Last weekend, I pulled the kitchen door closed behind me and stepped into the cold, fall air on the front porch of the lake cottage my family has owned for over thirty years. My parents don’t come anymore and it is up to me, my siblings and our families to attend to its upkeep. It’s not always easy, but we all feel lucky to be able to do it. The “cottage” is a rustic, 50 year old former fishing camp nestled on a rocky shore of an island in Sebago Lake. The sun sets over the White Mountains to the west and the white birch trees and wild blueberry bushes edge right up to the footings holding the place up. It is, in a word, paradise. We close it up from October to April because car access ends. It’s an island; we need a ferry to get to it.
I literally said, out loud, as I left, “Good-bye lake, good-bye life.” There is such a clear line of demarcation in the life I live the few weeks or weekends when I’m in Maine and the life I live at my home in Connecticut. They’re not kidding when they tell you as you cross the state line from Portsmouth, NH on a big blue billboard that Maine is the way life should be. And I’m not kidding when I say that our cottage is rustic, because it really was an old fishing camp that we painted the heck out of and added some porches and lockable doors. Not that we need to lock our doors. When I drive on to the ferry for the 8-minute ride across the narrowest part of the lake--“the gut”-- to the island, I feel an un-tethering from stress and bustle. It’s not a free ferry . . . we pay for each round trip, which cuts down on unnecessary trips to the market, the mall or Marshalls. It is a slower pace, a simpler life.
As I left, I thought about how my Maine/Real life division is similar to my Writing Life/Day Job disparity. In Maine, I basically hibernate, sticking close to our cottage, our shore. I read, swim, walk, write. When I come home, there are meetings to attend, a job to stress about, family obligations, friends to keep up with, traffic. I can’t have one without the other, but there is a definite difference between the two.
In fact, my Real Life makes my Writing Life an option. When I am living my Writing Life, I am fully focused on work; my books-in-progress, essays and blog posts. I continue to look for ways to promote my first book and I revel in the writers community that has grown since my book was published, including the She Writes virtual one and the one I can actually drive to, comprised of writing groups, author events or professional organization meetings.
For my Day job, I have to practically put a stop to my writing life in order to be able to do it effectively and successfully. I work with divorcing parents and their children and it isn’t always easy to switch comfortably between my two “jobs.” Writing tugs at me, though. With every email from She Writes or Facebook post from my CT Women Writers group, I yearn to rip off my Day Job hat and rush back to my Writing Life.
I don’t know that it is this way for every writer; on the spectrum where at one end is the woman who happily calls herself a writer because she writes a killer annual Christmas letter and at the other end is Joyce Carol Oates, there is a large middle part that encompasses many of the rest of us. We are writers who have day jobs, night jobs, writing jobs, or some combination thereof.
For now, it’s a tightrope walk between all the lives I live and, honestly, love. The issue isn’t that I have all these lives, it is that they are so different and not always easy to merge. Of course my dream would be to merge the Maine Life and the Writers Life to create my Real Life. Now there’s a goal.
How have you made the transition? Are you still working on it? What strategies or advice can you share?