnight low and today's high. Stop, it says. Rest in this one day where no season slides forward or back. This is fall for its own sake.

Even the trees are held between: half-changed and patchy yellow-green. The forecase promises snow before the weekend, and yesterday was capped with the kind of sun that can boil the inside of a closed-up car and turns cats to languid pools in the light. The month pulls polar, but today, autumn is arrested, its own creature for the sun's full arc.

31 August 2009

Walking In

Obligatory disclaimer regarding posting frequency and my delinquency goes here.

This morning, on my walk in to school, I came across two mule deer in the residential streets of Casper. A doe and her fawn from this year, they cut across three streets and several lawns (disregarding the broken sidewalks the way I'd like to do), and they bounded further into town as I watched. The doe had some manner of growth dangling from her neck: a striated dark ball of fur and scar, perhaps, but still attached. Some cervid goiter or tumor that bounced like a tennis ball below her neck, suspended by a thin strand of flesh. If it had been hanging from me, I'd have ripped it off, but her grinding teeth wouldn't sever and her deery neck wouldn't let her bend to reach it, even if she could pull it away.

It bobbed, grotesque and unnoticed and even more ugly for her ignorance of it: she knew only machine: wait and two legs: go faster, and the fawn followed after, learning their unmarked crosswalks and the yards with no fences.

28 May 2009

such a liar

I'm in Portland, Oregon at this very moment (having been here for 3 days now), on vacation. The last time I was on vacation--real vacation, not hosteling & cold-sandwich-in-the-rental-car-ing it across Sweden--was somewhere around 2002. I've read books, I've eaten excellent food (fleur de sel caramel macarons at Pix Patisserie, most notably), and I've done some shopping for things I can't get where I live (like many flavors of mochi and an onigiri bento box).

Even more notably: I've gotten a job. On Tuesday, I received a phone call inviting me to join the faculty at Casper College, in Casper, Wyoming. I am exhilerated, relieved, and no small bit anxious (to get there, to start, to find a house, to sell the house I have--and all of that in no particular order). It is wonderful, just now, to have that pressure of applying lifted (especially in these market conditions). I am privileged and blessed (and now I can finally hit up the optometrist again) to be in this position.

My body, however, cannot handle the lifting of stress, apparently. Today, on the drive back to my brother-in-law's place, I had a migraine kick in. I had one the day after my dissertation defense, too, and one the day I turned in my dissertation to my committee. Letting go of tension has become the difficult thing for my body, it seems, and that strikes me as remarkably backward. I'm going to try to use the remainder of my vacation doing as Yan Martel encouraged: increasing my stillness. Or at least in the effort of unitasking a little more.

To that end, I'm going to resume my reading. I'm starting Greg Ames's Buffalo Lockjaw, and I've been looking forward to sinking my teeth into Greg's book for weeks.

22 May 2009


It occurs to me that I will likely bore people to tears with odd little snippets every single day, but. Well. That's what the internet is for, innit?

This morning I'd like to talk about plans gone awry. You see, I am a (somewhat lax) participant in the lunch phenomenon known as bento. The tiny, lovely lunchboxes, the inclusion of actual food in said boxes (from the person whose past favorite lunch was a bag of Cheetos and a granola bar), etc. etc. Now, I've been rather remiss in doing any such delightful lunch-packing lately, and today was the day I was going to do it again, properly. I rinse and get my rice on the stove, get the water going for my tea, start peeling carrots. (It's all very productive for 6:45 in the ante meridiems, yes?) The tea kettle whistles, and as I'm reaching for a mug, my vision goes rather fuzzy, darkish, you know. I've had this happen before. I get a good grip on the counter with one hand, get the mug settled with the other. Somewhere in the vicinity of reaching for the tea kettle, I apparently lose my grip not only on the counter, but on consciousness. Apparently I fell rather gently (which is always nice) because while I feel where my head hit the floor, it doesn't hurt. I did, however, in the process, knock my rice pot over, and I just haven't got the mental wherewithal to start over with that.

I'm not particularly concerned about the fainting part. Mostly I'm vexed because I'd had my hopes up (and maybe that's telling--my hopes were up regarding the packing of my lunch? but in my defense, I had a bloody nice bit of leftover steak and some roasted broccoli from last night that were going to go with said rice) and now things have gone pear-shaped. I don't like pears.

