Friday, December 10, 2004

Dear Writing It Up in the Garden Castaways

We sit here on the cusp of a holiday respite and it is December. Despite what Eliot wrote, April cannot even begin to hold a candle to December in the type of cruelty months can dole out.

I am a week away from major surgery and while I am aware this is only a bit riskier than, say, driving without my seat belt - well, okay, maybe it is a bit higher risk than this – my superstitions still get the best of me sometimes. Thirty years ago, nearly to the day, my father died in December, at age 48 – my age. Two years ago – again, very nearly to the day, I suffered a heart attack. And then of course, there is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, which I am still struggling to come to terms with.

I am remembering my father tonight and there are strange spirits moving in the air. I don’t mean to give in to hyperbole or melodrama, but tonight, I just want to say something to the group – something that should be said, because none of us knows what tomorrow may bring.

Yes, I called us the “castaways” because it occurred to me how much like castaways we really are. We all started this journey on a 3-hour tour seeking God-only-knows-what and we find ourselves here, deposited on the shores of this airy and warm Victorian home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Driving home from work tonight my mind raced making connections it had no business making.

Elizabeth, of course, would be all Mary Ann – she is as sweet as any country Kansas farm girl – real or fictional. But then so would Gail and Nerissa, who also have some decidedly “Professor-like” qualities, being so smart and steadfast. There is no question that we would have Daniel as our “Skipper”. His writing voice commands respect; it demonstrates knowledge of where to go and what to do.

Merideth and Tommy are like those cannibals that came from neighboring islands from time to time, banging coconut shell drums to make music and offer to whisk us away, only to have their plans foiled at the last minute when the evening ends and the group must retire for the evening to the “other world”.

John, of course, would have to be “Lovey” – not for any real reason except the thought of it is so surreal, it just fits with his writing style.

Charette – or as I prefer to think of her, the “Monet of Narrative” – would have to be the glamorous “Ginger”, though I have serious doubts that Ginger could ever push a noun against a verb the way Charette does.

And I would dearly like to proclaim Tom Duffy as sweet as any “Marry Ann” though I suspect he might move away from me slightly in the circle. Beside, he has some definite “Professor” tendencies also,

Then of course, there is me. I am the hapless “Gilligan”, sitting here week after week in my goofy red cons, hatching plans in my head which believe me, really do make sense in my head, until I verbalize the ideas, and I get these sideways looks, the way the RCA Victor’s dog’s head is tilted listening to his master's voice from an old victrola.

No doubt about it, we are Castaways. We are purposefully marooned here each week to feed whatever it is that makes us need to write. Sometimes, when K-Fucked radio is turned up loud in my head, I hate my writing. I think how to the untrained eye we must seem like just a bunch of crazies sitting in a circle, sucking on tea and cookies, engaging in a self delusional form of mass masturbation of the most indulgent nature.

This of course, makes me think of that Woody Allen line “don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with the person I love the most.”

But it’s not really like that. Not really. That’s just the K-Fucked radio talking.

Look at Cody, the dog. You know how he barks when you enter the room? He just wants to be noticed and I find that so honest I have to lean over and just pet him. I mean, he barks just to get attention. Maybe I should start that practice. It’s much simpler than all the Machiavellian plots I devise to accomplish the same goal. And in the end, that’s all writing is about too, isn’t it? We are all born in isolation and living is that expression outward to making contact. We are all here, barking like Cody, to be noticed.

And somehow, this is a comforting thought. Good old Cody.

When I go back to the “real world”, I realize what a haven we have created here and the partly it’s because none of us really knows how it was done. Oh yes, there are lots of reasons, but like the best things in life, I am finding, these things just are, and we discover them, like stumbling over our shoes under our bed in the night. We don't create them.

Just as when the “Gilligan’s Island” castaways found themselves out of place in the real world when they finally did get rescued (do you remember watching that special episode?) I suspect each of us finds ourselves just a bit out of sorts Friday mornings.

So what I mean to say is that none of us knows what the tide will wash up on our shores tomorrow, so this is why we keep at it. Tonight I am thinking of my dad, thinking of how much worse it could be, counting my blessings like a farmer counts his harvest in the fall. Still, I find myself sticking my one foot in that door of “but why me?” just a little. Some things just aren’t right, and this is one of them.

I’m not afraid of dying, not that I believe I will die (pain is a whole other question however!) I am tyrannically afraid of not telling those around me how important they are in my life It’s something I’ve had to work at, this overwhelming force which prevents what is inside me from filling the four corners of the night sky. So here, with utter abandon, and complete foolishness I want you all to know – those here now and those who have built their little palm huts in the past and have moved on - how privileged I am to share this island with each of you. How your writing and sparkle have made my days pass with less sturm und drang; how, in the words of Peter to Jesus in one of the Gospels during the transfiguration, “it is good to be here.” Verily, I say.

And while maybe our writing has not been catalogued with ISBN numbers, nor reviewed by any scholarly rag, and no one has asked me for that book tour quite yet, what we do is important. What we have found is the very thing we all seek in everything we do: we have found family.

So how about we give up a hug and split a cocoanut?


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