Tag Archives: MFA

Into the Hut

Gertrude Stein did it in her Model T Ford while her partner, Alice, drove the car. Virginia Woolf did it standing up. Saul Bellow stood up as well. Whereas, James Joyce preferred to lie on his stomach in bed.

Nude and cold, Benjamin Franklin did it in a dry bathtub. Agatha Christie, a bathtub filled with warm water.

E.B. White did it in a boathouse on a saltwater farm in Maine. Rita Dove, by candlelight in a cabin. And Annie Dillard, in a tent pitched in her yard on Cape Cod.

Where writers write.

What are the chances? Two friends on two coasts, landing in their respective writing huts. But that is just what is happening.

Dulcie's cabinHers in Maine

Kim's hut Water

Mine on San Juan Island, Washington

In his introduction to Jill Krementz’s photographic book, The Writer’s Desk, John Updike notes “… the requirement of any writing space is that it disappear from the mind’s eye of the inhabitant, to be replaced, by the verbal vistas of poetry and prose.”

Apparently some of us build it so it can disappear.

For me, “a hut in the woods” had always been hypothetical. Nevertheless I coveted it, the proverbial writing hut. What a formidable writer I might be, I thought, if I only had a hut in the woods!

So much more than a room of one’s own, it’s a little house of one’s own.

My friend’s hut is still under construction. “The shell is done and it is insulated now from top to bottom,” she wrote last month. “But it’s still sitting beside my house waiting for walls and flooring and electricity and a bed and a fireplace and a water pitcher and a coffee pot and, well you get the picture.”

I recently asked for an update, but of course everything in Maine is frozen in place and under four or five feet of snow. I learned that she has another site in mind for her hut. Note: my friend’s hut has a gender and it’s a “she.”

“She did not make it to her pond destination before the snows descended upon us. So there she waits, very quiet, for spring thaw. She still has a lighted tree on her porch, like a twinkle in her eye, waiting for the next chapter of life to unfold.”

“So do I,” adds my friend.

My hut sits in an old growth forest at the edge of a bay. Both of us will have water views, water sounds, and water fowl.

My hut came with the house, as a shed. The old shed got a new roof, hardwood floors, French doors, new windows, electricity, insulation, cedar shingle siding, tongue and groove pine ceiling, beaded board walls. More than I ever dreamt.

I had hoped to keep the oars that were up in the rafters, but I lost the rafters when we insulated the ceiling.

And I too wanted to bring a daybed into my writing hut, but an overflow of living room furniture bumped the daybed. To make up for the missing daybed, we put an Aerobed in the hut’s loft, sleeping double.

With a settee, a pair of upholstered French chairs, and a small marble topped coffeetable on guilded legs, my hut looks like a salon. The antique pine table that our family once dined at morning, noon and night is now my writing table. A dresser holds my papers. And books, books, books are piled on an enormous baker’s rack and in a glass-fronted legal bookcase I found in a thrift store on island for forty dollars.

Investments in my writing life are starting to stack up. The MFA at Goddard, attending various writers conferences, a travel writing workshop in Tuscany, and now this. I don’t know how my friend in Maine is going to feel when her hut is up and running, but I am a little afraid of it.

In part, because it is so much more than I, or anyone, needed. And in part, because writing is hard work.

“Our task as we sit (or stand or lie) is to rise above the setting, with its comforts and distractions,” explains John Updike, “into a relationship with our ideal reader, who wishes from us nothing but the fruits of our best instincts, most honest inklings, and firmest persuasions.”

John Cheever, who wrote in a room looking into a wood, liked to imagine that his readers were out there, in that forest.

From my hut in the San Juan Islands to her hut in Maine, we are not alone.


Filed under writing hut

Confession of an Arsonist

For a few years now I’ve been conducting a writing workshop at Queen Anne Manor, a retirement home in Seattle. What had begun as a six-week teaching practicum requirement for my MFA, shows no signs of ever letting up. “Confession of an Arsonist” by Paul E. Waggoner is an example of the stories we create each week  from the material of our lives.

Paul began at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in 1951 and worked as director for 36 years until his retirement. He then continued research, often with a colleague from Rockefeller University, and in 2012 they published that global cropland would reach a peak expanse in the 21st century, a sequel of their “How Much Land Can Ten Billion People Spare for Nature.”

Crossing the continent at ninety to live closer to his family, Paul joined our writing workshop. It is with his permission of course, that I publish this piece. 

Confession of an Arsonist 

by Paul E. Waggoner

Once upon a time in Iowa in a town called Centerville, celebrating Independence Day ranked up there with Christmas. Firecrackers ranked with stuffed stockings, candy canes and spicy stuffing.

