‘Ask Me.’

Twilight drags out again — not a sign of spring by any means but a hopeful sign. The light’s returning to us. After work, I rush through my outside chores, then keep walking and walking. I’ve somehow slightly twinged my knee, and so I walk with the faintest of limps, which amuses my athletic daughter no end. Why wouldn’t your body hurt? she asks me.

We live in such a crazy, mixed-up time. Some of this is just us — a high school student, a grown daughter, four jobs between us, an EMT class, a recently published book and another I’m writing, an absent father, my single motherless — and then a world where the Expected Everydayness is suddenly flipped inside out. The rules have all changed, or at least it’s worth rethinking all the rules.

No phones, ever, at dinner. But then my youngest asks why? and we call my brother. He’s working at his brewery and steps into a quiet place. My daughter and I eat calzones and talk skiing and Covid. We talk bread making. And that is really darn nice.

“’Ask Me’

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.” 

— William Stafford

Order. Gratitude. And Other Things.

Sunrise, Hardwick, Vermont

January — the time of year when ash from the wood stove has settled into the crannies of our house — beneath the couches and along the woodwork. I listen to The Daily about FBI files released about the insurrection a year ago and take a soapy rag to my house.

I tell my daughters I’ll paint the walls of the upstairs hall spring grass green and stencil dandelions around the doors. What are you doing? they ask.

Some people are drawn to chaos. I crave order, a schedule, neatly pencilled lists to guide me through my days. To write, I travel to hard places, and I want to return to order. All around us now, chaos streams in, as the pandemic turns our world inside out. In the midst of this, I rearrange my woodpile. In the evening, while my daughter writes a school paper, I take the compost out to the bin. A light snow falls, sparkling in the light through our house windows. There’s no one out, and I keep walking. I head down the road and stand on the sidewalk. These neighbors have fully decked out their crab apple trees with twinkling colored lights. In my younger years, I would have scoffed at the use of electricity, much as I once hated paper plates.

Now, in the dazzling bits of snowflakes, I stand there for the longest time, thinking of nothing at all, just taking it in.

On a different note, Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont State Health Commissioner, read and blurbed Unstitched. I am among the many, many Vermonters who look to Dr. Levine as a beacon of calm, rationality, hope, and decency, as he’s guided our state through two years of a pandemic. In the mist of this, he took the time to read my book and called it a “tour de force.” Endless thanks, Dr. Levine.

Unstitched “…is both a page-turner and a primer in understanding the many complex dimensions of the opioid crisis in a rural state, where the reader accompanies the author in her own recovery and process of discovery. Ultimately, it is impossible for any of us to be totally disconnected from the impact opioid use disorder has on our communities, and it is through reading Stanciu’s skillful, compassionate and thoughtful rendering of personal stories that we can all gain valuable insight, diminish harmful stigma, and foster true healing.” — Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont State Health Commissioner

Stacked Deck.

In the evening, we play cards. For years, I had this inner narrative unspooling, about living on the edge of the wilderness, the cold a near constant companion for a good portion of the year. Now, returning from work to a chilly but not cold house, I remember keenly how that narrative began when I was a young woman, living in an uninsulated apartment, reading about polar expeditions.

The cold, indeed, makes us more alive. Too much cold, however, deadens us, too.

Our deck of cards has a few duplicates — additional sixes and eights and two Jacks of Diamonds. We have another, unpadded deck, but I have a particular fondness for this one that bends the rules and mixes our games in funny ways.

January. My inner narratives keep unwinding. Cold. Kids. Cats. Writing that nourishes my soul.

William Carlos Williams’ lines about this winter month:

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
                                  Play louder.
You will not succeed.

Mud. Snow. Ice. What Next?

I met a friend yesterday, and we took a walk we’ve journeyed in various seasons — in bright green spring, in the summer when we admired flower gardens along houses. Yesterday, we walked through frozen mud ruts and sprinkles of rain, the jumbled up season and time of where we are.

On this New Year’s Day, I’m passing along a VTDigger story written by Kevin O’Connor about a Vermont couple’s 4,000 World War II letters. A history lesson and a love story — isn’t that what we need right now?

Kent’s Corners, Calais, Vermont

Everyday Epiphany.

I’m sitting on the little coffee table a friend and I picked up in a free pile a few summers ago, watching my wood stove rekindle through the glass and talking to my father on my little phone. There’s this forty minute window before my daughters return from work with stories of their days. Cauliflower and potatoes are roasting in the oven, and we’re talking about all kinds of things, like this incredible novel Let the Great World Spin.

Because my father and I talk about things like this, we talk about suffering. The fire suddenly flares up, and does its beautiful wave thing through the pipes in its top, rippling in waves and emanating heat into our house. My cat rubs against my feet.

In an everyday epiphany, this great world spins around me, and I’m abruptly released from the pandemic and from the imminent holiday itself — so complex, so multifaceted, in a culture driven to the reductiveness of images and consumption.

I see the logs I’ve split from a fallen tree, consumed by flame, transmogrified into heat, and headed as ash into my garden. For this moment, I remember all those cold winters in our other house, and how blessedly happy I am that I bought this stove, and I live in a house with yellow walls, with two daughters, two cats, and all the tangledness of our lives.

That forty minutes is irrelevant. It might be ten minutes, or six hours. There’s just this moment, my father talking about Homer and Socrates, these stories that have followed me all my life.

Light a Candle. Keep It Alive.

Mt. Mansfield, Vermont

My daughters’ preschools had a sweet November festival called the Lantern Walk. The little kids each made their own lantern, from a mason jar or metal or wax, and strung it through with a wire. On a dark November evening, always right about now, the families arrived, and everyone took a walk through the woods with these candlelit lanterns, singing. The metaphor was, and is, immensely appealing.

In all my daughters’ lantern walks, the route often changed. One year, the teacher led the families down a steep hill. Rural Vermont is dark, dark, dark, on these November nights. The parents whispered to each other, fence here, and watch the big root.

These November days and nights, the wood stove is again glowing in our house and the wind blows over our hillside. Like Shakespeare’s play within a play, I remember those walks as Lantern Walk within a Long Lantern Walk.

On another note, State 14 ran an excerpt of Unstitched. It’s always such a pleasure to appear in this Vermont publication.