Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You can’t go back – or can you?

The familiar
I’m currently sitting in a the kitchen of a rustic dwelling belonging to a very good friend. We’ve been here many times over the years. I’ve even written about the property, using it as the farm my protagonist owned in The Fallen One. Over the past year things have changed with the property, though, and what was once very familiar is now irrevocably changed.

Allow me to elaborate. This is a lovely 1830s log home in eastern Ontario. Our very dear friends own it and very generously shared it with us for a week or two at a time for many years now since they only used it as a vacation home. It’s small, rustic, and wouldn’t be a lot of people’s cup of tea for a holiday, but we love it since it’s quiet, nature is all around us, and its accoutrements were somewhat limited: no TV, no cell phone coverage and only a dial-up internet connection (if you really had to).

When our children were young, they loved this place. It has a big old barn that is a tremendous playhouse, and the owners dug a small lake (or a big pond) where a stream ran across their property, so summer afternoons were filled with shouts of happiness as the jumped off the dock, chased frogs and learned how to canoe. At least, the swam until a swarm of leeches also made their home in the water.

This past year, our friends decided to make this property their permanent retirement home – and building started. The place is  now basicallytwo homes grafted together by a breezeway, the very old with the very new.

As we were driving out from Toronto yesterday, the discussion in the car was about what we could expect. How would it all feel? Obviously, something would be lost, but what would be gained?

The unfamiliar
Well, the new part of the house is where people now tend to congregate. It’s warm and inviting. The old kitchen is now more of a secondary living room, and that’s very different. I spent many hours at the kitchen table, pecking away on the computer. Over the years, I’ll bet I’ve written parts of what would make up at least two of my novels when totalled up. It was also my preferred place to edit, away from the phone, the internet and people dropping in. If an edit needed to be done, we’d get on the phone to inquire if the old farmhouse was available. Within a day or two, the outside world would drop away and I could concentrate fully on the job at hand with very few distractions not of my own making. For a change of view, I could go out on the screened porch and continue working, the numerous birds much more obvious. To be quite honest, I can’t think of a better, more conducive place to create.

We’re only visiting for a little over 48 hours this time, but I do want to finish off a book proposal, a pretty modest goal. This morning I got up pretty early (shortly after six) and sat down to work. Since I’ve pretty well got the chapter-by-chapter synopsis either written out (in a totally incomprehensible form) or doped out in my head, it’s just a matter of putting in the time to put it all together. Since both my wife and our friend are late risers, I had three hours to work quietly. I naturally chose the old part of the house.

The magic is still there, and I’m now pretty well finished, just two chapters to get together. Yes, it did feel different – but also familiar. Things had changed. Life had moved on. The view out the kitchen window had changed with the new breezeway now blocking the view out to the barn, but I can live with that. The all-important inside of the place was still pretty much intact. Having morning coffee in the new part, I was struck how it felt unconnected from what was in my memory, though it was barely forty feet away. They could have been mile apart.

So I won’t say you can’t go back. What you can do is “sort of” go back – and that’s a good thing.

No comments: