Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Harder than you'd think

Getting started in a new place turns out to be harder than I thought. Well, I'm not sure I can characterize my process as being very full of "thought." Mid-May 2010 we decided to move from Utah to Germany. July 28 we vacated our house of seven years. August 25 I arrived in my new hometown of Flein, near Heilbronn. September 13 all our stuff arrived.

Today, October 19 (a Tuesday), I am typing at my actual desk. Sam, the cat, is seated on the desk to my right, atop my journal book. Simon (the other cat) is tucked into a ball on the sofa behind me. We're all three pretty quiet, except for the clatter of my keyboard.

The large tree out back has lost half its red-brown leaves. A second tree, a hairy-looking weeping sort, has skinny finger-like leaves that are turning yellow. Still plenty to come for the rake. Grey skies and a nippy wind. It occurred to me this morning that it's time to turn on the heat in our apartment.

As noted in my post of 28 September, I did indeed return to the nearby vineyards to help with this year's grape harvest. I lost count, but I think I was present for eight days all together. Now I have sore muscles from unpacking and hefting boxes, from raking, and from bending over and snipping at grape vines. Which I can feel while typing. Hence the brevity of today's post.

I imagined when I set this blog up about three weeks ago that I was more or less ready to write on a regular basis. What I misestimated is the impact of upheaval on my ability to keep track of the days as they go by and to find the stillness I need to put words on the page.

Currently reading Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays by George Orwell (collected and edited by George Packer). What a master of the essay form. I'm inspired to return to 1984, which I have not read since high school. And I am old enough to have read it before the actual year arrived. I first encountered Orwell's essays in writing workshops, most memorably at the 2008 Wesleyan Writers Conference in a workshop with Katha Pollit. Orwell's most commonly referenced essays come from his time in India and Burma: "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936). Both offer a compelling mix of narrative flow and incisive commentary.

In "The Case for the Open Fire" (8 December 1945), Orwell asserts that, in spite of technological progress in heating systems, society would benefit from keeping the open coal fire. He describes a family near the fire: a necessary closeness to the fire creates closeness among those gathered there. "[T]he survival of the family as an institution may be more dependent on it than we realise" (190).
Then there is the fascination, inexhaustible  to a child, of the fire itself. A fire is never the same for two minutes together, you can look into the red heart of the coals and see caverns or faces or salamanders, according to your imagination: you can even, if your parents will let you, amuse yourself by heating the poker red-hot and bending it between the bars, or sprinkling salt on the flames to turn them green. (190)
 . . . It is quite true that [a fire] is wasteful, messy and the cause of avoidable work: all the same things could be said with equal truth of a baby. . . . (191)
. . . [I]magine the dreariness of spending Christmas evening in sitting . . . round a gilded radiator! (192)
So, here I sit at a desk in Germany with the heat on for the first time. The radiator gives off a smell of burnt dust, one of the many unfamiliar smells to get used to in a new home. This particular smell, like the plentiful rotting apples along the bike paths of Flein, is seasonal.