There was always something magical about a treehouse, and I have often wondered what it would be like to stay in one.
The last time I was in Ptown at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, I stayed in a cute little beach-themed apartment, full of light. This time around, I’m in a three-floor two-bedroom condo under the trees—and the room in which I sleep, as well as the spacious attic where I work, seem like they’re tucked up in the boughs. Childhood fantasy number umpteen—someday I’m going to live in a treehouse—complete!
Have I spent much time in it? Not much. For those of you wondering why I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, my days here have been filled with swimming, sitting on the beach or on Norman Mailer’s back porch, doing homework, attending workshop, and spending time with the other attendees, all fine writers. Instructor Marita Golden is amazing; since the workshop is all about protagonists in fiction, I’m finding I’m learning as much about myself and other people as I am about the ones I create on the page. Each of us also gets a private meeting with Marita to discuss our work, and, as a group, we’ve been out to dinner at Fanizzi’s, had a pleasant cocktail hour, and attended a jazz concert at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum [PAAM]. We have plans for the rest of the week to include a visit to the famous Pilgrim Monument and a trip to Truro Winery. Oh, yeah—I’ve also managed to cram in a visit to the Wellfleet Drive-in.
Here’s pix of my palace in the trees, where right now I’m sitting as the ocean breezes pour through the open window and skylights, and where each night, I fall asleep to the sound of rustling leaves and marvel at how, when I was a child, I never thought a dream like this would come true.
You can click on each thumbnail to get an enlarged image. Enjoy!
Toni Logan is a writer based in northern Westchester County, New York. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, Forbes ASAP, Business 2.0 and Wired.
Intuition: Don’t Ignore It
by Toni Logan
After five years of not writing, I was at wit’s end. My long career in California as a technology and business journalist had ended in 2005 (for a variety of valid but depressing reasons) and now I was living with my husband in a rural outpost of Westchester County, New York.
We had a lovely home and good life: freelance editing work, loving family and friends, lively participation in the community, a nearby train station and hourly trains to Grand Central Terminal. City girl at heart, I took advantage of these one-hour rides to New York City for intellectual and cultural stimulation whenever possible.
Still, I was unhappy and felt vaguely lost. I had an idea for a book I’d long wanted to write but couldn’t seem to wrestle pen to paper. The will to shift gears as a writer just wasn’t there. One hot July day in 2009 while out on a country-road stroll, I suddenly thought of an old acquaintance I hadn’t pondered – literally – in eighteen years. Jake was a friend I’d known in San Francisco during my time as a single student. He was an architect, artist, and musician then – a creative powerhouse with the drive and ambition of three average humans. As I walked quietly along the road, a voice in my head said very clearly: “Google him.” The force of it blew me off the blacktop.
This seemed a strange harbinger, a major disconnect from everything else happening in life. Still, I obeyed. The Google search revealed a music web site that sold CDs recorded by Jake’s former rock band. There was a contact link on the site. I shot a two-sentence note to him. He replied. We exchanged email addresses and began a chatty catching-up period that launched a renewed friendship. Jake became my unexpected and very effective creativity coach. This contact, delivered via intuition, changed the course of my writing life.
In addition to architecture, art and music, Jake had written two or three books since I’d seen him – one of which was published. He sent me one of his unpublished manuscripts to read. It inspired me to start writing my own book in a new genre.
I quickly cranked out four chapters of the book I’d been trying to begin for five years. The crushing case of writer’s block mysteriously dissolved.
It’s not that my husband, friends and former colleagues hadn’t TRIED to get me writing again. They had told me many times, “You should write books! You are a natural author!” For some reason I just couldn’t do it until Jake appeared on my cyberspace radar. It’s a mystery, I’m grateful, and I don’t try to figure it out.
