Our Shared Year of Words (with Variations)

If you need coffee, get it BEFORE you start the timer.
If you need coffee, get it before you start the timer.

On January 1 of last year, Toots and I started a writing game. We’d spent most of New Year’s Eve watching Slings & Arrows, which is not a prerequisite for the game, but it helps.

Players: 2

Materials needed: phones, notebooks or laptops, a timer (see phones)

We could have spent the day watching Season 3, but unspoken between us was the knowledge that watching TV, no matter how good, was not the way we wanted 2015 to start. Django and I walked Toots to the train, and New Years festivities were officially over.

To play:

Either player can start the game. Toss a coin maybe.

After the dog walk, I wanted to lay on the couch and read. Instead, I got my notebook and a timer, and decided to write for 20 minutes, using the word “Frame” as a prompt.

Player 1 chooses a word and texts it to Player 2.

Set your timer for 20 minutes.

Write the word at the top of the page.

Continue writing anything at all until the timer goes off.

When you’re finished, text “Done” to your partner.

When your partner is finished, they text “Done” to you.

After both players have texted “Done,” Player 2 chooses the next day’s word and texts it to you.

When I was finished, I texted Toots to tell her how my new year was going. She liked “Frame” and wrote for 20 minutes too.

“Want to do this again tomorrow” she asked.

“O-okay,” I said.

So she texted me a word for the next day: “Challenge.”

Rules and Advisements:

Wait your turn: Don’t text your partner the next day’s word, even if YOU’RE done, until they’re done too. With the exception of…

Doubling down: If you absolutely cannot write on a given day, you may “Double down” the next day. Text this to your partner, and send or receive the next day’s word. On the next day, write for 20 minutes per word.

Tripling Down: See above. You’re getting into dangerous territory, but it is possible to get back on track. Don’t give up.

On a dog walk yesterday, I lamented to Dave about how much I miss this game. Not that I wasn’t relieved for it to be over – a whole year of doing this has its ups and downs, and it’s nice to be able to freely journal again, without the word “Level” (Jan 22) or “Arriviste” (July 19) or “Cope” (Nov 11) staring at you from the top of the page. But I loved sharing the ups and downs with Toots. And completing 365 days of shared words felt amazing.

Tip:

Set your phone on silent if you don’t like getting texts at 3am.

After listening to me alternately whine about missing the game and celebrate the fact that I never again have to write about “Suppository” (Dec 30), Dave decided that he wanted to play this game. He called a friend who said, “Sure.” They had to double down immediately to catch up to properly start from January 1st, but they’re on track now to do it COMPLETELY WRONG. They’re writing too much. They’re texting each other  every twenty minutes with a new word. I think they’re on like Word 4 and it’s only January third. They’re going to burn out! But I’m keeping my mouth shut. It’s none of my business.

Variations:

Look up the word before setting your timer. Even if it’s a simple word. You might learn something.

Type if you don’t want to write. Any technology is fine.

But why a pencil? Who would write for twenty minutes with a pencil?

On today’s dog walk, Dave told me a bunch of interesting things about “Sewer.” Apparently it’s related to “Sewing” and “Serving,” which connects to “Steward.”

I might choose “Steward” today if I were still playing with Toots. But our game is complete.

Your turn.

Ringing out the old

Meals and Other Information, Red Star Line, 1921
In-flight entertainment, 1921.

All the guests came. Even Press-n-Seal, though she worried that her presence might be more hurtful than supportive. “Not that we serve the same purpose,” she half-apologized as we gathered in the darkened living room, “but if he sees me next to Cling Wrap—”

“He’ll be fine,” Cling asserted.

“I’m not saying there’s a parallel…”

“Of course there’s a parallel,” said Cling. “That’s why I want him looking straight in my eyes when we say ‘Surprise.’”

“Maybe I’ll stand farther back.”

“You’re sticking with me.”

“I don’t want to embarrass him.”

“It will bring him hope. Here’s you all bright and mega-sized, and here’s me. Standing tall. Still in the drawer.”

