(Herman “Sticky” Von Hobart, a friend we knew briefly)
Ann and I have now been in Geneva, New York, for almost eight weeks–living at the Trias House for my writing residency here. It’s been a wonderful experience here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges thus far, and I’ll devote a couple of blog posts to documenting everything we’ve done and seen in the context of HWS and my writing class. But for now I thought I’d preserve an archive of my facebook posts about the day-to-day experience both in Geneva and roving widely. These originally appeared, most of them, under the title “Incident at the Residency House” or “Top Secret Facebook Diary”. I’ve decided to put them in order of most recent to least, along with some of the relevant photographs. Somoe have been lightly edited. – Jeff
October 4: Oh my gawd. What a night. I just drove like my grandpa, 35 mph all the way from the Ithaca area back to Geneva, ’cause there’re no lights on these roads and critters everywhere and after owl banding I didn’t want to kill a critter no how no way. So I’m going 35 mph and I still almost hit three deer, a couple of raccoons, two extensions of liquid night I’m going to say were weasel-related, and something possibly a skunk but definitely not a swift beast. This after an owl night that included the police, a molecular biologist, an enraged neighbor, amazing unexpected art in a basement, holding an owl in my own two hands, talking about amphibian roadkill mortality studies, and staggering into a ditch in total pitch black darkness. May take a little while to process. Photos by the morning. AND THERE WAS AN AFRICAN PARROT TOO.
October 2: The damn turkeys have blocked the road, up here in the Adirondacks. All my hollerin’ seems not to be worth a damn to these turkey-lurkeys. Google, please program “a turkey-free route.”
October 1: It’s been a good couple of days. We attended a wedding of two wonderful people in a land full of tiny cucumbers and giant mushrooms and gorged on amazing salads as well and bought a mouse to hold our cats (it’s a riddle wrapped inside a joke). I learned that FSG will print over 500 advance copies of Borne, which is 300 copies more than my first book, The Book of Frog, sold. I am hopeful that soon I will view Nabokovian wonders at Cornell and intersperse these viewings with banding of owls. This week too the excellent novelist Dexter Palmer visits the campus as part of the reading series I’m curating. We hope he likes our cats and that the questions the students ask are useful. I am 20,000 words into the top secret project that now is not going to be publicly announced until next year oh how I hate patience and how much of it I have to have. I have also just about finished up a story that includes the dispersal across a thousand galaxies of a billion sentient seed pods. The car’s tire light just came on so I should probably stop typing this while driving along an unlit highway in the middle of the night while deer dart all around. Although now it occurs to me that
October 1: Here in Vermont…ask the barista if I can get a dark roast. “it’s all light roast, with accents of either floral or cream or plum jam.” Me: “Then let me get a shot.” Barista: “Our shots have grace notes of baking spice, lavender, or orange peel.” Me: “So let’s put the baking spice shot in with the toasted almond and brown sugar coffee.” Barista: “Just…just put the shot in the coffee?” Me: “Dump it right in.” Barista: “But that will muddle and muddy the grace notes and accents.” Me: “Exactly.” And it will taste like coffee.
October 1: Pretty thrilled that I may get to assist in catching and banding saw whet owls one evening next week. This after a great opportunity to observe scientists gather shrimp and mussel samples out on Lake Seneca. I am hopeful that there is a local marmot effort, like, say, “analysis of a marmot tea party” for a third ecology-adjacent activity.
September 28: This week I have seen two marmots, which is two more than last week, so that’s good. But my joke of photographing a squirrel and chipmunk and putting it on social media with a caption as if I thought the squirrel was the chipmunk’s mother met with some good and bad moments. The good–it was the most popular thing I posted on twitter that day. The bad–Margaret Atwood insinuated I didn’t know a chipmunk from a, well, a squirrel.
