And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
When you’ve been gone for three weeks to a place you absolutely love, it’s really, really hard to come back. This was my first year being there for 3 weeks; I usually go for 10 days to two weeks. But this year, I decided I truly needed the break. And so I went.
As the time got closer for me to pack up and leave, I found myself feeling heavier and heavier. My day to day life is typically chaos, and I was heading home to chaos on steroids. I was supposed to land at 4:50 p.m. on Saturday, and by 7:00, I was visiting a book club who read my novel, If You Tame Me. Along with my usual work, I am also the program chair for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, and we are heading into the final stretch of planning before it begins on November 3…which means this is when things tend to blow up and fires need to be put out. And I was heading back to just my regularly scheduled program, which means that my time for writing, rather than being spread out throughout the day, was compressed into a few hours in the afternoons on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And sometimes those afternoons are taken up by other things – on Monday, my first day back, I had a book festival meeting smack dab in the afternoon. In fact, on that first day back, I had six clients and a class to teach, plus that meeting. There was no writing that day. I managed to write on Tuesday. Not on Wednesday. And other than this blog, not today yet either. The new book sits, waiting.
There is no easing back into my daily life. As soon as my plane touches down, I’m back in, up to my neck. But it’s a life I’ve chosen and it’s a life that I love. Writing is, of course, my number one love. But teaching is right behind it. Helping people create their poems, stories, short memoir, novels, book-length memoirs, collections, is just the greatest thing. Helping writers along the way…amazing.
But diving in completely underwater on my first day, no, my first moments back…difficult.
While I was in Oregon, I drove into Waldport, just a short bit down the coastal highway, every day to get my afternoon latte from a little roadside hut called Espresso 101. Until last year, I used to drive every day all the way in to Newport to Starbucks, a 20 to 25 minute drive one way. To make it worthwhile, I would bring a book, sit in the familiarity that is Starbucks, have my grande iced cinnamon dolce latte with only two pumps of cinnamon dolce, read, and then drive back. It took a significant chunk of time out of my day, but it was necessary. I had to lift my head away from the computer, get out, be with people, and then go back into isolation. Two years ago, the little hut opened up, and I could go through the drive-thru (there are no indoor seats), grab my drink, go back to the little house, and take my reading break on the deck, in full view of the ocean. The little hut has what they call a French Toast latte, made with maple, brown sugar, and French vanilla that is out of this world. So I’ve started going there.
The day before I left, when I was feeling this heaviness, one of the young baristas asked me if I was moving there, since I’d been there every day for just shy of three weeks. I said no, and explained what I was doing. She exclaimed that she loved reading, and asked what I wrote. I told her, and then told her the basic plot of Hope Always Rises – it’s set in a special gated community in Heaven, that is just for people who have chosen to end their lives.
I saw her face drop, and I saw a flash of sadness.
I explained that I wrote the book because I was growing so angry with the judgmental attitude that is so predominant toward those who made this decision. The accusations that someone who chose this must be selfish, must be a monster, must be crazy, must only care about themselves.
And I watched her face grow sadder.
There was no one behind me in the line. The drive-thru window is set low, so they can lean far out and into the cars. This young girl knelt by the window, rested her arms on the sill, and folded her head on her forearms, like a child about to go to sleep. “Can you tell me,” she said, “where to get this book? I’m like…” she hesitated, “…I’m like one of those people.” Then quickly, as if to make sure I knew she wasn’t one of the ones who fling judgment, she added, “I could go to that community.”
I quickly reached out and grasped her hand. “Me too,” I said. “And I’m still here. Right here. And so are you. That’s such a good thing. I’m so happy to meet you.”
I gave her my business card.
The next day, after loading up my rental car, I stood on the deck of the little house and looked out where the ocean was supposed to be. Everything was socked in with fog, and so I couldn’t see her. But I called goodbye anyway, bowed my head, and said, “Thank you.” Then, promising myself one more French Toast latte for the road, to ease the ache at being pulled away from this magical, magical place, I drove down the road.
My barista was there. She gave me my drink on the house, and on the lid, she wrote, “Be safe, Kathie.” And then she told me she ordered the book, and it was due to be delivered in a few days.
“You have my information,” I said. “Email me when you read it.”
She nodded, and then, in an echo to my own words to the ocean, she bowed her head and said, “Thank you.”
I drove away from her, from the ocean, from Waldport, from Oregon, with the ache digging in deep. But I drove away happy.
I’ve always said if I can just reach one person, I’ll be happy. It will make it all worth it. The digging, fighting, struggling, hair-tearing, loving, playing, enjoying while writing a book. The worry over whether it will be accepted for publication, and then the worry over whether it will sell. The hard work of doing everything I can to make sure it does sell. Sometimes, the numbers tend to overshadow the actual act of writing, the absolute importance of the words. But…if I can reach just one person…
I know I’ve reached many. But that reminder, that girl, her face, her words, “I could go to that community,” followed by, “Thank you,” means the world.
I’m fully back in my life. And I’m happy to be here.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.