For me, one of the best ways to find uninterrupted periods of immersion writing time is to go house-sitting. I have done it several times. Some of you may remember the sage, one-eyed dachshund-terrier Dougie who assisted me in a previous post.
This time I am in Ucluelet. Yup, you heard me. I am in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with nothing to distract me from my writing.
Well, almost nothing . . .
Cat #1 is Manny: Beautiful green eyes, little white tufts of hair sticking out of his velvety grey ears. He introduces himself to me as my new best friend and a few hours after my arrival, curls up on my stomach to watch Netflix with me.
Cat #2 is Boots: So far, she is a grey tail sticking out from under the bed.
Cat #3 is Callie: Invisible? Imaginary?
Cat #4 is an unnamed feral resident of the garden shed who is getting larger and more frightening by the minute (in my mind). Will visit him/her in the morning.
Writing goes well.
Manny: Proposes marriage.
Boots: Shy period ends abruptly. Inquires 87 times about sitting on the kitchen counter, by sitting on the kitchen counter. Looks shocked and appalled each time I shoo her off.
Callie: Apparently, a figment of the owner’s imagination.
Shed Kitty: Invisible? Not imaginary; there is poop. What kind of feral cat uses a litter box anyway? Perhaps Shed Kitty is a fugitive from the law. I will call him/her Richard Kimble.
On my walk, I attempt to say hello to several dogs and I am snubbed every single time. Coincidence? I think not.
I watch 15 ravens meet at the swimmin’ hole for a bath. A group of them walk toward each other until they are in a little clump, then bob their heads in unison several times and all make the same vocalization. They separate and fly off in various directions.
After a morning of writing and a long walk, my lower back is sore. The construction site next door is deserted and has been since I left for my walk. I think it will be safe to get in the hot tub naked even though it is still daytime. I am incorrect.
The furry kids get me up at 6:00 but I refuse to feed them until 8:00. In response, Boots pretends our counter battle never happened and initiates round two. (Speaking of Boots, how can a four-pound kitty require three quarters of a king size bed?)
Out in the garden shed, Richard Kimble sure poops a lot. Is he/she hosting after-hours poker games for his feral buddies? Or getting rid of the last squirrel consumed in freedom? Who knows? Richard is not talking.
The elusive Callie comes downstairs, but insists on no photos or interviews. By the end of the day, she consents to an audience and I sit quietly on the floor about a meter away from her as she pretends to look at something else. Then she returns to the loft. I will call her Greta Garbo.
My writing is going great. I am asking and attempting to answer a lot of questions. Some things require long periods of uninterrupted thinking time. The walks are great for this process. I’m having fun.
At the end of the day, after lots of work, a walk, a glorious soak in the hot tub, and a grill cheese sandwich, I put on Netflix and settle onto the couch. As soon as the TV comes on, Boots is up on the cabinet, sitting three inches from the screen, watching the action. Her head, whipping back and forth, is blocking part of the screen, so I ask her politely to move. She declines, and after getting bored with my program, starts exploring the top of the cabinet. She promptly falls off the back of it and is trapped between the wall and the cabinet. She swears at me and I help her out.
She spends the rest of the hour tunneling under my yoga mat.
I will call her Crazy.
Apart from waking once to find Crazy walking up my body like she’s hiking the Appalachians, I sleep well. I get up late and decide I better feed the kids first, even before coffee. Callie comes down and eats with the common folk. They are all back to sleep by 9:00.
I find it increasingly disturbing that I never see or even hear Richard Kimble.
I move a whole chapter this morning and come to update you while the new chapter order settles in my mind. Chances are, I will go straight back and change it again. But that’s the fun, isn’t it?
During my morning stretch, I think of the perfect thing for my character to say and yell, “That’s perfect!”
Crazy yells back. Something about catnip.
Not on my watch, I tell her.
Seriously, that would be like giving espresso to a toddler.
Having been warned about the slipperiness of the deck in the frosty mornings, I am very careful as I head out to feed Richard Kimble. Except for one tiny lapse in concentration. As my mother told me when she fell last month, ‘I can fly pretty good, but I have trouble with the landings.’
