Out in my Cabin in the Woods in the wilds of New York State I was only on the periphery of the storm, but it was a doozy! I lost wi-fi right away. And then I spent a sleepless night as I listened to the wind howl and the trees creak against the house. Very exciting!
When I hit the road, I thought that I’d have wi-fi back (at those amazing rest stops on the NY Thruway), but my laptop’s Internet capability for some reason crashed. So I’m working on a computer at a Holiday Inn, catching up (frantically) with my three on-line classes, and preparing to drive to the airport (another three hours or so and I’ll be there; my flight is supposed to be on-time).
I will have lots to tell you about the retreat, but you’ll have to wait until I’m safely home in Edmonds.
“You are capable! You are a farm-girl!” I kept telling myself during the worst of the storm. Now, in the final stages of my novel rewrite, I’m going to try repeating those same mantras.
Before I move on to tell you about my writing retreat, I want to share some pictures significant to Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem and Boston. I’ve tinkered far too long trying to get the pictures right. Bear with me.
First, the house Hawthorne was born in, belonging to his grandfather, Captain Daniel Hathorne, on Union Street in Salem. Built in 1750, the house was scheduled to be torn down in 1958, but was moved instead to the grounds of The House of Seven Gables Settlement Association. Having spent so many years studying Hawthorne, I couldn’t help but stand a long time in the upstairs bedroom where he was born. Just being present with whatever spirit remained in the place.
I was asked last winter to give a library talk about Hawthorne’s novel, The House of Seven Gables, and I’m feeling now as though I could. The tour was well worth the cost, though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. Among other interesting features (having been built onto, torn down in part, and rebuilt over the centuries), the house has a secret stairwell, very narrow, next to the chimney, which accounts for the sudden appearance of a character in the novel. The house has seven gables, indeed, and dormers as well. It’s an impressive structure.
And two more. One is of the Chipotle Grill I mentioned in a previous post, once a bookstore, once the home of Ticknor and Fields, Publishers. They also published Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Finally, this gravestone (below) with its heraldic A is thought to have been an inspiration for The Scarlet Letter, which ends, “And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King’s Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate–as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport–there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald’s wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so somebre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow:– ‘On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.'”
Elizabeth Pain gravestone in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground
Among many impressive sights in Salem, one was this, at Pioneer Village, of a very small cottage replicating those built in 1629. I imagine that this is the sort of cottage that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne moves into, “abandoned by a discouraged settler,” after Pearl’s birth. When I think “cottage,” I think of little English cottages with diamond pane windows and a rose trellis. Hester’s cottage was no doubt a rude shack, like this, no bigger than my writer’s cabin at home. Its windows would have been small, with wooden shutters that latched, and no glass. The hearth would have been its central feature. The inhabitants probably slept sitting up (to avoid choking on smoke) on thin mattresses. I like to imagine that Hester had a bedstead. And now Hawthorne has me imagining her a real person, and not fiction. Good work!
So far my trip has been AMAZING! (Note to self: All that anxiety was a waste of time.)
I did not find a hotel, at least not one with a reasonable price attached, so while in Boston I stayed with the daughter of a good friend of mine–and felt as though I had met up with family. I spent Saturday walking all over Boston, both the Freedom Trail, and Harvard. On Sunday I took a commuter train to Salem so I could see Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace and The House of Seven Gables. (Little did I know I would be walking into Halloween Town.) I’ll tell you more when I finally reach the retreat center and get the pictures from my camera uploaded.
Thank you, thank you to all those people who told me, “Just go — it will be fine!”
Tomorrow night I leave for Boston — two days walking around where Nathaniel Hawthorne once walked — and ten days at the Gell Center in upper state New York. Scary!
I worry about my daughters. Aren’t I completely crucial to their well-being? How will they survive without me?
I worry about my students. Yes, I’ll be “on-line” with them, but is that really enough? Don’t I HAVE to sit in my office for several hours every day being present with whatever little dramas I can cook up with them? (Am I not abandoning them?!)
Can I REALLY write for most of every day for ten days and segregate my coursework into a mere two or three hours?
Will I be able to travel comfortably with this cold? (Will my sinus-y head explode at 35,000 feet?)
Will I get lost in Boston? (Will I find a hotel?!)
Will it take a million hours to drive from Boston to Naples, New York, and back? Shouldn’t I have flown into Rochester?
The only advice that fits is that old chestnut: “Do it afraid.”
Here’s what I can control: take a novel to read on the plane; take a cleanish copy of my manuscript with me; take a map (buy a new one if that one gets lost); put one foot in front of the other and see what happens; listen to people; take my camera with me and take lots of pictures.
I have been gifted this quarter with students who argue with me. Try writing every day, I suggest. “I can’t do that,” they say. Try using a little dialogue, let us hear this character’s voice, I suggest. “I never remember what people say.” I felt confused by this sentence, I tell them in workshop. “I meant for it to be confusing,” they patiently explain. I don’t think that’s a word, I point out. “It is now,” they say.
Rather than spending any additional energy today trying to get these students to let down their defenses, I wonder if maybe they’re here to remind me to let down my defenses? What am I resisting? What am I afraid to learn?
I want to remember today not merely to think outside the box, but to remember that there is no box.