Saturday, October 20, 2012


Some days I feel less like a writer than a patient and accomplished solitaire player. In the last two hours I've played a dozen or so hands of a complicated variety the name of which I don't recall -- it involves two decks and a willingness to accept that you're going to lose much more often than you win. I think I've won once, lost half a dozen times and abandoned the rest. That's the thing about solitaire in general, and solitaire in particular when you're just trying to fill the spaces between sentences that don't want to come: it's easy not to have a dog in that fight.

I'm sitting in the front window of Cohill's Irish Pub in Lubec, Maine, staring alternately across the water at Campobello Island and at the seals bobbing in the shelter of the breakwater. I can't remember the last time I was this close to Canada. Or harbor seals. The rain finally let up about half an hour ago, but it's still heavy and grey, and the wind coming off the water from the south shows no signs of shifting or dying down. Even the seagulls lined up along the jetty seem perturbed. It's late October, and I suspect that means something to them just as it does to me.

It's probably fair to say that the fact that it's October has contributed as much to the tone of my mood the last few weeks as has my current state of being between homes. Time creates the impression of distance, but it takes more than an accumulation of weeks, months and years to diminish the effects of cruel dark days: it requires the sort of resolve that won't be shaken by turning the page of the calendar or watching seals dive for their dinner.

This time a year ago I was about a year separated from what had become in many ways the worst time of my life. In the course of those twelve months I'd written a book's worth of stories, kept myself mostly employed, found a shabby cave to call home, and managed to convince myself that I had, for all intents and purposes, put the hard times behind me. I was writing, chasing women and cracking wise like a reasonable facsimile of my old self. Not bad. But it was almost certainly a mistake to anoint myself the reinstated master of my domain before all the votes had been counted. You live, you learn -- or at least you'd better, or else why bother.

So it's October again, and I've spent unacceptable amounts of time every day for the last several weeks staring at the ceiling and sighing like someone's sitting on my chest. And the hell of it is, that's a lousy way to be when you're trying to write. Or do much of anything, actually. But then I sat down in a pub in the easternmost town in the U.S., looked up and saw a bunch of seals, and I remembered an Irish girl with green eyes who one evening in a bar almost two-hundred miles west of here regaled me with the legend of the selkies. It's a delightful story, typically Irish-heartbreaking. I wrote a short story about it once, and I like that story for a handful of reasons, but mostly because it was that rarest of instances when I wrote about that particular girl and allowed for the possibility that she had a conscience. In the month of October, it's hard for me to believe that could be so. But that's okay: October's only ever thirty-one days long.

A bald eagle just swooped across the bay and descended upon the jetty, scattering the three dozen witless seagulls like Polish cavalry before the blitzkrieg. The tide's coming in, and the seals are still at it. I'll play one more hand of solitaire -- because right now I don't feel like having a dog in anyone's fight, not even my own.

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