“Amen,” called Holiday Baggie, fiddling with a lamp near the couch.

“But how often are you out of the drawer,” I wanted to ask. But I’m new here, and although most higher-end kitchens have made a place for my double-sided parchment-foil promise, I haven’t exactly earned bragging rights.

“It’s going to be a great party,” said Aluminum Foil brightly. “Wax Paper is going to be amazed at the new opportunities out there, in crafting alone—”

“Sh-h!” hissed a Twist Tie from the window. “He just parked!”

We all froze in place, and stared at the front door. No one moved. The mantel clock ticked steadily, calmly, the quiet heartbeat of a gentler era, when spaces between seconds lasted a full, round second, when kitchen drawers held three simple things: foil, cling wrap, wax paper.

At last, the jingle of keys, the satisfying hardness of one key going into one lock for which it had been fitted. A turn, and a click, the door opening, figure hunched slightly in the light from the hall, and in all of us—surely the others felt it too?—an instant realization that we were invading, that we had no right, that he should be allowed to leave the drawer in his own way, privately if that’s how he wanted, that he deserved his privacy if nothing else, but suddenly—

“Surprise!”

Holiday Baggie switched on the lamp, and someone else found the too-bright fluorescent ceiling light, starting the fan too though it was the middle of winter, and Wax’s face was flooded with light while his thinning hair ruffled in the breeze.

He gasped, and broke into a shocked smile, which I suspected—something in the eyes—was not truly spontaneous. “Well, for the love of Pete,” he drawled, yes, far too casual to be genuine, “Who let you bums in here?”

Elegy for Zoe

Random pic from a walk last week.
Zoe on a walk last week.

Zoe was discovered at Charlie Trotter’s. She was two and a half, and on display out front at a PAWS adoption event. “She was just watching everyone walk by,” Ruth says tonight, at the emergency vet. Ruth imitates Zoe’s confident tilt of the head. “She was so much furrier than I’d imagined.”

The emergency vet asks if Zoe has ever been here before. “Just once,” Ruth says, “twelve or thirteen years ago.” It’s hard to explain, because the vet is worried about Zoe now, suddenly weak and listless, unable to walk. Can she know how unusual that is for this particular fifteen year-old? Just yesterday she was bounding up the stairs, so inexplicably excited about every next thing she was about to do—get a treat, eat a tennis ball, walk through a doorway.

That first trip here was after one of Elaine’s first walks to the park with Zoe. She was still getting used to this bundle of energy whose name they’d changed from Daisy. The newly named Zoe bounded into the street and a car hit her. The car kept going. Zoe kept going too. Elaine walked her home, in fact, but then the sisters put her in the car and took her to the vet. “She had a little tear on one ear,” Ruth recalled. “Other than that she was fine.”

That would have been around the time Django and I met Elaine, the Katherine Hepburn of Horner Park, with her unruly dog who was so silky and beautiful and always running across the park to eat garbage. Zoe is still silky smooth, and we stroke her head as she lays on the gurney. She has a tumor on her spleen, the vet explains, and it has ruptured. “I think it’s time for you to let her go,” she says.

After the decision is made, the doctor leaves to prepare the injections. Ruth is quiet. Her family and friends try to make sense of this. We try to get Ruth to sit down, to drink some water, but she continues to stand, slight and strong in the middle of the small examination room.

A tech comes in and gently asks if Ruth would like to use the cremation service that the hospital usually works with. “Can you speak louder,” Ruth asks, “I’m hard of hearing.”

“Would you like Zoe to be cremated?” I can’t believe they’re already asking this.

“Yes,” Ruth says.

“And would you like a plaster cast of her paw?”

“A what?”

“We can do a plaster paw print.” I want to explain it in louder terms for Ruth but I can’t quite figure out what he means. Like one of those clay things we used to make of our hands in kindergarten? Would he do it while Zoe is still alive, and would that feel weird to her, sticking her paw in some clay? Or would they do it after, and what would that mean, emotionally?

“No, no,” says Ruth, shaking her head. “How ghoulish.”

We all laugh uncontrollably for too long.