One day last fall Jake sent me a note about a fundraising dinner in Manhattan to benefit the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Mass. I replied: “Sounds wonderful! Wish I could afford to attend and schmooze with A-list authors and editors.” He shot back: “Toni, I think you should apply for a writing residency at the Mailer Colony.” That had not even occurred to me. Sure, I knew writers colonies exist but hadn’t heard of this one (it was fairly new). Also, I didn’t consider colonies an option for someone like me. Nevertheless, I applied, was accepted for April 2010, and spent one glorious month writing and meeting other writers in Provincetown at the Norman Mailer Colony. This summer, I’m going back there for a week-long workshop titled “Historical Narrative” with six other lucky writers who made the cut. The first draft of my book will be finished by early fall.
Treading this new literary path feels so right. My soul has renewed purpose; the universe feels like home. When you get a strong message or hunch like mine on that July day, don’t ignore it. That’s your intuition showing you the correct path. Nurture it. Stay open to both new and renewed friendships. And, of course, just write. You’ve got nothing to lose.
It’s back to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony for a week in August! I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been accepted to a week-long workshop—Fiction: The Protagonists—at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony from August 8 – 15, 2010. The course will be taught by Marita Golden, author of the memoir Migrations of the Heart whose most recent novel, AFTER, received the Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Liberty Association.
The course description is amazing — this is sure to be an enriching experience. If you’d like to read the course description, you can find it here.
Workshop participants, as well as fellows, are chosen on merit. For more information on the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and how to apply for upcoming opportunities, visit http://www.nmwcolony.org.
My ghost story “Crossing Guards,” which first appeared in Newport Round Table’s Walls & Bridges anthology published by Millennial Concepts and edited by Mark and Melissa Martin Ellis, has just been selected for inclusion in Pill Hill Press’ Haunted anthology, which will contain stories about haunted houses and structures, specifically. It is edited by Jessy Marie Roberts and publication is tentatively slated for this fall.
It was a fine Easter Sunday in Ptown—warm enough to take off my shoes and walk along the beach behind 6A’s seasonally-shuttered hotels. The rash of violent weather earlier in the week had left more detritus than usual; I can always find small broken shells, but on that day, the beach was littered with so much uprooted seaweed the landscape resembled a scalp-peppered battlefield. I found skate cases, crab molts, a few dead fish, and posts from damaged piers. But the most interesting thing I came across was a near-buried boat.
A corner of the stern and part of the hull were still visible—even though its bow was completely buried to the point where it was impossible to tell there was anything under the sand at all. Although the vinyl letters that spelled out Kitti Wake were in relatively decent shape, I don’t know how long the boat had been there; it seems to me it would have taken awhile for it to get buried that deeply, but with the wildness of the ocean around Ptown, who knows?
I made a connection between this almost-buried boat and the intensely sad, elegantly rendered story “The Borges Cure” by Lynne Barrett. The piece opens with a woman’s recollection of a night decades earlier when she and her then “almost-former lover” spy the writer Borges on an escalator. Following the couple’s split, the woman struggles to understand and quell the pain by “read[ing] and re-read[ing]” Borges work “when I was unable to sleep.” Although she is confident that the Borges cure “will rid me of all but this old healed hurt, like a vaccination scar in a spot I can’t view without some contortion,” the story’s last line reads: “I could, I think, forget him [the lover] completely, if only I had not been with him when I saw Borges, which makes him unforgettable.”
I stood looking at the near-buried Kitti Wake and thought. It’s obvious the woman in the story needs to bury the memory of her lover so that she can move on with her life, but she doesn’t necessarily want to—otherwise she wouldn’t have chosen the very activity that reminds her of him as her shovel. She wants to hang on to that single night, perhaps because of its magic. How many of us do that? We bury most of what we need to forget, but don’t see the harm in leaving some of it above-ground, perhaps so we can find it again. What happens then, though, is that a sharp edge is left exposed—one that can poke us and hurt us all over again at any time, and sometimes when we least expect it.
 The storm on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 was so intense that not only were drains overflowing on Commercial Street in the East End, “The Pier Corp.’s crane barge sank,” according to the April 1 edition of The Provincetown Banner. You can read that article here: http://www.wickedlocal.com/provincetown/features/x1664785677/Provincetown-harbormaster-grapples-with-double-trouble
 “The Borges Cure” was published on March 22, 2010 as Firebox Fiction in Night Train. You can read the story here: http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/contents/barrett_fb.php
 Lynne Barrett, “The Borges Cure,” Night Train March 22, 2010, http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/contents/barrett_fb.php.