As I lay on my back catching my breath, I note that it is another clear sky. Good day for a longer hike.
Concerned that my middle-age body might seize up after my fall, I have a morning spa treatment in the hot tub, decide to take the day off of writing since it is Sunday, and plan a hike to the Lighthouse Loop.
These are the most amazing trails I have ever seen. For the first time ever on a solo hike, I do not get lost. Although, I must admit, I am surprised to find the parking lot has been moved to the other side of the road while I’ve been hiking.
I go for coffee and chat with Kevin, the owner. Ucluelet is dealing with low and mid-income housing shortages. Air B&B seems to be a threat to communities everywhere. Kevin tells me that the Eagle’s Nest Pub has cheap burgers on Sundays and I decide to go.
On the way there, I hear sea lions barking not very far away. In the pub that overlooks a dock, I sit between two TV’s and swivel my head happily between a hockey game, the Academy Awards, and the view. I enjoy a local beer, an excellent burger, and a familiar, home-like atmosphere as the patrons greet each other with hugs, play musical chairs at the tables, and gossip with the servers.
Continuing with today’s theme of not heeding the owner’s warnings, I decide not to put Handsome Manny in the sun room where I have deposited him guiltily every night at bedtime, according to my instructions. I have a talk with him about my expectations around his behavior as it pertains to his sister, Crazy, in particular. We strike a deal: he assures me there will be no goofing around, and I leave him to sleep where he is.
I read in bed until I am sleepy, turn out the light, and then . . . the game begins. Crazy and Handsome are chasing each other at breakneck speed through the house; up and down the stairs, spinning out on the corners, sliding across the kitchen. I turn on the light and grumpily join the game - which immediately becomes hide and seek. In the dim light, Greta Garbo and Handsome look quite similar and at one point I almost grab Greta by mistake. She pulls back from me with an expression of utter disgust. I suspect there will be consequences for my blunder. I search each of the seven sleeping spots that Manny uses. Several times. I am beginning to think that maybe cats, like Klingons, have cloaking devices. I give up my search and go back into the throne room to apologize to Greta one more time, and there he is, sitting on the windowsill, smoking a cigarette in a long filter. I tiptoe past Her Highness, and pick him up. He protests loudly all the way to the sun room.
I return to bed at 1:00 am, completely cured of my guilt.
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To the person who robbed me,
I can’t stop thinking about you.
When I went to get my hat and realized it wasn’t there, I thought of you. I can’t replace it, I’m afraid. I bought it on Maui when we went there to celebrate Shan’s 50th birthday. She requested that trip from her hospital bed, awaiting her transplant, so her wish was more of an If than a When. It’s a cool hat, so I’m sure it will get some use.
My leather jacket will as well. Even though I got it at a Thrift shop, it’s a good coat. If you wear it with that heavy sweater in the bag, you will stay warm through this cold snap.
I’m ticked off about the sunglasses. They were my birthday present a few years back. I allowed Shan to spend a ridiculous amount on them and I took such good care of them.
But I can get new sunglasses.
I can’t replace the letter from my sister that I have carried in my wallet for years. Nor can I replace the little book I made. Or the journal I was using for my next project.
I’m a writer, you see, and I keep wondering about your backstory. In my stories, I always hint at how my villains became who they are. I think it’s because I used to teach at-risk youth and I know perfectly well why some people end up in trouble.
What is your back story?
Are you like the boy I knew who was locked in his bedroom by his abusive father? Or the one who had his hair set on fire? Maybe you were like the many children I knew who were foster kids in homes that didn’t care about them. Perhaps you were one of those who basically raised yourself. I saw a lot of pain in that job. And pain creates pain.
Whatever your story is, I doubt it’s good. I’m sorry about that.
I wish you had just taken the warm clothes, the cash and credit card, and left the rest.
I wish I could write you a happy ending.
I wish we lived in a world where you could ask for help, and get it.
The zipper on the sweater sticks a little. Just be gentle, and you’ll be okay.