Tag: St. John

St. John

A Love Letter to St. John While Waiting for Irma

   Everyone knows the Caribbean and then Florida are bracing for the beast now known as Irma to hit. This Category five hurricane is arriving on the heels of Harvey demolishing Houston. Even acknowledging how the media hypes storms, no one is denying Irma is one of the largest storms ever with 185 mph winds. You don’t need to be a meteorologist when looking at the eye of the storm to predict massive destruction to property and to fear the toll on human lives.            Long before I began writing the Sabrina Salter series, I fell in love with an island. Lush with tree-covered hills, abundant with endless beaches, I happened onto St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands when I was on a cruise more than thirty years ago. Riding under a shady tree canopy over roads with perpendicular hills and switchbacks more terrifying than a rollercoaster, I arrived at Trunk Bay where the beach with warm silky turquoise water and talcum powder sand enchanted me. My husband and I vowed to return. Within six months, we did. Again and again, as often as three times a year over the next three decades. Now we spend half of the year on island.              My love affair with St. John began with the rush of a crush. My senses were overloaded. I was sure my eyes were deceiving me. There could be no shade of green or blue as vibrant the sea. The sensation of a soft tickle on my skin was a gift from the local Tradewinds. My ears were treated to the songs of birds and the whispers of wind through palm trees.            But like with any love affair, the sizzle was bound to fizzle. When I was no longer gushing at the dramatic beauty I’d found in St. John, although I still appreciated it, I became aware of more subtle treasures. The people of St. John are remarkable in spirit and generosity. Often considered a curious crew, St. John draws people who are strong individuals, many opinionated, most creative and many artistic. They are rugged, yet sensitive, and ferociously loyal. In St. John, if you’ve got a problem, you’ve got a friend.            I learned as much about myself as I did about my beloved island, two thirds of which is part of the National Park Service.  As I hiked the trails of Reef Bay and Ram Head in silence, I discovered a Michele I had yet to meet. One who appreciated words were not always necessary and the power of the Universe not always found in churches. That you don’t need “stuff” to live well and that the one commodity needed by all human beings is kindness.               This morning, I’m perched safely on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, far away from St. John as Irma skulks toward its shores. Poised to hear news, praying that everyone is safe, and that damage is minimal, I am reminded of another lesson learned on an island where Mother Nature reigns as queen. All of this is beyond my control and I am at peace with that. I have faith in the people on St. John. They have rebuilt before and will again. Resilience is something no hurricane can destroy on St. John.            I’ve been working on my third Sabrina Salter novel, which coincidentally is set during a hurricane on St. John where the courage and humanity of my characters is challenged by the forces of nature. I know where to find the inspiration to finish my story.

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From Paradise to Eden (another tale of a tindominium)

 For the past month, I’ve been transitioning from living in Paradise to Eden. I know that’s doesn’t evoke a lot of sympathy, but it’s not all palm trees and ocean breezes. Living in a tiny cottage in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands half of the year and in a small tindominium on Outer Cape Cod the other six months does have its challenges, especially for this writer who needs a modicum of space and calm. People have remarked to me, “Oh, I watch Tiny House on HGTV. I’d love to do that.”But is tiny house living all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s the reveal: the good, the bad and the ugly about transitioning from the Caribbean cottage to the Outer Cape Cod tindo.            A confession. After six months of tropical temperatures, azure blue waters, and Tradewinds caressing my body, I actually looked forward to a few chilly New England days when I would slip into jeans and a sweater and warm my feet in my Ugg slippers. I imagined being perched on the comfy couch on gray rainy days with a real hardcover book on my lap.  St. John had begun to change from pleasantly warm to bloody hot and, not to sound ungrateful, I was done with it, at least until November.             Shortly after our return in May, we had three consecutive days of ninety-degree temperatures, followed by a never ending forecast of days filled with endless rain with temperatures in the fifties. My dream come true, to an extreme.            Sure, I got to curl up with books and to write prolifically in the dank darkness of the tindo, but when would I be able to plant my garden? Within days, the intimate coziness of our small living quarters began to feel confining. The clutter that comes with being stuck indoors for days on end mounted and spread like an amoeba throughout our tiny tindo. I realized tiny house living presupposes (at least for me) that a lot of time is spent living outdoors.             But there was the soothing rain on the roof, the birds from the Audubon sanctuary next door visiting our feeders not realizing there’s a boundary between the properties, and the pine trees whispering that we should just enjoy the respite from the heat and “be in the moment.”            We planted our garden during misty breaks from the downpours. The plants seemed happy and so were we. The cool quiet of our tiny gardens was a perfect place to germinate ideas for the stories I would later put to words.              A drive to the beach late each afternoon to watch the seals surfing in the Atlantic Ocean from inside our car while the rain pelted down reminded me that this was the same Atlantic Ocean I had soaked in daily while in St. John. The same ocean, but not the same. One smoky gray, swirling in random angry configurations, smashing against the white sand leaving a foamy froth along the edge. The other an illusive shade between green and blue, warm and smooth as silk, often as still as a mirror, but occasionally moody and agitated.            Internalizing the vastness of the ocean and the openness of the garden helped me understand that it’s not the size of the space I live in that matters, but rather the space inside of me. I can live anywhere as long as I remember to bring the outdoors in.   

