Avila Beach is one of my favorite writing haunts, a place my Santa Barbara writing buddies and I escape to twice a year, usually for a week of writing bliss. This month I could only come up for a couple of days since we're in the middle of a move (I've been awash in boxes--packing and unpacking--for two weeks), but I am grateful nonetheless for the little space it allowed me. Above and below are some photos I took as I walked the beach yesterday.
One tiny worry I had about going to Ireland was driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. Before we left, Rob and I watched videos of people driving around the Irish countryside and barreling through the roundabouts: They were absolutely hair-raising.
We spent three nights in London before flying to Dublin in late September. From there, we rented a car and drove south to Waterford and Kinsale and then west along the coast and up toward Connemara. Rob had driven in London before, so he was the first to take the wheel.
Merely getting out of Dublin was painful. We engaged the GPS unit, and soon the operative phrase was “recalculating!” We turned right when we should have turned left. We missed turns. We drove up and down streets looking for Starbucks, and Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, and, finally, the freeway so we could at last get out of Dublin. (We did find Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, which today is a preschool and the offices of a company called Torc Grain and Feed Ltd. I have video of Rob sprinkling some of his younger sister, Heather’s, ashes on the threshold.)
I learned a long time ago not to get freaked out about someone else’s driving. Honestly, Rob did a pretty good job of it, and once we got out of the city it was much smoother sailing. We drove south to Waterford that day, and stayed in a grand old hotel called The Granville Hotel on the waterfront. But it was dark when we arrived, and Rob, thinking he had plenty of time, turned in front of a poor motorcyclist and cut him off. I can’t print what the guy screamed at us as we mouthed, “I’m sorry,” through the car window. The next morning, Rob took out a couple of cones in front of the hotel as he drove up to get me and our luggage. The doorman just shook his head.
“Are you ready to try driving?” Rob asked me several times that day.
As we drove farther west and south to Kinsale, the roads got narrower and—it seemed to me—the drivers got crazier and the pace of traffic increased. We started to make fun of our female GPS, who certainly must have tired of saying, “Entering roundabout!”
Going into a roundabout while driving on the left side of the road is a special experience. Your natural tendency is to go right, but of course you have to turn left into the circle, and everyone just drives all over place. Here at home, our roundabouts mostly have implied lanes; not so in Ireland.
By the time we drove into Kinsale that afternoon, I realized I’d been holding my breath most of the day. The roads in Kinsale are all one-lane. So if you start down one street and a car comes from the other direction, one of you has to back down (or up) the street to let the other go by.
Kinsale is a beautiful harbor town on the southern tip of Ireland. When the RMS Lusitania was sunk by the Germans during World War I, many of the survivors were brought to Kinsale; a statue in the harbor commemorates the event.
The Charles Fort, which guards Kinsale harbor, dates from the 1600s during the reign of King Charles I. James’s Fort, across the channel at the river’s mouth, also dates to the 1600s, and both were built to protect Kinsale from marauding Spanish and French forces. They strung a huge chain across the channel between the forts, which effectively tore the hulls off of invading ships.
Today, Kinsale is known more for its restaurants—and especially its delicious seafood. We stayed in a 300-year-old bed and breakfast inn called Desmond House, and fell in love with Michael, the proprietor. Sadly, Michael had just sold the inn to a couple from Dublin. We got to meet Paddy and Gordia one morning at breakfast, and came away feeling we had made some wonderful new friends. We know we’ll stay at Desmond House again should we return.
“Do you want to drive?” Rob asked the next morning.
We planned to drive the Ring of Kerry that day. I figured, what the heck.
It was easier than I expected. Most of the rental cars in Ireland are manual shift, and I’ve owned two stick shift cars in the past. While sitting on the right side of the car was disconcerting, at least the pedals are the same: accelerator on the right, clutch on the left, brake in the middle. The stick shift was on the left, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Now, Rob drove a little closer to the left side of the road, and that seemed a natural consequence of the change. I found myself gently reminding him he was a little too close to the hedges on the left. But I did not freak out.
Rob, on the other hand, could not stop reminding me that I was way too close to the left side of the road. “Look out!” he kept yelling. I may have gently grazed some bushes on the side of the road once or twice, but did that require wild gesturing and screaming?
He drove the rest of the trip.
Next: The Dingle Peninsula and the West Coast of Ireland
Re-entry after coming home from Hedgebrook has been hectic and all-consuming. My week on Whidbey Island allowed for writing and reflection, thank goodness, especially after a two-week trip to France, during which I got news that my younger sister had died. It’s been an emotional time. Now I am in the middle of moving again, to a new home across town.
We have only about four more days to pack before the move. And it won’t be long after I'm settled in that Rob wants to begin renovation. I imagine I will be spending a lot of time in the relative peace and quiet of a coffee shop once that starts. It’s never a dull moment with Rob, for whom life is all about the journey.
As I wrote from Hedgebrook, I’m going to stop posting excerpts of my memoir while I revise it. Meanwhile, I’ll write more blog posts about our trips to Ireland last fall and France last month. Travel is a marvelous way to get to know oneself better—and of course your significant other. Both trips have been incredible learning experiences—for both of us. Our next “trip” will be a home renovation…stay tuned!