(Honestly. Nothing against those who do, but I just can't get my palate around the durn things.)

I don't like pears, and I like my plans going pear-shaped even less. Ever since I was a child, I cannot stomach disappointment. It's not so much the problem of things changing--that's okay. But I'm definitely of the Colonel Hannibal Smith (you remember--George Peppard from The A-Team) way of thinking: I love it when a plan comes together. And I am disordinately distraught, I think, when it doesn't.

I should probably work on that.

Reading: Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

What an intensely charming and addictive read. His section on his absent musical ability is--well. Brilliant. But you'll have to read it for yourself.

20 May 2009

This was a good idea.

I started the next novel. 227 words. That's not much. But it's a starting point, and I'm stopping there--mid-sentence--so that I will pick it up tomorrow.

My reading for the day isn't done yet--that comes next, I think, as soon as I make some cocoa. Or some other seasonally inappropriate beverage. I did read a few pages while printing out things today, and I'm very much looking forward to getting back to The Air We Breathe.

I feel like I should have something interesting and pithy to say, but I will just say, instead, that I am very glad to have found my missing notebook in the empty plastic bag that my cap and gown were housed in. I was certain I'd left it on campus somewhere, but there it was, while I was cleaning the bedroom today: black and spiral bound, 1/3 full of things that someone might find interesting but only if that someone were someone like me (enamored of trivia and things that aren't meant for us to see). I also found the pen that was with it, a black Bic stickpen, possibly the cheapest kind you can buy, and the kind that I love to absolute pieces. I lose the caps for them, and then they roll off every surface in my house, because nothing here is level.

19 May 2009

100/200 Challenge: Day 1

I'll start with what I'm reading, which, as I said in the previous post, is Andrea Barrett's The Air We Breathe. I'm not done with the novel yet, so I won't talk about the book itself just yet, but reading it did get me thinking more about something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. And that something is, terrifically mundanely, the weather.

I love talking about the weather. I check the weather several times a day, I look at thermometers, and whenever I (misguidedly) sit down to write a poem, it always ends up being, in one way or another, about the weather. And I don't know anything particularly about the weather--I have no scientific knowledge of it beyond the basic concept that different kinds of weather meeting (warm systems meeting cold systems) generally makes for even more interesting (or intimidating) weather. But I find something compelling in the seasons' change--possibly because I dread the cold months (and for me, there's nine of those a year)--quite enough that when I first meet people, that's often my topic of choice. And I'm certain I seem terribly awkward and uncreative ("Oh, she has nothing to talk about but the weather," they say), but it's not a lack of interest that motivates me--rather, it's the opposite.

And this little postlet, I suppose, beyond being in keeping with my resolution, is also to say that you may find more about the weather here, in future days, in general, or in specific.

What is your favorite topic that no one expects to be a favorite topic?

Greetings by way of resolutions

These first posts are always difficult--we have such want to be momentous all the time, don't we? I'm probably a little more predisposed to it than most, too, but I'm doing my best to refrain.

It's hard to blog as a fiction writer--I get jealous of my time and words and I know I should be working on a novel right about now. I also have a predilection for untruths (because my reality is seldom as interesting as other people's), which seems to be at crossed purposes for this kind of endeavor. However, I also don't want to be entirely cut off from the reading and writing community, which is the peculiar situation I found myself in while finishing my first novel. I was working really well--and not reading and not talking to people. And now that the draft is finished and revised and I'm searching for a home for it, I find myself neither writing, reading, nor really conversing about reading and writing, which is a very dull situation.

So: I am posing a challenge to myself (and anyone is welcome to play along, either in the comments or in your own blog):

The 100/200 Challenge. (I made it up in the shower this morning. It's not a very good name, is it?)

The goal is to read 100 pages of something and write 200 words of something, every day, whether it be 200 words about what I've read, 200 words of fiction, or 200 words of non-fiction (because I have essays I always mean to be writing--I'm certain you do, too).

I'm adding to that goal an admonition to write about the experience here, what I'm reading and what I'm writing. I likely won't be posting those 200 words here if they're fiction or part of a larger essay, but I will be talking about what I'm reading and also looking for suggestions for what to read next.

I'm kicking off the reading with The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett, who is one of my absolute favorites.

I'm going to get down to business. What are you reading now?