For the Fourth of July, Centervillans planned for weeks. For weeks, the tall, lanky sheriff of Appanoose County grew a beard like Honest Abe’s. The man who wore the star awed youngsters and persuaded voters to keep him in office. The sheriff wore a top hat, just as Lincoln did when he delivered the Gettysburg address. The personification of law and order was awesome as he strode the courthouse Square.  Waggoner Pic

Although Centerville was still the county seat and celebrated the Fourth in style, it had seen better times. In the 1890s, coal miners opened mines. Immigrants from Central Europe and Italy swelled the population. They dug coal and hauled it behind ponies that never came up the mine shaft to sunshine. But after World War I, hard times struck.

Nevertheless during the mining boom, men had become rich enough to build and then abandon what seemed like mansions to farm boys. Never mind that windows were shattered and plaster falling. The wealthy passed, but their mansions survived into the 1930s.

On the Fourth of July, boys from another neighborhood trespassed on our turf, the territory of the Maple StreetGang. We were prepared.

First, the Gang tried infantry tactics learned on the flickering screen of black-and-white Saturday matinees. Those maneuvers drove the invaders across the boundaries of the Maple Street Gang. Heavy artillery followed.

Other boys might carry lady fingers, sparklers and cones-of-fire. But we had Cherry Bombs, red but larger than a cherry. Our heavy artillery, they were nearly as large as golf balls.

After infantry tactic drove the trespassers back acros our boundaries, they retreated to a decaying mansion. No grand palace, but big enough to shelter small-town boys. In their dilapidated stronghold the fugitives scrabbled up broken plaster and pitched shards out missing windows.

You guessed what happened. Through windows our pursuing force lobbed our heavy artillery of Cherry Bombs. Smoke appeared at windows, closely followed by hotfooting, retreating invaders. The town’sfire siren wailed. We heard the roar of the fire engine approaching. The Maple Street Gang fled to its turf.

Now, safe beyond Iowa jurisdiction and shielded behind the statute of limitation, an apprentice arsonist confesses.

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What a Girl’s Got to Do

I am up early and watching the light come on in the east. The homes on that side of the street are utterly dark. All that is visible are the slices of light between the homes. It is much like reading a negative. I have noticed paradigm shifts like this occurring all around lately. Seriously, it’s almost seismic.

I have the most extraordinary girlfriends. One of them phoned this week to inform me that she has been offered an outstanding professional commitment for a year in Jacksonville, Florida.

“But did you tell them you are married and live in California?” I asked.

“They know that,” she said, adding “but I just might do it.”

I tried to think of how she could swing this. Yes, her children were grown and gone, but her husband is a partner in a firm and not exactly mobile. Their marriage is solid, and they are just now coming down the home stretch of a long remodel on their beautiful home, and I know she had been looking forward to that.

“How?” is all I could think to ask.

And she proceeded to explain to me how it just might work…

Perhaps I couldn’t see it at first because I am too tangled in my own paradigm shift. My role has been changing and I don’t have to go to Jacksonville to get it. It’s here. Graduate school sealed the deal for me. During those two years my husband became an exceptional cook. Now here we are. Me with my MFA in Creative Writing under my belt, and he’s still cooking and is better than ever—because all these things, writing, cooking, take practice. Anyway, every sign around the house seems to say that I am now free to write. I’m trying to get used to that and take myself very seriously as a writer, knowing that my husband may very well be retiring by the time we see my writing career take off.

Back to my girlfriend, the one who I honestly think is going to choose to go to Jacksonville. For one year. And rent a charming little bungalow. And decorate as she pleases by hopping around antique shops and such. This is their agenda, for she has her husband’s backing entirely: when she isn’t flying back, he will fly out and together they will explore The South. All the places they want to discover: Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort, South Miami and Key West. As she names them, I realize how much I have longed to see these places too.  They will have one year to do it all and will approach it as they have France or Ireland or any other country. Get a car and go—submerge themselves in the culture, knowing that in a year it will be over and they will both be home in California, all the richer for the experience, as with Ireland or France.

She left me feeling envious of her opportunity. I know what my writing room means to me; what married woman doesn’t fantasize about having her own bungalow? Imagine being able to spring for that. And the romantic interest that could occur looking forward to seeing your lover, your husband, on weekends. And too, all that autonomy throughout the week…

I think she’s going to do it. She’s brave and brilliant and her husband is, as I said, a gem. It’s funny:  I can remember when my friend wasn’t particularly fond of flying. And now she’s all over the map.


Filed under cooking, girlfriends, paradigm shift, relocation, Writing