The first time I came to Provincetown, I fell in love with it—not just for the usual reasons: that at that time in my life it represented freedom, recognition, new discoveries, peace and time to write—but because there was something so very familiar about it. As though I’d spent my entire life in a tiny, charming, New England seaside community.
It wasn’t until my second week here back in 2010 that I put my finger on why I felt so comfortable and at home—call it genetic or familial memory, but I suddenly made the connection: my father’s family is from the North Frisian Islands, specifically from one of the four large ones called Föhr. This group of islands, under German rule, is largely economically dependent on tourism, but, being surrounded by the sea, has that fishing-village feel; my father had visited there in 2001 and brought back photos, and when I recalled them, I wasn’t surprised to realize that the small streets, the houses decorated with flowers, the landscape in general and the atmosphere didn’t seem that much different from Provincetown’s.
That said, when I’ve stayed at the colony in winters past, I was given an apartment—usually off Bradford Street—which wasn’t near the sea. This time, I’m in Norman’s house, and the sea literally comes up to the base of the stairs on Norman’s back porch at high tide. I can see the ocean through almost all of the windows: I watch it as I work in Norman’s dining room, I watch it when I drink at his bar, I watch it when I’m having coffee in the morning; I hear the pounding surf from every room in the house, especially at night.
For the first time in my life, I’m surrounded by the ocean 24/7.
While this may not seem an extraordinary thing to most people, it is for me, as I’ve spent my life land-locked. I know full well the sea is quixotic and wears many masks from photos, films, and the brief, infrequent times I’ve spent in and around it. But to see it constantly live has been incredible, a reminder for me that we, just like the sea, have the power to change our perceptions in an instant—if only we are open to the forces that shape us.
Here’s a montage of what I’ve seen since I’ve been here. All of it was shot on Norman’s back porch.
The more things change, the more they stay the same: below shot of me leaving for Provincetown in 2011; below that, a shot of me leaving in 2012.
This is my third winter at the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony inProvincetown. While I know what to expect, I also don’t, which strikes a little trepidation in me: every time I get into the car to come here, I wonder what new discoveries and revelations await me, and even though they are almost always positive, I cannot say that the journey to them is always pleasant.
One of my favorite things to do while I’m here is get out for a drive every day—not necessarily to go anywhere; with the town being three miles long and its roads basically one large loop, it’s really easy to just put on some tunes and admire the beautiful landscape and take a break from work. One of the things I’ve noticed about Ptown’s winters (even last year, which was snowier than usual), is that when they are not gray (which honestly, at least when I’ve been here, really isn’t that often), they are sunny and bright—a cure for me, who suffers from lack of light, and I know for a fact that where I live is much, much grayer much more often during the winter months.
For fun, I thought I’d share my drives from 2010 and 2012 (for some reason, I cannot find the 2011 film, although I remember doing it). What’s most interesting to me is that, just as my 2010 experience was so vastly different from my 2012 experience, the type of sunny winter is also vastly different: 2010 was, just as it appears on the video, much colder, and you can see that in the way the sun and the landscape looks compared to 2012—which looks a little bit more like spring sun and there’s good reason for that, since it hasn’t really dropped below forty-five degrees since I’ve been here. It feels like March, not February, and again, the sun and landscape reflect that difference. It’s this type of thing that reminds me—and should remind us all—that sometimes it’s okay to go home again; everything changes, even if in only the smallest ways, and most of the time, it’s for the best.
Enjoy (excuse the Peter Cetera; that’s the only CD I listen to when I’m here, and really don’t know why except that it seems to mellow me out).
I’m officially on my way to the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony inProvincetown,Mass.(if you’re reading this between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., then yes, I am really in my car). I’ll be there today through February 15.
Provincetownhas something about it that’s conducive to creation, especially (at least for me) in the depths of winter. While up there I plan to spend most of my time producing new short work and revising old short work (I’ve really fallen behind). Normally, I’m there the last two weeks in January; this year, it was moved to February, which means I’ll get to spend my birthday up there as well.
Wish me luck…I’m looking forward to a productive, yet stress-free, couple of weeks! If anyone needs to reach me, I’ll be available on my cell phone and through e-mail (though I’m really going to abstain from that as much as I can).
Talk to you soon!
Many years ago, I wrote poetry. One of my favorites, “Today,” has just been accepted for Vagabondage Press’ Love Notes, an anthology of “passionate and romantic poetry…suitable for gift giving” for Valentine’s Day 2012.
As of now, Love Notes is due out January 31. I’ll keep you posted. For more information about Vagabondage Press and to explore their current titles, visit http://vagabondagebookscom.ipage.com/bookstore/
In other news, I’ve been awarded a Winter Residency up at the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony inProvincetown,Mass., and this time will be staying in the late writer’s home from February 1 – 15, 2012. I’m once again looking forward to a healthy and very productive two weeks in a beautiful environment. Although Ptown is gorgeous in the summer, I prefer it in winter: its atmosphere and light is perfect for writing ghost stories—and wow do I have so many in my head I can’t wait to get down on paper!
