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IT’S A LONG WAY UP

The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.

Nana (my grandmother) lived in Daytona Beach, Florida, so growing up, we visited her frequently. When I was fifteen, Dad took us to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.[1] The admission price included a climb to the lighthouse’s beacon, where visitors could behold the view. I had trepidation about climbing—it looked gargantuan.

My sister Missie and brothers Chip and Chuck in front of the entrance to one of the buildings at the Ponce Inlet complex. We toured everything first before tackling the lighthouse.

My first attempt at stalling. I posed with this palm tree on the lighthouse grounds. I had just gotten that new outfit at Beall's, actually, so that might have something to do with it.

My second attempt at stalling the climb. From left, Chuck, Chip, Missie, and Dad. And another really cool palm tree.

“It’s only one hundred feet high,” my Dad—a man who’d once convinced me to jump into his arms off our beach’s dock because he was touching bottom—said. “Because it’s standing up, it’s an illusion. If you laid that down, it’d fit in between our mailbox and the McBrearity’s.”

Of course this wasn’t accurate. But just like at the dock, I bought it.

This is November, 1985. My Aunt Maria in front of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, which isn't one hundred feet tall, but one hundred and seventy-five. I chose this picture because it best matches my memory of how massive it looked to me--she looks pretty small, doesn't she?

We ascended the endless spirals of metal stairs. When my legs burned, I’d stop and peer out windows through which I could see places from my past: the bright yellow cart where Nana bought five-year-old me my first conch shell. The ribbon of beach where nine-year-old me was stung by a jellyfish. The orange grove where eleven-year-old me picked oranges and made my first fresh juice. The restaurant where twelve-year-old me ate fried shark for the first time. The park where fourteen-year-old me petted a sea turtle. All these places getting smaller and smaller the higher we went; each time I saw a place, I’d look up at how far we still had to go and think, ‘okay, I’ve seen enough, I can stop now.’

But I kept going.

When we reached the top, I couldn’t believe the splendid view: the palm forests, the beaches, the ocean beyond. There was a whole world full of places I’d never been that were mine to explore. Everything was in front of me.

February, 1985. This is the view you first see when you step out on the deck at the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.

I tried to get a shot of the view through the fencing.

A shot of the inlet from the top of Ponce Lighthouse.

Fast forward twenty-four years, and I’m visiting the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum with fellow writers Marita Golden and Adrienne Wartts. I hadn’t climbed anything since Ponce Inlet, so I was eager. Adrienne wanted to climb, too, but wasn’t as full of gusto.

“It’s not that high,” I said. “It’s just an illusion because it’s standing up.”

She probably didn’t really buy that, but she went with me anyway. Up and up we went.

My friend Adrienne waves as she makes her way up the stairs on the inside of the Pilgrim Monument. We hadn't gone that far up yet.

The Pilgrim Monument is impressive. I love this picture because it illustrates just how massive the interior is--look at how small Adrienne seems, and she's only a level above me.

The fact that it was a combination of stairs and ramps should’ve made it easier, but it didn’t—there were burning legs. There was peering out windows at now-abandoned places from my past (in this case, recent past—winter): my old apartment, the dunes, the cemetery, Napi’s.

Me, taking a break at one of those windows through which I could spot places from the past. Photo by Adrienne Wartts.

And there was assessment of how far we still had to go.

We are about three quarters of the way up. This shot is looking down.

But then we reached the top, and I forgot about it all—once again, all I could see was a new Ptown. What lie ahead.

A view from the top of the Pilgrim Monument, looking East. The main road you see is Bradford Street, and the flat red roof is the Mobil Gas Station, where I've gotten coffee a couple of times.

A view from the top, looking South. This is Provincetown Harbor.

A view from the top, looking West. The road you see is once again Bradford Street.

View from the top, looking North. Below, the cemetery where Norman Mailer is buried. Slightly beyond that is the intersection of Route 6 and Race Point Road -- my summer quarters were right there. Beyond all the green, the Dunes.

