November 12, 2012

Long Virginia Sleep

I started this blog intending to use it, in part, as a way to track my progress in writing the prospective novel from which Long Virginia Sleep takes its name. It really didn't turn out that way, and this blog became something else independent of my fiction writing. This became a means of confession, documentation, and more often than not, waxing poetic about the place that I love beyond reason: Mathews County. As I've come to know Mathews better and spend more time there, my need to write about it from a personal context has waned. I live there, in some sense, and though it remains utterly beautiful and magical and everything that made me fall in love with it as a child, it's also a real place populated by real people, many of whom I'm proud to call my friends, coworkers, and (of course) family. I spent the summer working the bar at Southwind in what I see as a sort of cathartic, circle-closing experience. To end up an employee at the place whose employees and customers were the first to welcome me, truly, into the real Mathews--one that isn't just herons and thunderstorms and bike rides by myself--means more than I can say. I met a boy who loves Mathews like I do, and he's real too. Though I remain inconvertibly a come-here, I feel a part of the place. It's my home. Even now as I sit in my apartment in DC with the National Cathedral rising from the red trees outside my window, I feel Mathew's tug on me, like tide.

Yesterday, I wrote the 100th page of the novel. This too feels like a circle closing. I am nervous and tired. But as much as I'm afraid, I'm ready.

July 8, 2012


A report from the summerland. My shins are scratched and bruised and stung and my soles are hard as pine. I am burnt and bleached, all salt-cured skin. I find I think of myself as a summer critter. It is very July now, with scorching hot days and air you can see. A family anchors their sailboat offshore, and under the boom boom of far-off fireworks we float out to it on dark water. Revolutionary War re-enactors camp at the Civic Center, wool-clothed in 100 degrees, and I wonder whether they snuck into air conditioning overnight, or sweated in their side-by-side cloth barracks. I have a party, and neighbors arrive by kayak to eat sweet and sour grilled chicken and crookneck squash from the overflowing garden. The fireflies are thinning now, replaced by the daytime static of cicadas and horseflies. Somehow the flies get in the house and I hunt them, swatting at AC-cool air. I bike to the next point with a chocolate pie in one hand and a cooler of beers under my shoulder. Envoy, a band made up of four nineteen year olds, play live on the porch as people dance beneath sparklers and morning glories and a boy who looks like a centaur fishes croaker in the shallows beyond. A Good-Natured Riot rocks bluegrass in the corner at Southwind while I pour sweating Ranger after Brown after Wolaver Wheat and the banjo player is stony-faced-cool as his metal-tipped fingers fly. I buy an antique glass lamp at Holly Hill and rewire it as old paint flakes. Wild thunderstorms tear branches from the maples and blow the tomato cages over, scattering half-ripe fruit. Friends gather on the porch to watch the lightning. We paddle after dolphins at sunset, following them up the Haven as their backs break orange water, too fast to catch. The nettles are coming, and blackberries burst on the vines. 

April 20, 2012

Candid + Weary

The short of it is that my grandfather is dying. Our family became aware of his oral cancer's resurgence a few weeks ago. Operation was not an option worth considering given his age, physical strength, and mental condition. We were told he had somewhere between one and three months. Then, last weekend, a consulting hospice nurse projected two or so weeks. As we are a family of planners, this information was helpful; as a family of variedly emotional family members, this information was difficult. As much as we're able, we're adjusting to this new time frame. I was in Mathews last weekend, am back this weekend, and am planning to return every weekend until, alternatively: Granddaddy's death or the end of my semester, when I'll be coming down full time. I know full well that death, or the possibility of death, can make daily life feel crazy. A crew of nurses are seeing to my grandfather full time now, and everyone else is keeping busy in their own way, but there's this undercurrent of near panic to everything any of us endeavor to do. It's unavoidable; we know what's happening, or what will happen soon, and planting watermelons in the dingle and redecorating our bedrooms and stalking wild asparagus and eating pound cake (so much pound cake) isn't about to make us forget it. I'm glad I can be here, but I feel weary. Candidly weary or wearily candid, as Aunt Lynne and I debated last weekend. Grandmother is weariest of all. And we're all just getting ready, getting ready, getting ready.

March 2, 2012


It is pouring like it's summer--like I could step out the front door barefoot into rain warm as the Chesapeake in August. Hop on my bike and ride soaking to Tin Can Alley to float on my back in the waves. A thunder-thick afternoon. I am islanding for the weekend, happy to get out of DC, get an eyeful of the new jonquils, and see Blue Line Highway play at Southwind. I've decided it's Spring, and no one can convince me otherwise. Even if the rain is freezing and the bay too cold for swimming.

