Tag Archives: “The New Yorker

The Nest


A hanging fuchsia basket recently sold at Julie’s Nursery on San Juan Island and was promptly returned when the customer found a nest in it at home. The nest was built in a hollow at soil level and contained three little eggs. Julia exchanged the basket, and hung this one where it had been hoping the mother bird would not abandon it.

“Sure enough,” exclaimed Julia, “soon there were four eggs!”

Four eggs, it turns out, is the normal clutch of eggs for a Junco, who usually lay one egg per day. Thanks to swift observation on the part of the customer, the clutch is now complete and Julia watches over the nest in her nursery today.

My childbearing years are behind me, but I will always equate nests with homes.

Once I lived in a perfectly beautiful house in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. How we got there I haven’t a clue, for we deeply loved the town in California we had to leave for Bryn Mawr, and were as happy, settled, and committed as we had ever been, anywhere. Then the next thing you know we left this perfect house because my husband’s job was moving us west again, this time to Seattle.

It was at this point that a friend of mine gave me Louise Gluck’s poem “The Nest,” torn from the pages of The New Yorker. I carried that poem with me. It worked its way into my very being. “The Nest” spoke to me so much it was as if I had written it. In the end, that poem was a springboard or prompt for a memoir I wrote. A memoir that has everything to do with nature, homes, and moving.


A bird was making its nest.

In the dream I watched it closely.


I mention this because my youngest sister in Boston is looking to move. No one’s job is requiring it, for they both work remotely. They just want to find a place where they might like to retire. Which is what we did on San Juan Island from Seattle, and now I can say I live in a perfect place. And having written a manuscript about new starts, I am trying to help her with this.


It had it’s task:

To imagine the future.


So how is it happening that I am falling in love with Cape Cod? I’m smelling salt air, suntan oil, seaweed, and lobster, all swirled into one. It’s knowing that all those barns on 6A are filled to the rafters with antiques, a browser’s paradise year after year. And all the writers and poets and artists who migrate to Provincetown. Perhaps the grass really is greener… Afterall, Annie Dillard moved from Lummi Island, Washington to the Outer Cod.


I had nothing to build with.

It was winter: I couldn’t imagine

Anything but the past. I couldn’t even

Imagine the past, if it came to that.


This is exactly what gets me every time: this desire to change my life. I think, what am I doing here when I could be there? Or there? Or there? Sometimes it scares me. And it should really scare my brother-in-law because before we knew it, our other sister was seeing herself on Cape Cod as well. The three of us residing in a community of small shingled cottages just steps from the beach and just steps from each other.

We had it all worked out, aging together. Our younger sister would get a foothold in the first cottage, and let us know as other cottages become available. We’d start our own book group there, opening it to others as we met them. We’d help each other out with guest rooms when one was experiencing an overflow of guests. In time, we would come to be known as “the older sisters” in our new seaside town.


And I didn’t know how I came here.

Everyone else much further along.

I was back at the beginning

At a time in life we can’t remember beginnings.


What our husbands were going to do, I don’t know. Fish?


Filed under homes

Notes on Notes


Last week’s blog post asked the question whether writers can be excused for note- taking while in the company of others—four people out for drinks in a cocktail lounge was the setting. Responses, of course, varied. One writer I admire admitted that it is, of course, preferable to be fully present with others and attend to the writing later.  Another writer lamented that “People don’t understand the scenes we play out in our heads or the importance of capturing that right word right now because in 10 seconds it will be gone!”

Together they straddled the dichotomy in my mind. I needed more opinions. There was no need to contact Miss Manners on the subject because I found I have had her for a friend all this time.

“Well, I think electronics are the worst kind of rude,” she said. “But the bottom line is if you are going out with friends, the idea is to be present with them. Even gazing out the window with one’s own thoughts can be rude if you are at a table for four and people are sharing their thoughts. I say stay totally available to friends when with them. If inspiration strikes, hold the thought and run to the powder room to make a few astute notes.”

Oh my.  There is no telling how many times I may have offended her over the years.

But before I had a chance to make up my own mind I was off to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Seattle, where I would have the opportunity to query more writers on the subject. Being the largest annual literary event in North America, an event Sasha Weiss describes in The New Yorker as “a giant reunion of English majors thrilled to be back at school,” it comes as no surprise which side I came down on.

First I intended to ask JC Sevcik, a born writer. JC was participating in a panel discussion “Strange Families: Domestic Stories Illuminating Social Issues” at The Sheraton, just steps from the Washington State Convention Center. Conference rooms at the Sheraton are named after trees, so slinging my bag over my back I hiked past Douglas, Aspen, Cedar, Spruce, Madronna, and Willow to find him in the Redwood Room, straightening the tables in preparation for the event.

But then I took a seat, realizing that in all the time I have spent with JC, I have never seen him take notes. Yet he never misses a thing. I think he’s just so darn bright, and younger than some of us.

I got out my notebook and pen and waited.

“We write for a myriad of reasons,” moderator-writer Liza Monroy began. “We don’t always know why we are writing or what we are writing. We write to see ourselves through.” And then I don’t know whether she said it, or whether these were my own notes, but “Taking away the notebook is (comparable to) pulling the oxygen.”

In any case, the question was answering itself.

In the final hour of the final day of the conference, I met up with a couple other writer friends. Exhausted, we sprawled on the floor and I posed my question to them. They looked at me incredulously.

“If you want me to be present in the moment, put a pen in my hand,” stated Icess Fernandez Rojas. “I am never more present than when I am writing and reflecting about a slice of life.”

“When I take out my notebook to jot down or respond to something you’ve said, that’s a compliment,” Isla McKetta added. “It means you’ve inspired me to think more deeply.”

Now I don’t know how I ever saw it any other way. We must be up front about being writers, much like photographers shoot pictures and artists sketch. Notes are what we have to mine when we sit down to write. Notes spark stories, indeed, novels.

“Life and writing need not be mutually exclusive—at least not all the time. Almost everything you do, and every place you go, can lead to a story idea or a poem,” states Midge Raymond in her book Everyday Writing. “What matters is that you think like a writer—which in turn makes it impossible not to write…. And carrying a notebook is also a great reminder that no matter where you are, you are a writer.”

I knew all this of course, but for some reason I had to circle back and rally around it.

“Take a ridiculous amount of notes.” Midge Raymond continues. And I will do just that.

Riding home, some of the boys on the bus with me have ear buds connected to music the entire trip, and all day long for all I know. I never meet them, but I know it’s music they love. It’s all good. It’s all art. And no one is hurting anybody.


Filed under taking notes