Other than that, I wrote more on my secret project even as several other projects are just twirling around in mid-air waiting for people to get off their asses and approve things. We also went to the grape festival in Naples near one of the finger lakes and we ate a lot of grapes and saw a lot of art and ate some more grapes. We have been scarfing down fresh butternut squash, grapes, green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and apples like we’re trying to turn ourselves into Arcimboldo portraits. My pants don’t fit any more because all this eating is making my belly tiny.
September 26: Ann and I had a great dinner with a plant biologist and a vegetable entomologist–and learned there is such a thing as a small fruit entomologist, although in fact this is not an entomologist of fruit who is really small. Tomorrow, I get to observe lake shrimp at night on a boat. This weekend, we get to attend a wedding of a really smart and sharp guy in Vermont. At some point soon, too, it looks like I will get to capture and band owls. Hopefully as well I will see another marmot soon. I hate a marmot-less day.
September 25: Out on our usual walk tonight and Ann, behind me, just hauls off and *kicks me right in the ass*. Me: “What the—?!” Ann: “Gotta keep you on your toes. Don’t get too comfortable. Hi-ya!” Karate chop move from Ann. Me: “Huh?” Ann: “It’s good exercise for me. You want me to get good exercise, right?” Me: “Um…” Pondering how *yes, I do* seems like the only right answer, but wondering if that means she’s going to kick me in the ass again. And then wondering, why the hell do I love this woman so much?
September 24: Adorable. A mother squirrel and her little baby.
September 23: Fifteen thousand words into the Sekrit Projekt, I had not expected a marmot and a portrait of a marmot in “the ultra-realist yet brooding style of Gustave Courbet” would play such a prominent role, nor that a woman who turns people into trees would pop up so sudden-like. Nor, on the novella I’m working on that ghost frogs and interdimensional komodos would turn out to have such a symbiotic lifecycle in connection with the asexual seedpod reproduction of sentient mountains. But, so it goes…In other news, I am quite happy that Neo is using the top perches on the two cat trees so much now, as a tall cat is a happy cat. And as an experiment I have been putting a piece of failing fruit outside every night in the same place and every morning it is gone…Also, I have fallen in love with the local small intensely dark purple grapes grown in these parts as well as the butternut squash that is so prevalent and have been scarfing down huge quantities like some kind rampant herbivore–along with lovely green beans and pumpkin seeds. Finally, the month of mimicry for my writing class is over. They’ve done some very good work and we are well-positioned entering the month of secrets…
September 23: Two intergalactic surveillance devices discovered right outside the residency house.
September 21: Is it already Wednesday night? Where did the time go?! Oh, I know–researching southern lit and also hunting down hiking boots and prepping for discussion tomorrow of Clarice Lispector’s roast of…I mean short story…about Brasilia along with thinking through logistics of getting the students to the Toronto book festival and kidnapping some writers for them to talk to. “Where am I?” “You’re in a van full of Hobart & William Smith writing students. Now, spill the beans and we’ll set you free.”…We saw a black furred marmot while driving to an outlet mall today–brazen as you please, mumbling into some stretch of grass. Am excited, too, because not only may I be spending some nights banding owls near Ithaca, but an expedition by boat onto Seneca Lake next week to observe freshwater shrimp cannot possibly end the way my freshwater squid experiment did, can it? But then again, it’s possible I won’t survive tomorrow, when I reveal to my students the last stage of the writing exercise we’ve been doing for the Month of Mimicry. “Write a story that encapsulates the lifecycle and spirit of one of the great mimic moths, minimum of 20,000 words and you must dress up as a piece of wood and convince me that you’re a piece of wood. No arguing now–go forth and mimic. Or is that camouflage. Anyhooo…”
September 19: Bought this great, one-of-a-kind piece centered around the definition of “Leviathan” at Stomping Grounds, a wonderful books and gifts store here in Geneva, NY. Turns out the folks at SG made this themselves. As you may know, I once edited an antho titled Leviathan. (Duck = incidental, but also the new class mascot.)
