The past weekend was my second in a row alone in the small town in Vermont that sounds like a sneeze. Last weekend, friends from Boston were supposed to visit but they were stranded by a snowstorm. This time, Edie (I’m still calling her that), her daughter (I’ll call her Judy), and the grandkids (we’ll protect them for now on the far-off chance that this ever goes viral or gets into the view of unsavory types) were going to come down, but they have all had some sort of yuck–that’s the clinical term. I’m sure Edie was thrilled when I told her over Skype a few days ago that she looked horrible. I really am the romantic one in this relationship. Ask her. But not right now. She looks horrible.
It does get a little lonely living 314 miles from home. When I moved to central Maine, it didn’t take me long to understand the saying “You can’t get there from here.” That’s really why I moved there 16 years ago and had to stay. It’s actually only about 37 miles from Sneezeville to Bangor, but my GPS doesn’t have a “Do you have wings” setting yet.
I try to keep myself entertained on the weekends when I’m alone. I admit that I have a thing for Starbucks. Ever since my teenage years wandering around Manhattan after Saturday drama classes, I’ve enjoyed sitting in coffee shops, savoring a latte and writing in my journal. I used to make an effort to seek out unique cafes in Montreal, New York, Boston, or other cities that I lived in or visited. I still try to do that, but over the years, that’s become more difficult, as the chain cafes have bullied out so many of the independents.
Adjusting to the times, I’ve grown to appreciate the consistency and familiarity of places like Starbucks, Panera, or Canada’s Second Cup. The facts that the Starbucks and Panera corporations seem to have some liberal-leaning philanthropic policies, and that the minute amount of Starbucks stock that I own has done well in recent years, make me feel a little less guilty about paying three dollars or more for a cup of coffee.
There is only one Starbucks within about a 25-mile radius of Sneezeville, and it’s 15 miles from the condo. The view from the Starbucks in Hanover New Hampshire is different than that of the Starbucks near the mall in Bangor. In Bangor, there are usually a few students with laptops, but most of the “regulars” seem to be in the self-employed, work-from-home, retired, or taking-a-break-from-shopping category.
In downtown Hanover, which is virtually in the middle of the Dartmouth College campus, every seat in the café has an outlet, and almost every one of them is being used. There is some socializing and chatter around me, but there is mostly studying, paper-writing, and intensity.
I imagine little cartoon bubbles above each person’s head, with mathematical formulas, Shakespearean texts, Jungian theories, and a plethora of foreign languages floating around in them.
In my mind, the Starbucks logo woman—that crowned, green-lipped double-tailed mermaid whose long hair covers what used to be her bare breasts in the original version—hovers over the café, dressed like a librarian, saying “SHHHHH.”
Vermont has several cheese companies and a surprising number of wineries. They team up with retail stores that offer samples of their products. I decided early on that if I get lonely, I can head over to the nearby Cabot store, which has a spread of about 30 cheese, cracker, and assorted other samples. I chat with the young woman who works at the winery kiosk, and she cheerfully provides samples of several local wines. So that’s lunch, and I can pretend that I’m at a cocktail party at the same time.
I’ve also discovered The Writer’s Center of White River Junction. This pleasant surprise offers classes and workshops for “serious writers and nervous beginners.” I’ve been to three so far. My favorites have been the “Prompt and a Pinot” workshops, which take place periodically on Friday evenings.
These are two-hour gatherings, in which 8-10 writer-types sit around with a glass of wine or other beverage of choice, share a little about what’s going on in our writing lives, and then spend 15 or 20 minutes doing impromptu writing, working off a phrase or word that the facilitator announces. While we are writing, she throws out a couple of additional words or phrases, and we can incorporate those if we choose to.
After writing, we go around and read our pieces to the group and everyone has an opportunity to offer comments and ideas. It sounds intimidating, but it is uncannily non-threatening, gentle and encouraging. Or maybe I’m just approaching 50 and I care less and less about what people think anymore.
Both times I have gone to these, I have been amazed by the caliber of the completely unedited writing that comes out of these exercises in such a short time, how complete some of the pieces are, and how each of us—professionals, amateurs and “nervous beginners” takes the same theme and rides it into such a wonderfully unique direction.
Okay, so I’m realizing that my glass may be sounding a little too “half-full” and I’m feeling uneasy. You may be thinking “How nice, Cindy has found some people to hang out with while she’s in Sneezeville.” I do like these writer-types—they’re smart, funny, thoughtful, quirky….but are they the best peeps for me to spend time with?
We could also call these workshops the “Sylvia Plath Support Group.” Here we are, in the dark Northeast in the middle of winter, a bunch of depressive, solitary writers, all probably doing our part to keep the mental health pharmaceutical industry in business, crawling out of our holes on date night to lurk around our ruminating brains.
I’d estimate that the net Vitamin D level for the group is about 11 (normal individual range 25-80), and that at least half of us go home and either gobble down a benzo just to get to sleep or pour another drink or two before feeding the cat. Or both.
Okay. I feel better now. The glass is half-empty again and I’m back in my comfort zone.