I'm finding it difficult to focus on all of the many things I should be doing now, versus all of the many things I plan to do soon. For example, what I really need to be doing is: 1. Writing fiction. 2. Writing poetry. 3. Writing the two stories I've pitched for my Lit Journalism class. And I have been doing these things to some extent. For whatever reason, poetry seems to be drawing a lot of my focus. I found myself diving into a research wormhole early this week while writing a poem about ginkgo trees (which, incidentally, are even more awesome than I had previously thought.) Ginkgo biloba trees, or something very very similar to them, have been growing on earth for 250 million years. Dinosaurs ate these trees. The first mammals probably did too. And now we walk around complaining about how smelly the nuts that fall off them are. Suffice it to say that somewhere in researching ginkgo trees I found myself researching the entire history of life on earth. A wormhole, like I said. Anyway, I should also be devoting more of my energy to researching Put-In Creek and Old House Woods (Mathews readers: if you have opinions or stories concerning either topic please get in touch with me).

I find, however, I am more invested in planning my summer garden. I'm growing persian cucumbers and radishes this year; thrilling, I know. Other summer things: I want to learn to drive the boat finally. I'd like to take an art class or two at the Bay School. I want to entertain more. I also, more seriously, want to put myself on an intensive writing schedule for my thesis. A terrifying prospect, but I'm kind of excited about it as well. But for now, dreaming of radishes.

February 27, 2012


Last night I did the brave and scary thing of reading something I had written in front of people I both knew and didn't. The reading is something a graduate of the AU program, Mark Cugini, puts together, and he asked me to read and I said yes after months of being conveniently out of town. I think that I did well enough, given how nervous I was, but find I am mostly relieved that it is over. It's funny but inconvenient that I have no trouble reading someone else's words aloud; it's reading my own that makes my voice shake bad as my fingers. Still, I know that it's important to do the brave and scary thing once in a while, and am glad that my grandmother got to see me read. The bar was hipster-nasty, and Grandmother said, You take me to the nicest places.

February 4, 2012

Life between summers.

I finished my journal a few weeks ago. It felt very significant to have finished something that I had been working at for so long. The aim of a journal is not to finish it, of course, but it is a first for me. I started writing in the thing on December 15, 2005. I have been toting it around for seven years. I am sorry to have filled a book with so much sadness, but glad I filled it nonetheless. Rilke provided the last words: You must change your life.

I am in DC, and have been for almost a month. I've been a big baby about it, too. I managed to make it through the whole of my month-long winter break having spent only 72 hours in this city, and though it did me some good I returned to find myself feeling rather irritated to be here. School provided a welcome distraction, and I've been very busy. Still, I miss Mathews. I think it gentles me to be there, and in the city I find myself feeling less patient, harder. There are so very many people here, and so many situations to negotiate and avoid. I find I've been a bit reclusive. This is, in part, because I'm trying something new. I quit alcohol about three weeks ago, and, for the most part, have stuck with it. It's part break and part experiment. It also wasn't born of necessity; I haven't been particularly worried about the amount of I was drinking, nor was it out of control. I just woke up done with it, in the way I occasionally have concerning cigarettes, and thought, Well, hell, might as well try it. So I did. Three weeks later, still done with it. It's been unnerving more than anything--recognizing just how woven into my life a glass of wine or a beer had gotten. It wasn't dependency, but it was habit. I think the hardest part of it has been other people, to be honest. The people I tend to share time with are not what my grandmother would call teetotalers, and I love them for it. But, as one might imagine, my sudden refusal to partake of things bubbly and mouth staining represented a rather bizarre and baffling departure. I am left feeling like I'm not always sure what to do with myself, as I suspect are they. Still, I am happy with my decision and its results.

And I have been getting a hell of a lot done. Writing, cleaning, errand-running, cooking, reading. I have an excess of energy. The weather has been particularly enabling. This winter is suspicious in its warmth and total lack of horrific forms of precipitation (slanty rain, floaty rain, ice rain, ice, floaty ice, wet snow.) I fear that real winter is yet to arrive, and that I'm going to find myself trudging through snowdrifts in May. Fingers crossed that this isn't the case. I am, as ever, pining for summer with an intensity that I think people typically reserve for their lovers, or chocolate cake. I try to conjure it, sometimes, but my grown-up person skills of make-believe provide a sorry substitute. One of my junior high yearbooks had a title that's unexpectedly stuck with me: Life Between Summers. I'm sure it was meant in a sort of hah-hah school sucks we're adolescent sort of way, but I'll be damned if that's not just how it feels, especially in February.