Visiting the monument, which had been built to immortalize the Mayflower Pilgrims’ landing in Provincetown in 1620, had special significance that day—just ten days prior, the town had celebrated the structure’s 100th anniversary. The monument took three years to complete, and along the way, New England towns, cities, and organizations donated interior blocks. It very much gave one the sense that the monument had been built more slowly, maybe, than was necessary; that it had been done painstakingly, stone by stone.

When the monument was built, towns and cities all over New England donated stones for the interior.

And all I could think about was how much the process of building the monument and the experience of climbing it paralleled my writing career.

On the drive to Ptown, I’d listened to an episode of my favorite Disney Park fan podcast, Inside the Magic.[2] The show’s host, Ricky Brigante, was interviewing Peter Cullen (if you don’t know who he is, you might if you were a Transformers fan—he’s the original and current voice of Optimus Prime). Hasbro had just inducted Cullen into the Transformers Hall of Fame, and he shared his thoughts on creative success:

“It takes a long time. Some people are fortunate and they get it very quickly, but they’re gone very quickly…don’t give up. Keep the main ingredients and the main source of your heart and your ambitions together in one place in your mind and do not let defeat ever destroy you, just—always go after it, because you’ll really appreciate yourself later on when you do find some success.

“Some very important people in life have taught me some very important attitudes that I’ve applied. Lucille Ball once said, ‘never refuse a job no matter how small, no matter how big, how miniscule…because every job leads to another job. And don’t be so proud that you expect perhaps fifty lines and you only get half a line. That half line will take you to another line and so on.’ So always have the courage and the love of your craft to keep on going despite the disappointments, because there will be many.”[3]

Those of us in creative careers should keep this in mind—in this world, everyone wants instant success. But that happens to only the few, so it’s good to remember that for most of us, reaching that pinnacle really is a long, slow process. That sometimes it’s really hard work; that sometimes it hurts; that sometimes we have to stop and assess where we’ve been and appreciate those struggles, but not let them keep us from moving forward. And that every small accomplishment is another stone or another step toward our goal. It may take a while—years, perhaps decades. But as long as we keep going, we will, eventually, get to the top.

And the view will definitely be worth it.

A happy girl takes a rest at the top! Photo by Adrienne Wartts.


[1] The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is located at 4831 South Peninsula Drive in Daytona Beach, Florida, and has great historical significance—for example, Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, based his most famous short story, “The Open Boat,” on his horrifying experience of being lost at sea within eyeshot of the Ponce Inlet Light (then called The Mosquito Light) after the sinking of the S.S. Commodore (the wreck of which was discovered in the 1980s). This one incident is probably why my father decided to bring us there. He taught The Red Badge of Courage in his English classes, but he loved short stories, especially ones of adventure.

The museum complex features extensive exhibits on its role in history as well as the lifestyle of lighthouse keepers. To learn about the lighthouse or plan your visit, click here: http://www.ponceinlet.org/index.html. To read Crane’s “The Open Boat,” click here: http://www.ponceinlet.org/images/openboat.pdf

[2] http://www.insidethemagic.net/

[3] “Episode 278,” Inside the Magic, www.insidethemagic.net (Orlando, FL: http://www.insidethemagic.net/podcasts/278/, August 1, 2010).

AN INSIDE LOOK AT AN NMWC WORKSHOP

Me, on a workshop break (or, “A Happy Girl in Ptown”)

Many writers I know have asked me about the Norman Mailer Writers Colony workshop experience. I had planned, on some point, at posting specifics about the workshop I attended this summer—Fiction: The Protagonists with Marita Golden—but fellow writer and workshop attendee Len Joy beat me to it, and has done a fantastic job! If you want detailed insight on what it’s really like to attend a Colony workshop, you can read Len’s blog—and see some great photos—here.

Fiction: The Protagonists workshop attendees. Back row, left to right: John DeSimone, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Doug Dechow, Adrienne Wartts, Len Joy. Front row, left to right: Heidi Diehl, Marita Golden (Instructor), LuLu Johnson, and Anne Lopatto.

I’d encourage any writer to apply for these fabulous week-long workshops; they’re offered all summer long in a range of disciplines and are taught by some of the most accomplished writers working today. Attendees are chosen on merit and the application period usually opens sometime in January.

