Saturday, August 19, 2017

Meet the Storyteller

Irene Drago, the creator of Bath Time
Three years ago I started writing Bath Time Society to stay connected to a place I hoped to call home as soon as I retired from teaching in Chicago. Yesterday, for the first time in twenty years, I missed the back-to-school teacher’s meeting. It’s official. I am truly retired, and I am living in Bath, Maine! Not to be overly dramatic (which I can be), today feels like the first day of the rest of my life, and it feels like the right time to introduce myself to the thousands of online readers who have opened up my blog and spied my personal view of this Cool Little City without even knowing my name. Obviously, the absence of a by-line was deliberate. Teachers sometimes prefer anonymity! They are often identified by students and their parents at restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons, airports, train stations, and countless other public places, and that kind of recognition doesn’t always lend itself to free-spirited fun. But even teachers have personal lives, and they have feelings they want to share.
Last Sunday I met a woman who asked me if we had ever met before. When I said no, she asked me if I wrote a column because my face looked so familiar.  I paused and then I said, “I write a blog about Bath, and sometimes I show up in a picture or two." She smiled. "That's it! I read your blog. My name is Carol.” And I quickly replied, “My name is Irene Drago. It’s nice to meet you, Carol.” Since Carol did not tell me her last name (maybe she’s a teacher), I cannot give her the full credit she deserves for identifying the anonymous Bath blogger, but I would like to thank her because later that day she wrote a sweet comment on my blog, and that was a random act of kindness!

Bryanna, the dreamer of Kindness Day, & I 
Today, August 19, 2017, Bath celebrated its fourth Kindness Day. I vividly remember the first one on August 16, 2014. Seeing all that love on Front Street inspired me to write a blog post, and 116 people chose to read it. For a blog that was only six-months old, that was a big number! In fact, it was only the second post to be opened by more than 100 people! The data clearly showed that love was an appealing topic. The only other post that had reached that level of popularity was “Love in the time of Bath,” the Valentine's Day story. Three years later, there seems to be a shortage of love around the world and people are craving it more than ever.  That was evident by the people in line today to paint a Midcoast Maine Rock with hope, or pat a pet, or pick a free flower to carry home. I'm grateful that Bath is still blessed with gallons of love! 
Megan Shea and Olivia Shipsey at the Mustard Seed's opening
In February of 2015, six months after the first Kindness Day, the Mustard Seed opened its doors on Front Street in the wake of two blizzards. Miraculously, my flight from Chicago landed safely at Logan Airport, and I was able to attend the grand opening of Maine’s newest Indie bookstore. Of course, all that positive energy inspired me to write a blog post: “Blizzard or not, Here We Come!” Almost 600 people read my account of the Mustard Seed’s opening. That was a record-breaking number!  Despite all odds, a new place to discover and discuss books had opened in Bath, and from that little seed a new appreciation for stories of every kind would start to grow. This summer, thanks to Julie Shea, Susan Shipsey, and the Mustard Seed’s talented staff, scores of children enjoyed looking for Waldo in the shops along Front Street as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of Where’s Waldo? My granddaughters were too young to participate, but I purchased an anniversary edition of Where’s Waldo? for their future reading pleasure!  

I have always believed that readers and writers can make magic together. If you need proof, look inside the Patten Free Library on Summer Street! It’s a castle on a hill, and it’s easy to dream there. Across the street there’s the Library Book Store, and just a few doors down there’s another gem, the Open Door Bookstore, where vintage and antique books are treasured and sold. I love the fact that words are valued here, and I love to write here. In Bath, I can imagine characters, set them down on a blank sheet of paper, and breath life into them. This Cool Little City on the Kennebec is the right place to write a story.

Kristine Wagstaff and Nikki Giglia
Yesterday, I approved the digital proof for my first novel. Next week, I hope to receive the first printed copy for a final review. If all goes as planned, Daughters of Long Reach will be launched at the Mustard Seed in mid-October. Bath’s rich maritime history has inspired my writing, and so have the artists, historians, business owners and teachers that I have met here. As fate and Bath would have it, I was introduced to Maine Authors Publishing, a dynamic group of authors, editors, designers and publicists, at the Mustard Seed, and again at their booth in Library Park during Bath Heritage Days! MAP is a small press based in Thomaston, Maine, and without their help, my novel would still be a work in progress. I have learned that writing does not have to be a solitary experience. There's a reason why team and dream are rhyming words! 

Darreby Ambler, the founder of Dream Teams
 In all my writing about Bath, there’s a recurring theme. It’s really a Disney theme: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” As I relinquish my anonymity, and I prepare to release my first novel,  I am reminded of Bath’s Kindness Day. Four years ago a junior in high school, Bryanna, proposed a community-wide act of kindness, and with the help of Darreby Ambler, the founder of Dream Teams, and the leadership of Morse High School's Dream Team, the impossible became inevitable. That’s the power of good, and that’s one more proof that dreams can and do come true.
Painting kindness on Midcoast Rocks
Love is stronger than anything