An afternoon walk in the woods became my reward for a morning of writing during my week-long writing residency at the Weymouth Center for the Arts. It was a simple thing. Trails meandered behind the twenty-room estate under a forest of longleaf pines.
The Weymouth house, with its warm polished wood floors and thoughtfully decorated furnishings provided the type of space that makes me want to rise as a writer, to string together words worthy of that sacred place. Legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe honed their craft there.
After the solitude of writing in an-almost-empty-historical home, the noises in the forest were a welcome relief to the words prattling inside my head. The mundane seemed extraordinary after all the self-imposed quiet – the whispering breeze, the scampering squirrels, and the chirping birds.
I’d come back and my afternoon writing stint often stretched long into the evening. Sometimes the words flowed. Other times I just stared at the blank screen.
At times such an intense loneliness set in that it felt excruciating to sit still for another minute. I paced around the library, looking at the photographs of famous authors inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.
I knew that two other men were staying there, in separate wings. The only sign I saw of them those first few days was the placard hanging on their respective doors, “Writer working. Please do not disturb. ”
By nightfall, I locked myself in my bedroom. Staying at Weymouth felt like living in a museum, one steeped in history, guarded by spirits. I worried about getting lost in the twisting hallways or stumbling on one of the many steps that led up or down into yet another wing.
In the middle of the night, my door banged shut or the window rattled. At some point every night, I woke up afraid.
One morning I bumped into another writer in the kitchen. Matter-of-factly he mentioned that he always has such vivid dreams while staying at Weymouth. He’s an established author with four published books and has stayed at Weymouth several times.
I wanted to hug him, so relieved was I that I wasn’t the only one. For the past few nights there, I’d seen dead friends in my dreams. I’d spent the night with past lovers. I had dreamt about my son and felt sad that it would still be a few more days before I saw him again. I woke up each morning exhausted.
I wondered if it was worth it, counting the hours until the freaked-out nights passed, struggling to be productive and focused.
Toward the end of the week, I wanted to get out of there.
I’m prone to escapism. When I stay put for too long, I get the urge to go. When I’ve been gone for too many days in a row, I long to stay put. I’ve tried staying and I’ve left more than I haven’t, all the while wanting a break from the only person I couldn’t get a break from – myself.The words on the page were undeniably me, and there was no escaping that, so I went the only place I could, into the woods. I walked and walked, taking one trail to the next until I was back where I started.
Some days the sun tempted me to linger longer. I’d sprawl my body on the moss. I stretched my legs and arms out long, taking up as much room as I could.
Surrendering to the earth like that somehow helped me lay it all down on the page, all the magic and tragic twists my life had taken, leading me on unintended and soul-smashingly beautiful adventure of single parenting in the South.
By day six, I’d achieved what I’d set out to do – my manuscript, just shy of 80,000 words, about 280 pages of a book. I’ve edited it and honed it down to be the best I’m capable of making it. I’d brought it as far as I could.
At Weymouth, I had to square up with myself, to dig deeper, and to sit still for longer than I imagined possible. Only then did I meet a version of myself who settled into being alone.