I loved Ptown in winter—the silence, the gray sea, the shrieking winds. Being here in April’s warmth on the cusp of spring—watching everything come alive—is exciting in a different way. The birds are so numerous, varied, and loud I could swear I was in Bronx Zoo’s World of Birds. The grass and plants are brilliant green. And there’s barely a zephyr about.
The writing I did today, the mood I was in reflected this vibrant environment. I was up at five and worked like a fiend until noon.
Then I got stuck.
This isn’t anything new—it happens in Danbury, too. I find the best thing to do is shake things up a little bit, and I do have my favorite activities. One of them is having lunch al fresco at Bluu with my friend Mo. We watch cars with New York plates screech into the Bob’s parking lot, people hustle in and out of the liquor store (because it’s Saturday and you can’t buy alcohol in Connecticut on Sunday), listen to the thrum of hip-hop pouring from souped-up sports cars. We have wine and eat edamame.
It almost never works. Usually after that I’m shot for the day and give up.
This afternoon when it happened, I figured I’d try a similar tact—after all, if I was shot for the day, I am in Ptown and there’s partying to be done, so why not? I headed to the East End Marketplace, picked up a sandwich, wine, and the Provincetown Banner and drove out Race Point Road to the Beach Forest trail head, where I found my own little picnic table in heaven.
I sat and ate and read the Banner’s top stories: the harbormaster’s boat and crane barge sank in the violent storms earlier in the week; Napi Van Dereck, owner of Ptown’s famous Napi’s, found a piece of art that had been missing from St. Mary’s Church for years and returned it; Norris Church Mailer’s Memoir Ticket to the Circus was released. Chance had made the sandwich with the perfect amount of mustard. The sun kept me warm. Some chickadees came around pecking for crumbs. People pulled up in their cars, walked their dogs, or took up picnic spots of their own. When I was ready to leave, I realized something surprising had happened.
I felt recharged. I hurried back to the apartment and hit the keyboard. I still haven’t opened the wine.
I don’t need to.
“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”
~ Derek Wolcott, Trinidadian poet, playwright, writer, and visual artist
Knowing I was in P-Town withdrawal, my friend Pete sent me a photo on my cell phone. When it arrived and I opened the message, I didn’t know what I was looking at until I read the accompanying note: shards of an old beveled mirror. I knew why he’d sent it—I love broken, shattered, abandoned stuff; it wasn’t intended to go any deeper than that.
But it kept bugging me. I felt like it meant something.
I looked at the picture again and again, trying to figure out why I felt so drawn to it, what it was trying to say. I’m in Danbury, CT, so the day I received it was miserable, gray and snowy with the promise of four more days of it and horribly plowed roads, of course. Where he was in Provincetown, Mass., it was a clear, warm day: in the photo, the sun glinted brightly off the shards of glass.
I figured it out.
A year ago, I read a short story called “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer. It was one of those pieces that blew me away to the point where it still haunts me.
It has to do with a woman’s desperate desire to escape her life. At first, she takes solace in what she finds in her mirror. Then she realizes she can take it one step further—but it will require shattering that which has given her comfort. Forever. She has to give up what is safe and comfortable so she can take a risk and go forth into the unknown. Which might end up being worse.
Enter the cliché: the grass is always greener on the other side. I believe this phrase’s original intent was to remind us that we need to be happy with what we have. That life will not, couldn’t possibly, be any better if we go shakin’ the tree. Desire for something different is dangerous. So what if you’re a little unhappy? You should be glad things aren’t worse. Some people do, I’m sure, get up every day, look in the mirror, and say, ‘this, what I have, is truly awesome. I am so happy with my life I don’t want to change one thing.’ But what about those who get up and say, ‘this, what I have, is good enough. It’s convenient and safe. I can put up with some stuff I don’t like so I don’t have to deal with the pain of change.’ In this context, the grass is greener sounds like an excuse. I’m convinced, now, that this is what some people say when they’re just too afraid to make any kind of change. This is what they say to console themselves, to justify the fact that they’d rather sit around and stagnate.
