Staring Down the Storm


I went to The Porches last weekend, Hurricane Sandy weekend. Because that’s just who I am, ya know? I spent two weeks at The Porches in May of 2011. The day I left, two men were murdered, less than four miles from my home—on my street. One of them had been at my house the day before for coffee with JL. It was troubling, hard to go away.

Distracting. I wrote blogs about it here. Ricky’s memory still haunts the roadways around town. The trial for his accused murderer still not complete.

But I went to The Porches. And it was magical, because it’s always magical. I wrote, and rewrote. I workshopped. Communed. I was in a creative space, with inspired people. I was creating. It was awesome.

 I returned in the summer of 2011, after the earthquake, and before Hurricane Irene. Everyone suggested that I cancel. Stay home. Don’t risk it. But I did. I travelled west to Nelson County. West, away from the storm, away from the chaos. I was struggling with the idea of leaving my job as the director of a tutoring center (about which I will bite my tongue). The stress of the job had become overwhelming and I had stopped writing. I was conflicted. Stay and die a little inside—a lot—or leave and face the unknown, the uncertain. I went to The Porches to think as much as to write that weekend. And I wrote and watched from a distance as the Irene gathered herself over my home and family in the distance. The sky was beautiful. It was serene. I was serene.

I watched the storm.  The trees and sky glittered with an iridescent sort of light. Among the things I wrote that weekend was a letter of resignation. I left Nelson and drove through the devastation the storm left in its wake, feeling grateful. I lost a tree. Within hours of emailing it to my bosses (as an attachment) on Monday morning, I had two phone calls offering jobs. The Universe listens. And it was all ok.

I returned to The Porches this past summer. The night we arrived the Derecho did too. One June 29, a freak storm with straight-line winds travelled over six hundred miles, decimating anything that got in its way. Mostly trees and power lines. Trees and power lines in Nelson County. Overall, I think we were without power (off and on) for thirty-six hours. An odd way to spend a vacation. There were other storms brewing at The Porches that week, deeper, more frightening, more personal storms. Each of us managed our personal baggage and fears in our own way. But as the Derecho changed the landscape, so too did the internal storms change the landscape of our workshops. But I persevered. I got some good writing done. I even wrote a poem. I took some amazing photographs. That creative spark kindled again.

I have blogged and posted pictures of both of these trips. I have the pictures saved in iPhoto as The Porches: Irene, and The Porches: Derecho. The newest batch of pictures is in a folder entitled The Porches: Sandy.

Again, everyone tried to talk me out of going. But I had an old, dear, friend flying in from Boston. We’d been planning it for months. She’s working on a fantasy novel. And she’s a helluva writer. I have ideas about a book that I am trying to pull together! I—we—were not about to cancel.

The Universe conspires—did you ever notice that? The more you want something the more that gets in your way. Is that just me?

My car died on the preceding Friday—the serpentine belt and power steering unit needed to be replaced. No car from Friday until Tuesday. Well that cuts it a little close. JL’s truck went in for (expected) repairs on Tuesday…

Wednesday, a friend posted about Sandy. Really? Really? That’s all I could say. Of course there will be weather, I’m going to The Porches. It’s a quest.

Friday dawned, JL’s truck was still in the shop. I drove Ian to school, did some paperwork, drove Ian back home, dropped JL off at the mechanic’s, and then drove to the airport. Thankfully, Chris (my weekend writing partner) is patient. I was an hour late. I hate being late.

From there we went to the amazing Farmer’s Market in Mechanicsville, Farm Bus. Oh. My. God. They have a grocery package that I am probably going to buy into, and by probably, I mean absolutely, it’s something I am going to do.  Then to the chocolatier, then groceries.

We spent the hour and a half long ride catching up. We have discovered our sons are twins—clones. Same music, same musical instruments, same books, it was wild. We talked about writing, and books (good and bad). We chatted about Doctor Who, and the woes of growing older (but not up) [that’s a Jimmy Buffett song!]. We talked about music. The countryside. Cows. Spaghetti on the ceiling.

We unpacked and feasted on Friday night. We watched Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. We watched a piece of the trilogy each night. And save the tragedy of Faramir, it was (as it always is) brilliant. Chris hadn’t seen it before, but she enjoyed it.

Saturday and Sunday were spent workshopping, walking, revising, and eating good food. And then watching Lord of the Rings. It was amazingly simple. Except for Sandy looming in the distance. Phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and emails repeatedly pulled me out to check on Sandy’s progress… You have to come home, it’s going to snow, you’ll be trapped. I looked around at the beautiful antebellum property and thought, well ok. Are you stranded? Is there snow? Will you be able to get home? I opened an old file on my computer, my own science fiction fantasy novel. Chris read it and thought/thinks I should pursue it. I was energized. I will probably workshop it with The Midlothian Writers’ Workshop. Chris and I also looked at my Lunch Time stories. I came away with a lot of ideas for that as well.

It didn’t snow, not while I was there. And the rain didn’t start until Sunday evening. We planned for an earlier than originally planned exit on Monday. We packed Sunday night and departed at dawn. Chris knew her flight had been cancelled, but she wanted to stay close to the airport, just in case she could get on a plane. I thought about inviting her back to the house. But I live an hour from the airport – in bad weather that’s not a good back up plan.

Sandy skirted by leaving Central Virginia mostly unscathed. My heart goes out to those who have lost so much in this storm. Not just loved ones, or property; but a sense of safety and security. I applaud them for they have the courage to get up get ready for work, and get on a subway in New York knowing the ocean could wash it and them away.

So what is it about me and writing retreats and storms? I don’t mind being at The Porches during bad storms. I am isolated, withdrawn from the world—in a room of my own. Bad weather means fewer intrusions. It means that I have to be in touch, in tune with myself. And you know, to write, that’s exactly what is needed.

I have learned that getting there is sometimes the most important part of something. Getting there. The quest. That’s the thing. How important is writing to me? Important enough to stare down hurricanes, damn it! Important enough to entertain the possibility (and in one case the reality) of living with no electricity, no air conditioning, no running water. Important enough for the risk. Staring down the storm within.

So, the planning begins for the next trip to Nelson. I’m thinking the spring, sometime between March and June. Just for a couple of days. Probably near the end of March. I’m looking for people interested in going. Hopefully there won’t be a blizzard!

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3 thoughts on “Staring Down the Storm

  1. Wow. What an enticing offer. An antebellum writing retreat in nature. And by “nature,” I mean “Nature.” But I get it. I so get it. Good for you. Go. No, GO!

  2. I enjoyed the way you weave the metaphor of ‘storm’, both as a threat and shelter, internal and external, for your writing. There appears something Promethean in your setting of The Porches – an ironic spark stolen in the midst of a cycle of violent storms.

  3. Mel, thank you for writing about The Porches. It’s a sanctuary. I’m also looking forward to seeing more pictures and reading the work you accomplished there.

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