Photo by Michael Armstrong for the Homer News
She’d already given me a brief tour of Frederica cabin. Brief because the cabin is perfectly sized small. Brief because I sensed she did not want to intrude on what would be my writing space and home for the next month. Brief because I sensed something else going on. As she walked out the door and down the few steps to the gravel drive, author Dana Stabenow paused and said to me, “You’re a dream come true.”
Then, quickly, she turned and walked off, head down as if bracing for a stiff wind or readying for an overhead wave about to collide with the fishing boat on which she’d grown up. Or, maybe, simply to hide a big grin on her face.
Across the Cook Inlet, Mts. Douglas, Augustine, Iliamna, and Redoubt radiated in the dwindling Fall light.
I’ve been home a week now, and I still think about Dana’s words. In that moment, I understood the import of my arrival in Homer, Alaska. Sure, I’d been awarded a place to write; a place to sit and read; a place to photograph, if I chose. I’d been given a place with no expectations. No deadlines. No responsibilities. No requirements. But more than that, as the inaugural fellow of the great effort known as Storyknife Writers Retreat, I was given the opportunity to be someone else’s dream come true.
I didn’t expect that.
We’ve all heard the words before: You’re a dream come true. I may have said them this week at the post office as I juggled a couple boxes, a stack of mail, and a dog on a leash when a stranger saw my predicament and opened the door for me.
But this was different. Dana’s words had weight. They weren’t an exaggeration or a cliché. I understood in a new way my arrival at Storyknife. My very presence in Homer was the manifestation of an idea to provide women a place to write.
I was thinking about Dana’s words when I returned inside Frederica cabin to get settled. I unpacked my suitcase. I set out a box of books on my desk. Then, I unloaded some groceries I’d picked up on my five-hour drive down the spine of the Kenai Peninsula. Stashing cold goods in the refrigerator, I paused to take in a photograph hanging on the wall. The setting looked familiar, but the print was aged, making me think it had been made back in film days. I would examine that photograph many times as I stood scrambling eggs over a hotplate or awaiting water to boil for tea. But it wasn’t until my last night in Frederica cabin that I asked Dana about it. And, then, it was one of those I-shoulda-had-a-V-8 moments.
Because just like I’d suspected, the captured image hanging on the wall of a cabin in Homer, Alaska was taken in Hawai‘i. And not just any place in Hawai‘i. But a scenic view of Kaua‘i, the island on which I live. Of all the women from around the world who applied to be Storyknife’s inaugural fellow, the chosen one—me—would fly nearly eight hours and drive another five to find a photograph of a scene from practically her backyard.
There’s much I want to say about Alaska. I witnessed the moon come into its fullness—a harvest moon, super moon, and eclipse rolled into one. I watched fog roll in off the Pacific and erase my view of four volcanoes. I took note as clouds stretched like taffy and galloped like stallions and scowled like a mama bear in the woods, all in the course of a single afternoon. I ran outside when I heard the creaky hinged call of Sandhill cranes flying overhead. I felt spit drop from the sky as if it were a bed sheet hanging on clothes line and the wind were whipping remnant water droplets out of it. I remarked over trees throwing a dance party on their top floors. I grabbed my camera to capture an image of a young moose trotting through the yard, fifty feet from my desk. I woke in the middle of the night as green curtains of light billowed across the sky. I learned that when it’s foggy atop the bluff at Storyknife the sun is shining on the Homer Spit. I understood the saying, “When the fireweed goes to cotton, summer’s soon forgotten.” And I added interesting words to my lexicon, including termination dust, spit rats, and buttwhackers.
There’s much I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. The logjam of a story I’d been holding within me for more than 10 years loosened, each log more or less finding its place in alignment. At least, for now. I discovered that a writing space free of physical distractions also brought with it a head space free of mental distractions, allowing me to stay in my right brain, the creative side, for long stretches of time.
When I told a friend I was going to Alaska to write, his reaction was, “You can’t write in Hawai‘i?” And I was reminded how we live in a left-brain world. That is, a society dominated by analytical and logical thinking. Like his. Creativity, however, emanates from the right side of the brain. To use a popular metaphor—one that left-brainers can grok—what Storyknife offered me was an entre into what athlete’s call, “the zone.”
This became evident to me when I received a couple phone calls and emails that about wrecked my zone. It were as if my right brain of a mouse was happily going about its business, exploring the nooks and crannies of my subconscious, working behind the scenes, conjuring a crumb of an idea here and there when—WHAM—the mouse trap slammed shut with the arrival of an email from a magazine editor wanting some additional reporting made to a story I’d filed weeks prior. Or the rental car company called wanting me to “drop off” my car in exchange for another. “You want me to drive five hours—each way—to swap cars?”
It can take hours to wriggle out of the mousetrap and carry on. This became clear to me at Storyknife. Even with a few disruptions, I managed to stay in the zone long enough to produce 249 pages of a first draft of a manuscript, about three-quarters of a book.
There’s something else I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. Something else unexpected came with the distraction-free writing space. It was a sense of importance. There is no greater motivator in life than when someone says, “Good job.” Being awarded the one-month residency at Storyknife was like one super-sized pat on the back. I’d never before felt so recognized for my writing. It was a warm feeling, one that hung around me for days.
I also admit: There were times during my time in Frederica cabin when I fell into imposter syndrome—a feeling that my writing didn’t matter. That no one would be interested in it. But there was really nothing else for me to do, so I kept writing. Besides, Storyknife believed in me. The weight of Dana’s words propelled me forward.
Now that I am home, as I ease back into my every day life and our left-brain world, I want to play my part in seeing this dream continue. One way to do that, I realize is to continue writing, to finish my book. I may have cleared out of Frederica cabin at the end of September, but I carried Storyknife home with me. There may be a photograph of Kaua‘i in a cabin in Alaska, and now there is a photograph—many of them—of Alaska on the walls of my home and in my heart here on Kaua‘i.