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The Adventure Begins- Tales of a Tindomium #4

And we were off to the races, or at least to Logan Airport at 3:00 a.m. on that December morning after what felt more like a nap than the catch-up sleep we were both craving. But we had sold our house the evening before and were flying to St. John to spend an entire winter in a lovely home we had rented. Let the adventures begin.            Although my suitcase with my summer clothes was missing and I was still wearing the clothes I had been in since the day before, I felt grateful for all that we had enjoyed until now and for what I knew would be our future. We didn’t have our favorite aisle seats on the plane and weren’t even near one another, but I felt a unity with Steve as we soldiered toward a new life.            I plopped into my middle seat, expecting that I would fall asleep before takeoff. I was about to apologize to the two women who flanked me. One appeared to be about my age, the other a speck younger. They deserved to be warned I would soon be serenading them with my infamous snoring. I noticed the younger woman in the window seat was vigorously marking up what I recognized were not just legal pleadings, but family law pleadings. I immediately felt sorry for her, guessing we were both trying to escape from the same stressful profession.            “Oh, are you another family law attorney trying to go on vacation?” I said, without thinking.            “No, but if you are, I’d love to ask you a few questions.”    I stifled a groan, knowing I had walked right into a situation I might likely have avoided if I weren’t exhausted and without my filter functioning.            “Shoot,” I said, and started a conversation beginning with questions about a custody battle my British flight mate’s boyfriend was engaged in and moved on to multiple topics so naturally, it was as if we’d known each forever. By the end of the flight I knew I had made my first new friend. A great start to a new life.            I also received my first text message from an island realtor just as we landed. “Showing the house this afternoon at 3:00.” Although we had a year-long lease, our landlady had reserved the right to list her home after the first of the year, any sale subject to our lease. It was a week before Christmas. In my sweaty day-old outfit, I could feel the stress that had been the inspiration for making radical changes to our lives returning to my body.            When the landlady arrived for a stay in her unfinished unit below us in January, we already had the full flavor about what our existence would be like in a house on the market. Her offhand remarks that she wished she had never rented to us, that her realtor had told her it was a huge mistake, and she’d even considered giving us money to leave, confirmed what we already knew. The house, although lovely, was filled with negativity. After thirty years working in the field of conflict resolution as a lawyer and mediator, I knew the best way to deal with conflict is to avoid it.            I took to the Internet, reviving old contacts I had made while initially searching for St. John housing. December is the beginning of high season and I doubted I would find anything in January, but ever the optimist, I reached out. I received an email from a woman telling me she had a unit available, asking would we like to see it that afternoon. Would we ever.            We took the money Landlady One was willing to throw at us and gladly gave it to Landlady Two for a darling studio in Coral Bay on the other, “wilder” side of St. John overlooking Hurricane Hole. Steve’s slogan was, “Just part of the adventure.” Our living room, dubbed a “living porch” because it was room with no screens and hurricane shutters perched high where we shared it with the birds. We were intoxicated with fresh air and the sounds of the Tradewinds blowing through the lush green treetops.            There were a few accommodations we had to make in order to adjust to our tiny quarters. Just six weeks before, we’d left our ten-room home. Now, we had a queen size bed, a large flat screen television, a desk for me to write on, and a corner with the kitchen appliances, counter, cabinets, and sink, all in one room. In the morning when Steve would first wake up, he liked to ask me, “Is our kitchen in our bedroom or our bedroom in our kitchen?”          It didn’t matter because we made living small fun. On the evenings when we wanted to watch the primary returns, we would cook dinner, just as we had in our over-sized gourmet kitchen for thirty-three years, and serve it on trays, eating on our bed. We had been campers, we reminded ourselves, and this was living high.          When the tiny freestanding cottage below us in the same complex became available two months later, we jumped at the chance to grab it. With a twenty foot long covered porch facing a more expansive view of Hurricane Hole surrounded by greens which provided total privacy, we were living with the bananaquits, who frequent the coconut feeder Steve made and watch hawks and frigate birds soar above. Our efficient, tiny U-shaped kitchen is no longer in our bedroom, although our sofa and living area are at the foot of our rattan bed, which is covered with a mosquito net.         Our living space may be small, but our lives are large, filled with new friends, including my friend from the flight down and her charming boyfriend, a former restaurant owner and chef who cooked us an unforgettable meal at his home.        The mysteries I have set on St. John have been well received by its residents, who are constantly providing me with information and new material. Writing about paradise in paradise is sublime.        May came before we knew it and it was time to go meet the tindominium in Wellfleet where there was no shortage of adventures and writing material waiting to greet us.  