The vet comes back, with two injections. She explains how the first one will relax Zoe, and then the second one will be very quick. “Yes, I know,” says Ruth. “I’ve done this before.” With Jenny, I remember, the dog they had before I met them, the perfect dog whom Zoe can thank for having landed her in their wonderful home.

Jenny probably set them up to think their next dog would also be perfect in time, would stop galloping through life with the energy and curiosity of a puppy, would become a proper adult dog suitable for two elderly ladies, and then for one of them after Katherine Hepburn passed. But if Zoe had aged appropriately, we would not all be there. Dave and I never would have met Ruth, who has become one of our finest friends. Django would not pull to go into Ruth’s gangway on our way to the park. I would not have learned how to throw the ball for Django, throw one treat into Zoe’s mouth, and then have two more treats ready when Django returned, one for her and the other for Zoe, who had completely forgotten she’d just had one a second ago.

Sometimes we’d let Zoe chase the ball too, which never resulted in fights over the ball because Zoe had learned that all she had to do was run in its general direction, dip her head slightly, and then run back and sit, and the treat would appear.

The vet does the first injection, and then the second. Zoe’s eyes close, and she goes quiet. “She’s passed,” says the vet, and then leans over to Ruth. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” says Ruth. She gathers her purse and the folder of paperwork. It’s less than two hours since she called, “I’m sorry to bother you, dear, but Zoe is on the back porch and she can’t seem to move.” Fifteen years and eight months is the age on the paperwork. From Charlie Trotters to a beautiful home to a ride in a Lexus to the emergency vet to a couple of shots and many tears. So sudden. So long. Good dog.

Found.

In Madison, this might be considered a clue.
In Madison, this might be considered a clue.

When Ruby saw her car again, the first thing she wanted to do was vacuum it. Also scrub and Armor All every surface, “erase the hell out of the bad ju-ju,” she said. But first she had to get it out of the impound lot and back to Wisconsin.

The CRV had been found on Medill and Belden, parked in front of a fire hydrant with a note on the windshield, and towed to the impound lot near Humboldt Park. At about 11PM on Sunday night, a week and a day after it had disappeared, Ruby and Roy got a message on their answering machine—a real, actual answering machine down on the dining room desk that you can hear from upstairs in the bedroom—from the Chicago Police. “Your car has been found. Call 9-1-1.”

911? Really? Okay.

During that week and a day, they’d bought another CRV, which oddly was missing headrests but also oddly Ruby had taken the headrests out of the old CRV the day of her trip, so they were still in the garage. Same upholstery too, so they fit perfectly in the new one.

A week ago, Ruby had decided not to fly or rent a car to get to the pig roast, but instead took an Amtrak home and then on pig roast night went to see some other friends of Slim’s and they all had a bonfire. She had adjusted. She’d emailed during the week to tell about the new CRV with 100,000 fewer miles on it, and the headrests, and the email chain agreed that it was serendipitous, and now the only real acknowledged drag was that they’d lost certain custom mix CDs that were irreplaceable.

But then they got the call, prompting joy and celebration—it’s been found! Which turned into a huge hassle of phone calls and arrangements—it’s been found and now we have to deal with it.

I have this picture in my head of how it should be when the police find your stolen car. Sargent Kielbasa calls and says, “Eh, we got yer car here,” and you drive over, and the sarge is waiting with a half-smile on her face, a little annoyed at you with being so gullible as to have left your car outside somewhere in the city of Chicago, where it could be picked up by any stranger with a master key, but whaddayou know, you’re from Wisconsin where people leave their cars outside all the time, sometimes not even locked!

She has to admit, she kinda loves your gullibility, your faith in basic human goodwill, your promptness in showing up after a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Madison, rain all the way, and how you don’t even complain about how you had to take off work for this. You’re good people. You are the reason this thankless police job is kinda worth it, she has to admit. Hell, she opens the driver’s side door for you, and shrugs modesty as you exclaim, “The garage door remote is still here! And our CDs! And the maps in the glove compartment!”