I go home tomorrow. And all I can say is one week at Hedgebrook—or really any writing retreat—is never enough. One barely gets settled into a new routine (and catches up on her sleep) before she has to head back home to reality.
Nevertheless, it’s been a lovely experience. I have gotten some writing done, perhaps not as much as I wanted, but enough. I have met some amazing and talented women. And we have been blessed to work with the poet and social justice advocate Carolyn Forché, whose keen insights and encouragement have allowed us to see the ways we can improve our own work while at the same time being inspired.
I did not get to see an owl (at least not yet). Though several of the women here have. We have seen the bald eagles drifting on the winds above the fields across the street. We had a terrific storm the other night, complete with pounding rain and howling winds and a power outage—that was fun. I did take a walk down toward the sound, but turned back when the chill wind started to blow so hard I had to lean forward to walk.
There are journals in each cabin (my cabin is Willow), where women who have stayed here over the years have left little bits of advice or encouragement or poems or, even in one case, a CD with recordings of the frogs at night, which I downloaded. I was delighted to discover I know several women who have stayed in this particular cabin over the years: Hope Edelman, one of my mentors at Antioch Los Angeles and author of, among other books, Motherless Daughters; Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus, poet, teacher and one of my AROHO sisters whose one-woman show “Chalkdust” was produced in Santa Fe last year; and Wendy C. Ortiz, another Antioch peep whose memoir, Excavation, came out last year to rave reviews.
Other women who have stayed here include Kathleen Ross, president of Heritage University (1999), and the poets Amy Pence (1989) and Sharon Hashimoto (1996). Another woman from Santa Barbara stayed here in 1990: Kate Smith Passy, whom I don’t know.
The sound in front of Hedgebrook Farm is, inexplicably, called Useless Bay. Somehow, I know I will write about that someday.
I woke up early—5 a.m.—to driving rain and pounding winds, and lost power. For a fraction of a moment I panicked, but then remembered I had my flashlight, my cell phone, and a wood stove to keep me warm.
I stayed in bed for another hour or so, and when the power returned, I sprinted downstairs to start water for coffee.
I wrote for a little bit, then showered and went out for a walk in the sunny but blustery morning. It was gorgeous and ominous. Trees and branches down everywhere. But I loved my walk out to the sound. Here are some photos of lovely Whidbey Island and Hedgebrook.
The past few weeks have been by turns exciting, sorrowful, grief-filled, stressful and exhilarating. From flying to Paris for a two-week holiday, only to find out my younger sister had died suddenly during our overnight flight, to coming home to a house still filled with unpacked boxes from Rob’s move to Santa Barbara over Christmas, to preparing for a week at Hedgebrook, it has been a tumultuous time.
Today is my fourth day among the quiet cedars and oaks of Hedgebrook, a retreat center for women writers on Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest. In January, I was accepted into a Master Class with poet Carolyn Forché, and so far it has gone beyond my every expectation. There are six women here, from all over the country: Chicago, California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Washington, D.C. We each have our own cabin, with practically every convenience. There is a tiny half-bath, which means one has to go to the shared bathhouse for showers, which was my only small concern. But the bathhouse turns out to be a warm and inviting spa, with heated floors and lovely showers and a claw-footed tub for long, luxurious soaks, lit by candles, if one so desires.
We meet in the afternoons for lectures and to share work, and Carolyn has insisted that each of us write for three hours every morning—uninterrupted. This has been my greatest challenge, of course. It helps that there is no Internet in the cabins (unfortunately, my cell phone and iPad work great, which makes it very easy to cheat, and I have—just a tiny bit). I have tried to follow the directive, though, and after three days I’m pleased with the work that has resulted. Raw, unedited, emotion-laced, my writing these past days is nevertheless exciting if only for the fact that I have long stretches of time to decompress and go deeply into it. I’ve written about my sister, and added pieces to a novel I started years ago, and I’ve written new scenes for my memoir.
I have also managed to post something on my blog each day, and hope to continue. We’ll see what happens when I go back to real life next week.
I am in the cabin called Willow. It was randomly assigned to me, but the willow has special significance to me, and so the selection seems to have been divinely wrought. I grew up in Michigan, where weeping willows are both abundant and inspiring. I have always loved them, and over the years the willow has appeared in nearly all of my stories in some fashion or another. When one of my clients independently published his memoir last year (Dick Jorgensen’s lovely O Tomodachi), I created an imprint under which to publish it: Weeping Willow Books.
Carolyn has given me some very helpful suggestions on my memoir, Face, and so I have decided to stop excerpting pieces of it on the blog—for now anyway. I want to revisit it with her advice in mind, and then will decide what to do from there.
I also have two other book projects on the front burners, including an anthology for women writers. More about those in coming weeks and months.
Meanwhile, I will keep writing about our travels, and my life, and books. I hope you’ll continue to join me here. If you’d like to receive my posts in your email inbox, you can sign up at this link. I’ll also see you on Facebook and Twitter. As always, keep writing!