Sarah Wrote That

The view I had on central Amherst for three years. I loved writing here. I sat through two earthquakes in this room. I watched night shapes in the blue-white of a transformer exploding after the Halloween 2011 storm. I felt the house sway through Hurricane Sandy. The most ordinary days turned astonishing as storms passed and the taller trees and houses made complicated patterns of afternoon light. I still try to do as much morning writing as I can, before days get away from me, but here I learned to look forward to dusk even more—relishing it, noticing well, left no room to dread not getting things done. Goodbye, good house!

We’ve had a number of light, not-necessarily-forecast overnight snows this year. Last night’s was the prettiest yet.

We’ve had a number of light, not-necessarily-forecast overnight snows this year. Last night’s was the prettiest yet.

Amherst, Mass, 1886 (section)Burleigh Lithographers
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time zoomed in on this map, seeing which buildings are still here (many), and what others have been replaced with. Emily Dickinson’s house (middle right, above the “Main” on Main Street), looks much the same from the outside, as do the commercial blocks around the town green, and the few buildings at UMass’s predecessor agricultural college in the far upper right.
Today I was thinking about the smog in Beijing as I was out running in the cold that smelled intermittently of diesel but mostly of cold, cleanly, and already had the feel of tomorrow’s forecast snow. I thought about the factories toward the bottom of this drawing, 0.2 miles from the Dickinson house, H.D. Fearing & Co, Straw Goods Manufacturing, by the map legend, and The Hills Company, also Straw Goods Manufacturing. How emphatically the smoke is drawn. The stack must have been the tallest structure in town, though it is—was—on relatively low ground. Of both factories, only a small outbuilding remains, at the back of a Chevrolet dealership. L.E. Dickinson had a factory, too, a planing mill whose site, if the map is accurate, is now occupied by a school bus parking lot.

Amherst, Mass, 1886 (section)
Burleigh Lithographers

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time zoomed in on this map, seeing which buildings are still here (many), and what others have been replaced with. Emily Dickinson’s house (middle right, above the “Main” on Main Street), looks much the same from the outside, as do the commercial blocks around the town green, and the few buildings at UMass’s predecessor agricultural college in the far upper right.

Today I was thinking about the smog in Beijing as I was out running in the cold that smelled intermittently of diesel but mostly of cold, cleanly, and already had the feel of tomorrow’s forecast snow. I thought about the factories toward the bottom of this drawing, 0.2 miles from the Dickinson house, H.D. Fearing & Co, Straw Goods Manufacturing, by the map legend, and The Hills Company, also Straw Goods Manufacturing. How emphatically the smoke is drawn. The stack must have been the tallest structure in town, though it is—was—on relatively low ground. Of both factories, only a small outbuilding remains, at the back of a Chevrolet dealership. L.E. Dickinson had a factory, too, a planing mill whose site, if the map is accurate, is now occupied by a school bus parking lot.

“A bend in the road, and the whole place disappeared.”

- Katherine Mansfield, "The Woman At The Store" (1911)

image

2012 was a marathon for me (lit festival; novel; MFA; my last year in 3 MFA-affiliated jobs), and bittersweet, personally, as it’s likely my last year in Amherst, but exhilarating, and dissonant to have that against the persistently nasty tone of political news, and the periodic horrors outside the Valley.

The corner of the Internet I know best has changed a lot this year; many people are blogging less, and finishing or soon to publish books; many writers already with books have joined Tumblr. It seems to me that a year ago one was more likely to find people who favored Tumblr or Twitter; now—and I find myself posting this way—there’s more platform jumping, depending on posts. More sustainable for both platforms, probably; more resilient against blogger fatigue. For community, different.

I’m really curious what the long-term consensus, and, hopefully, verifiable findings, will be on social media’s influence on Obama’s reelection. It seemed to me, live-tweeting, watching spin room falsehoods fall, at least in the echo chamber I was in, that the difference from previous elections was seismic.

Just this last week I started writing short stories again for the first time in nearly a year. I find my sentences breaking, my sense of stories’ shapes shadowing out differently than they have before.

2012 arrived with so many ridiculous associations (#mayans), so many real hopes and fears (#election2012). 2013? Likely, it’s only the wind at my back of personal endings, and relief at the election outcome, but I feel hopeful, generally, as I haven’t since starting this Tumblr. Fingers crossed. Happy 2013!

Today’s squalls passed early enough for me to run 7 miles before dark. I don’t remember the last time I was so glad of mundane preoccupations, sidestepping puddles, making sure I landed without turning an ankle, judging if turf was firm.

I have a piece forthcoming elsewhere with my thoughts post-Newtown. Even when I’m not thinking about Newtown, and now today’s execrable NRA “press conference,” sad things seem sadder. Everything is dampened. Something must be done. If not now, when Obama has the election at his back and Boehner has failed to keep his crew in line, then when?

Yesterday I drove east on U.S. 20, past Monson, through Brimfield and the path of the June 2011 tornadoes. I had no sense of what to expect. The best pictures I’ve found, aerials from right after the storms, are copyrighted, but worth clicking through to. Standing and ripped up trees have had a long time now to be dead. There are still miles of them; in areas away from houses, clearing has barely begun. Houses that must have been summer camps by ponds and streams stand intact in the newly bald valleys, still with the stains of having been too long and close under overhanging branches. Around them trunks are downed in grey whorls and roots and bare branches are snapped off.

This was my last week at UMass. I suppose I should have more to say about that (Fine Arts, mastered!) but it seems a small thing, now that it’s done, next to polishing my novel, getting it out there, starting the next thing. I don’t know where I’ll be living in a month, or what I’ll be doing, other than revising, and I feel relieved, right now, not knowing.

MFA Thesis, Defended

Committee Member:So, except for ______ and ____, these [characters] are all terrible people.
Me:Yeah, pretty much.
Novel revisions with stout and Hurricane Sandy.
We’re getting house-shaking gusts and are under a town-wide state of emergency, with the kind of intermittent power hits that make me think branches are on a wire somewhere, but the sky is brighter than it was for most of last week’s glum calm. I’ve definitely been in much stronger winds, but never at such a distance from the brunt of the storm.

Novel revisions with stout and Hurricane Sandy.

We’re getting house-shaking gusts and are under a town-wide state of emergency, with the kind of intermittent power hits that make me think branches are on a wire somewhere, but the sky is brighter than it was for most of last week’s glum calm. I’ve definitely been in much stronger winds, but never at such a distance from the brunt of the storm.

Amherst, from a run this weekend. As they did last year, leaves seem to be changing on diverging timetables, a few maples in full color, and higher ground soon to be bare, while most streets are as green as mid September would have been a decade ago; a patchy, piecemeal autumn. I miss all the colors peaking at once, the thrill of the season turning in a day.
I’ve been only sporadically online recently, robbing all the time I can for my novel. Through most of it, other writing seemed to feed back into it, like stretching out midway on a long run, but now in the homestretch I’m good for little else but keeping on.

Amherst, from a run this weekend. As they did last year, leaves seem to be changing on diverging timetables, a few maples in full color, and higher ground soon to be bare, while most streets are as green as mid September would have been a decade ago; a patchy, piecemeal autumn. I miss all the colors peaking at once, the thrill of the season turning in a day.

I’ve been only sporadically online recently, robbing all the time I can for my novel. Through most of it, other writing seemed to feed back into it, like stretching out midway on a long run, but now in the homestretch I’m good for little else but keeping on.