Despite last year’s rough winter, the birds were singing outside my Ptown apartment.
 Taken from Vagabondage Press’ original call for submissions for the Love Notes anthology.
I heard some really fun news from my friends out in Provincetown recently: the East End Marketplace, the town’s exclusive retailer for my collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World, has only one copy left in stock. So…a new shipment, as well as a poster, has been delivered—just in time for the nice weather!
The East End Marketplace is located at 212 Bradford Street(at the corner ofHowland Street) and is open year-round. It features a grocery and a selection of local wines, and their specialty is homemade food, such as Apple Crisp (to die for), meat loaf, macaroni and cheese and pot pie. Their terrific deli offers breakfast sandwiches, subs, and soups made to order.
In addition, it’s a local hang out. There are tables, and it’s not unusual to see people stopping in just to chat.
If you’re up in Provincetown, be sure to stop in and say hello!
Snow! While Ptown has had more than I’m used to (granted, I only have last winter to compare it to, so for all I know, this could really be normal), I’ve been spared Western Connecticut’s major pummeling that’s thrown many of my friends back home into states of depression and frustration. I’m going back there in a few days, so I know I’m due for my share, and I’m not looking forward to it.
Ptown’s portion of Wednesday’s whopper manifested itself as nothing short of a Nor’easter. The town had been buzzing about its severity for a couple of days, but it didn’t concern me much other than I knew to expect a very noisy, wind-crazy-inducing night. Toni, my neighbor, and I, had bought a few groceries, and had gone so far as to devise a loose plan: if the power went out, I was to come up to her apartment to sleep or hang out or whatever. There was no point, we figured, in a couple of suburban girls being separated in the pitch dark in a place so far from home.
The storm moved in while I was on the phone with friends, and it was average wind and some rain—nothing I hadn’t really seen before in Ptown. At 10:20, I was getting ready to call it a night when I heard a thump against my bedroom door, a thump so hard the wall shook a little bit. I stopped brushing my teeth, and, heart pounding, went to go check it out.
An unmoving bird lay on the boards.
Now, you know me, I love to photograph dead birds. But for some reason this one spooked me to the point that any thought of taking a photo went completely out of my head (the next morning, I went to go find it, and it was gone). When I finally did go to bed, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. I got very little sleep as the storm intensified. Pieces of things—sticks or God knows what else—kept hitting the bedroom window and waking me up; something someplace in the house was slamming so that the walls vibrated, the wind went from moaning to shrieking, and at 2:30, the lights dimmed and then popped back on.
I got up and rummaged in my pocketbook for the mini-Maglite Nathan had given me and told me never to be without. I put it and the phone by my bed.
At 2:45, the lights dimmed, popped on, dimmed again, popped back on. Outside, the wind screamed.
I heard a pop and crack, and then everything went dark, and the apartment heater whined to a stop.
I looked at my cell phone. 3:03 a.m.
Having been in one situation in Ptown in which the heat went out, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the place got really cold. I got up and changed into flannel PJs (most of mine are cotton, but I do own one flannel pair for just such an occasion), heavy socks, and called Toni, who didn’t pick up. I left her a message, told her the power was out, I was down in my apartment, and if she needed me call.
I’ve been camping, so I’m used to pitch dark. But there was something creepy about this dark, and I almost got the sense that something was outside at the door, trying to get in. The bedroom door creaked and groaned with every sweep of wind.
My cell phone rang and it scared the hell out of me.
“Kristi? Are you there?” It was Toni. “Oh my God it is so scary up here!” She’s on the third floor, but her apartment is all glass on the side that faces the ocean; she was getting the brunt of the wind.
I agreed with her, gathered some candles, a sweater, the cell phone, the camera and few other things—which despite my flashlight were really hard finding in the dark—and braved the storm.
Trying to the get my front door open to make the short trek from my place to hers was not easy—the wind practically slammed it against the wall and blew snow into my foyer. Making it up the stairs without literally being blown off them wasn’t easy either, and ice crystals kept stinging my eyes. When I did make it to her door, there was a large snow drift in front of it (which we found out the next morning wasn’t a snow drift at all—it was the screen and shorn off wood and metal from her screen door, which had flown open and broken in half). When I stepped inside, we both had to force her front door closed against the wind.
So, inside and warm, we decided to wait the outage. We took care of some necessary stuff first—running the cold water in her kitchen and bathroom sinks just to keep them from freezing, since I had no idea how exposed the pipes were and how long they could go without a consistent heat source; lighting candles, bringing pillows and blankets into the living room, since her bedroom had, shockingly quickly, become too cold to stay in. We talked about how terrified we both are of the pitch dark, and how all the screaming wind and things hitting the house made it worse, and how the staircase in her bedroom that lead only to a bolted door and nowhere else was a serious scare factor.