And I won’t forget to mention that you meet some pretty neat kindred souls. Not everyone in my group has a blog or website, but here are the ones that do if you’re interested in “meeting” them:

Douglas R. Dechow http://www.douglasdechow.com/

Lofty Ambitions: Douglas R. Dechow’s Blog

http://loftyambitions.wordpress.com

Marita Golden http://www.maritagolden.com/

Do Not Go Gentle: Leonard Joy’s Blog http://lenjoy.blogspot.com

To see a schedule of this year’s workshops so you can get an idea of what’s offered, visit http://www.nmwcolony.org/workshops/workshop/2/31/2010. To bookmark the site and check back frequently for 2011’s offerings and open application period, it’s http://www.nmwcolony.org/ and select the Fellowships/Workshops/Programs tab.

And, of course, although you’re working—we had class every day and yes, there was homework—there’s still time to enjoy what Ptown has to offer. In my opinion, a little daily recreation—especially experiencing new things—is always what makes these workshops so rich. Here are a few pix from my great week. Links from the places I visited (those places that have websites) follow the photos. Enjoy!

Charles, who visited for a couple of days, managed to get this much better shot of my attic writing quarters. I was usually up very early every morning doing work before class met at 9:30. The light is different out there—it gets lighter earlier and darker earlier, so it does tend to mess with my normal sleeping patterns.

We had rain once the whole week, and I enjoyed it on the skylights in my writing room.

I spent time on the beach reading at least one hour a day.

Monday night all nine of us went to Fanizzi’s for dinner.

On Tuesday, John makes a California salad for lunch after class. He and Len had a nice place from which they could see the bay.

The dunes were popular with Lulu and Heidi, who took their bikes everywhere and spent a lot of time out in nature. I think they were out there pretty much every day, and I heard they did get a chance to see the Dune Shacks, at least from a distance.

I took Charles out to see the dunes, which I’d visited in winter. We ran into some visitors who were hoping the beach was nearby. I told them it was a long—very long—trek. In winter it hadn’t been that bad, but in summer in that heat, I wasn’t about to do it again.

We gathered for a cocktail hour on Tuesday night. Len was there early to set up.

Charles and I had been talking about visiting the Wellfleet Drive-In ever since I’d driven past it back in January. On Tuesday night, we got our chance to go. What a great place! More on this in a future blog entry.

…and even though the drive-in had the audio through a radio frequency, as they all do nowadays, some of the 1950s speakers still worked—and, in fact, the car next to us used that instead of the radio. Here, Charles messes around with putting it on the car window. The one we had happened to work, so it was a real kick.

The speakers work!

Wednesday was really hot, so I spent some time in the water off Norman’s back porch. I’d also wanted to shoot a photo to accompany a blog entry about my short story “Jingle Shells.” I’d brought my tacky Christmas earrings and pins with me, and went to Marine Specialties where I bought a bag of shells I really didn’t need for a dollar. Fortunately, there was a little girl visiting the house that day. She was more than happy to watch me shoot these stupid pictures and chase the shells if the tip of a wave started to sweep them away—and more than happy to take the whole bag of them off my hands when I was done!

Marita, Heidi, Len, John, and I went to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum - PAAM - on Wednesday night to see Jazz with Dick Miller and Friends. Pictured are, left to right, Donna Byrne (vocals), John Bucher (trumpet) and Marshall Wood (bass), who, with Dick Miller (piano) performed some wonderful standards that so reminded me of my Julie London CDs. They even did one of my favorites—“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”

Thursday, Anne, John, and Len came over to my place for dinner.

I made steak—but we didn’t have a grill, so I had to call Nathan for a crash course in effective broiling. The three of them seemed okay in class the next day, so I suppose I didn’t kill them. The salads came from East End Market and Stop & Shop, so I knew we were okay on those!

Anne and John in my living room, where I served appetizers.

On Friday, Adrienne and I decided to strike out for Truro Vineyards for a tour. More on this whole thing in a later blog entry…but isn’t this beautiful?

Adrienne and I each bought one of these lighthouse-shaped bottles of wine. The bottles are imported from Italy and they need to be hand-labeled, because the labeling machines cannot handle them. I shared mine with Charles when I got home—but Adrienne made a mistake and put hers in her carry-on, so it was…confiscated. Fortunately, the wine can be ordered online!