She loves that there are people who still use maps.

She points to how the rear seats are folded down and enjoys your confusion at seeing dirt and a couple of landscaping pavers back there. Sometimes people steal cars in Chicago not for a joy ride or the chop shop, but because they need to haul something for a job. “People do what they gotta do in this town,” she observes, and heads back to her cruiser after making sure you know how to get back on the highway in the cheesehead direction. Just another day in the city that never sleeps except when it’s sleeping.

What really happened is that Sargent Kielbasa gave Ruby the address of the impound lot and hung up. Ruby and Roy got there as the rain slowed, and found the trailer where business is conducted, and waited among several unhappy people whose cars had been towed for various reasons, and when their turn came paid hundreds of dollars to get it released. How does it make sense that you have to pay money after your car gets stolen?

The car was marked up on all windows with wax penciled numbers. “You should have brought Windex,” I joked. “I did,” she said. “It had to be scraped with a razor.”

A van drove them out to the general location and they hunted it down. They then drove it through two and a half more hours of rain back to Madison. When they got there, Ruby parked it in the garage and started vacuuming.

Or bust.

White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
As soon as I realized Ruby’s car had been stolen out of my driveway, I wanted to vacuum the living room.

First I wanted to walk the neighborhood, hoping I would see it, sure I would see it parked around the next corner, wheels gone or door open, but there. The thieves would have gotten in and seen the tub of caramel corn in the front passenger seat, the summer tops on hangers, and the Pig Roast or Bust travel book Ruby had made, spiral bound and including section dividers. If they’d paged through it, they would have seen one tab for Fabric Stores between Madison and Alexandria, another tab for Motels, another for Campgrounds, and a Summary page linking the likely stops with approximate travel times between them (MT & Dave’s to Yoders in Shipshewana 2½ hours, Yoders to something in Ohio 3 hours). They would have seen the first bag of fabric from a store in Crystal Lake, and they would have said, “We can’t take this lady’s car. We like the spirit of this lady and we want her to make it to the pig roast.”

But Dave and I walked the neighborhood, as soon as I’d woken him and made him understand that “Ruby’s car is gone” didn’t simply mean she’d left early. As we looked around corners for her familiar car, one we’ve seen every August for the past ten years when we meet up in Michigan for a week, it became clear that what the thieves had actually said was, “1999 CRV, it’s a chopshop favorite. Let’s go.”

The thieves couldn’t know that the pig roast was in honor of Ruby’s first boyfriend, Slim, who died earlier this year. They couldn’t know that Ruby hadn’t been able to make it back east for his funeral, or that a funeral had anyway seemed an odd thing to connect with Slim but the summer pig roast his friends always threw felt like a better place to say goodbye.

When Dave and I got home from our neighborhood search, Ruby had already talked to the police and found a 2pm train for Madison. We offered her our car to continue the trip east but she wanted to get back home and start shopping for a new CRV. I held off on vacuuming until we took her to Union Station, and then I held off again because some other friends were arriving in their rental car from Midway. I wanted to erase the event by vacuuming and then maybe also mopping, but instead I had to say to my other friends, “Did you get rental car insurance?”

When they said no, we had them put their car inside the gate, and we parked ours in front of it.

There were also three bottles of dressing in the CRV, because Ruby’s pig roast task was salads. I believe there was also a Recipes tab in Pig Roast or Bust but I can’t be sure. I only got to see Pig Roast or Bust for a minute, standing on the driveway as Ruby got an overnight bag out of her car, paging through it and marveling at how a drive to DC suddenly seemed short and fun when you looked at it in terms of 2-3 hour fabric store destinations. And marveling at Ruby, who continues to interact with daily living in a way that is unlike anyone else I know yet mostly manages to pass for normal.

I’d almost asked to hold on to Pig Roast or Bust and bring it inside to look at longer, but when Ruby reached for it I knew I’d feel terrible if she ended up forgetting to put it back in the car in the morning. Like the last conversation you don’t get to have with someone you’ve loved, I couldn’t have known there’d be no car to put it back into.

