It’s amazing how you can misread life when you want to. When our child died (no, this is not fiction) my husband said, “Why don’t we move to Northern Vermont and become failed writers together?” I suppose I was in too much of a haze of pain to give it much thought. Instead I created a fantasy of mammoth proportions and rode it like a wave across the country to the cold and beautiful North East Kingdom. Even though Jane Kenyon died at an appallingly young age of cancer, I still had a love affair with her life. She was married to fellow poet Donald Hall. They lived in New Hampshire. Together they woke up each day, drank their coffee as they read the paper and exchanged loving witticisms. They read their poetry to each other. They loved each other’s work. They went to their separate desks and worked until lunch where they shared their thoughts, insecurities, frustrations and then began again, refreshed. I understand that this is a romantic delusion; that Jane Kenyon suffered from depression which undoubtedly made life difficult. But at least they treated chores and flat tires and breakdowns in domestic functions as intrusions. Their work was their life.
My husband, you know, the “failed writer” has instead, taken to the land. Every moment is given to sugaring or farmers’ markets or the biggest organic garden in town or a new invention. I feared that we’d be arrested when the Feds saw our electric bill because my husband was trying to grow arugula in the basement (I swear, arugula, yes I know, he’s nuts. I figured it cost about $30 dollars an ounce and it didn’t even make you high). The problem is that the rental (there’s a rental on the property), the fields, the trees, the falling down farm house we live in, the snow…oh dear God the snow…still four feet of it, and crashing off the roof and tearing up the lilacs, the thousands of square feet of flower gardens (came with the damn place), my hubby’s new, amazing and oh so visible organic vegetable garden, the four acres of lawn….and it goes on and on…amount to sixty hours of work in the summer and almost a full time job in winter too. Did I mention that the nearest supermarket is forty minutes away, along with the first decent restaurant and movie theater. The decent refers to the restaurant, for a good movie you usually have to drive an hour. Did I mention that the sun only shines here about forty percent of the time? I’m actually prescribed vitamin D pills. The small town life adds another pressure too. Go for that quiet walk and three people stop you to chat. Make yourself scarce and you find out when someone tells a friend who tells your friend that you have become a recluse.
I got more writing done when I worked “outside the home” and was a renting single parent of two high maintenance teens. What do you suppose is the operative word here? Single? Worked? Or Renting? Single: What little time I had was mine and I made all the decisions. Worked: There was a set in stone schedule and…oh my God, what a wonderful thought…a finite number of work hours. Renting: NO Maintenance.
The view here ain’t worth it folks, trust me on this! Unless your partner has won the Booker Award don’t move to the country unless you have no gardens or lawns and no aspirations to do anything but write. And you have to be able to say no even if the roof is falling in. I’m not kidding. I spent four hours of my writing time shoveling snow off the roof last week. This stuff is constant. There is no place like the earth and acres to distract you from your work. And one gets increasingly discouraged.
Sadly, there is also nothing else more inspiring, at least for me. Way back up in the woods, even on the damn snow shoes, there is a huge cluster of white birch surrounded by dense pines, where the quiet is so still that a clump of snow falling startles you. That’s where you find it. It’s the going home that’s hard.
So what am I looking for? I come from a family of writers, editors, hell, a vice president of a prestigious publishing house, a friend who’s published over sixty romances, a son finishing his MFA at Columbia so I can get help if I need it. (The illustriousness of this can work against you too, trust me.) My son is a stunningly good ideas man, knows how to critique in a professional manner and actually likes my writing.
I suppose I should mention that I have finished two novels (romance) but I couldn’t get them right. It takes a special talent I don’t have. I have two more novels, one at 150 pages, the other at 250 pages. I also have two partials (150 pgs ea) for intrigues and a collection of essays and poetry which put together tells the story of “The Boys on Second Street”. I have had two agents in my life time. I have had for the most part, excellent feedback (except for making the heroes in my romances overweight or too intellectual – woops). After all that, I have had only two poems published in my career, in college, because the professor made us submit. I’m a lousy poet by the way, but I just love writing the stuff!
So I guess what I need is a “failed writer” (the failed part takes the pressure off, not the dedication) to keep me company, love my stuff, exchange bits and pieces, love the quiet places with me and help me dump the junk. I need literary affection, to give and receive it. I need a schedule and an excuse. Like:
“I have to write now. I have a strong commitment with a fellow writer through the internet!!!” (I could actually get away with that, I think.)
All of this without giving up my hubby because honestly, how can you give up a guy who grows Arugula in the basement in the dead of winter?