Home Alone on Nantucket
Jun 22, 2017
Hard to believe I have been in my new old house on Centre Street for 10 days. This morning I can finally say, “Home alone!”
Home. Those first few days—indeed, every day until just this moment—this was a lovely but sterile rent house, not home. I have discovered here that I have an incredible nesting instinct. I could not sit at my desk and write until today, when my nest is finally built. All the personal touches from last year, whether shipped home and mailed back or stored in the parsonage attic three doors down, are in place. Furniture and decorative items have been rearranged to fit my needs and taste. The starfish are in the streetfront windows, a wreath is on the front door and Bartlett Farm just delivered my glazed planters with red, white and blue flowers.
Alone. My status for the last eight years—not one I chose or wanted but one I have grown accustomed to. I loved every minute of the past seven days with good friends, and I look forward to upcoming visits from BFFs and family. But these five days between guests allow me to establish my summer routine, to stay in my nightgown, to enjoy a light beach read in the evening, to skip a meal and graze if I choose. No dinner reservations. With about 20 restaurants within a 10-minute walk, I will find some place with an empty table when I’m hungry. And I will write.
In my most recent blog, Memory + Anticipation = Joy, I quoted C.S. Lewis on joy: “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”
That was my experience on my first short trip alone to this remote island in the Atlantic back in 2013. I rediscovered joy here, and a year later I came back to write about it—30,000 words in 18 days, Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows.
This is my happy place. I do not grieve here. I have no sad memories here. I am not lonely in my aloneness here.
I did not realize then how long it would take or how hard it would be to turn those 30,000 words into a marketable book. My manuscript eventually doubled in length, and it’s in the hands of a publisher. My job this summer is the tedious work of getting it ready for publication—another slow and not particularly creative process. I will welcome every temptation to lay the work aside and indulge in the simple pleasures of Nantucket and its people.
Indeed, this morning, in spite of a 100 percent chance of rain, I find myself tempted and distracted on all sides. Last week I could not write. I know I must write this week, and yesterday I finally got the office in order, the printer installed. No more excuses. Already today I cooked up a big batch of breakfast stew and popped individual portions in the freezer for future breakfasts, and I made two flower arrangements from salvageable flowers in a fading bouquet. Finally, I mentally lashed myself to my desk chair and ordered myself to write for two hours.
But what to write? On my long flight here from Texas, I churned out a list of 22 things to do and not do “When Your Friend Loses Her Husband…” Good list but this is my happy place. I do not grieve here. I have no sad memories here. I am not lonely in my aloneness here. Never. I have already poured out my grief here in writing Reclaiming Joy. I have said what I have to say. Now—borrowing another concept from Lewis—I am settling into happiness, a place far more elusive and difficult to find in Lewis’ mind than occasional ecstatic moments of joy.
I agree. But unlike the search for the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the golden chalice or the fountain of youth, settled happiness is possible and it’s worth the effort to find, claim and keep.
Where is your happy place?