Each moment I stay in my house, the workman blocks off another vital pathway to my desk, my purse, my kitchen, and with the aroma of industrial flooring glue, I finally grab my sweater, my book bag, and thread my way through the maze to my door. Neither the workman nor I know exactly what the day holds, but we are each doing our best. Perhaps tomorrow most of the new floor will be installed—that is the hope. Perhaps by the end of this week, I’ll be ready to turn in my next round of homework. I head for my borrowed studio on a stormy Tuesday, on the Atlantic.
A road detour winds me through back streets, but right past my favorite independent coffee shop. Dorothy, the owner, waves to me as she pokes her head out of the drive-up window to assess the line of cars waiting. When it’s my turn, we chat only long enough for her to pour my coffee—the wind promises rain, any minute.
And then I have a hot cup of coffee in my hand, and the road detour threads me past my favorite beach for watching surfers. Just as I’m hoping no one is crazy enough to be surfing in this tempest, I see the flashes of bright blue and green, swooping and jerking—two kite-surfers! Twenty cars line the beach-side of the narrow road, spectators alongside the parked cars of the wet-suited athletes. Usually, the surfers walk calmly by to their cars, but today the men scamper like children to tell tales to one another, faces alight and hands gesturing, like boys describing a soccer game. The two closest men are my age—one balding and one who looks like a handsome college professor I remember. I wonder at men so in love with the sea and the weather.
After I study the joy on their faces, they haul boards across the footbridge, and I turn to the kite-boarders again. As far as I can tell, the rider wears the kite’s harness around his waist and rides a board that attaches to his feet. One kite-surfer rides the shallow edge of Good Harbor Beach back toward me as far as he can come, then cuts wave after wave in the opposite direction down the mile of shoreline. At several points the surfer flies in the air—more than twenty feet into the air—then “lands” again on a wave and rides. He is leaning back hard on his kite-lines and nearly touching the water with his back. I can’t imagine the training necessary to evoke this confidence. I drink my coffee until I see one kite surfer walking onto the beach, wrestling his kite to the ground and folding it. The other rider walks ashore, too, and the first runs to help the second fold his kite. I imagine their faces radiant, like the men who just passed me on the footbridge, and their hands and storytelling as they pack their cars and maneuver the heavy wetsuits. Will they be going to office jobs, next? It’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Perhaps they will sit at a desk by ten.
The road detour takes me along the rocky Atlantic coast for another mile. Drivers rubberneck to see the grey-green curls of wave, veering toward my half of the two-lane road. I drive carefully through the sea spray until I find Edgemoor Road. I take a right once again and familiarize myself with the house numbers. The owner of a boutique in town told me he’d introduce me to the new residents of T. S. Eliot’s childhood summer home. The boutique owner is charming and lonely to talk books and reading, but also he is lonely to tell me how atrociously Americans use the rules of grammar, how shallowly American literature compares to European. This makes me self-conscious of the looseness of my childhood education, the Midwestern drawl and rhythm that won’t be parsed into sentence diagrams. I have little desire to defend my literary loves, but he is an interesting character. I’ll offer him a cup of coffee some winter morning when I can be patient. I believe it’s 3 Edgemoor or 5 Edgemoor Road. I consider pulling into St. Anthony’s By-the-Sea—surely someone there would know the answer to this question, and perhaps hold insight as to why Eliot named his road Edgeware instead of Edgemoor in his poem. Edge-Where? Edge-More? The crest of homes does overlook what could be called a moor, I suppose. I decide not to pursue this question today, either. I need to write.
I make a left onto Eastern Point Boulevard and within five minutes I open the car door to the sea howl and the foghorn. The lock gives way without a struggle this time. I climb to the third floor with my book bag (Eliot’s thin volume is in there, along with a Cowley Brothers book of meditations on Eliot) and laptop, find a blanket and settle into the eaves. I begin writing at nine-thirty in the morning in a stormy paradise.
The kite-surfers have me wondering—perhaps writing is like that, though with less muscle. The surfer rides one ocean with his feet, one weather system with his arms, one unpredictable self inbetween and from the looks of the faces after, I can only imagine how fully engaged he is. The call to writing, as I am learning, is to become more vulnerable, more in touch with rawness of feeling, and more persistently in pursuit of truth. Harness the wind of a story, ride the undercurrent of the deep, be ever aware of all the unpredictabilities of weather and self. Watch for dangerous rocks. If you are not a writer you might think this description is self-indulgent—and it might be. I am sitting in a chair, after all, not feeling the wind and rain on my face.
But I’m playing just as hard as they are. I joined this writing program to change my writing, with no thought that my writing may change me. Like those surfers’ faces on the footbridge, perhaps I will be changed, if I do it well. Who could possibly encounter that tempest and still be the same?