On the New Hampshire state website there’s a lovely list. How to do historic preservation as part of your everyday life: 101 ways to make a difference. As a younger person, it sometimes feels a little frustrating to have limited means to support the cause financially, but it’s heartening to learn there’s still a lot I can do. Today I’ll take a page from their book (or site, I suppose) by posting a few of my favorites:

2. Talk to neighbors and “old timers” about their memories and stories of the area – where they have lived, where you live, what they learned from “old-timers” when they were young.

3. Go to the library and find out what information it has about local history; read the town history and study local history publications.

The Spruance Library is an amazing place; I can’t encourage a visit enough.

4. Learn how to research the deeds for your house or a nearby historic property.

I suggest Terry McNealy’s ‘How to Find the Story of an Old House’, which you can read and / or purchase at the Spruance.

5. Write the history of your own house.

8. Look at old photographs and views of your house, your neighborhood, your community, and try to imagine yourself in the pictures. What can you see, hear, feel, touch, taste? How would it be different now?

9. Arrange to borrow, copy, and catalog old photographs of your town for your local library or historical society.

14. Join your local historical society.

It’s cheap, and it’s worth it.

15. Volunteer to help the historical society with a task or project (it can be mundane, not monumental — just do it!).

19. Share the enjoyment of what you’ve learned with others, especially children (an impromptu “history walk,” a “preservation picnic,” a historic “mystery tour,” an outing to a museum or to nearby historic sites, telling historical or historic preservation bedtime stories … ).

29. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to build consensus … then practice!

40. Volunteer to help with local history projects in the schools.

53. Learn about the interrelationships between historic preservation and other aspects of land-use planning.

54. Familiarize yourself with strategies and techniques that communities and Regional Planning Commissions can use to advance and enhance historic preservation action and achievements.

58. Enlist others to help establish a local Heritage Commission, if the community lacks one.

69. Write a “letter to the editor” on a history or historic preservation topic (be courteous!).

So there you go: Just a few things you or anyone else can do. I’d love to hear more suggestions from you, or stories of somebody you know who’s done something to make a difference to preserve local history.



It wasn’t so long ago, in the long run of things, that to get a look inside Fonthill, all you had to do was knock.

You’d be taking your chances, of course. My mother, as a teenager, repeatedly made the pilgrimage up from the city, fingers crossed, hoping that this time Laura Long Swain would let her in.

From the early 1900s until 1974, Henry Mercer employed Mrs. Swain as a combination housekeeper, secretary and associate at the fairytale castle he had built for himself. Like a maiden from a story, Laura was just a “raven-haired teenager” when she began her employ.

Mercer arranged her marriage to Frank King Swain, the manager of Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, out of convenience. When Mercer died in 1930, he willed the couple lifetime residency, and Laura and Frank stayed on at Fonthill.

Laura continued to live there alone after Frank’s death in 1954, giving (or denying) tours as she wished. In October of 1974, at age 86 and after a lifetime spent on Mercer’s property, Laura entered Doylestown Manor Convalescent Home.

In a January, 1975 interview, just months before her death, Mrs. Swain unapologetically defended her seemingly random method for permitting tourists to traipse through her home. “They don’t allow anyone to go through unless I say.” she said, “And how many people know what to see? You have to be someone who can tell them what it’s about, and I have to prepare you before you go through … you’re so young … you have lots of time.”

I was asked to post some photos of my cottage, specifically I think of some of the clutter / ephemera / oddities / whatever you want to call it. I’ve been here for three years almost exactly. It’s the longest I’ve lived in one place since I moved out of my parents’ house eleven years ago, though I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be here since my landlord passed away and the property, apparently, is for sale (I found this out only because the lawyer in charge of the estate told me, much to my bafflement).

We don’t have enough money to move, which is a little worrying, and honestly I don’t think we’ll be able to find a place where the rent is this cheap. I try not to worry about this (the term ‘concerned’ has been suggested in its stead) and sometimes am successful, sometimes not. But I digress.

Click on the images for more detail. Alright. Here we have an old drawer that I think I found in the trash when I lived in New York. That ‘3’ you see there is from the apartment I lived in previous to this one. Um … hm, it looks like there’s an old doll hand, a bullet casing that I think I used to put in my ear, and this glass egg that that has a funny but long story behind it, which I won’t tell here. Up top is a neat vintage children’s booklet about dental care.

This is the corner behind the TV in the living room (one of two rooms in the cottage). The gold thing was given to me by my gay neighbor at the previous apartment. The violin I, um, relocated, from the prop closet of a place I was an artists’ model at. I wanted to cut it open recently but Thom dissuaded me. The Sandman drawing was sent to me by Michael Zulli, who is just incredible. The little bottles I *think* came from etsy. You can’t see them, but the photos tucked behind the bottles on the little left-hand shelf are photos of a woman’s funeral. They were a birthday gift from my friend Josh a few years ago.