Thank you, Russ

 Most of the years I knew Russ were spent hoping he’d remember who I was. We were introduced several times, first by a friend who was in town to see Ballad Hunter and took me. Russ was in the lobby, greeting a long line of people with his raised eyebrows and deep voice. A couple years later I signed up for a class, and when I walked into the office Russ was in there alone, somehow stranded among long tables. “Downstairs,” he said. The look on his face suggested that he couldn’t believe I had just done something as idiotic as his eyebrows had just witnessed, even if it was just walking through a door. I didn’t understand then that that’s just how his eyebrows were shaped.

Over the years, I took more classes, and joined the network, and people continued to introduce us — Arlene, Trina, sometimes even me, not always sure it was necessary but seeing no sign that it wasn’t. His eyebrows would go up in surprise or dismay or maybe, in retrospect, because that’s just what they did.

Then I took a class from Russ, Marketing Your Play, and he took me to task for including both my first name and my first initials on my resume and cover letter. “You have to pick one or the other,” he said. I’d heard this before, in other classes with guru-like teachers who’d prodded us toward the just-be-yourself thing, but something about Russ’s eyebrows convinced me. I went with MT. In class next time, Russ seemed to find this no better or worse than going with Mary-Terese, though he said something about initials being a bit of trend with female playwrights.

A few more years went by of seeing Russ at readings and plays, and hearing Arlene say, “it’s great you’re directing this, Russ will notice that.” And maybe he did. He always looked at me in just the same way, like he had no idea who I was, and I’d mumble “MT,” and his eyebrows would go up like I’d said something very strange or maybe he was simply acknowledging me, it was just so hard to tell with those eyebrows.

At one table reading of a play of mine that Rich Perez had kindly organized, Russ said only, “I almost didn’t notice that nothing happened.” I’d been hoping for “brilliant, luminous,” those shiny words that writers long for. What I got was a specific opinion that was easy to dismiss. “He just didn’t see it,” I defended myself to my husband later, and included my best imitation of Russ’s eyebrows.

But as I came to see after I put the play away for a while, disappointed that it wouldn’t be winning the Tony that year, what it needed was for stuff to happen. Not because of the stuff, necessarily, but in order to explode it from tone and texture into living drama.

Then, a few years later, I got to Will Dunne’s class and sat down, and Russ popped his head in the door. “Come see me after class,” he said, furrowing his eyebrows, and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then, in the same tone, he added, “I want to talk to you about your wonderful play.”

I sat through class in a fog. Afterward I knocked on his door. He was eating lunch, and he waved me to sit down, and set his food aside, and told me in detail what he’d found special about the new play I’d written. His eyebrows were the same but somehow they looked different. Kindly. Engaged. I couldn’t seem to hear what he was saying, and kept telling myself, “Listen, listen,” because I knew they were the words I’d wanted, but I couldn’t experience them. All I could think was, “He’s so kind. How did I not see how kind he is?”

He told me he wanted to help me in any way he could, and to call him at any time of the day or night. I quipped, “I’ll try not to call at two a.m.,” and those eyebrows went up, like either I’d made a bad joke or not a joke at all, or maybe like it was a fine joke and he was in on it too, and he said, “Absolutely any time at all.”

Today I’m sitting in a cabin in Oregon, far from Chicago and the reality of Russ’s being gone. I’m working on a new play, something I get to do more of now because Russ believed in me and made good things happen for me, and I’m remembering to let action in, because without it I know just what his eyebrows would do. And those eyebrows would be right.

Outrageous fortune

"Nurse, get me the remote and a dog biscuit, STAT."
“No time to focus, this is a dog Martian collar halter biscuit serious EMERGENCY!”

Yesterday Toots came over to watch “Lovejoy” but we ended up watching Slings & Arrows. The temperature in the room changed, as she said, when we learned she’d never seen it. Lovejoy is a fun thing to bond over—our mutual adoration of Ian MacShane, our affection for the Lovejoy world where everyone pretty much just cares about antiques, enough to kill for them, but mostly just enough to look menacing and almost kill until Lovejoy ambles along and saves the day—or, at any rate, when the day gets saved by some ramshackle coincidence. Then they all go to the pub for a pint.

