A week or so after my mother’s funeral, and with my wife having had to return to Britain, I needed a break from coping with my grieving father and my sister. Leaving them in Pennsylvania I rushed off alone for a few days to our house in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. On November 17, 2015, awake early, I snapped and posted this pre-dawn photo:
It felt wonderful to be there. It was rejuvenating – the solitude and the silence especially. What seems so long ago now, I used those days alone not just to try to clear my head but also put the finishing touches to my third novel, Distances – which my mother’s illness and then sudden death had unsurprisingly delayed.
That all came back to me after I had a phone chat yesterday with the man who – with his company – mows our lawn and is also one of those who keeps an eye on the place for us when we can’t be there. “How’s it over there in merry old England?” he laughed to me. “I was up there the other day, Robert. You don’t need a clean up. Everything’s fine around the house.”
Considering the winter they’d had since we were last there in January, hearing that from him was a relief. We live here in Hertfordshire, England, as you may know…
However, I was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island.🇺🇸 In building the house in the Catskills in 2008-09 I came to appreciate the area and its residents. In many ways it is now home.
It is the sort of place where people know each other and trust each other, and as a newcomer you learn quickly not to “impose” yourself on them, to get with their program, and not act like such a “townie” and an “outsider.” I became so caught up with the region that I slipped in references to it into my first three novels. As you may know also I went full-on “local” in having the main male protagonist in my fourth, Conventions: The Garden At Paris, come from the area:
I don’t think I would have written any of my books as I had if we had not built that house. Spending so much time there after, something about the area drew me into wanting to write about it. But, then again, the Catskills have captured writers and artists for hundreds of years.
There are times I do myself feel much the same way: worn down and wishing “to come home.” I’ve spent nearly two days now with a terrible headache that has not yet entirely vanished; but that is not new to me. In my teens, I started getting them (painkillers often only diminish them at best) and they would sometimes linger for days – and several times in my twenties they were so bad I became vomiting sick.
Fortunately this wasn’t one of those latter times, and I’m finally feeling a bit better this morning. But they are always demoralizing and I have never been able to pinpoint a cause. “Stress” seems one trigger; and I’ve been feeling under quite a lot of that lately.
I can’t spend much time looking at a screen while my head is throbbing, but I do think a lot. Ironically I feel some of my better ideas hit me when I’m in pain – headache or otherwise. A writer’s depressing lot in life at times, one supposes: happiness doesn’t always spur on creativity as much as sadness does.
Yet on the upside there are an infinite number of stories yet to be written. Often their sourcings and inspirations are indeed right in front of us. We just need the courage and the tenacity to write them.
Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