Millheim Retreat, Day 1: Room Enough

I’m at Toni’s place in Millheim for a few days of work on the memoir.  It’s 5pm day one and I’ve been here since 11:30 this morning. No internet at all, just the sound of traffic outside—cars and Amish carts clomping by—and the occasional hammering sound coming through from the neighboring apartment. I don’t remember the last time I was this alone with my writing. It’s good. I’ve opened up several files, each of them a beginning to a part of the story and have been moving back and forth between them all day. Here and there I stop to think about structure, but know that if I think for too long, I will frighten myself off and and stop writing. So I’ve kept going. Maybe 1000 words so far? Maybe less. I’m not done for the day yet.

I’m reading Heaven’s Coast, Mark Doty’s memoir about the death of his lover, Wally, and feel overwhelmed by the accuracy with which he describes grief, grieving and, especially, sorrow:

Sorrow is the cathedral, the immense architecture; in its interior there is room for almost anything: for desire, for flashes of happiness, for making plans for the future. And for watching all those evidences of ongoing life crumble in the flash of remembering, in the recurring wave of fresh grief.


Sadness exists inside my sorrow, but it’s not as large as sorrow’s realm. It comes and goes without really touching the overarching whole. This sorrow is capacious; there’s room inside it for the everyday, for going about the workaday stuff of life. And for loveliness, for whatever we’re to be given by the daily work.

Yes. Oh my god, yes. Capacious enough for 19 years.

Though I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say I’ve been praying in the Cathedral of Sorrow for that long. Has my whole life since his death really been encased in sorrow? Maybe it has. Maybe this ongoing need to write about it has kept me kneeling.  Would things have been different if I’d never written a word? Would I be living instead inside some other emotion? Can sorrow live inside joy? I’m not sure it can. Maybe the moment we realize life ends—I mean really know it by the way you can see and feel endings in everything around you—that’s the moment we enter the cathedral and never leave. Maybe joy is easier to imagine for religious people for whom there is this OVER-overarching realm called God.

Whatever my prodigious facility for torturing religious metaphors, I just don’t have that.

As I read Doty, I am conscious of the voice saying, Your writing is trite by comparison. What do you know about anything? but I am doing my best to push it away. Reminding myself that there are many stories in the world and many ways to tell each of them. This is my way.


I’m not entirely sure what to do next. Not quite ready to go back to the actual memoir though I do plan to spend another couple of hours on it tonight. I could take a walk, I suppose, but honestly I’m happy to be inside this neat old place, with my feet bare against cool wooden floors.  I brought other books to read and there is music on my iPod. I’m starting to feel hungry. Toni has balsamic capers and green cocktail olives in the fridge which tempt me toward puttanesca, of course, but I’ve  brought along chick peas, fresh asparagus and some field greens which are calling me, too. I actually really love cooking like this: forcing myself to rely on whatever’s on hand. It’s limiting in a way, but at the same time, precisely not that at all.

At some point later, I will open a bottle of red wine, put on my cozies and delight in the beauty that is Captain Tight Pants Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly, which, thank you Toni!, is serendipitously here on DVD. Dear Nathan Fillion, welcome to the elite club of actors who have actually made my pulse quicken over the years. Don’t be alarmed that (young!) Matthew Broderick and David Tennant  (if it wasn’t already plain, now you know the true extent of my geekery.), join you, and there’s no point in being jealous of John Hamm or Christina Hendricks. They were genetically engineered by extraterrestrials to seduce the whole of humanity.


One thought on “Millheim Retreat, Day 1: Room Enough

  1. Michelle Darby-Wyatt says:

    “As I read Doty, I am conscious of the voice saying, Your writing is trite by comparison. What do you know about anything? but I am doing my best to push it away. Reminding myself that there are many stories in the world and many ways to tell each of them. This is my way.”
    This voice keeps me from writing far too often. Keep sending it off! I love to read your writing! It’s delightful that you’re sharing this process a little.
    Note to self: Must pick up a copy of Heaven’s Coast.

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