Old Friends, Bookends

Day 3, 2011: Professor imparts his knowledge.

I’m leaving on a trip today. It’s one my husband and i take every year, a four-day reunion with dear friends we’ve known since college. One couple’s house is home base for us as we enjoy three days of amazing music.

Let me confess right here that I’m not a music person. But for the last 30 years, I’ve lived in a house with a professor of the college of musical knowledge and helped him raise two honors students. So I’ve learned a lot by sheer osmosis.

Over the next few days, I will trek from stage to stage and clap and dance a little and people-watch, eating way more Kettle Corn than I should, as I have done for the last four years. And next week, don’t ask me to name any of the bands I saw.

My thought today is not about the music, but about how this trip will interfere with the writing schedule I’ve adopted — rising between 5:30 and 6 am and writing until the coffee’s gone and I’ve eaten the quick-cooking Irish oatmeal Ina Gartner swears by. (Try it: 75 seconds in the microwave, drizzled with honey.)

It’s a two- to three-hour window of which I’ve grown fiercely protective, and one that will be threatened over the next few days. My friends all know about my project, and are most supportive. They’d completely understand if I chose to tuck myself into a corner of their luxurious home and write away. But I know I’ll be drawn back to the dining room table, which my friend Judi will have set with an amazing array of breakfast foods, having stayed up way past our goodnights or risen early to prepare.

Or to the poolside patio, where my two college girlfriends sneak cigarettes. Okay, maybe not sneak anymore. Their kids are grown, as are ours, and there’s no longer a need to hide the habit. And even though I’m an affirmed ex-smoker (except for few drunken Gitanes with these two in Paris 1o years ago), I’ll still want to sit and catch up with these old friends, because who wants to miss anything?

At the same time, some new friends — the characters in my novel — will require my attention. My relationships with Carl and Meg and Alex and Iris are new, and need tending. I can’t leave them alone for too long, or they might walk away, figuratively speaking, right off the page. If we don’t connect on a daily basis, I’m afraid I might get “rusty,” as Stephen King warns in his book, “On Writing.” (I will be quoting him a lot here. He’s my guide to this process.) He, the producer of 10 pages a day, every day.

Lisa Genova, author of “Still Alice,” an amazing book that I read in its entirety on a plane ride last year, is with me on this. I guess Lisa is my go-to author when traveling, because this morning I was looking to load my (gasp!) e-reader with another of her books, “Left Neglected,” which came up at work yesterday. A chance link led me to some back matter where Lisa gives advice to aspiring writers and describes was her writing process. To write “Still Alice,” Lisa sat in a Starbucks every day while her daughter was in school.

“At Starbucks,” she says, “there are no excuses. Nothing else to do but write. You can’t even daydream there for long without looking crazy. So you just put your head down and do it.”

“My time to write was my time to write,” she continues, “And my time with my daughter belonged to us. I think having a limited number of ours each day to write kept me hungry to get back to it. Every day I couldn’t wait to get back to Starbucks, drink chai tea lattes, and write.”

So I will do the best I can over the next three days, checking in on my new friends between the breakfast burritos, the barbecue, and the bands. All the while anxious to get back to my new desk that Romiro built, eat Ina’s oatmeal, and write.

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