September 18: This morning at the drug store, the guy in front of me bought cigarettes. Clerk asked for his ID, he handed over his driver’s license, then took it back real fast. “Are you writing down my license number?!” Clerk: “No, your date of birth.” Guy: “Are you sure? I don’t like what you’re doing.” Clerk: “It’s state law to get your DOB.” Guy: “This stinks of Big Brother. Government taking my driver’s license.” Clerk: “I’m just doing my job.” Guy: “You’re trying to steal from me.” Clerk: “And I need your wife’s ID, too.”
Woman: “Why the hell do you need my ID?” Clerk: “You asked for the cigarettes initially. So you’re part of the transaction, I’m sorry.” Woman: “The hell I am. I was just trying to get things moving along because YOU were on the phone and THIS GENTLEMAN”–pointing to me–“was waiting behind us. But YOU were on the phone.” Clerk: “I’m the only one here and had to help a customer on the phone.” Woman: “YOU WERE ON THE PHONE. AND YOU WERE HOLDING UP THIS MAN HERE, isn’t that right, sir?”
Me: “I don’t care. About any of this. At all.”
Woman: “Well, there’s MY thanks for being nice.” Clerk: “What’s your DOB.” Woman: “I can’t believe you’re asking a lady for her age.” Clerk: “I’m asking a cigarette buyer for what I’m legally bound to ask for.” Man: “The GOVERNMENT IS ALL UP IN OUR BUSINESS.” Woman sighs, gives her license to the clerk.
They turn on their heels and stomp out of there, but not before the man, a huge pear-shaped mountain, squints real hard and lets out a loud and incredibly and disastrously noxious and terrifying fart and shouts, “That’s what I think of your government intervention!”
Then they leave. Then I buy my protein bars and say to the clerk, “I hope you have a good rest of the day.” Clerk: “You too.” Me: “I’m really sorry they did that.”
But I need to get out of here before the smell kills me. But I need to time that so they’re already out of the parking lot. But I need to get out of here before the smell kills me. So I lingered as the clerk said, “That’s really not the worst we get in here.”
September 17: This week the squirrels regained control of the feeders and we were unable to drive them off. Soon they will be in the house, we are sure of it. However, life goes on, even if it will soon be under a new squirrel regime–which will just be nuts. This week I accepted an invitation from FSG to write the introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of *Lives of the Monster Dogs* and I finished edits on a novella, “The Journals of Doctor Mormeck” and also made major progress on a top-secret thing I am calling “Project Lambshead.” In addition, I taught two class sessions–Annihilation, Pond, and Eileen; or “the week of solitary women who don’t give a sh*t what you think”–went hiking in nature parks a couple of times, gave a reading that seemed to go well, went to the HWS Friday faculty seminar (environmental and useful), and bought some pickled brussel sprouts…which may remain in the jar for quite some time…
Finally, I must say, to the springer spaniel who lives across the street…I don’t know what game you’re playing, sir, but when I throw a friendly stick for a dog and said dog enthusiastically retrieves it but then insists I chase him down the street…and when I tire of this pursuit and go around the other side of the house to put down some birdseed on the ground because my attempts at putting up feeders have been disastrous…and you, stick still in mouth, poke your head around the corner to observe, then when I approach run away with the stick…I just want you to know you may not be fostering the feelings of good will or upholding long-settled on community standards in quite the way you may believe you are. Still, goddammit, I will throw a stick for you tomorrow.
September 17: At the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY. There was one other guy in the museum when we were there, and he decided it was a good place and time to complain loudly to the woman there to answer questions about how instead of the women being displayed in alphabetical order by last name it should’ve been by date of birth and how confusing that was and how he just couldn’t enjoy himself in the women’s hall of fame when all the dates were all mixed up and how was that any way for a museum to conduct itself…and thankfully he shut up then and left because I think everybody in the museum wanted to punch him in the face.
September 13: Ann and I went for a walk and came upon a rare Geneva Slug Marmot *and* a Seneca Lake Marmot. Both were plush. Each had a burrow up against the lake wall, with little balconies looking out on the water.
