I was working on a novel that year. Carly was in Kindergarten, Claire had gone back to school and I was a caretaker on an estate in Vermont and the writing was the one thing that was mine. We had three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs in a space sandwiched between the old house where the family stayed when they were there and the three-car heated garage and office with the nanny’s apartment above. The house was theirs. The garden was theirs. The animals were theirs. The little jungle gym out back was theirs. The flower gardens and beehives and maple god damn syrup were theirs. Hell, even the plants in the friggin’ cold frame were theirs. But the novel was mine.
In the months the house was empty, I hid away on a coach in their living room in front of the cold, but perfectly, geometrically laid fire in the fireplace and wrote until my fingers were numb.
Some days what appeared on the page surprised me. I wondered who had written it.
Some days I saw the characters and watched them move and talk and go about the business of the story. Those days I wrote as fast as I could to keep up. Those days I came back to the cold room from far away.
I had three spiral bound college ruled notebooks when I was done.
I typed it all, this was back in the late 80’s and for me word processing was not even a dream. I two-fingered tapped and one day there it was, a manuscript.
No one had read the thing but me. So, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers and signed up for a writing group through Burlington Community College. I hadn’t been back to school in more than 12 years.
There were 12 of us around a big bare table. The teacher was a gum popping New Yorker. She brought her supper and ate during class. She took her gum out for that and set it on the open lid of her take-away container. She had had pieces on National Public Radio. She could do whatever the hell she wanted.
Each week, we took turns passing out selections of our work for the class to read and comment on. I chose chapter 11 when it was my turn. I read it 1000 times before I made the copies and handed them out. I loved every word. It was poignant and touching and so true it hurt.
I couldn’t tell you what the class members said, her words at the end drowned out any comment they made.
She said the characters were blabber mouths.
She said nothing happened.
There was one sentence. She riffled through the pages leaving bolognaise sauce splotches. Yeah, here.
She read it.
Figure out what you did here and you might be on to something, she said.
I am not sure how I drove home that night. The last part of the drive was a single lane gravel road through the dark woods thick with deeply rutted ice.
I went into a month long funk. I sucked. Big time.
Later, I went back to it. It was mine. It called me.
She was right. The characters were blabbermouths, not much happened. The plot was pear shaped and flabby. I was so busy telling there was nothing to show.
I was ruthless.
Always a masochist and a stoic, I signed up for a second round. I brought in the last two chapters when it was my turn.
She read the last sentence out loud.
You worked on this didn’t you, she said. Keep on working.