Archive for March 2018

How It All Began

March 23, 2018

I’m at the age now where I’m starting to lose people, and I’m taking it hard. I just got a message from a friend on the island, telling me that my old friend Sally had died. She was about 88 or so, and had been in really poor health lately, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. But still.

Sally and I were connected in the oddest and most profound of ways. When Shel and I were thinking of moving to the island, back in 2000, we stayed in a B&B while we were looking around. And that was Sally’s B&B, and her Alabama drawl led us to discover that Sally and Shel’s mother Margaret had known each other in Auburn, Alabama, long before Shel was born. That was mind-boggling to all of us, and caused Shel to say “I can’t go anywhere without my Mom finding out about it!”

And it happened that in that B&B was a newspaper article about a writer’s group on the island. As it turned out, the article was there because that was Sally’s writing group, and it would be meeting the very next day. I’d never written, but thought I might like to, and so she invited me to join them. I enjoyed that afternoon so much that I became a member of that group, and for years we wrote faithfully together once a week.

One thing that happened as a result is that I became a writer, bit by bit. I started in that group, then dared to write here, on French Letters, and then started writing for magazines. And now I have a job where my title is Writer in Residence, and I owe all that to Sally.

The other thing that happened is that as soon as I heard about Sally I immediately thought that I had to tell Shel, because he always remained  floored that Sally and Margaret had known each other, and because she was our first friend on the island. And I was thinking that Shel would have wanted to tell Margaret about Sally’s passing, because even though they’d lost touch, there was still that connection.

But then I realized that there is no one left to tell. That story was entirely about people who are now gone from this life, first Margaret, then Shel, and now Sally. Somehow I’m left being the keeper of the story, even though so much of it belonged to them.

So now I’m telling you about it, so that these stories do not fade away forever, and so that the memories springing from that momentous coincidence, what my own mother would have called a fortuitous concourse of circumstance, have a place to live on.

What kind of story is it where all the main characters die at the end? It’s the story of life.

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Road Narrows, Road Widens

March 14, 2018

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Crossing the back of beyond I passed a sign that said Road Narrows. I slowed down a bit, although the way was plenty wide enough for me. Then another sign, same warning. I slowed a little more. Tired of sharing the trip between Pasco and Walla Walla with other travelers, I had chosen a very small road, the back way into town, no one in sight for miles.

In fact I hadn’t been on this road for years, couldn’t even remember its name. I hoped that I would recognize it in passing, and I did. I remembered right away how delighted Shel and I had been to discover this little twist of pavement running through low, rolling wheat fields. How we wondered whether we’d really find our way.

In the ten or so years since that moment nothing and everything has changed. The road is still deserted, perhaps narrow for the tractors that must travel it more often than cars, no door to knock on if you need help, or companionship, or directions. I too still feel deserted, my life having narrowed so that there’s still room enough for the everyday, but not for the exalted. And although I’m often looking for a door to knock on, I generally keep on going, heading for home. And now I rely on GPS to find my way.

But last month a friend asked me what I was looking forward to, now that Spring is in sight. “Flowers,” I replied, but could think of nothing else. It took a couple of days for that to sink in, the knowledge that I had nothing in particular to look forward to, except another day on the planet, for which I am always grateful.

Suddenly it felt claustrophobic, to be living my life on such a confining track. My emotional GPS began to shriek, softly, telling me to stop choosing the narrow path, to stop slowing down when there’s really no need. Telling me that it’s time to start knocking on my own door.

For a whole host of reasons I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been working as a writer, and so free-time writing has felt redundant. And my life has felt unremarkable, just le train train, as you say in French, the daily thrum of chugging down the rails. Nothing much to say for myself. Feeling that maybe I’m old enough to just let myself get old. Stuff like that.

But now I’ve decided to widen my path. Because of course I’ll never be younger or stronger or braver than I am right now, and it would be a shame to waste all that. So I’m planning a big trip for myself, in just six months. I’ll be doing everything I can to get prepared for that, and part of it will be to hang out here on a regular basis, thinking out loud.

Because when I don’t, it’s often too quiet to hear myself think. And because it feels like staying on that narrow, too quiet path for much longer, I might forget how think at all, might forget how to look forward to whatever’s just down the road.