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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Phoenix

In tenth grade my best friend’s father purchased a New Hampshire inn and that fall she moved away, leaving us both inconsolable. The following year her parents invited me to live with them for the summer while working as a waitress in the dining room. In June, I moved from suburban Boston into a back bedroom in their 1790’s inn, situated at the head of a common in a town of twelve hundred. Talk about culture shock. But to this day, I define the experiences that summer and the following one when I returned, as the period in which I first came to know myself—and to imagine the type of person I wanted to become.

Many years later, the inn, so centered at the core of me was sold and I grieved. Even though I could visit, it wouldn’t be the same, but even worse, a series of new owners failed to run the place successfully. Foreclosures resulted and it remained empty for extended periods. So, when an invitation arrived to celebrate the recent wedding of this same friend’s daughter at the inn, open again and under new management, I was all in. We booked a room for the night after the party and last weekend, my husband and I took the trip north.

Here’s the thing. We can’t relive history, really.  But if we’re lucky, we get to step through emotional ghosts. My husband and I opened the door to the inn to find my friend waiting to greet us, and discovering her there stripped me down to oh-so-young-me. Much of the place had changed—walls opened up, bedrooms removed to allow for cathedral ceilings below, a pizza oven installed on the back porch where I celebrated my sixteenth birthday. But, the bones remained, and while we were there, the place echoed a happiness I remember, reflected in the smiles of the bride and the groom and her parents—even on the faces of the energetic couple who now run the place.
Following the afternoon reception, my husband and I took a long walk. By the time we returned, a line had formed for the dining room where we’d hoped to eat, so we claimed two stools in the expanded pub. Over delicious salmon and risotto there, we chatted with the couple next to us.  Around us glasses clinked, the beat of conversations blended with music performed by local college students. All this evidence of the inn’s revival fed a furnace in my heart. 

Before we left the next day, I took a picture of outside of the building, unchanged from when I was a teen.  As it disappeared behind us, I felt as if I’d been allowed to finger my history through a soft cloth, before handing it off.  I went home comforted to have touched the patina of the past, but more importantly, grateful to see it polished into a gleaming, present-day shine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Of Rags and Riches

My dad, a Boston attorney was generous to a fault.  When I say that, I mean his fault was not that he was too generous, but that when he was, his taste could be, well, call it…questionable.  I can’t tell you how many times he bought my mother gifts of clothing she returned, but it was such a regular occurrence I used to wish just once, she’d keep something he bought for her.  His taste wasn't all bad. Nowadays, I suspect the refusal to accept anything he bought may have been some kind of power trip, but it also could have been because he did a lot of his shopping at Filene's Basement, the liquidator for the now defunct department store.  If you never knew the place, it worked like this.  An item arrived on the floor with the tag marked at a reduced price, as well as scheduled dates for future markdowns. So, if you were daring enough to risk someone else scooping an item you coveted, you could wait it out and potentially end up with an awesome deal.  But the truth of it was, a lot of the things that hung around until the final markdown were of questionable colors or patterns, and often, my dad cut through The Basement on his way to the train station for the trip home.

Anyway, the Christmas of my senior year in college, I opened up a box holding a wool skirt, and let’s just say, I knew who bought it and where.  The quality of the material was excellent, the fit, slightly irregular but passable, the color, well, blocks of grey, mustard, and rust.  And back then folks, I was a blue, pink, and teal sort of girl.  But I was also approaching the end of my schooling, with potential job interviews pending, and my wardrobe consisted of jeans and corduroys.  So, as ugly as it appeared to me, I wore the thing. Probably the reason I remember it so vividly, was that every time I put it on I wished it looked better. But I knew who bought it and I wanted to like it.  Therefore, I pretended I did.

A long time later, years after I stopped forcing myself to put it on, that skirt made it to the donation pile.  But this time of year, when I look out to the land around me, I always remember it.  I have no doubt the designer of that piece of apparel took inspiration from rusty oak leaves skittering up the street, from the swallows lined up on the telephone wire, the yellow leaf-rags refusing to lift from the stalwart ash.  I imagine it rumpled across the land when I see the colors of November, the granite walls we see again, now the leaves have dropped, in the feather-wisp of smoke-colored clouds smudging the late afternoon sky. I didn’t like that skirt, and even now, I'm guessing the inspiration didn't translate.  But I remember it and wonder, if I could pull it out of my closet again, whether now, I'd recognize the subtle beauty my dad must have seen all those years ago when he bought it for a steal.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Skill of Seeing

It's IWSG Wednesday.  To read more posts from writers helping writers, click here.

I went to a book reading two weeks ago and one of the featured authors was Annie Weatherwax, whose first novel All We Had, was listed by Opra, and is currently being adapted for a film directed by Katie Holmes, who will also star in it. (Gulp, gulp, gulp!)  Annie is an inspiring speaker, and I started this post by trying to tell you her whole story, when I discovered that Annie tells it best herself, here.

Please click on the link, but if you don’t have time, then at least take these words away with you:
…But the true job of a writer is to elicit an image—a rich and expansive picture of the world written on the page. In many ways, writing is a visual art because we see not only with our eyes, but also, and sometimes more powerfully, with our imaginations. The craft of writing for me has less to do with the study of literature, or even with writing proficiency, and much more to do with the disciplined skill of seeing... Annie Weatherwax.
Suddenly, I think I have a clue why taking pictures is so important to me...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Library Tutorial

I packed a notebook, a magazine, a novel and an I-Pad and went to the library Friday afternoon.  I love our library.  It used to be an elementary school, and has soothing green walls and huge Palladian windows to let in tons of natural light.  Every once in a while I treat myself and camp out there for hours.  This time I snagged a table in a sunny spot and decided to write in my notebook about whatever popped in my head until I’d completed three pages.
By page two, I found myself writing about photography.  Earlier in the day, I’d taken my camera off its trusty auto setting, and tried a few of shots of Meeting Pond before running into work.  A few came out okay, a couple came out too dark, but in that three minute burst I learned a little more about my camera.  

 As I’ve said before, I’m not schooled in the technology behind taking pictures, and there, in the library, I decided it was time to learn more.  Out came the I-pad, and I turned to a photography site I discovered last week, and gave myself a lesson in apertures, depth of field and film speed.  I wrote everything down I learned, (bringing me to three pages) and then, since I had my camera in the car, I went out to test what I absorbed. 

My favorite cemetery/photography spot is only a few streets away which is where I discovered that while  my research tutored me in basic principles and settings behind taking a good picture, I have a long way to go to understand the exact buttons to push to make my particular camera perform.  Time to get out the owner’s manual, but I liked this shot.