Friday @ 4:57 am, Valros.

DREAM FRAGMENTS: Sitting with the famous poet in the lobby of the hotel. He talks about his grandchildren. Then bicycling (!) through downtown Providence, but the streets are unfamiliar. Then caught in a torrential storm. Thunder. 

We planned for the beach yesterday but it rained in sudden, short bursts throughout the afternoon. Once it cleared we drove over to Pézenas, found a little restaurant on one of the quiet side streets, ate outside along a trellis adorned with paper flowers. 

It stays light here well into the night. At 9:30, we sit in bed still awash in soft orange and pink. It will be very hard to leave. 

I mostly worked on the application yesterday and made progress on the timeline, budget notes. I should be able to finish it today. The best thing I found in my online meandering was the work of Korean artist Wook-kyung Choi.

Also today: Return to the book. 

My open tabs: This list of 50 documentaries the Guardian says I need to see; this 1829 account of King Philip’s War; A Pictorial History of the Korean War; this New York Times piece on the original manuscript for Mrs. Dalloway; and the website of the incredible artist Ellie Ga.


Wednesday @ 4:48 am, Valros

I took notes yesterday in the morning, as I had intended. Did not transcribe, but in the afternoon, we drove out to Carcassonne, and wandered through its walled city. It’s mostly restaurants and shops. A haunted house (we did not go in) and an “Inquisition Museum” (we did). I thought I might read some more in the evening, after dinner, but did not. 

On the ride back, was reminded of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, which is among other things, as I recall, a consideration of the limitations of our empathy for the suffering of others — primarily through our responses to war photography. War, suffering of others, our response to it — these are on my mind daily, as for many. The children at the border, the incarcerated, everyone in this country who has lived and suffered, and died beneath the burdens of oppression, racism, hatred, white supremacy. Refugees everywhere. My temporary, superficial engagement with the real and pressing concerns of others. I can’t stay with it. I make my excuses, disclaimers, keep my distance. How many blind eyes do I have left to turn? 

In the morning, I found a talk Jill Lepore gave at Gilder Lerhman about her book, The Name of War, which I had read a few years ago, and was arguably one of the early nudges toward the idea for Nine Men’s Misery. Her discussion about King Philip’s War opens with an eye witness account of the savagery and brutality of the torture and killing of colonial prisoners. She makes a point about the exceptional cruelty exhibited by both Indians and colonists in this “earliest and bitterest” of American conflicts, but now, as I have read discussions of many wars — World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — I am struck by this authorial stance. Calling out the exceptional nature of the brutality, as if it were the first time men have shown their boundless capacity for cruelty. We want to believe, I think, that such horrors are exceptional, some break in the fabric of human behavior, some anomaly. And yet, in what war, under what military rule, when given authority, given power over others, have we not shown exactly who we are? 

I have no idea where this book is going. I am learning, I think, to find some comfort in the unknowing, in the small meandering steps forward and back. Particularly in these unstructured days. There is time, I think, for more directed thought. Now, I am trying to follow little paths where they lead. 

DAILY INTENTIONS: Catch up on the #1000wordsofsummer thread. Two hours, uninterrupted on NMM. Respond to all those emails, really. Spend an hour drafting the application timeline. 


Tuesday @ 4:46 am, Valros

DREAM FRAGMENT: The snow-covered grass. There are brown pebbles beneath a layer of slushy snow. William says he’s to bring home a survey, a questionnaire about the garden. We are on a little patch of the yard. 

Yesterday, at nearly the mid-point of the time here, I felt out of sorts. Doubt creeping in. Who am I to take up this space, this time? 

Today will be a better day. 

I hear a fast clock ticking but there is no clock. 

I hear the cries of birds from the inky blue. The bells chime the hour. 

ON THE BEACH: the umbrella cartwheeling across the sand. The vendor’s cart, parked near to the water’s edge. Children approach. They leave with ice pops, cones wrapped in paper. The man who dances by, holding his box of treats aloft, singing. I recognize the words “beignets, nutella.” No one buys anything from him, but he continues singing as he makes his way down the beach. 

They disappear into the green sea. 

In the early morning, the village trucks rumble down the narrow streets. In the evenings, motorcycles and scooters.

It is easy, in so many ways, to be here. Disconnected from the dailiness. And yet, I am not immune here from a sense of sadness, a sense of not quite doing the right thing. Not knowing what comes next. 

DAILY INTENTIONS: note-taking, transcribing in the morning. In the afternoon, the grant application. Respond to the waiting emails.


Sunday @ 5:02 am, Valros.

A little breakthrough yesterday. A way to move forward for now. A list of new lists to make, new paths to wander down. To have a little open-ended time, when I am not propelled from one deadline to the next. It almost makes me question: Was I even ever writing before?

Wrote for a while in the morning yesterday — three-hour chunks are the sweet spot, I think. Note to self: When you return home, give yourself one three-hour stretch of time at least once a week.  Made a pass through my neglected inbox. Wandered through the crowded, loud Pézenas Market for a bit, ended with croissants and ginger lemonade and made it back to the car just before the downpour. The rain here comes in short bursts. 