I’m not sure how it started, but I started to put all the artwork my friend Jeremy has sent me over the years in this corner. (He doesn’t have a website, but he’s one of the most incredible illustrators I know.) He made me that puppet (we dated when I was living in Savannah) and the bottle (which once held very incredible mead) has an illustration he did on it that reads ‘NOT POISON’. The scrapbook propped up on the right has most of the other artwork in it, held in place with photograph corners. Jeremy is amazing. In fact, I’m going to post of photo of us now:


This is us years ago at the Museum of Puppetry Art in Atlanta (with a skeksie).

I have a neat (albeit very small) bathroom. The window came from an old curio cabinet. Hanging from the ceiling is an antique enema bag that someone found in an alley in Savannah and promptly brought to me (rightly so). It folds up into a box and has a cameo on the lid. I know. Next to it, on the top shelf, is an antique enema syringe I bought for $15 in New York at a flea market. It’s huge and heavy and very disturbing. The tip of the syringe has been bent in sort of a U shape (my theory is that someone did this so they could administer their own enemas and avoid humiliation, but it’s just a theory). There’s a pamphlet that came with a vintage douching device called the Marvel Whirling Spray that has all sorts of old and incorrect advice in it (it says you can use it for children, for example. Vintage douching solutions were basically Lysol.). Behind that is this great book called Flushed With Pride, which is the story of Thomas Crapper, inventor of the commode. Another photo:

A lot of the little junk I can’t find room for anywhere else winds up on the fireplace mantel (the fireplace doesn’t work because it’s filled with branches and dead leaves) in the living room. The giant mirror I picked out of the trash in town here. It weighs a billion pounds. I’m not sure where a lot of the other stuff came from … hrm. The dried roses I’ve amassed from various, er, suitors, over the years. The little clasped hands you see to the left are a really neat clay rattle I got for the holidays a few years ago. One thing I really like is the metal dohickey on the right, propped up against the old photo. I believe it’s a micrometer, though I’m not sure. It’s the same shape as the wishbone I propped up underneath it.

Whew! So that’s some (but not close to all) of the stuff I can’t seem to stop attracting. I love it. The end!

So my current fascination appears to be making assemblage art. Inspired by my recent clutter trouble, I’m trying to transition from simply arranging my junk nicely on the windowsill to putting it together as artwork.

I’ve made some half-assed attempts to do this in the past, but this is the first time I’ve really put effort to it, and the results aren’t totally awful. It’s interesting; when I draw or paint, the process comes so naturally to me that it’s almost like muscle memory. There’s not really any thought process involved beyond a pause once or twice to think about the composition. But with this assemblage stuff, everything I add, a twist of wire, a paint color, a texture, I consider. I look at the composition and think, How can I balance this out? What’s the significance of this element? I’m enjoying it quite a lot. It makes me feel very good.

Here’s what I’ve been working on recently. It’s not finished, though:


It opens, too, but my camera battery runs out really fast for some reason. Dunno. Anyway, here’s some closeups:




That last one’s a little grainy; sorry. More photos after the battery re-charges.

I feel like the transition between the gold leaf and the green book cover is too stark. I’m not sure what to add to the border to make it a little more gradual. Any ideas?

Malady is a Mighty Hunter and a Great Slayer of Tiny Beasts. All last night I could hear him galloping around, smiting (or as we like to say, smoting) little creatures. Then he took a Mighty Poop.

This morning there were what we call interns on the floor. An intestine (pronounced in-TES-tyne) and a stomach, Thom said.

It’s interesting that living with someone for an extended period of time, you start to invent words for things, or to use existing words in different ways. Smoting and interns and intestyne being the examples here. I do think most of the words we’ve invented to tend to refer to the cat. He’s got myriad nicknames (such as Mem and Mallomort) and words for things he does (when sleeping, if he rolls over so that his belly is up, we say The cat has turned).

There are many other odd turns of phrase and spoonerisms we use without even really thinking about them. Do you do this too?

This is my third year renting this cottage, and my third winter being utterly frozen. We’ve got two space heaters running, though, which is great because they cost a lot less to run than the gas heat.

So recently I felt upset and angry. This was because I have a lot of stuff, and my boyfriend has almost none. He’s not into material possessions almost at all: He doesn’t collect anything. He owns the minimum number of pants, shirts, and shoes that he needs to get by. The books he reads tend to be ones I bring him, and they go back on my shelves when he’s done.

I, on the other hand, have amassed things, just things, for as long as I can remember. Exhibit A:


Here I am, age … maybe seven? LOOK at all that junk behind me. That was my junk. I probably still have some of it. Exhibit B:


That’s a photo of a bunch of junk we actually took out of the cottage about two months ago. And some of it is actually still outside right now. It’s covered with snow and totally ruined.

The thing is, it was inevitable that that would happen. My boyfriend can not stand having this much junk and clutter all over the place, and I can only continue to helplessly stress that this is how I’ve always been, and how I will always be. I really can’t help it.

