Wednesday, August 20, 2008

writing retreat in search of location

The outside air suddenly smells of soap, though my car is parked in a lot in the woods, near the ocean—an SUV pulls up beside me, the doors open, and many apparently very clean people tumble out of the apparently just-shampooed car. Vacation—they must be on vacation and fresh from their showers, and ready to meet the outdoors.

Lest I think THEY are the crazy ones, showering for a day in the woods and salt air, it’s me who is typing in the driver’s seat of my car, unable to decide exactly where to settle in for a few hours of writing. I could let myself into Jane’s house—she’s away in Canada, as she is each summer, and she is tickled when I “break in.” But. But she’s gone for months at a stretch and I don’t have actual permission this time, either. And that’s just enough to put me off, today. I’d be embarrassed for her extended family to walk in on me, not know who I am or why my feet are up on the coffee table in the sunroom. Still—I might. Is there a table in the backyard? Why would that be more comfortable? It’s still Jane’s space, without actual permission, without a proper schedule, without a cell phone number for her anywhere. (Okay, the number is somewhere. I just don’t know where, or if she has reception, or, or, or.)

I DO have permission to use Barbara’s studio, three days per week during the school year, but the calendar has read “summer” for three or four months, and again, I don’t have permission to unlock that quiet place either. No schedule is set yet. In the middle of the school year, if Barbara walked in on me, she’d ask if I’d like a fresh glass of water, and she’d apologize for being in her own home.

I am the same, I suppose. When I lived in an apartment inside a college dorm, I gave keys to each of my staff, and I felt that odd mixture of delight and slight discomfort when I’d find an empty peanut butter jar on my kitchen counter, and the bread wrapper still open—maybe the dishes would be freshly washed and a sticky note would read “thanks,” or maybe I’d just find fingerprints as I heard footsteps out the back door. There is not enough “home” in the entire world, and whatever the discomfort, those fingerprints were the shape of my affection and respect for those godlike young people on my staff. I provided some thing they needed, a small token in exchange for their courage and heart, working for me.

Today I’d walk my too-heavy laptop bag to a picnic table with a view, a ways down this path in the state park, but somehow I packed no food, no water, and more important, no coffee. My other alternative writing haven is the downtown coffee shop, with a view of Sandy Bay. I’ll need to manage interruptions. I’m gearing up for that, while listening to Latter Days by Over the Rhine on the CD player one more time. And typing.

You know, don’t you, that you are being used as a warm-up for other writing? Today, at least. I’ve been asked to contribute an essay for a book on spirituality and food—with a stack of caveats: if the essay is accepted, if the book proposal is accepted, if, if, if. I’m not even sure I can write “on assignment,” but some deep part of me is permanently in love with Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb, and again, my affection is ever-available, keys to my heart given out and I’m hoping I find Capon’s fingerprints on my counters and the peanut butter jar open, hope I can hear his footprints scurrying out the back door as I smile and wish him luck.

(He's in his nineties, and on his third marriage, but if I found his fingerprints and heard his step, you can bet I'd be chasing him as fast as I could run.)

Okay—to the coffee shop. With Capon. The Bean and Leaf has a bathroom, water, soup of the day AND coffee. WiFi is probably not a good thing, but I’ll deal with it. Wish me luck, too. Are my fingerprints on your counter? Did I finish the peanut butter off good? Go check. I am sneaking out the back door, now, a little bit more at home in the world than I was before. See the sticky note next to the dishrack—“thanks.”


emillikan said...

I have dreamed for years of having a place people can break into at whim. Especially a place that is half house and half library/coffee bar/garden, with a back door that's always unlocked, with no permission needed, ever, except possibly after midnight. I can SEE this place. Someday it will exist.
If you convince me that Gloucester is my geographical destiny, I might be able to finally make that place near you... or something very like it. :)

Lisa B. said...

I hope you had a good writing day, wherever you landed. I actually took my laptop to the coffee shop today and wrote during a two hour wait for my son. (Of course, my "shop" was a Starbucks, nothing as coolly and independently named as your shop!)I haven't done that in a long while. After three pages of rambling, I think I finally hit the subject matter I meant to write by the last couple of paragraphs. If only to get back to it again soon, before I forget what I was aiming for.

Denise said...

Lisa, I DID have a good writing day. Of course, it's been months since I've had any sort of writing day, so merely the experience of A WRITING DAY is a good start.

The coffee shop was loud, but I had my headphones. Got my good writing done before the angry lunch crowd needed my table. The Tomato Bisque was sublime, and I may go back tomorrow.

I, too, draft and draft and draft before I find the center of the story.

Emily, I love this idea. There's retreat center near here that funtions much the same-- it's just a wee bit too far away. Talk soon...

FrEdD said...

Since my Starbucks has trouble opening on time, I have to break in to get coffee ... that probably has not yet been made. Some days I set up the chairs. All that so I can read the paper, and think a little. But not enough to write. Yeah for you on a writing day, and yeah for soup.

Denise said...

Fred! Hello you!

I love Starbucks, and I never let anyone complain about them in my company. Mostly what I love is that Starbucks is open in the evening, whether or not it seems like a money-making proposition. Everyplace else "wants" to be open in evenings, "tries" to be open in evenings, but eventually quits trying.

I'm trying to imagine a Starbucks that doesn't open on time: they must be nowhere near New England, where coffee is religion.