But on the positive side, the grass is greener is a romantic notion: I could have a better life if I did X. This can inspire change. The grass is greener is really all about hopes and dreams. I mean, if we were that wise and could see the results of all of our risks before we take them—positive or negative—would we even think about shaking up the routine? Would we even bother examining our lives, would we even bother looking in the mirror and trying to change ourselves? Would we need mirrors at all?
Where’s the adventure in that?
I, for one, think all those shards look pretty in the sun.
If you’d like to read “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer, you can find it in Ghost Writing: Haunted Tales by Contemporary Writers, edited by Richard Weingarten. Any lover of horror stories should have this anthology on his shelf: I’ve read many, many collections, and this one is by far the best because the stories in it totally break the mold. If you enjoy what I write, you’ll enjoy this collection. You can purchase it here.
For those of you who don’t know I’m back from P-Town. It was the most productive month full of interesting adventures! Re-adjusting to the real world will be a long, slow process. It’s all good. And so is my recent news!
“Paisley Surprise” was accepted to Lame Goat Press’ upcoming Inner Fears Anthology due out a little later this year.
“Punctuation” is now available in the Winter 2010 issue of ESC! Magazine. If you’d like to read the story, you can click this link and read it for free: http://media.libsyn.com/media/escwebs/ESCv13n2w_contrib08t67.pdf
I do, however, encourage everyone to support the small presses that give writers’ works a home. If you’d like to purchase a hard copy, you can head over to this link here: http://www.escmagazine.com/
The great and terrible beauty in Robert Frost’s work.
I experience my first touch of regret
for a voyage undertaken
too early, while wholly too late.
~ Melissa Duckworth, from the poem “Adrift”, first published in The MacGuffin, 2004
On my last day in Provincetown there was one place I’d never been: The Dunes. While most known, probably, for the presence of dune shacks—where famous writers and artists stayed to work—they’re also a popular tourist destination. But when we pulled the car over at an entrance point on Route 6, I had no idea—although I’d seen pictures—what venturing in would mean.
In 1974, my father wrote a paper called “Robert Frost: An Alternate View.” Not a very exciting title, I know, but accurate. His paper establishes that “the stereotyped portrait of Robert Frost is that of an American romantic—a “Farmer Brown,” so to speak—who loved nature and wrote affectionately about it” and then posits to the contrary: that “Frost is presenting a view of natural process which is always uncaring and often cruel and heartless” and that he “pictures a dark and hostile world bent on breaking the spirit of man.”
My journey into The Dunes brought his thesis alive. Just like in Frost’s poetry, everywhere there was a strange beauty born of nature’s violence. Sea grasses whipped in the wind left intricate geometric patterns in the sand; a tree repeatedly brow-beaten by storms seemed to be rooted on both ends, forming a graceful arch; a freshly-dead seal carcass’ blood gleamed like a ruby against a monotonous beach. Simultaneously, there was the ugly presence of man-made objects in various states of decay. A rusted washing machine; shattered wine bottles; cracked and sand-filled plastic containers; splintered painted boards. This lent the landscape an unsettling air: these objects were alien beings in a warring world in which they couldn’t possibly survive.
But, as my father wrote, “The darkness, however, offers a strange fascination that entices man. It is a lure of beauty that is commingled with a lure of destruction.” The Dunes is a beautiful and irresistible danger-fraught wasteland.
Like many situations in life.
 Charles W. Petersen, Robert Frost: An Alternate View. (Unpublished: April 30, 1974), p. 1
 Ibid., p. 3
 Ibid., p.17
 Ibid., p. 8
This was taken from a high point up off of Route 6 and shows The Dunes, where we were headed. The body of water you see in this photo has an interesting history. Originally, it was called East Harbor, and was Provincetown fishing fleet’s winter home. 1868, however, brought the construction of a dike to accommodate a railway and a roadway (where several seasonal resorts and cottages sit now). In 1910, the US Geological Survey re-named the body of water Pilgrim Lake.
