About this time last year, my friend Cami Ostman and I were tucked up four days near Naples, Florida. We’ve been friends since we were about 18, and writing buddies about ten years.
When I sold my writing cabin in Tennessee, we lamented that our usual retreat couldn’t happen, holed up with pre-made casseroles and wine, knocking out our latest narratives and reading them to each other to smooth the rough edges. Cami and I both find that drafting a book’s bones is best done in an intense huddle of anti-social time hoarding. To everything there is a season, and when writing time gets smooshed between all the other pulls of normal life, it gravitates toward the back burner. Better to start the year with a dedicated blast, upping the stakes to keep going.
Cami wondered it it were a plot for a horror novel when I sent her this message: “I’m sure there’s some nice person out there who’s read one of your books or mine, who’s got a she-shed or a rental property we could borrow for a week. Lemme ask.” But the response from Cynthia Piwowarczyk and her husband Jim sounded like heaven. She was a voice-over actor, he director of a non-profit. Two spare bedrooms, a pool in the backyard, a few blocks from a running trail around a lake, and don’t bring any wine or snacks because her husband’s job meant he had about a hundred gift basket items left over from Christmas, and they didn’t drink.
Cami messaged me: either this is set-up for the scariest movie ever, or we just hit the jackpot. Indeed we had. The worst moment of that time with the sweetest, smartest couple in the world was trying to spell their last name on the thank-you card.
We followed our usual pattern: three days of intense writing, emerging evenings to socialize (read: drink wine) and chat with the couple. And then a day of gleeful reward: Cynthia took us to the beach for the morning, and arranged to meet us in the afternoon for girl time. We got frozen ice juices, we ate crepes, we went shopping.
Cynthia and I shared a penchant for thrift stores, so left Cami in a cafe with her laptop to careen through a few big places, chatting and impulse buying and talking each other into and out of silly things.
Mindful that I’d flown with hand luggage, when I first saw the boots, I passed. But Cynthia had a good eye. The second time she saw me glancing back, she asked, “What? Those plaid waders?”
My guilty secret came out: I’d always wanted a pair of decorative gum boots, Scottie dogs or polka dots or some such. Cyndi studied the red and yellow lines of the pattern. “I don’t think it gets any more decorative than this, dear.”
So I flew home from Florida with second-hand knee-high rubber boots stuffed into my bag, dirty knickers stuffed into the boots. Security waved me through after one disgusted look. The officer changed her gloves.
And for a year, those boots sat in the back of my closet, because winter was mild and summer was dry in Southwest Virginia. They survived several closet purges and a Maria Kondo phase, because they brought me joy. Even if I never wore them, now I had a pair of cool hipster knee-highs.
Fast forward to the invitation to be writer in residence in Fayette, West Virginia from January-March of this year. As David, a long-time friend said, “You want to go where, WHEN?!”
I arrived when the weather had reached -4 just from temperature, windchill dropping it another few degrees. People were warned about freezing times of exposed flesh. No one was driving–except Amy and Shawn, owners of the flat that sponsored the residency. They took me on a scenic tour of the New River Gorge in their jeep. Nobody out there but us and one lone runner we encountered at the bottom. He stared at us like we were crazy.
And for the next three weeks, any time I stepped outside the apartment, I needed the boots. At last. I packed them more as a memento of the previous year’s week of glorious productivity, but also they were the only weather-proof shoes I owned. I tend to be a minimalist footwear girl.
So I guess these boots are now a connective theme. Next year, if I get the residency I’ve applied for in Yellowknife (yes, in the cold part of Canada) they’ll get use again. Meanwhile, they’ll sit in the back of my closet, a reminder that, to everything there is a season.