September 12: Two dudes at the bar, who work for a software company. “They keep talking about project management. This idea is way too good for project management.” AHAHAHAHHA. Then lots of talk of “project-ing,” as in “we’re good at project-ing, We do the project-ing thing well” not “pro-jecting”. Then, “If no one uses the tool it makes sense that the tool is broken, not that they don’t want the tool.” Does it? Followed by “I want to hire one guy for the software team, but if we hire two they’ll be like their own clique and I don’t like the sound of that. Those two will keep things from us.” Followed by Ann, the former software project manager, whispering to me, “I can’t make them any less stupid, but I could solve their problems in five seconds, but I can tell you right now they’d never listen to a girl…You have to understand part of my life for 30 years was being the only woman going into a room with a dozen guys swinging their invisible dicks around so much they couldn’t hear themselves speak.”
September 9: On a hiking trail today, the sole hiker I met says to me, “Why’d ya carry an umbrella? No rain today.” To which I replied you’ll find out in about three miles when the sun’s beating down on you like you’re a tin drum. And as he moved away, I thought, and five miles down the road, you’d’ve appreciated having the sharpened tip when some dude approaches you humming the theme song from Wicker Man…and that dude will be me–and I won’t share my umbrella!. And then seeing him increase his pace, was afraid I’d said it aloud and shouted after him, “I’d never Wicker Man anyone! I’m just a curmudgeon! *Just a curmudgeon!*” But then I realized I *had* thought the first thing, and then I hoped he hadn’t heard the last thing I said. But I still think I was right to bring my umbrella. Even though it didn’t rain. And I think I got too much sun.
September 8: It has been a good week. I found a giant white hair growing out of my forehead very soon after its formation and thus was able to eliminate it before I became a unicorn. I also had an allergic reaction to a container of seafood salad but managed to misdiagnose it as sunburn when I began to turn bright red, but luckily the symptoms subsided and I threw away the salad. Only one bird feeder is functional, so I have taken in my way to just spewing bird seed over the front lawn. Something portentous crapped on the back patio, something not a bird or squirrel, but less portentous than an Amish horse. Still investigating. The plant scientist and her husband and baby were be delightful and the class has not yet revolted or asked for me to be replaced with a copy of Wonderbook. I did try to deliver a thank you note to the house of people nearby for a nice dinner, thinking I could leave it on the step, but when realizing they were actually in their house veered off because it is stupid to deliver a thank you note in person…but then realized veering off at the last second could be seen as ultra-stupid to the denizens inside said house.
September 1: This was a good week. My two class sessions went well despite me telling them to remove the letter “a” from their stories and giving them a complex assignment for the month and telling them one of my current projects is a novella from the point of view of a sentient mountain. I also learned that chipmunks actually like to live in air conditioning units and that squirrels are rat bastards and that a white rabbit lives in our yard but it might’ve been a plastic bag that looked like a rabbit. After three dismal failures, a bird feeder hangs from a tree. I made friends with a stick insect named Herman, and then he disappeared after I’d already made the emotional investment in his well-being. The cats are creeping me out by silently staring at me from close up until I wake up to their unrelenting gaze. The gym here is the same franchise but isn’t run by bro goons, which is nice. I also sold a story with marmots and drinking in it.
August 30: Herman “Sticky” Von Hobart is one of our new neighbors here at the Trias House. He doesn’t say much, he doesn’t move much, but he legitimizes the idea of method acting…and he [as a stick insect] also will give a talk to the students during our month of mimicry.
August 30: Well, this is it…first day of my Trias-Wonderbook creative writing course. The room is all prepped. The syllabi, soon to rise from slumber, lie dormant in their folder sleeves, prefaced by a highlights menu, imbued with life by two hundred pages of required reading, and epilogued by a weird essay. The pads of paper are strictly parallel to the folders, which are multi-colored and crisp. The advance copies of Warren Ellis’s Normal lie atop the pads of paper, the beginning of our strange journey. My teacher notes bristle with presumption and generosity.
