Looks Peaceful Doesn’t It? Wrong. The Snake Bitten, Solitary Writing Retreat


The people sitting next to me are talking about salami.

They’re sick of turkey, sick of it, I tell you, sick of it.

They joined me at the picnic table in the back yard of the inn where I’m staying for a self-imposed writing retreat. They are having their lunch. I am outside avoiding the awkwardness that would result from my remaining in my room while a male member of the housekeeping staff makes my bed and sets out clean towels. Also, I found the vacuuming a little distracting.

To be honest, I was going to head out anyway. The landscaper’s chainsaw and wood chipper right outside my window were also a little loud.

The picnic table in a serene spot behind the inn looked so promisingly peaceful. And it was peaceful, at first, but only for about 27 seconds, until the Sam Adams truck came by to make a delivery. The driver was efficient, though. He didn’t even turn off his loud, smoky engine while he unloaded the crates of beer. Good thing it didn’t take him too long, because the vodka truck was right behind him.

It is Utima brand vodka, which boasts a perfect balance of wheat, rye, and potato right there on the side of the truck. Anyone knows I’m a sucker for a potato, but I don’t like this truck at all.

The vodka truck driver is loud and smelly, or rather his truck engine is. He may very well be, too, but I can’t say for sure from here, overwhelmed as I am by the odor of my bench mates’ salami sandwiches. And anyway, who am I to judge? I can barely carry a Pepsi down the street. Oh, I haven’t told you about that yet, have I? Hang on, we’ll get there.

After attending a manuscript organization workshop at the Writers’ Loft, I decided to stay a couple of nights so that I could, well, organize my manuscript. It seemed like a great idea when I booked the room; however, I feel a little like my mini writing retreat has been snake bitten from the start.

First of all, I had my room keys for less than a heartbeat when I dropped and lost them. They were two real, metal keys on real metal key ring because this is one of those old fashioned inns – no electronic swipe cards impersonating room keys here. Now, my room keys are well and truly gone, floating around somewhere in the fourth dimension. The inn people were very good sports about it. They gave me another set and said they wouldn’t charge me.

And then there was my pocketbook. No, that’s not lost, that’s broken. The straps broke just after I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich from a nearby snack shop on my way back to the inn after the manuscript organization class.

It was fun carrying my strapless, bulging writer’s bag-slash-pocketbook in one hand while juggling a greasy grilled cheese and fries in the other. The Pepsi, unhappily confined in its weak plastic cup with the broken cover, sloshed and stained to its heart’s delight. I looked like an idiot, but it was a short walk back to the inn, so I was not visibly idiotic for too long.

They’re silent now. They are no longer talking about salami, or their dog who does not like to be outside in this heat, or the girl at work who will not answer the phone (who does she think she is?), or their upcoming trip to Ogunquit (I hope it doesn’t rain; is it supposed to?). They are no longer talking at all. Could it be that I am making them uncomfortable with my giggling and typing?

Well, perhaps they should have thought of that before they joined me at the picnic bench.

Warning: you must never trust a lady sitting alone with a laptop. You never know what she’s been through.

Oh, you bet I will.
Oh, you bet I will.








“The Luckiest Woman on the Face of the Earth”

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s true. I dumped a bucket, or rather a bowl, of ice cold water over my head.

It had to be a bowl because I don’t normally keep clean buckets hanging around the house for such a purpose.

In fact, since all of my buckets are either filled with dirt and weeds from the garden or lined with sand from the beach, I used the big, green bowl, the one that holds the pasta salad at cookouts, and has held the Halloween candy for neighborhood trick-or-treaters every year for the past 21 years.

Then I posted pictures of my silliness on Facebook, and I did it all because my nephew asked me to, or rather, threatened me, blackmailed me, extorted money from me.

Well, which is it? Was it a bucket or a bowl? Was it a request or extortion? Do these details matter, as long as it was all in good fun? I think maybe they do, because they speak to how this type of crazy, online, social phenomenon can show us how lucky we all are.

It’s been almost a week since I saw my first ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video on Facebook, and with time, I’ve noticed the game has changed. It’s like the Operator game we played as kids where the message whispered into the first person’s ear differs dramatically from the message called out by the last player at the end. The rules are changing as the days go on, with a bit more money being extorted, I mean requested, from players now than it was at the beginning.

This is the video that started it all, my brother Dan getting doused by his children, Caitlin, Nathan, and Lindsey. Nathan, the kid with the bucket, will soon face his own challenge call me out.
This is the video that started it all for our family – my brother, Dan, getting doused by his children, Caitlin, Nathan, and Lindsey. Nathan, the kid with the bucket, will soon face his own challenge and will call me out.

And the creativity in the videos has exploded, thanks to the one-upmanship we humans exhibit when engaged in any sort of challenge. At first, it was simply people dumping water over their heads. Now, there are bobblehead toys and men in bikini tops getting doused, and dogs, way too smart for such foolishness, running away from the challenge, presumably to get their checkbooks to make a donation to the ALSA.

Also, as the game goes on and the rules change, reactions to it have changed. Comments that were once positive and supportive are now turning a little critical, pointing out that people would rather freeze than donate money to a worthy cause. Others say that the game is too gimmicky now, and why should people feel pressured to give to a charity when they have favorite charities of their own, and didn’t we leave peer pressure behind in middle school?

I say, everyone gets to be right here, and everyone gets to win this game, whether they accept the challenge or not, whether they donate money or not, whether they approve of the collective silliness or not. Because this is the type of phenomenon that reveals our good fortune.

For many of us, this is just one of those goofy things that brings us together, that gives my nephew, whom I don’t see often enough, the chance to reach out to me and say, “My auntie is a good enough sport to go along with this,” and it gives me the chance to say, “I’ll do whatever you ask me to, Nate, because you mean so much to me.”

And it gives the sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, a voice, and with it, the chance to say, “We’re here, and we need some help, and thank you for what you’re doing for our awareness and fundraising campaign.”

The Big Chill.
The Big Chill.

And it gives me a chance to use my big green bowl for yet another fun purpose, to add to the memories it holds of backyard cookouts and my annual Halloween sugar coma. But most importantly, it gives me the chance to say, thank God I don’t have ALS, and thank God I do have friends and family who recognize my silly nature and are willing to call me out and share this challenge with me, so that we can all help the ALSA with their mission, to lead the fight:

To treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support.

In short, to paraphrase the great Lou Gehrig’s famous speech, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge makes me feel like I am the luckiest woman on the face of the earth.


ALS challenge Ben
My son, Ben, getting in on the fun. Who will be next?