Could Any Writer Refuse This Offer?

Note: This is fiction/fantasy based on a writer’s prompt. Mention of the 20 year old granddaughter (whom I love more than life) was not an actual incident that happened that fictional morning, but only a stream-of-conscious thought about how much I would miss loving “distractions” such as visits or text messages or calls from her if I were on an ivory tower retreat for a year to write . . .

The security alarm was still set when I got out of bed. I disarmed it when I went to make coffee before walking into my study. Clearly, no one had been in the house. It must be from Buck! Our 30th anniversary is coming in a few weeks. We’ve talked about planning a small trip somewhere. Maybe this was related.

I reached eagerly for the envelope. It was sealed with wax in such a deep red color it was almost black. That took me aback. I opened my desk drawer and slit the envelope carefully with an old pewter letter opener given to me by my first mother-in-law. As I slid the thick card out, my nose twitched. What is that smell? Not perfume, exactly. Incense? Sweet, with a base note of . . . something. Decay, like the basement in an old building? How weird.

I looked at the card. Here is what it said:

Your desire to complete your novel and write essays has come to the attention of a benefactor who wishes to sponsor you for one year dedicated to writing. You may write whatever you like during this time. The benefactor will not only provide financial support during this time, but also meal and laundry service, plus distraction management.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime for a writer, as you surely recognize. One year under these conditions virtually guarantees you will achieve your goals. Thus, the small caveat that by accepting this generous offer you agree at the end of the term of one year, to never, ever write a single word again in your entire lifetime no matter how long you may live should not trouble you. Please make sure to read the fine print from the benefactor’s legal department before you accept so you will have full understanding of the consequences should you breach the agreement.

Please R.S.V.P. soonest. This is a once in a lifetime invitation.

Sincerely yours,
The Benefactor’s Factotum

Damn. I mean day-umm. I put the card down and jogged to the kitchen for coffee. I stood for a few minutes to watch out the window as a doe and her spotted fawn grazed under the big live oak near a tall magnolia tree, grabbed up one of my notebooks and wrote a couple of sentences about the fawn’s ballerina elegance and the doe’s tenderness.

Stunned by the bizarre note, I almost didn’t hear my cell phone ring. It was my twenty-year-old step-granddaughter, calling to share a cartoon from the New Yorker with me before she went to class at our local university (it was the cartoon where the robots become self-aware and all they want to do is write novels). We had a good laugh, hung up, and I scribbled a paragraph about our conversation in my morning writing journal.

By this time, I’d had a chance to think about how the “life interruptus” problem I sometimes bitch about is what informs and enlivens my efforts to write. The meaning derived through daily interaction with my darling husband, nature, family, and even my old chocolate lab, Maggie (whose memory still takes up  a lot of space in my heart and head), is the soul-stuff that made me passionate to write in the first place.

My heart rate back to its usual medium-slow, steady beat, fresh cup of coffee in hand, I returned to my study to respond to the note. I wrote on the bottom.

“Please thank the benefactor for this invitation, but I must refuse. The price is too high.”

No sooner had I put down the card than it popped into a small flame, and in seconds nothing was left but a teaspoon of ashes.

I grabbed my point-and-shoot camera,  spiral notebook and pen, and headed out for a walk in the woods, content in the knowledge that I would be writing every day for the rest of my life.

My Usual Writing Space

The three-inch-long smooth, dolphin-shaped basalt stone I picked up on Back Beach in Bernard, Maine a few years ago sits as a paperweight on the open page of a pocket-size Moleskine 2014 hard cover diary in Antwerp blue that was a gift from a friend. Just to the right is the screen of my big old HP desktop computer. While I boot up, my eyes go to a strip of paper with a typewritten quote taped to the top of the screen’s plastic border: “To write well, you must be able to hold your finger in the fire.” Dylan Landis (author of “Normal People Don’t Live Like This.”)

I taste the memory of yesterday’s hibachi coals in the scalding black Komodo Dragon coffee, but smell hints of spiced Chai from the dregs of a mug still sitting on my desk from yesterday afternoon. A stack of old New Yorker and Poet and Writer magazines supports a messy pile of the first 112 pages of my novel in progress. The last sentence so far, “Claire tied a piece of surgical rubber around her upper arm, and picked up the syringe,” stares me in the face. An M. Hohner Blues Harp sits in its case beside the stack of magazines and papers.

I inherited the desk from my husband, who brought it home when he retired 17 years ago. It’s a big hunk of ugly: L-shaped, with skinny tubular aluminum-looking legs, sliding black panels over maple drawers, and a surface big as a door that we covered with matte black laminate. Books are scattered around to the left of the omputer: “The Language of Fiction: a writer’s stylebook” by Brian Shawver, “3 a.m. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley, Jeff Vandermeer’s   “Wonderbook”; “The Art of Time in Memoir” by Sven Birkerts, Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.”  Scraps of half-written paper everywhere. Stacks of old notebooks on the steel blue carpet.

Birds fly by the window in a downward trajectory toward the nearly empty, raccoon-raided feeder below. Shadows on the tree trunks outside my second story window slip down and puddle on the ground, melting away in the bright sun. I hear the drone of small planes, the icemaker dropping cubes, water running through pipes that tells me Buck is up, and the dull, rhythmic popping sounds of a pistol-shooting neighbor half a mile away.