A decade ago, in my early forties, I decided to let myself be. A writer.
I’d already been writing for some time.
Since the age of 18.
Alas, I was not one of those girls who always knew that she wanted to be a writer.
(I write memoir.)
Oddly or coincidentally or serendipitously, I am sandwiched between two women who were the kind to always know.
Jodi to my north.
Robin to my south.
Had I known this about them then, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to join them.
But one was disguised as a beloved elementary teacher;
and the other, an award-winning performer.
The three of us live, on the same road, in a row.
Until last winter, when Jodi left the Green Mountains for the coast of Maine.
“Most everyone does,” she says, about the members of her family.
(There are at least 7 MacArthur households on MacArthur road.)
I come from a big family too. But I left. Which is maybe why I write memoir.
(Safe distance and all.)
Fiction. Memoir. Fiction.
MFA. Not a real writer. MFA.
Published. Unpublished. Published.
This year both Jodi and Robin have books coming out, one after the other.
Jodi in May. Robin in August.
Short story collections.
I pre-ordered Jodi’s book right away.
I’ve never liked short stories.
They leave me longing.
But Friday night, after dark, we made the trek down our hill,
through the valley, and up another mountain, to the village of Putney,
to its newly renovated Next Stage Theater.
There, Robin read from her upcoming short story collection, Half Wild, and afterward performed with her husband, Tyler Gibbons–as the duo Red Heart the Ticker–which followed an interview and Q&A.
We brought my son along. Not the one upon whom a character may or may not be loosely based in one of Jodi’s stories… (sometimes I think we’re all writing memoir. Or fiction.) but the younger one who still lives with us on MacArthur Road.
During the interview, Robin spoke of her family’s history in Vermont, with mention of her father as a baby; and Aidan, 15, turned and whispered:
“I can’t imagine Dan as a baby. Can you? Ask Dad if he can.”
Though they’re not old enough to be our parents, Dan and Gail MacArthur are like the grandparents of MacArthur Road, and actually have the pleasure of all 4 of their grandchildren here, including Robin and Tyler’s two.
Gail drove the school bus and served on the select board and helped shape a number of community initiatives in town; and Dan has the same years of dedication, including the Board of Directors for the elementary school, and raising many of the houses in the area, like ours and Jodi’s–one after the other, about a decade ago.
Gail and Dan also have the sugar shack a 1/4 mile up the road from our place, where my boys make maple syrup each March, and further still–another 1/4 mile up–the farm stand–where we pick our berries each summer and eat scones on Sunday, baked by Robin and Tyler.
“Why didn’t I know that?” whispers Aidan, when the Poet Laureate of Vermont introduces Tyler as “a graduate of Harvard,” who has scored numerous feature films, feature-length documentaries, shorts, art films, and radio and media sites.”
Aidan turns toward me again, this time with a smile, when Robin tells Chard deNiord that she and Ty met at Brattleboro Union High School (where Aidan is a freshman now.)
“We were in an art class together,” Robin says. “He looked at a piece of my work. Said it could be better.”
Tyler tells Chard that he wrote Peaches and Plums–the March 2013 edition of Songs in a Lunar Phase (a monthly subscription-based CSA–the A for Arts instead of Agriculture)–after Robin rebuked his earlier attempt to write an upbeat song about March.
I sulked away, he said, but then Peaches and Plums came which is pretty down on Vermont.
“Filled with yearning for spring,” Robin corrects.
Though they haven’t performed together in two years, they played a handful of songs on the stage this evening.
Tyler joked that his goal was to bring as many instruments as songs.
Ty and Robin ended the night with one of my favorites. A soulful tune that she wrote:
One Last Tear.
As Robin sang, “Will you bring your blue dress and your pale blue…”
Aidan turned to me quizzically, but I refused his stare, for fear of laughter; because like him, I thought heard “pale blue ass” instead of “eyes.”
The short story Robin selected read like music too.
Flooded toward me.
And then in me.
Like a quickening.
Then they picked up speed and rocked me with the rhythm of labor.
Climaxing in a body of water.
in a field.
“The stories take place at the edge of Vermont towns,” Robin says. She admits that Tyler makes plot suggestions. She adds:
“I’m not wild about plot.”
“She’s half-wild,” Aidan whispers.
We both smile when Robin announces the release date for her book–August 2, 2016–Aidan’s 16th birthday.
It was just after his 15th that we visited Jodi and her husband Bob for the first time in their new place in Maine. Aidan never did get to have Jodi as a teacher, but the timing worked out that our oldest had her for four years straight. Under Jodi’s wings, Lloyd became a reader, a writer, a mathematician and a scientist.
The following summer, alongside the MacArthurs, Jodi helped lay the sub-floors that would serve as the foundation of Lloyd’s second-story bedroom. In later years, he stacked her wood and mowed her lawn–a scene which inspired the first story in her collection.
Jodi returns to Vermont from the coast of Maine this spring to read from: They Could Live With Themselves.
The event takes place at the Hooker Dunham theater in Brattleboro just after the book is released.
It’s just like Jodi to have both an auspicious pre-order date and publication date: Brigid’s Day and May Day.
Thirteen years ago, we bought a parcel of land together on MacArthur Road in much the same way. With intention and magic.
I feel poised between these two women.
Each writing about Vermont.
While I write about the sea,
and its hold on me.
Hoping that their paired success will serve as a threshold to my own.