12.24.2008

Nothing Was Stirring, Not Even A...

Way back two weeks ago, when I first arrived here at MacDowell, I made the hour-long ride from the airport in Manchester to Peterborough. On the way, we encountered a semi on its side, completely blocking the road. “42 degrees--not even icy,” Jim, the driver, kept repeating. Even as we careened along a muddy dirt road, a “sure shortcut” to the colony (not), Jim couldn’t get over that truck. “Now you’ll have a story to tell,” he said. “It’s like one of them omens.”

That first night, this mini-adventure already under my belt, I joined some folks in an after-dinner viewing of “The Shining.” A plotline that included a struggling writer in a remote, snowy location suited our MacDowell situation almost too well, which led to a lot of laughs (and is definitely, now that I’m reading the lines out of context, a case of You-Had-To-Be-There):

Stuart Ullman: Physically, it's not a very demanding job. The only thing that can get a bit trying up here during the winter is, uh, a tremendous sense of isolation.

Jack Torrance: Well, that just happens to be exactly what I'm looking for. I'm outlining a new writing project and, uh, five months of peace is just what I want.

(Us, doubled over with laughter.)

Or how about this one:

Wendy (the wife): Any ideas yet?

Jack: Lots of ideas. No good ones.

Wendy (upbeat): Well, something'll come. It's just a matter of settling back into the habit of writing every day.

(Colonists rolling on the floor here.)

Anyway, we all know what happens: a huge winter storm rolls in, trapping them indoors, and Jack goes nuts and tries to hack apart his family. The same thing, minus the hacking, that happened to us the following evening. “The Great Ice of ‘08” kept us up all night, and without power, hot water, or heat for eight days. I thought about Jim’s talk of ice and omens. Now I really had a story to tell.

There are times when the signs come out. Coincidences become more pronounced, and seem to carry more meaning. I’ve mentioned before that there seems to be a special energy to this place—maybe that’s the explanation. Or maybe it’s just that with fewer distractions, we become better at noticing.

When I arrived at MacDowell, I was thrilled to see familiar names on the tombstones in my studio, Phi Beta. (Named, by the way, for the arts fraternity that built the studio, and was founded at--where else--my alma mater, Northwestern University.) Those names seemed a good omen. Another, unfamiliar, entry caught my eye as well: “Louise Talma, Composer.” Ms. Talma’s name appears every year from 1943 to 1995. On one tombstone, her name shows up four times.



It turns out she was quite a woman--a talented composer, benefactor of the arts, and a good spirit to have around. According to Blake, she stayed in Phi Beta every summer, and every time she came they rearranged the furniture to reproduce the layout of her first stay.

Now that we have power and Phi Beta is warm and light again, I’ve noticed I’m not the only one who’s appreciating the luxury. A couple nights ago, while culling through photos on my computer, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked over to see a little brown mouse creeping out of the bathroom. We made eye contact and he/she scurried back. It must be an extremely bendy mouse, because there are no crevices thicker than a butter knife in there.

I named her (obviously) Louise Talma.

What’s remarkable about the mouse sighting is what I was doing at the time it happened. I have over a thousand photos on my computer, and it was just as I clicked past the one of Crafty McRatterson, (my previous rodent neighbor), that I looked up and saw the mouse. I think that counts as a Twilight Zone moment.

I hadn’t seen much evidence of my adoptive pet until today. Yesterday in the mail I received a care package with lots of goodies, including some foil-wrapped chocolate mice. I put them on my mantel for decoration, but this morning I noticed something strange (look to the left of the faux cheese)…

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