Made soup for lunch — mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes — tossed in a few fresh tortellini from the market. Spent the afternoon on the roof deck, taking notes, dozing. I want to remember the way the days feel here. Their softness. 

Found All The Light We Cannot See here in the house. Didn’t expect to be immediately drawn in, but I was. This opening page:


At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say, Depart immediately to open country.

The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars.

After dinner (roasted potatoes, leftover soup, toasted baguette, gouda), a walk in the village. Ice cream and card games before bed. I try to read a bit more, but sleepiness overtakes me. 

I keep asking myself: Is it possible to feel so unencumbered? So much like, we could stay here, and not return. Why does this country, so far from anywhere I’ve ever called home, feel so much like home to me?  


Saturday @ 5:03 am, Valros

I love the loud bird chatter in the morning. I love the town bells that chime the hour. I love the vineyards along the Avenue de Pézenas. I love the tile floors in this house, the way they feel dusty and cool underfoot. I love the tall windows that open out to narrow balconies overlooking the street. I love the quiet of this village. The way a bit of conversation might drift up, but so rarely, and only briefly. I love hanging clothes on a line to dry, even knowing as I do, that I would hate to have to do it at home. 

I love the way time feels luxurious and spacious early in the day then seems to accelerate and contract by afternoon. I love even the familiar weariness that settles in, the gentle reminder that this body is unaccustomed to being in this space, this time. 

I spend the mornings in the past. Mining memory, of course, but also: war documentaries, war novels, war stories. A handbook for the rules of engagement. The past is my daily present. 

Yesterday: Stood out on the narrow balcony in the cool blue morning. Wrote, drank coffee, read, napped. Closed all the windows against the sudden rainstorm. Made big salad and 6-minute eggs, their yolks still soft and “jammy.” Watched war movies in bed, took half-hearted notes. Tried to read. Napped instead. Woke to the brightest afternoon. Took a ride into Béziers to wander around an open-air shopping centre, and have dinner (gin cocktail, big salad, soft cheeses). Ride back, attempt another documentary, sleep.

Today: The famed Saturday market in Pézenas! Take new notes, transcribe notes from earlier in the week. Keep mind and heart open, light. Take in all the light. 


Friday at 4:55 am, Valros.

We left Providence nearly a week ago today. Took the bus to the airport, then the six-hour flight. With the six-hour time difference, we landed in the early morning, lingered in the airport a while for our rental to be ready. Travel is always a bit disorienting. I find myself tired all the time.

It is hard to know how to be here. I have goals and hopes for the time, some of which are perhaps unrealistic. The whole trip seems so decadent, three weeks to write. But of course, in the end, the hours are frittered a bit with the dailiness of simply living. Getting groceries, preparing meals, cleaning up. 

The mornings are glorious. Three hours of uninterrupted time. For most of it, I write by hand in one of the many notebooks I’ve brought. I feel as though my practice back home makes the mornings the easiest to know how to use. It’s a time I know well. My body knows how to spend it. After that, it feels a bit more challenging to give shape to the day. 

I’m revisiting Speedboat, which I have found useful for this particular project. The energy and propulsiveness of its sentences and rhythms. I’ve brought Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-Nan, which I’m reading a bit at a time. In many ways what I am working on is a war book, and so I re-read Slaughterhouse Five, which I didn’t think to bring myself, but serendipitiously, M did. Started listening (and following along on kindle) to James Salter’s The Hunters, about a fighter pilot in the Korean War. 

Mostly, I am working on this novel draft. Trying to make it through a draft without too many preconceptions about how it will go. Right before I left home, I got word that I’ve made it to the second stage of a grant for a different, wildly ambitious project and so I will need to spend some time on that application. They are looking for a few more work samples and a timeline. On the first couple days here, I tried to spend the mornings on the novel and the afternoons on the application, but I think I’d like a few days to focus on one thing at a time. These little adjustments, the moments of not knowing exactly what to do next stir up a bit of anxiety. I don’t want to squander this time. 

Today’s goals and intentions:

  • Take note of the light this morning.

  • Three hours of notes on the manuscript. 

  • This afternoon, begin transcribing what I’ve written so far into a document, editing while I go. 

With all best intentions, by late afternoon, it’s difficult for me to want to work. I want a glass of wine with a bit of bread and cheese. There’s pleasure in preparing a simple dinner for all of us to have together. A little time to clean up and then to watch movies or play games. 

I want also, of course, to spend time seeing the region, being here. Mostly, we’ve run a few errands in town. Wandered through our tiny village. Visited what we were told was the best bakery in Pezenas, the next town over. It did not disappoint. We took a long walk along Via Domitia through vineyards. This weekend, perhaps a ride to the beach? We are twenty minutes from the coast. The challenge is, when I am writing, a little part of me thinks I should be exploring. When I am doing anything other than writing, I feel like I should not be. I think mostly, I have to make peace with the discomfort. It is, after all, a gift to be here, in this place, for this time. That seems important to hold on to, most of all.