I wanted to make a test batch of chili because contrary to Dana’s email I don’t actually like to make chili. I just thought it would be easy and I know I’ve made it before, and it was good. But I don’t know what recipe I used, and browning the turkey always stresses me out. So I picked a recipe and decided to stick with it exactly and I did mostly, but I always pick the easy version in my online search—Easy Turkey Chili! Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing!—and then scoff as I cook because it doesn’t have enough interesting ingredients. So I add some.

I made the chili and set it to slow cook and then drafted our proposal for a new freelance project and corresponded with the shuttle service who might get me from Redmond airport to the middle of rural Oregon for the residency next April. They are willing to stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for only fifteen extra bucks. I feel like I’m walking on bubbles, up on top of bubbles, because so many good things have happened lately and this is not where my heart is used to processing emotion. I’m trying to find a way to be calm and wise about it, so that when the many things are rejections and losses and just plain nothings, to which I am more accustomed, I can be just as calm and wise.

Taking a lunch break to read Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted put me on more familiar ground because it made me wonder, God am I just treading her ground with the small stories I’m sharing, only hers are about surviving an Alaskan mudslide whereas mine are about being afraid of ground turkey?

But I set that aside, because I can’t go down that road or I’ll never get to tell you how desperately important it was that Toots and possibly you, if you haven’t, see Slings and Arrows. Standing in the kitchen after she’d arrived, catching up from the week, having a slow drink before the chili, I can’t remember whether it was Dave or me who mentioned something Slings-and-Arrows-related and Toots said, “What’s that?”

And suddenly it was like an emergency operating theater. “What? You’ve never seen it? I think maybe I’ve heard of it. You. You have to. You can’t go another day. Lovejoy is out. But it’s not on Netflix anymore. We’ll find it. Where’s my phone? How do I? Oh, I’ll try the TV.” And then it was on Acorn, and we fixed our bowls, “Come on come on, we’ve got to fit as many episodes in as possible—there are only 18—does everyone have napkins? Okay, go.”

And this makes sense if you are the sort of person who can appreciate both the charm of one show which is really lovely even when it’s awful and the plot points only sort of connect, and the humor and utter seriousness of another that’s constructed of a thousand truthful details that build so cleverly to reveal what is wonderful and awful about loving something so much that it makes a fool and a hero of you, all at the same time.

The Art of Dramatic Surprise

Did I really say, "She talks to fairies"?
Did I really say, “She talks to fairies”?

I’d thought the make-it-up-as-you-go drama was on stage at the Annoyance—two powerful performers improvising together. The way they connected and counterpointed. The way they pushed some things and let others go. The way things came back. It was beautiful and surprising in a way that scripted drama never can be. Afterward, I got to talk a while with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and my soul felt better that it has in a while. Oh, and sitting at the bar with a very young friend, waiting for our drinks, after she had said “I feel so old” and I thought wow, my guilty conflicted love of the Annoyance probably dates back to before she was born—is that possible? Potty-trained, anyway.

And then afterward, in my ongoing desire to connect everybody and have them be best friends, I said the fairy thing which was momentarily embarrassing, but who listens to street chat anyway, and I got on the train, and Dave met me at the other end, with Django who was characteristically excited to see me for exactly one second.

And as we walked home, Dave told me about a far stranger drama. He was at a dress rehearsal for an opera, playing in the pit. They started at 7:30, did a straight run-through, then had a half-hour break, union rules.

At 9:50 they went back to the pit for the remaining forty minutes of rehearsal time. With gigs like this you only get three or four rehearsals, so every moment is precious. However, they weren’t allowed to pick up their instruments. Due to some other rules about dress rehearsals at that particular theatre, it wasn’t allowed. Also, most of the lights were turned off. At one point the maestro said something like, “Can I at least have one light so I can see my score?” And he talked through the trouble spots while the musicians followed along, light permitting, in their scores. “Surprisingly,” said Dave, “it was pretty productive.”