Video: There’s something slamming in the house and Toni’s windows are completely iced over.
Video: Stairs to Nowhere and Screaming Dead Things
Video: Hitting Windows and The Donner Party
Video: Avoiding frozen pipes.
But it wasn’t long before the air of terror dissipated. There was a certain magic that took over—like we were nine again and at a pajama party. We told spooky stories and shared girl talk, ate some crackers, and had a Tarot fest. At 4:30 a.m., the lights came back on…and, not ready to go back to bed, we turned them all off again and kept the party going.
This may be one thing I’ll have to keep in mind. That amidst all the backbreaking work and hassle and everything else that accompanies repeated snowstorms, there may still be an opportunity for a little flashback fun here and there. A pajama party by the fire, a couple of snowball fights, ghost stories by candlelight, hot chocolate and cookies—these are winter’s small pleasures that we’ve forgotten. Taking time out to enjoy these things once a snowstorm just might get us New Englanders through the rest of the toughest winter we’ve had in a long time.
And now, to go call property management about that screen door.
TONI’S BROKEN SCREEN DOOR
Video: Screen Door Damage.
“I don’t understand what happens up there. Every time you go up there windows break, animals die, walls fall into the sea.”
~ Nathan, on me in Ptown, 01/25/11
Every time I come to the Mailer Center in Provincetown there is some new discovery I make, usually accidentally inspired by something in nature. The landscape, the way things work here has a certain magic, a magic that for me makes the veil between the natural world and the inner life incredibly thin.
One day I was working on a project at the Mailer house. I took a cigarette break, and for as many times as I’ve stood on the back porch I saw something I’d never noticed: several urns overflowed with oyster, clam, scallop, and mussel shells.
The NMWC admin came outside to say hello.
“These bowls are cool,” I said. “I’ve never seen them before. Are they new?”
“We pick them up from the deck,” he said. “Look.”
Sure enough, the porch was littered with bivalve shells.
“That’s the seagulls that do that,” he said.
All of my years working in two different aquariums, at one in the fishes and inverts department (of which bivalves are part), I’d never heard of this, much less seen it. “What do you mean?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Seagulls are smart. They drop the clams or whatever on the porch so they split open, and then they fly down and eat the meat and leave the shells. We just pick ’em up and chuck ’em in the bowls because we don’t know what to do with ’em all.”
I know seagulls are strong, but I was still amazed. Some of these shells indicated that their owners had been pretty large animals (a live oyster or clam can actually weigh quite a bit, you’d be surprised), and Norman’s porch being, obviously, a popular spot might mean the birds would have to carry some of these creatures several miles.
This struck me. As usual, I had come to Provincetown not just with piles of work to do and high hopes of getting it all done, but also with things to think about, understand, process, sort. In some cases, I realized, some of these issues went back as far as a couple of decades. Each of these things was a heavy bivalve I’d been carrying but had never been ready to let go, smash open, process, and finally, resolve.
I left the Mailer house that day with a new sense of what lie ahead of me beyond writing. I’ve spent the past week and half smashing open and digesting a lot of things—some not so tasty, some going down not the way I’d expected, others nourishing me in better ways than I’d have imagined.
Now the only thing I have to do is figure out what I’m going to do with the shells.
Every time I come to Ptown the landscape inspires a revelation. This time, when I first saw the snow-covered dunes along Route 6—one giant one in particular that reminded me of a great bear—and all of the beautiful bare trees and gardens that surround the apartment in which I’ll be staying for two weeks, I thought about the nature of winter.
I’ve always tended to think of winter as a dead time, but it isn’t, really. Everything is just asleep—the trees, the gardens, the seasonal inns. And everywhere there are small signs of awakening: birds chirping, fences and brickwork being repaired, porches being swept.
Here are pix of this January’s Ptown writing spot. Enjoy!
The Norman Mailer Writers Colony recently let me know I’ve been accepted for another residency this winter! I’ll be up in Provincetown writing from January 16-31, 2011.
Based on how much I got done last year, I’m looking forward to getting a good jump on projects—one in particular, which absolutely has to be finished—due in 2011.
There is an application process and residencies are based on merit. There’s still time to apply for the coming season. Deadlines are as follows: October 1 for residencies in November and December, 2010; December 1 for residencies in January and February 2011; February 1 for residencies in March through May 2011.
If you’d like more information on the Fall/Winter/Spring Retreat Program or you’d like to apply, visit here for information: http://www.nmwcolony.org/contents/fellowship_winter/2/30 and here for the application: http://www.nmwcolony.org/files/2010-08-24-031100Fellows_2010-2011-Winter_Application__with_fee_8-18-10.pdf
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. 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
And there was assessment of how far we still had to go.
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.
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.
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. 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.”
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.
 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