"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

At the Setting of the Sun

Sunday's sunset over the Bay. Amazing to watch, with a quick conclusion. Darkness falls so swiftly at this time of year. Only, it doesn't exactly feel like "this time of year" because it's so warm and summer-like.

I returned to the Lodge Monday afternoon, for an appointment in Concord, and Tuesday meetings.

Yesterday morning a friend of mine died, exactly a month after his illness was diagnosed. We had a double connection, not only was he the husband of a dear friend and fellow diocesan volunteer, he and I served together for 2 terms in the Legislature. He was one of my favourite colleagues. He celebrated his 74th birthday a couple of days ago, in the Hospice House--where they let his beloved dog visit--and passed peacefully away surrounded by family. I last saw him at a mutual friend's house, for a dinner party, enjoying wine and food and laughter--and he insisted on a second piece of my Key lime pie.

I hadn't seen them lately, they spend summer and early fall at their farm in Maine. They had invited the Chap and me to visit. But by the time our summer parties and Montreal trips and other things were behind us, and I started to view the calendar with thoughts of a getaway to Maine, our friends were receiving the diagnosis and left the farm for rounds of tests and hospitals and bad news.

There's always comfort in these situations. The closeness of family and friends, the knowledge of a life well lived and well used. I can't regret that his suffering is ended, but I mourn lost opportunities to spend time with someone I valued.

It's a time to hug my husband tight, and cuddle my dogs a lot.

Today I'm having my last weekly mandolin lesson for a long while. I will resume in about 5 months, at the time of my birthday in March. Of course I'm not giving up the instrument, not after my investment in time and money, and the progress I've made. But I've decided it would be better to downsize my schedule, for several reasons. As well, I'm planning a trip and will be out of the country for a bit, and after I return one of my diocesan committees will enter a really instense phase of work lasting till mid-March.

Oh, and there's a novel I really should finish writing! Two of them, in fact.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Solitude

The doggie girls and I arrived at the cottage on Friday. This pair of loons greeted us in their singsong fashion, and loitered at the dock for the longest time.

In this little video you can hear Jewel fussing at me for not taking her to the dock with me, when I went down to film the loons.

It was a grey afternoon but so very humid, and the lake completely deserted. The Chap joined late in the afternoon and grilled burgers for our supper. It rained all night, sometimes heavily.

Yesterday was also humid and warm, but brighter. The loons returned--a threesome--and entertained us as they slowly journeyed across the Bay. After lunch our Friends From the North Country arrived and spent the afternoon. We headed to El Centenario in Wolfeboro for a delicious dinner.

Today the Chap went to church and afterwards will have a Seacoast shopping expedition. The girls and I are staying till tomorrow. We had a wonderful walk this sunny morning. I could easily imagine it to be Midsummer, but for the ripe haycorns and leaves upon the forest floor, and the changing foliage.

No sign of loons yet today--heard them calling at dawn--but the Big White Boat has made its first journey up and down the bay. It will be back in about an hour's time.

There's not much other boat traffic. The high Season is definitely over. The remaining summer residents are taking their watercraft out of the water and packing up their vehicles to journey south.

With a busy and momentous week behind me, and another ahead of me, I'm enjoying the peacefulness of lake living.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Quiet Weekends

Even here on the Big Lake, a tourist and weekend mecca, things have got really quiet. The seasonal neighbours are departing, there are very few boats zipping up and down our Bay, even on a Saturday.

The leaves of some trees are already on the turn, though in the Lakes Region and southwards, the prevailing colour is still green. Considering the overnight temperatures, I don't think that will be true for much longer. We were threatened with 38 degrees overnight. This turned out to be overly pessimistic, but there's a decided chill in the air today. We'll be having a fire in our fieldstone fireplace tonight here at the cottage! Our furnace is in good working order.

I've just completed another hectic and demanding week, with another ahead of me. So this long weekend by the water--though I've brought work along--is a nice change. The Chap has been running errands in the village. He returned with news of having spotted four loons down the road at the little beach/boat launch area. Perhaps they'll swim this way.

