31 March 2011

The Fierce Sea: A Successful, yet Rotten Scary Writers Week

Ahoy, ye Rogues and Damned Rascals!

            I be gone for two weeks nigh, sailin’ the Gulf, liftin’ pints of all kinds with my “proper English” relatives. Aye, they be English, but proper? Nay, they be Rogues and Rascals just like ye, and partyin' wi’ those scallywags leaves no time for writin'.

            So wi' that excuse, I hasten back three weeks to my story of Writers Week at Colonyhouse in the fair town of Rockaway Beach, Oregon. I, along with my stout able companions Lois Jean and Kirsten, arrive late Sunday afternoon, ne’er expectin’ the week to end in a terrifying escape in the middle o’ the night.
            The tale begins wi’ the ordinary—ardent and eager souls, writers all, in desperate need of gettin’ away to bury ourselves in pages. Just the act of getting there demands bully work—buying food for five days; packing clothes, food, bedding and writing gear; driving four hours; then haulin’ the gear up a flight and a half of stairs. Smooth sailin’ this time with even a sighting of elk.  Arrival means emptying the car and luggin’ the gear upstairs, testin’ knees, backs and hips. Ah, the groans and sweat. But just being in this two-story log cabin feels like greetin’ an old friend. We drop anchor and set up our stations. We toast ourselves and the week. Full writin’ speed ahead.

My Work Station

           Monday breaks so magnificent, it warms me cockles. All mornin’ long, propped up in bed with the sounds of geese honking o’er Lake Lytle, I rework the first new chapters of the novel before my crazy beach affliction calls. I take to the shore at low tide to … dance. Aye, mateys. With modern and jazz moves, a few routines from my NIA classes, I choreograph along the waves, movin’ to one o’ my favorite personal mixes, one I titled “It’s All About Love, Stupid: Val’s Eclectic Folk Mix.” (See below for a partial playlist of this mix.) With my moves, I bless the ocean, my writing week and companions. I also bless the two young men who recently lost their lives to a sneaker wave in Yachats, and as I do, I look down and find the largest heart-shaped rock e’er I found on that beach, as if that treacherous sea was offerin’ up a tear for those it took, as well it should.

            Back at Colonyhouse, I’m afloat again after dredging up my ol’ writin’ voice, one I used in my memoir piece “Liberté.” Over the past four years I’ve felt tainted, and I have no idea what this means, but like a soured wine, I felt I couldn’t restore my flavor. Hard to describe what it feels like to go off course, but I was followin’ a siren call, that’s for sure, thinkin’ this new land I’d find would be richer.
            Lo, though, it led me onto the rocks.
            After I came to my senses and nursed my wounds, I headed back, a long journey but well worth the travel. Ya, see, me hearties, writin’s not just about lettin’ ya self go. Sure, it’s all part of the journey, but ya have ta know your voice from the ones that sing a pretty tune and seem honest, but are empty.
            Back to the week.
            A storm comes in and stays for the next three days, perfect weather for our bunch, keepin’ us inside and headin’ true north. Other than quick trips for provisions, a side trip for our Kirsten to Manzanita and the Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, the best on the coast, and some grub at The Beach Bite Restaurant, we all find great excitement for the progress we make. We check in regularly, enjoyin’ the reports. Seems the muse has taken up residence with us. I’ve talked about that scurvy wench before, fickle as they come, trouble with a capital T. I love her dearly, I do.
            Then thar’s the night we lay low, respite in a movie, Laurel Canyon. We also watch a few episodes of Mad Men, as we love men and the madness they cause. But this is not solely for entertainment. O, nay. Our passion is talkin’ afterwards about what makes these work, particularly the characters, the dialogue, and mise-en-scène. Last time we were here, we watched Death of a Salesman. Thar’s a lesson for ya!
            O a right good week so far. 

Where we toasted the ocean

           Eager to seal our kinship, on Thursday night, Kirsten sets a table with luscious food, candles, champagne and readies us for a sunset that will ne’er come. But that doesn’t dampen our spirits. With champagne in hand, we walk through hefty winds to reach the overlook at the beach and toast our good luck and the sea. We christen our threesome the New Moon Gals (as we have done a few pagan new moon rituals in our time) and try to create a motto, which is not forthcoming. We be workin’ on it in the future, but until now, we haul butt back to the cabin where we agree to work for three hours in the mornin’ before cleanin’ the place, packin’ up and leavin’. All’s set. We return to work.
            By midnight, I pack it in, read more of one of my mariners manuscripts until sleep calls me forth.
            Then around 1:30, I here scurryin’ above, voices, the squeaking of stairs, a knock at my door. It’s Lois Jean.
            “I think you’d better get up, Val.”
            I do and follow her upstairs where Kirsten, who was in bed, making a last check of her email says, “My aunt in Hawaii says there’s been a huge earthquake in Japan. She knows we’re at the coast. They’re expecting a tsunami to hit there and the West Coast, and they have no idea how big it will be.”
            My hearts racin’ like theirs is. We talk.
            Our decision to pack up and leave seems right. But we’ve heard no alarm, and believe me, the sound of that alarm will make the fearless tremble. I dress, then pack. In my car, I turn on the radio and every station plays their usual. Not a word about the earthquake or tsunami. Up and down the road, not a sign of anyone movin’. It’s eerie and unsettling’. Back inside, I find the phone number of Tillamook. Surely a city that size will have information. I reach a police recording to leave a message. The same for Cannon Beach. Does no one know? I call Rockaway Beach police. A man named Rick answers. Yes, he’s at the office because they’ll be setting off the tsunami alarm at four. Yes, if we’re awake and already packin’, would be best to head inland, and avoid god knows what. No, they have no idea what size the tsunami will be, too soon, but is expected at 7:21. Yes, the road from Hebo to Rt. 18/20 is clear. I thank him. Rockaway Beach is still the most tsunami-ready town in Oregon.

The drive home
            By 2:45 a.m. we have locked up and are on the road home. Lois Jean and I caravan south. Kirsten heads to Portland to meet up with her partner. I arrive home at 6:30 and fall into bed, but not before thanking Kirsten’s aunt who is safe and the Creative Spirit who lives inside us and watches over our journey.

            To end, I say, nay, this be not our usual Writers Week. Yet my brave messmates plan on returnin’, no yellow belly landlubbers be they!
            And this adventure sets me wonderin’ if perchance thar be a double meanin’ in what Billy Bones once said when he uttered, “Fill that pretty belly with grog and that’s what makes the world spin on its poles, say I.” Could there be a connection with toastin’ that fickle mistress the sea and makin’ the world spin four inches off her axis? Who knows? I do know my heart goes out to those great brave hearts in Japan. How I admire their kindness to each other under such horrific conditions. Should we all be as selfless.

To all of us on this spinnin’ globe, luck, love, a good voyage, and a safe return!
Captain Val

Coming Up! 
"Partying with the Proper English Cousins: a Photo Romp"
"The Fountain of Creative Ideas, or Why My Resume Wouldn't Land Me a Normal Job"
"Platform, Flatform"
"A View of My Writers Room Wall: What Inspires Me"

... and soon an interview with Jessica Maxwell of Roll Around Heaven