Desolation: A Writer's Inspiration
I was talking to another writer the other day about how my plans to be in St. John right now had been interrupted by one of Mother Nature’s temper tantrums. Her girls, Irma and Maria, sent my schedule into a tizzy, but more seriously affected the lives of so many people who live in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Being “stuck” on outer Cape Cod in the winter is hardly something to complain about, but I do, until I see the pictures of the fires in California and remember the families waiting to see if their children had survived the earthquake in Mexico. So let me get my complaints out first. The temperature here isn’t terribly low. I can remember a time in February, when the high 30’s felt like a heat wave. But the bone chill of dampness that seeps in when the ocean is less than a mile away in either direction crawls under the layers of my clothes and is difficult to shake off. Then there are the colors, or lack thereof, unless you consider gray and brown to be colors. They are the opposite of the vibrant shades of green and blue I revel in while in St. John. The dullness of the brown and gray numbs my soul, making me wonder if I am even alive as I stumble around my winter habitat. Even the blue of the ocean that drew me here has turned a steely gray. Only the occasional heroic bright sunset reminds me that times can be very different here on what many consider the edge of the earth. There’s that too, of course. Three months ago, my complaints were very different. “When will all of these people go home?” “There can’t be single person left in New York, because they are all here.” “Doesn’t anyone teach beach manners anymore?” I grocery shop at 6:00 a.m. to avoid the crowds, frequent secret beaches undiscovered by most (no I will not tell you where they are), and avoid restaurants at all costs. Why would I wait an hour and a half to eat something I can buy fresh here and cook at home? They are all gone now, except the occasional brave beach stroller I see get out of a car with New York plates. “Those New Yorkers are hardy souls, aren’t they?” I ask my husband with a seasonal kindness I lack at the height of summer. I explained to my writer friend how Cape Cod can feel desolate in the winter. But then I confessed. “I kind of like desolate.” She agreed and commented it was because we are both writers. I’ve thought about that during the gray of every day since our conversation. The barrenness of winter is a blank canvas for a writer. While the merriment and colors of summer can inspire stories, the naked branches, brown leaves, and furious ocean make you reach deeper. You can’t escape thoughts about fear, survival and death, which are less prominent in your mind when you are inhaling the fragrance of beach roses and watching children build a sandcastle. I’ve decided there may be a season and a reason for the desolation of gray and brown for writers. A character I have been writing for more than a year has revealed more of herself to me, sharing a darkness I suspected lay beneath. I welcome her revelations. I am less afraid to face the challenge of the blank canvas and the shades of brown and gray on my palette. The words find their way onto the page and I am grateful. By the time the day has ended, which is early in the season of brown and gray, I am eager for a sunset. Any glimpse of light to remind me that there are seasons and that nothing is forever.