August 27: I don’t know if this thing in the crawlspace is friend or foe. But it is…unexpected.
August 27: Slowly, New York state is revealing itself to us…Last night, we ate in a restaurant serving “gator wings.” When we asked the waiter about it, he said, “You don’t want to drill down too far on that one.” This morning, I watched our sole remaining bird feeder get dragged into the street by two squirrels, who proceeded to smash it open and gorge themselves on seed.
August 24: I prefer my crawlspaces sans crawlspace post-it notes left by a previous guest writer?! Actually, never having had a crawlspace in a house before, I am dubbing this space “trance-dance scrawl place” so as to avoid the inevitable creepy vibe.
August 24: This morning I was feeding Neo bits of turkey in the kitchen and I tossed one to him that fell down into the floor vent leading to the basement. It was clear from the wide-eyed look of astonishment that he thought it had vanished into the floor…having never encountered a floor vent before…or having any knowledge of basements. And his second look made it clear he held me criminally responsible for loss of turkey.
August 23: Author fails dramatically to install three bird feeders and winds up just tossing seed all over lawn…while robin gives him the stink-eye from afar.
August 22: Learned Hobart and William Smith’s English Department has had to chase out bats and chipmunks. Immediate reaction: Can you herd them into my office?!? I mean, bats and chipmunks–how can you go wrong? Lots of great conversations.
August 21: A quiet rainy day in the really quite peaceful and lovely house Hobart and William Smith Colleges set aside for the writing residency. It’s a nice space to think and to write. Yesterday was our Day of Exploration–going to the new gym, and then a-roving. We went to a fine arts show at a mansion/botanical garden in a nearby town, and then on a whim drove down to Penn Yan, where questing further we wound up seemingly forever trapped in the (beautiful, wooded, expansive) armpit of an infinitely long lake, with our GPS dropping out and the road perilous close to the high shoulder with the lake right beyond. There were numerous signs for coyote crossings, but we saw none. Finally getting our bearings, we wound up at a family-owned restaurant on the lake shore that was like a friendly ghost conjured up from the 1980s in decor and menu. Yet not at all unwelcome, as the haunting was a superior one–the food was great, from the dated but delicious fondue appetizer through the expertly cooked prime rib and the glistening view of the water beyond.
August 19: Exhausted Neo last night, finally acclimated to the living room and using his cat trees and having learned to use the stairs and gotten used to most of the strange creaks and other sounds. He’s about two-thirds back to his normal self, which is good for just a day or two here!
August 18: First conversation at the new gym here in the Finger Lakes District of NY…”Two people were found murdered behind different dumpsters.” Me: “I just moved here yesterday. Is that normal?” “No, not really, not all the time…you just moved up here, huh?” “Yeah.” “Are you an athlete?” Me: “I’m a writer.” “Okay then, I guess.” “Nice to meet you. I’m going to go work out some more.” “You do that, then.” Me: “Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.” “Yeah, you do that.” “Yes…that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to go do that now.” “Yeah.”
August 18: Acquired the most important furnishings for the residency house.
August 17: Random conversation in the car today, final leg up to New York state…”Why are there so many preverts out today? Could you go put a shirt on that man for me?” “That highway ad for injury attorneys seemed to imply there are lions in the area.” “Reptiland? Shee-it, that’s what down south we call ‘Florida.'” … “There’s a lot of pretty stuff and wildlife and river on the right side of Pennsylvania and a total bleep of strip joints and preverts on the left side.” …”Why did they welcome us to New York but not to Tennessee?” … “EEEEEEEEEEeeee–aiieee.” “What the hell was that sound, Ann?!” “I saw a Trump sign.”…”Awful lot of wineries in this area.” “You could get a job at one while I teach. To pay for our cat food.” “You could chauffeur me around and shut up.” … “Did the cat throw up?” “No, he just doesn’t like us any more.” …But we’re here now.