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 Let me be clear. This is not a criticism of or rant against technology. I am thrilled to be living in an age where there are computers, cellphones, the Internet, and Bluetooth. Admittedly, there is a learning curve for someone my age. I remember identifying with Dave Barry who wondered how they got the ink through the wires of a fax machine. But it has been worth every effort I have made to hang on, clinging to my devices by my fingernails declaring, “I will not be left behind.”            I am particularly smitten with Google. There is no place you cannot go with this wonder of wonders. Just within the past 48 hours, I have explored how to defer federal jury duty, how to fix a dropped stitch, what the weather will be in New Orleans and Italy this month, and who is the better candidate for state senate in my community. When the students I teach at a law school told me I should stop struggling with Westlaw, a complex legal software program, and just use Google, I was relieved to know I was actually in the know.            So when a number of my writing colleagues began to rave about how productive and organized they had become by using a writing software program that was becoming increasingly popular, I thought, why not? Combining my busy day job as a lawyer with a writing career made finding time to write challenging. I quickly purchased the Scrivener software, signed up for a training session, and purchased the Dummies manual. The program is not as easy as some say, but it is definitely doable and appeals to those of us steeped in traditional ways of organizing writing. A writing program that included use of virtual index cards appealed to my love of stationery supplies.            Off I went to St. John for a three-week writing vacation on the island where my mystery series is set. (And yes, three weeks of writing is a vacation when your other job involves divorces, custody battles, and disputes about who gets the Shih Tzu.) I set down at my table, cracked open Scrivener, and set off to write the second book in the Sabrina Salter series.            Much of the writing process for me takes place long before this moment when I sit down to actually write. I plot, ponder, ruminate, and even obsess in my head long before. Call it the gift of insomnia, but there is nothing like a couple of sleepless hours in the middle of the night to debug that plot glitch. Some writers will tell you that the time you spend in your head isn’t really writing, but to them I say B.S. When my fingers finally hit the keyboard, I may not have an outline like the plotters ( I am a pantser of sorts), but the story seems to flow from my brain to the keyboard as if I’ve opened a vent.            So that first morning when Sabrina and her cohort, Henry, didn’t show up for work, I was a little surprised. I thought they were just being a little shy, you know, with the new writing program. By the end of the first week, they had punched in but with little of the spit and spunk I have come to expect from them. As I was winding down my second week, I began to panic. What was wrong? I’d never had writer’s block before. I’d even heard it was just a myth. How could this be happening when I knew my story and who my characters were and where they were headed?            I felt as if I were stuffed into a cardboard box, you know the kind that kids make a fort out of when their parents get a huge shipment from Amazon. I was was suffocating. Writing felt as foreign to me as if someone had handed me sheet of music and told me to sing an aria. I stood up at the table and said to my husband I was done with it. “Writing?” he asked, looking very concerned. Everything I have done in recent years has been focused on creating more time and space for my passion: writing.            “No,” I said. “Writing programs. They are not for me. I know they are wonderful and have helped many writers, but I am not one of them.” I felt glorious, as if I had punched out the paper walls and pushed up the ceiling of my cardboard box to let the light and air in. I could breathe.            The next my morning, Sabrina and Henry arrived on time and ready to roll. I hit the keyboard and my fingers began to dance while the story that became the book, Permanent Sunset, emerged. I was happy. They were happy. I thought about that quote from another writer. “To thine own self be true.” Writing is an art. Pen, paper, keyboard, writing programs. They are all tools.  The artist gets to choose which tool to use. 

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