The name stuck until 2008, when the USGS agreed to change the name back to East Harbor. If you’d like a much more detailed history, here’s a great article by the Provincetown Banner’s Kaimi Rose Lum.
The video below shows the full panoramic view: from this hill, you can see Truro, P-Town, and the bay beyond.
* WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD: ANIMAL CARCASS. IF SQUEAMISH, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO CONTINUE, OR SCROLL QUICKLY DOWN THROUGH TO THE NEXT RED TYPE YOU SEE*
Major. Score. Well, for me, anyway. When we were sitting on this quiet beach with not a soul around us, we noticed two large sea birds picking away at a carcass—a stunning dollop of red against miles of brown monotony. “That looks like a seal,” Pete said. I don’t know how he could tell what it was from that far away, but it turned out he was right. I’ve never actually seen a beached dead mammal up close, and having volunteered at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and helped out with animal rehabilitation, this was exciting—and a perfect example of what I’d discovered on our journey about the violence of nature.
Although Pete noted he thought it odd there were only two birds around the carcass—two birds who politely stepped away and let me take my photos and then returned when I was done—the markings in the sand indicate that there probably had been more than just these two at one time. I also thought—because of the brightness of the blood, the moistness of the innards, and the lack of smell—that the animal had been killed very recently (within the past twelve hours, maybe?) and most likely washed ashore and was left behind as the tide started pulling out. I took these photos at 12:45, and the last high tide was at 11. So it could have either been left behind just then, or left behind earlier, when the tide pulled out at 4 in the morning. I’d probably have a better answer if I’d paid attention to how wet the sand was. I’m regretting that now.
Of course, nobody knows when or how this poor creature died. But I have my romantic notions about shark attacks and boat propellers because of the way the body is twisted. While there’s a possibility that the seal washed up intact and then a large animal ravaged it, I don’t know if coyotes or whatever would have left this much meat behind. WHERE ARE YOU, BRUCE SHILLINGLAW, MARINE BIO GUY EXTRAORDINAIRE? YOU’RE GOOD AT THIS STUFF! COMMENT!
Because I just wanted more for the record, the video below is a roundabout of the carcass. There’s no sound except the wind, so it’s actually eerie.
* END GRAPHIC CONTENT*
The video, below, shows Pete checking it out. It’s an old washing machine, turned upside-down, and it’s full of wine bottles and trash.
Had lunch at the Governor Bradford in P-Town on Friday, went to use the Ladies’ Room, and this was on the door inside the stall facing the john. TOTAL WIN! Had I been drinking wine at the time, it would have come out my nose.
This probably won’t make the Fail Blog since it’s not obvious in the photo that the ad is on the inside of a bathroom stall and that’s really the joke, so I decided to upload it and just share it with all of you here. If you’d like to check out the original, however, you can do that here.
Let’s be honest: Provincetown is a giant sandbar. Many of the homes here are built on sand. Some have basements, but there are some that don’t, especially the older ones.
I had to opportunity to go exploring beneath one of the older homes here on Thursday. My next-door neighbor Pete had to go beneath a house to make sure there wasn’t anything that needed immediate attention, like broken water pipes. We opened up an access hatch in the kitchen floor and shimmied down a narrow ladder into a musty, spider-infested jigsaw puzzle of rocks and boulders.
The floor was beach sand peppered with brittle driftwood; mats of dried seaweed—probably from prior to the foundation’s caulking—were thick over old rusted sewer pipes and broken cement. What was most interesting were the concrete blocks stacked in odd places. “Holding up the joists,” Pete pointed out. “Just wedged in there. Totally unstable.”
Rooting around down there made me think. Sometimes a situation in life is like a house built on sand: even if the house itself is simultaneously old, familiar, comfortable, and charming, underneath, it can be unstable and full of issues and dead seaweed. My little journey served as a reminder that sometimes we need to make the decision on whether or not it’s worth it to make repairs—or simply let the damn thing fall into the sea.
Pictures and video of our trip below. The video is of a seaweed-jammed broken sewer pipe; we shined the flashlight on it so hopefully you can get a sense of what it looked like.