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.

California Meditation

Thinking of California, that beautiful state, and how vulnerable portions of it are tonight, with so many people frightened, mourning, in shock, running, I think of the many happy moments I have spent there hiking in the Big Sur and Sequoia, eating nectarine crisp in that fine Monterey restaurant. It’s a big state, and not all of it is in trouble, but are not we all afloat on the raft together, like the fellow in Yann Martell’s Life of Pi,  on a small raft on the ocean with a Bengal tiger?

Facing the death of a much loved, but ungiving person, I dashed off these notes some years ago, and thinking of our common frailties and common strengths, am reminded of them tonight. . .

The unknown. The unknowable. What does it mean to be a person? What is life? Who was this woman? Did I really know her? Even in her initial ungiving, she was a teacher. She was my guidepost and a lantern of warning. What are the lessons?

• Love, love, love. Love with all of your being. Don’t stint.
• Look at the world in wonder. Find the beauty. Immerse yourself in it. It will keep you from getting lost in the world of mundane daily tasks.
• Don’t be afraid or unwilling to give yourself to the people you love and to the works you’re inspired by.
• Be passionate about life.
• Don’t diminish the spirits of the people you love by being critical. Accept them. Love them. And let you know you love them. Tell them and show them. Have a generous spirit.
• A habit of criticism is as destructive as continuous water on a rock. It etches a family like acid and brings no good – only pain.
• See God. If believing is difficult, try to have faith. Even the search will give your spirit exercise and keep it from becoming rigid and incapable of growth. Doubting, yet continuing the quest, is still an affirmation of life. I have become unutterably convinced that it is a better way to live.
• The possibility of an afterlife is not the issue for me. It’s heaven on earth I’m interested in achieving.

A special little girl I know would pray sincerely for our California friends and say, “God bless Everyone under the rainbow.”

Goodnight. Stay safe. Be strong.