Two days into the New Year and I’m sitting at my desk looking out at a cold world. There’s a little wicker birdhouse hanging just beyond my window and this time last winter I saw 6 winter wrens enter, one after another, at dusk. They are not particularly sociable birds but need each other when the temperatures drop. And how lucky I was to be watching at as they found their way into the collective warmth of the birdhouse.
The other night at our New Years dinner, one friend said that he looked forward to the mornings when he’ll wake in excitement at the prospect of spending a day in his garden. He has a beautiful garden, full of flowers, vegetables, productive fruit trees, and even a beach of oysters from the days when his wife’s family operated an oyster business on the property. That night it seemed that spring was not too far away though this morning I’m planning and plotting my own garden—imaginatively, of course, because it’s too cold to actually work out there—and it’s hard to believe that the tools will ever find their way into that frozen soil. I was scrolling through some photographs and saw the one I’ve posted here, taken (I think) two years ago. I love the mornings of knowing these greens are waiting, the tendrils of beans needing to be coaxed to their sticks, the damp frogs surprised from their hiding places. The first dandelion pizza, the first salad of miners lettuce and new kale.
A new year should also be about writing but I’m having a crisis of confidence. When I look at the work I have in progress, it seems very small and, well, personal. This time last year I was working on the revisions of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard. I found this passage in a blog post written in January, 2017, just after I’d had the PET scan that determined the strange growths in my lungs were not metastases. I was remembering (in this post) the months in the fall of 2016 when I wrote the essays in a heat of fear and mystery and love.
Many nights I got out of bed and came down to my desk to sit in the absolute quiet and puzzle away at what it was I wanted the essays to do. I wanted them to explore territory, to shine small lanterns onto dark pathways threading through the lost landscapes of my family’s history. They’re personal and sometimes I wondered — still wonder — at the value of writing that terrain into being. But I also believe that we do the work we’re called to do and that was the material agitating to be noticed and shaped.
Is it enough to do this kind of work? I’m not sure. I read a comment about Euclid’s Orchard on goodreads.com in which a reader expresses her disappointment in the book. Too personal. Not universal enough. It’s something to think about, take to heart.
In the meantime, I’ll work on the blue quilt, think about the garden, muse about the ultrasound image we were sent this morning of our 4th grandchild, due in summer. So many wonderful things to look forward to, to complete, though quietly, not with summer’s exuberance. And the year has only begun. The colour of winter is not green, not right now, but blue, so many shades of blue—the rich indigo of my linen quilt, the greyblue of the ultrasound, the underside of snow, the Steller’s jay squawking for seeds from the fir by the clothesline. I thought of a poem by Robert Francis, “Winter Blues”, and it was my mood exactly:
Winter uses all the blues there are.
One shade of blue for water, one for ice,
Another blue for shadows over snow.
The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
Both different blues.
8 thoughts on “shades of blue”
Theresa, it’s hard to read those impersonal internet critiques; they hurt. It’s good to digest what might be valuable in a critique without allowing it to shut us down. We write what we need to write and then, as my father used to say, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
I know, better to simply move along. Thank you for good advice. Your father’s advice sounds a lot like Philip Larkin’s: “Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s, and everybody else can fuck off.” Except of course the meaning is different (maybe just the word choice that’s similar…). Larkin is a constant in this household, for his work and for his pithy observations. (Which sounds a lot like “pissy”.)
“Is it enough to do this kind of work?” It is hard and wrenching. And euphoric and astounding.
Oh thank you this, Alice. You’re right. On my best days, I know this. On the grey ones, I wonder…
Hi Theresa! Goodreads reviewers can suck it. Which is something I have to remind myself of on a regular basis. I loved your book. You are great. xo
Thanks, Kerry. Yes, it’s good to remind oneself — but even better to have someone like you make such a lovely comment.
I’m sure by now you’ve let go of the Goodreads comment, but I’ll add my two bits. I loved how personal the essays in Euclid’s Orchard were, and I found much that was universal as well. Also: Today I experienced a disappointing outcome for a piece of writing I sent out into the world, and you have no idea how much I’m appreciating the Philip Larkin quote!
This is so generous of you, Leslie. I know I had to write them — for me, for my children and the generations ahead — but then once they were in the world, I realized how vulnerable they were, my family spread out across the page and all my yearnings and longings for them across time. I’m sorry you’ve had some recent publishing disappointments. It’s never nice. But I’m imagining you at work in your beautiful landscape (snowy?) and that’s the best part of this whole strange pursuit, isn’t it? Everyone else can fuck off, unless you don’t mind their opinions, their help.