I purge regularly. When the amount of junk builds up to where it gets on even my nerves, I sort through it and take bags and bags to a local thrift shop. I sell some of it on eBay. I even rent a storage space, which is where most of my art supplies are.

But the junk returns. If I see something for free, I take it. If I see something that’s cheap and will fit me or look neat on the windowsill, I buy it. Sometimes (but not often) I’ll even buy something that’s not-so-cheap, like the $100 glass-fronted book case I bought at an auction the other weekend. (Hey, at least it holds stuff.)

I try to convince my boyfriend that I don’t have control over the junk. It’s a partial truth; I don’t really want to have control over it, or at least to have to control myself. I really like my stuff. I like seeing it there, looking weird. I like people’s reactions when they come over for the first time. I like touching it, and moving it around, and putting it away. I like throwing it out, even!

But he doesn’t understand. His possessions literally take up about a quarter of our bedroom. The rest of the cottage is my junk, except for a few bags of his tools in the front room (which we call the Airlock). He’s tolerated (or at least, he hasn’t moved out) this for about two-and-a-half years, but occasionally it just gets to him (usually in the winter when we’re cooped up and hungry) and we have a Conversation.

I’m not sure what the compromise should be. I constantly feel guilty because I know my clutter drives him crazy, even though he rarely complains about it. If it were warmer maybe I’d take some of it outside to the fire pit and burn it. Our property is for sale and we’re going to have to move soon (but that’s another journal entry). Until then, I think we’re at a standstill.


This weekend I basically did laundry and watched a lot of TV. Today, for example, I decided not to leave the house (haven’t even been out to the car yet!) so I did “special laundry” in the bathtub.

Special laundry is laundry that is still all stainy and gross even after it’s been through the washing machine. Today it was three of Thom’s work shirts, all coffee-spattered and grimy. It took about an hour (or, conversely, one episode of House MD) to wash them, and now they’re white as the driven snow.

Something about doing the wash (although not the part that eats up your day) is intensely cathartic to me. I love the clean, perfectly crisp, new feeling of something that’s been thoroughly soaped and rinsed. And then the ironing! Ooo, don’t get me started.

I’m about to start a painting commission that has to do with a Rumi poem. I’ve never read Rumi (it’s not my style) but it turns out the Internet is a lot more full of his work than I thought.

Ooo! And now I don’t need the dumb Internet anyway. I found the poem I’m supposed to be working from:

People are distracted by objects of desire,
and afterward repent of the lust they’ve indulged,
because they have indulged with a phantom
and are left even farther from Reality than before.
Your desire for the illusory could be a wing,
by means of which a seeker might ascend to Reality.
When you have indulged in lust, your wing drops off;
you become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.
Preserve the wing and don’t indulge in such lust,
so that the wing of desire may bear you to Paradise.
People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings
for the sake of an illusion.

Whew. *puts feet up*

An afterthought: Did Stephen Mitchell ever translate any of Rumi’s stuff? I’d give that a try, at least.

I just finished the third book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance “cycle”, Brisingr. I’d been waiting for it forever, which is probably one of the reasons I was so disappointed. I finished it, closed the book, and ranted about nerds and Dungeons and Dragons and Tolkien ripoffs while Thom laughed at me.

I don’t have to work today, but I still get paid. What a great thing.

What Thanksgiving means to me is vague, at best. My earliest memories of the day having any significance are disjointed images of the infamous doll house I played with; making tiny yams and green beans out of Sculpy while unidentifyable relatives alternately bustled and squawked or sat stoic and unmoving around me. The thick wooden table taking up most of the space in the dining room, so you had to sidle around it while chairs squeaked in and out on the floorboards.

As I got older and my family’s relationships waxed and waned, the holiday becomes more vivid, not associated with quick sensory flashes as much. Easy factual input and retention is replaced with vague but unmistakable anxiety: Reticence at having to communicate with aunts and cousins I saw only a few times a year; Intense adolescent awkwardness and self-doubt, coupled with impatience and frustration towards the aunts and cousins and grandparents and other strangers. Long before being diagnosed with Major Depression (recurrent!) the signifiers were there: displacement; the horror of being transported, suddenly, to a place where I was expected (by whom?) to be successful and smart (I was) and engaging (I wasn’t).

For better or worse, the waxing and waning has culminated in a holiday that involves only me and my parents, the meals always reliably sumptuous, assembled still around the thick wooden table (which, by now, has survived myriad moves and rearrangements and decades of paper piles and gift wrappings and quite possibly various temper tantrums).

But beyond the family history, I don’t associate today with much. I try to be thankful every day I’m alive; grateful to be out under the sky on planet Earth, able still to be irritated by TV commercials and poor grammar and ubiquitous white cat hairs. Today I’ll be thankful for Mom’s cooking and to come home to a cottage of books and a glass of whiskey after. And tomorrow? I can only hope.