This weekend I’m using the Christmas present Andrew gave me: a three-night retreat. I’m staying in a hotel in a different neighborhood in our city. No travel, no stress. I’m fifteen minutes from home, but this feels like another world.

boutique_hotel

I’m in a part of town that we love but where we don’t spend much time unless we have guests. It’s outside of our usual commuter routes so visiting is always intentional.

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Unlike the fall retreat I attended, I don’t have one project I’m anxious to complete. Instead, I’m behind on many things. Andrew, M, and I have been passing various illnesses back and forth, and when M is sick, I stay home with him because my deadlines are currently more flexible than Andrew’s. M got an extremely high fever about a week ago (103 F / 39.4 C). He was better by Sunday and went to crèche on Monday while I took a day trip out to Zurich to see an old friend who was en route to Davos. M came home with a diagnosis of conjunctivitis, and I spent the next two days at home with him keeping his eyes clean and discovered at the end of the first day that I also had a fever.

By Thursday all I could think of was the list of things I wanted to complete during my retreat: grant applications, thesis reading, etc. etc. All work. No relaxation. And I realized I needed to set a few rules for myself so that I could actually rest and recover and come back refreshed, not even more spent:

Rule 1: Sleep as much as my body wants.

Rule 2: Read something for fun each day.

Rule 3: Write something fun each day.

That’s it.

Racing to cross one more item off of my to do list isn’t going to help in the long term while taking a few days off will give me the energy and drive to push through the tougher days. I’ll finish the items on my list, but they can wait three nights.

This time is a gift, and I’m appreciating the heck out of it!

 

I don’t like to talk about my works in progress, not because of any sort of superstition or fear that they will be jinxed, but because I want to work with the raw ideas before sharing them. I want to develop my thoughts before inviting others into conversation.

Because of this, I have only made oblique references to returning to school for a PhD in literature. I’ve been reading and writing and talking to my advisor and to my husband about my scholarship. That’s plenty for now. I’m still hammering out my thesis proposal. My advisor in particular is brilliant at not giving me answers but suggesting books that show me new angles and help me come up with my own answers. I am enjoying the work and the process while still feeling rather protective of this new thing.

The only time I put out a larger request for feedback and help was when I first started working on this project in early July 2015. I had a dissertation-sized question and wanted suggestions for writers I could study whose work demonstrated a similar preoccupation. I received dozens of suggestions and quickly developed some criteria beyond “this person writes about ___.”

Part of this criteria is subjective. If I am going to live with someone’s work for a few years, I have to love something about it. From the dozens, I eventually selected six writers whose work allows me to approach my question from multiple angles and whose work I love.

Over the years, many people have asked me about the relationship between scholarship and writing. “Doesn’t analyzing text kill any desire to write?” No. The more I study these writers and their ideas and techniques, the more I want to write. I want to work on these ideas both intellectually and creatively. I want to write everything.

One of my six authors is C.D. Wright, a terrific contemporary poet. At 5 am today, I learned that she passed away unexpectedly at age 66.

I didn’t know her, but I have been living with her poetry for the past few months and plan to spend the next few years with her. I’ve barely scratched the surface of her work, but it’s stunning.

She makes me want to write. More than that: she makes me want to play and to experiment.

Here are a few links to her work to give you an idea of her range and her dazzling skill and to her obituary at the Poetry Foundation:

Provinces
Flame
Living
Personals
C.D. Wright, 1949-2016

 

Like most people of a certain age, I grew up with David Bowie. My first encounter with him was, of course, Labyrinth, which I saw at my best friend’s house when we were in fourth grade. Hoggle terrified me. But David Bowie? He could kidnap me anytime.

In 2014, when M was 4 months old, our family went to Berlin. I saw a billboard advertising the Bowie V&A show we’d missed during a trip to London — it had been sold out. I wanted to surprise A, who loves Bowie and didn’t know the show was in town, and managed to get tickets for the morning of our final day. Unsurprisingly, every other day was already sold out. We saw Bowie’s costumes, his cane from Labyrinth, watched videos, read about his life, and generally immersed ourselves in everything Bowie.

Growing up, I loved different songs and videos — Space Oddity (which inspired our family’s Halloween costume last year — we had Major M, and A & I were outer space in our silver lamé pants), I’m Afraid of Americans (with Trent Reznor), The Stars Are Out Tonight (that amazing video with Tilda Swinton) — everything really. It’s his total rock star glam and persona coupled with his sense of humor.

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He used to live in Lausanne, and one of the first things we did when we moved here was walk by his old house. He and Imam were married at the Hotel de Ville in a private, civil ceremony in the early 90s. He lived here for about a decade. Freddie Mercury lived about half an hour away in Montreux, and they collaborated.

So. This is hitting me hard. Every one of my social media feeds right now is entirely made up of Bowie tributes. He was only 69. I kind of imagined he’d live forever. Here he is singing Jacques Brel’s My Death.

Thank you for your music and for your vision.