I had driven by this kitschy place in the winter, when it’s closed. Adrienne and I went here for lunch after the vineyards. Good stuff—Moby Dick’s menu features just about every kind of fun seafood thing you can imagine, including Wellfleet Oysters and Grilled Crab Cakes. I ordered the lobster roll, forgetting that down here in Connecticut—at least at the Black Duck in Westport—the lobster roll is hot meat in a toasted roll. This was cold lobster salad. I ate it anyway, but wasn’t that happy with it. My bad.

I love displays like this! In Moby Dick’s, they are everywhere. We didn’t have time to hit the gift shop. I’ll definitely be doing that next time I’m there during the summer.

Friday night we decided we’d all go out to dinner again, so we gathered at Lulu’s place. Left to right, Heidi and Adrienne at Lulu’s table.

Pepe’s is on Commercial Street, at the end of an alley and right on the water. Just to the right of this sign is Bowerstock Gallery. Later on that night, LuLu and I stopped in there—and I saw some art I really wish I could afford!

Heidi and I. We ordered the Fish and Chips and Adrienne followed suit.

Fish and Chips!!

Doug gets ready to dig into his fried scallops. Hey, you’re in Ptown. Fried fish, as Heidi pointed out, is a MUST!

Well, except for Len, whom John dubbed jokingly as ‘the last serious man on earth’ when he announced he was sticking to his Friday night tradition: pizza!

LuLu, Marita, and John.

LuLu and I weren’t ready to head back after dinner, so we headed out to cruise Commercial Street. I love stuff like this. In Ptown, it’s everywhere. I could take 200 pictures of interesting signs.

LuLu and I get a picture of ourselves down at the pier. We had just been to Marine Specialties and bought funky earrings we didn’t need. She’s wearing hers—aren’t those starfish cool?

Saturday morning before class I finally took some time to walk out on the beach while the tide was out.

When the tide is out, many animals get left behind in small pools. Here is a baby spider crab. This was a little female.

After class and a catered lunch from Farland, Marita, Adrienne and I went to tour the Pilgrim Monument, which on August 5th had just marked its 100th Anniversary with a parade and fireworks.

Adrienne working her way up the inside of the monument.

The view from the top of the monument. This is looking out over the bay—I think toward the South, but don’t quote me on that.

The museum, which is included in the admission price, features exhibits on the history of Provincetown, including a display on the signing of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor on November 11, 1620.

On Saturday we all met for wine and cheese at LuLu’s apartment on Commercial Street. Here she is on her front porch.

LuLu and Doug chat it up.

Marita, Anne, Adrienne and I scored tickets for the last night of the Provincetown Jazz Festival, which was being held at Provincetown High School. The evening was a tribute to New Orleans, and a portion of the proceeds benefitted the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. What a way to finish out the week! Paul Sanchez played for us, and got the crowd going with some of the most rousing music I’ve ever heard. Seriously, people were leaping out of their chairs. It was worth the money.

I took Doug and Marita to the airport on Sunday before checking out. The airport is tiny and so are the planes. Cape Air—which Doug affectionately dubbed “Scare Air”—flies out of here.

Links

Norman Mailer Writers Colony

http://www.nmwcolony.org/

Fanizzi’s

http://www.fanizzisrestaurant.com/

The dunes (information only)

http://gonewengland.about.com/library/bldunetour4.htm

Wellfleet Drive-In

http://www.wellfleetcinemas.com/drive-in-theatre

Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM)

http://www.paam.org/

Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod

http://trurovineyardsofcapecod.com/index.php

Moby Dick’s

http://www.mobydicksrestaurant.com/home.html

Pepe’s Wharf Waterfront Restaurant

http://www.pepeswharf.com/

Bowersock Gallery

http://bowersockgallery.com/

Marine Specialties

http://www.ptownarmynavy.com/

Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

http://www.pilgrim-monument.org/

Provincetown Jazz Festival

http://www.provincetownjazzfestival.org/

Provincetown Municipal Airport

http://www.provincetown-ma.gov/index.aspx?NID=170

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