Finally got round to reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the historical novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII's divorce. (About 2 years after it garnered the Booker Prize and various other richly deserved honours.) I'm already salivating for the sequel.

I've read other books as well. I really need to update the sidebar list of what I've been reading. Might not happen till October.

I'll soon be releasing this dear little deer mouse, which has lived with us at the Lodge for the past fortnight.

Not much other news...well, nothing I'm able to share at the moment.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


“We do not actually need anniversaries when there are things we cannot forget." Colum McCann, The New Yorker, September 12, 2011

The date 9.10.01, is meaningful to me for what I can’t remember about it. A decade ago, this turned out to be the last day of my former life…the “old normal.” For 10 years now, the 9/11 anniversary has been the point at which I chart a massive shift in my priorities and a re-ordering of my life.

I remember the days before and after 9.10.01 far better than the day itself.

On the day before, a Sunday, my parish held its annual outdoor service and picnic in the park. It was a pleasant, sunny morning. My husband and I took our contribution to the potluck, and afterwards he manned the grill. I chatted with fellow parishioners. Possibly I talked of our recent journey to London, Brussels and Bruges, or to Washington. I’m sure I spoke of upcoming travels—his impending trip to Madison, WI. Our journey—booked the previous weekend—to London and Paris. Camera in hand, my trusty Konica 35mm, I shot the kids on the swings, the people wading calf-deep in the Town Pond. We returned home, he to pack, me to do something. Perhaps we walked the dogs…the beloved, devoted predecessors of the ones we now have.

What happened on 9.10.01? He rose very early that Monday morning to catch his flight from MHT. A sleepy kiss, a “Be good, girls,” to the dogs. A solo breakfast while slumber dragged me back down, then off to the airport. This was our routine, so familiar. He would be back at midweek. Or so we assumed that morning.

How did I spend that last day of old normal? I never can recall. I’m sure I drank many cups of tea. Maybe puttered in my garden. Pondered what to have for my solitary dinner at day’s end. I was a writer in transition, seeking a new direction to my career after 12 published books. It was time of exploration, I had an invigorating sense of freedom—tempered by uncertainty about what I ought to be writing. I was intensively researching a nonfiction theatrical and literary biography while simultaneously noodling about with a contemporary relationship novel, but wondering if it was time to dust of a synopsis of another Irish book.

Just two days earlier, over in Scotland, my parents had celebrated a milestone wedding anniversary. I’d faxed them a “card” with their wedding photo embedded in it, and had rung them to offer congratulations. My brother was the quintessential professional guy, doing his thing in Atlanta. My maternal grandparents, the only ones I had left, were safely cocooned in their nursing home. That day I couldn’t guess the remainder of my grandfather’s extremely long life could have been measured in weeks. When someone attains the great age of 99 years, eventually you assume he is immortal.

At some point before I went to bed that night, my husband called in. He’d spent the evening with his university mates and a boyhood friend living in Madison. Whenever he stopped in town, they gathered for dinner and drinks. He’d flown out on Monday to accommodate this reunion. Thank God.

With the spouse away, I could read late into the night and well into the next morning. What book, I wonder, kept me up through the earliest hours of 9/11? I have no idea. But I read and I read until, no doubt, I dozed with the book propped on my chest. At some point I switched off the light.

As I groggily came awake, at approximately 8:50 on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was aware of the local public radio announcer’s voice reporting the collision of a “small private plane” with one of the World Trade Center towers. A couple of weeks before that morning, my husband and I had taken an early morning flight from Manchester down to Washington, DC. The mention of the towers triggered a very fresh memory—an early flight down the East Coast, our plane following the Hudson River south, edging Manhattan. It was just past dawn, and the first rays of orange and golden sunshine was lighting the lower portion of the island, reflecting beautifully from the twin towers.

I’d never much liked those buildings. It wasn’t a part of the city I cared about, or visited often—it was too removed from the Theatre District, the Waldorf, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, the best shopping, Lincoln Center, the museums. But in the colourful light of a new day, the towers looked so beautiful, they and the adjacent water magically shimmering. My final view of them, in person, from above, was by far the best.