Which just goes to show, no matter where your stage in life happens to be, when something confusing happens and you just go with it, you might be surprised at how well it can work out.

What not to say

Should be posted everywhere.
Should be posted everywhere.

In the afternoon we went to Home Depot, where Dave struggled against his recent overwhelming desire to buy more plants. “Let’s come up with a plan first,” I said, reminding him of his earlier plan to come up with a plan.

By the time we got home with firewood and mulch and landscape bags, I was so hungry I almost didn’t help carry any of it into the yard. But then I saw Dave walk out to the sidewalk to talk to the neighbors, and I didn’t have keys to get inside, so I started hoisting bags from the trunk, hoping it would speed things up once he was done consulting about the bare spot on the parkway that used to be a tree.

“I’ve got a bag of grass seed from last year,” I heard him offer. I lifted out the last bag and tried to slam the trunk in such a way that would make him notice me and want to let me inside. I know I should carry my keys but sometimes I don’t know where they are or I think they’re in my purse but actually they’re in a different purse or sometimes I just don’t feel like it.

The trunk slamming didn’t work. He was still talking with the neighbors, a pleasant woman and man, and gesturing at the bare spot on the parkway. They all seemed to agree that nothing seemed to be growing there. I ventured a few steps toward them and announced, “I’m sorry but I need to get inside.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Dave immediately; and then, “this is why you should have your keys.”

“Yep.” Dave started to follow me inside, but then made the error of saying to the neighbors, “Oh, by the way, I wanted to ask you about these.” He pointed to some flattened plants peeking out from under the tangled coil of the neighbor’s water hose.

“Yes?” They walked up to look.

“These day lilies.”

“Oh, the day lilies,” said the neighbor woman. “Those grow like weeds.”

“Yes, well, I was thinking maybe I could move them.”

“…What?”

“So they can grow,” Dave explained.

“Oh.” Suddenly the temperature seemed to go down. “Well, where would you move them?”

“I’d find a place for them, “ Dave said.

The neighbor couple looked at each other and then back at Dave. “I don’t know about that,” said the neighbor woman.

“I could move them closer to the front of your house,” Dave offered. “I’ve moved a bunch of ours.”

The four of us stood in silence.

“Or not,” said Dave. “I just thought, so they could grow.”

“I’m going to have to think about that one,” said the neighbor.

“Dave, I’ve got to get inside and eat something,” said I.

We got inside and I ate something. Heather stopped by and we went to Gene’s Sausage Shop for a rooftop beer. “Look under that hose,” I said as we exited, “but don’t look like you’re looking.”

“Got it,” she said.

At Gene’s, she told us how her father had planted a whole fence-worth of day lilies, dividing them season after season until they spanned the length of the yard. “But then we got new neighbors,” she said, “and it turned out the day lilies were over their property line. So they dug them up and put in a fence.”

“Oh no,” I said, “your poor dad.”

Heather shrugged, “They grow like weeds.”

Day 25: Don’t explain

Once upon a time there were people like this, and there still are.
Once upon a time there were people like this, and there still are.

When I first told people I was going to Ragdale, they said things like, “Hope your class goes well!”
“Well, it’s not really a class.”
“Oh. Well, hope your retreat is relaxing!”
“It’s not really a retreat.”
“Oh. Well, hope you have a good workshop!”
“It’s not really a workshop.”
“Oh. Well, what is it?”
“It’s an artist’s colony.”
“What’s that?”
“I have no idea.”
Now that it’s ending, I realize that all those people were right. Ragdale is a class in persistence, a retreat from familiar routines, and a workshop designed around whatever we choose to share with each other. The citizens of this colony change from session to session, but the underlying principles of respect and support ensure its success.

Another thing people kept saying was, “Well, have fun!”
“It’s really not about having fun,” I said. And was wrong again. Working all day on my writing, while being handed a gracious home, beautiful surroundings, and delicious meals with interesting people, is actually quite a lot of fun. The deadline for next year is May 15, people. www.ragdale.org. Get on it.