Sunday, February 28, 2016

What Do You Do in Winter? (If you don't paint)

I'm pointing at the instructor's landscape, not my own.
It’s a leap year, so February has an extra day, and March coming in with a roar reminds us that winter is extra-long in Maine. When I was a child, I learned that bears prefer to sleep their winters away, but now I’m learning that Bathites prefer to paint. The Centre Street Arts Gallery offers painting classes throughout the winter, and on most mornings there's a steady stream of artists entering the gallery with their easles, stools and paint boxes. They spend countless cold days painting a still life, or a landscape, or people they know. I would love to take a class with Claudette Gamache, Sharon Bouchard, Laurie Burhoe, or Sandy Crabtree, but sadly I have no talent in the visual arts. I’m not being modest. I really can’t paint. If you don't believe me, ask Lise Lee-Thomas, my favorite hair stylists and the owner of Bath Hair, Inc.

Lisa was a star at Paint Nite!
 Last summer, Lisa invited me to the Cosmopolitan Club’s first Paint Nite in August, and since I’m a member of the club and wanted to support their “Love the Clubhouse” fund raising campaign, I agreed with some trepidation. Lisa sat next to me throughout the whole “painting made easy” experience, and from her close-up perspective, she witnessed my total failure. The Paint Nite instructor was excellent and upbeat, but when she came up behind me and looked over my shoulder to check my progress, her face must have shown her true thought. At that precise moment, I caught Lisa looking at the instructor, and she could not hide her surprise and dismay. In one quick glance, I realized that the instructor judged my work as hopeless. She never said a word, but her silence said a lot. Lisa told me she liked my evergreen trees, but I knew she was being kind. When I compared my painting to her's and the other paintings around me, there was no doubt. My paint colors had mixed too much on my paper plate, and consequently the blue sky on my canvas had an ugly purple stain spreading at its center like the broken yolk of an egg in a frying pan. Despite my ineptitude as an artist, I had a good time that night at the Cosmopolitan Club. The beverages helped! We laughed a lot, and I learned an important lesson. Not everyone in Maine’s Cool Little City can be a painter, but when you are surrounded by beauty, you’re inspired to create beauty, and that usually leads to something good!

The first draft of my novel
In December, I was sitting in Lisa’s chair at her salon, and she told me that she had signed up for the Cosmopolitan Club’s second Paint Nite and asked if I would be in Bath for the January event. I smiled and told her, “No.”  Truth be told, I’ve traded in my paintbrush for a keyboard, and I’m not referring to a musical instrument because I’m lacking in musical talent, too. I’m talking about the keyboard of my laptop computer. Writing is a good way to stay happy during the long nights of winter, and I love to write. Apparently, I’m not alone. The Mustard Seed Book Shop recommended that I get in touch with Maine Authors Publishing Cooperative. Throughout the summer The Mustard Seed also hosted Maine writers, like prize winning Lily King, the author of Euphoria. I missed Ms. King’s talk, but I read her book and found it inspiring. Several of my friends in Bath, including Elizabeth Martin, a fellow writer, encouraged me to join the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and I did. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the voices of other writers, and they helped me to find my own. I started my first novel in July and I finished the first draft on Valentine’s Day, February 14,, 2016. It was a labor of love! As fate and Bath would have it, six days later my first grandchild, Stella, was born on the upper west side of New York City, another labor of love! February is a fabulous month to give birth!

Bath inspired my book, and it plays a key role in the development of the characters and their relationships. I may have to rewrite the story a dozen times before I’m ready to share it, and I’m not sure that anyone will want to read it when it’s finished, but it was quite a rocket ride to write. For the past two years, I’ve been collecting historical facts from various sources, like the Maine Maritime Museum, the Bath Historical Society, and the Georgetown Historical Society. I’ve also worked with the research team at Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., who traced the history of our Federal-style home on Washington Street back to 1823. Reading the history of my own home helped me imagine Bath in the 1800’s and first quarter of the nineteenth century. I’ve also relied on two great books for maritime guidance: Live Yankees by W. H. Bunting and A Maritime History of Bath, Maine and the Kennebec River Region by William Avery Baker, a two volume set that my husband purchased at Open Door Books, Bath's quirky used bookstore on Front Street, for Valentine’s Day last year. Joe knows me well. It was truly a romantic gift, and it helped me explore the rich history of a region I have come to love. Truth inspires fiction, and sometimes fiction is more believable. Nevertheless, I changed the names of the genuine ship masters and shipbuilders who inspired my characters. The sins of the father are not the sins of the son, but they have the power to captivate us for generations. Writing about the past, certainly makes the present fly by, and I’m grateful for the cold weather that kept me inside at my desk, and encouraged me to finish a story worth telling word by word.

Beryl's Pastries at Bath Farmers' Market
As much as I enjoy politics, the Trump Show this winter has been unnerving, so I am trying to develop a variety of interests that will keep the  blues away! In addition to writing historical fiction, there are three other creative activities that are keeping me busy: baking, talking and entertaining. While none of these activities require a paintbrush or canvas, they all require creativity. In my humble opinion, baking is an art, and Maine is brimming with artists. Personally, I’ve been inspired by Beryl’s Pastries at Bath Farmers’ Market, and Angie’s scones at Starlight Café, and Michael Fear’s recipe from Now You’re Cooking. I’m on a crusade to master the art of scone making, and I’ve made considerable progress because so many mighty Bathites have shared their secrets. 

In December, I found and purchased the best scone pan at Now Your Cooking and so far I’ve mastered two varieties, blueberry-lemon and mini-chocolate chip. Next, I’m going to try making Todd Coffin’s favorite ginger scones. If I succeed, I will have three quality scones to offer friends and family whenever they visit, and that leads me to the talking and entertaining part of my winter strategy for survival.

Perhaps you’ve already guessed that I love to talk almost as much as I love to write. Obviously, the two go together like movies and popcorn. When I’m in Bath, I find myself longing for Saturday morning because I can walk up to the Farmers’ Market and talk to the bakers, the farmers, the candle and coffee makers. In spring, summer, and fall, the market is held outdoors at Waterfront Park, and it feels like a peaceful gathering on the green, but in winter it’s held at the historic Bath Freight Shed, and it feels like an indoor festival with music and twinkle lights, and everyone lingers at the booths filled with produce, bread, donuts and muffins. For four marvelous hours, the shed comes alive and everyone is talking to someone! It’s a joyful noise, and it makes me happy in winter! Of course, Saturday is only one day in a week of seven, so one must plan to visit, and you cannot expect to visit if you don’t entertain, so I enjoy entertaining when it’s cold outside. 

Celebrate winter with friends and family!
And there is always some occasion to celebrate: Boxer Day, New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, My Granddaughter’s Birth, The Oscars, Saint Patrick’s Day. There’s always a reason to fill all the chairs, cover the table with food and drink, and toast to winter and the blessings of the season: friends and family! When we gather around the table, I love to talk about meaningful topics, like family, politics, faith, peace and justice, and most of all, how good the sun will feel tomorrow!