My 9/11 story is one of lonely despair. Airports closed, meaning my husband couldn’t get home. (Eventually he hired a car and drove cross country, from Wisconsin to New Hampshire.) My parents in Scotland were horrified by events, but so far removed. My cousins in New York were too close to the tragedy. A schoolmate perished in the Pentagon. Shanksville was every frequent flyer’s greatest nightmare made real.

Apart from the people in my small parish and a few locals, I had very few friends or contacts nearby. Lack of sleep (all that late-night reading), non-stop tv and radio coverage, tears, had wrung me out, messed with my head. Every time I put the dogs outside, I almost believed that terrorists were lurking in my own forest, about to pounce, to take advantage of my utter defencelessness. It’s hard enough to find our woodland abode with GPS…but fireballs and pancaking skyscrapers had obliterated logic.

So how did all this change my life from what it was 10 years ago today?

I actively sought the comforts of community. On Wednesday night I attended a special service at my church. (I drove bravely through the night, there and back, even though I knew terrorists might be tailing me.) A small thing, yet for me a very big initial step leading to significant engagement with my spiritual community. The knowledge that God is present and accessible in our worst times, a prayerful focus on hope and peace and unity in the midst of division—how we needed to hold on to these. And only Christians, but people of all faiths or none. Within months I was volunteering at the diocesan level, serving on high profile committees and smaller task forces. My sense of community expanded beyond my experience or imagining.

I answered a strangely compelling call to public service. The following year both I and my husband were candidates (unsuccessful) for statewide office. Four years later I ran again and was elected, and re-elected, to the House of Representatives. My four years there were rich in learning and accomplishment. I served on a nonprofit board. I joined local organisations. We served on the committee to build a new library in town and were major donors to the project.

I re-committed myself to world citizenship. In the panicked days following 9/11, when the thought of boarding planes was anathema, we didn’t cancel our trip to London and Paris. The following spring, as Baghdad fell, we were in London and Dublin. And so it continued, every year since. As usual, we spent this Labor Day Weekend firming up plans for the next jaunt.

Our working lives differ now. My husband continued in his profession but as a solo entrepreneur, focusing on international clients, in complete charge of his projects and schedule and travel. Eventually the strain of overseas commuting persuaded him to seek employment closer to home. He now works in an office, using the same skills in a different arena, with only a 20-minute drive door-to-door.

As for my work, I continued to pursue literary reinvention. But after a decade and a half cloistered in my home, tapping a keyboard, I felt an urge to go out into the world. I took a part-time office job—customer service—not too far from home. When the desire to resume full-time writing returned, I gave up the position. A few years later I took another part-time job, as a temporary fill-in, at a community college. Both experiences were positive, and proof that my default setting of “hermit” needs periodic adjustment.

We also felt it necessary to contribute to the economy and support the local labour force. Two weeks after 9/11, I bought a car. Not long after that we added a room and a third deck to the house. Then we completely renovated the master bathroom. Next came a kitchen upgrade. Then another bathroom. In the midst of recession, I bought another car. Yes, these purchases and alterations enhanced our comfort, but as we entered into them, we acknowledged their intended stimulus effect.

It has been a busy, bittersweet 10 years since the Monday that I can’t clearly remember. I’ve been interested to read and hear the reflections and remembrances of others—some closely, unbearably scarred by the multiple tragedies imposed by attack and warfare and economic distress. Others who have more distant, objective responses to all that has occurred. A decade is a big chunk of time to characterize and distill, whether personally or nationally or universally. I didn’t think I would want to, and I’m not entirely sure why I have done, or why I’m publicly sharing it.

I only know that hardly a day has passed that I haven’t thought about 9/11/01. I won’t be writing about it tomorrow, that much I know. It will be a time for feeling, not composing. Today, in preparation, I felt especially retrospective about 9/10, of what has changed since then. And what has not.