Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We Have Temporarily Moved Our Place Of Business

The Radical Family has decamped for a few days on what we call a “writing vacation.” One of the places we do this is in the northwestern corner of the state where, since around 1930, the family of one of us has owned a rather large piece of land. The land is so large that, except for the occasional dirt biker or ATV-er who is trying to cut through on his way to the state forest, we see no one but deer, hawks, hummingbirds, and a coyote or two.

Sailor the dog does not care for the wildlife. At all.

Eighty years ago, the parents of one branch of the Radical family purchased this land, and the farmhouse that went with it, from a bootlegger who was on his way to the slammer. The site where the hooch was made and bottled still exists: numerous generations have taken great pleasure in exploring the site and digging up the now antique bottles that were broken there.

Several generations have also enjoyed writing here. About twenty years ago, when the land passed to our generation, the farm house and about thirty acres had already been sold, leaving over sixty acres on the edge of the forest and a good-sized wooden shed. We used the shed for what we called “fancy camping,” coming up here with our big red dog and two fluffy cats who, like all cats, had to be tricked into coming home at the end of each visit. With a little bit of roof tar every once in a while, it remained dry even in the fiercest of New England rainstorms. Prior to the inheritance moment, we had also invested in a 1960s-era camper, which allowed us to extend our season well into October some years, since it had a gas heater, stove and lights that could keep us passing warm.

Perhaps the longest time we ever spent here was the first year we figured out how to use computers that, not accidentally, coincided with the summer I really had to finish my dissertation. Understand: this was prior to the invention of laptops. One of us was still using a Kaypro, that shin-banging steel suitcase that required two discs to boot up on and that had nothing but RAM memory; and the other one of us was using a generic PC knockoff that was considered very advanced for its time.

How we did it was this: we purchased a Honda generator and, in order to filter out the “noise” in the electrical current thus produced, strung together a series of circuit-breaking power strips. We knew we had enough power strips when we could see the letters on the screen and the fuzzy static had gone away (my memory is that it took more than five and fewer than ten.)

The dissertation was finished that summer. It took around eight weeks, as I recall, and we were here for most of it. My routine was simple: after breakfast, and a quick shower via dumping buckets of water over my head, I fired up the generator and the computer. I wrote until 1:00. I turned off the computer, had a tomato and cheddar cheese sandwich, drank a cold beer (all of our food and drink came out of a cooler that had to be resupplied with ice daily), and knocked off work for the day in the company of a good novel.

I did this every day until my dissertation was done. Some years later, I revised that dissertation into the first draft of a book in approximately the same way. There's nothing like routine.

Now that little wooden house is gone, replaced with a real summerhouse, built by the next generation to whom we sold the land so that they could occupy it properly. We threw in the blessings that come with the land as a bonus, and they seem to want us to come as often as we want to be here. It is an excellent arrangement. Our splendid old dog and both cats are buried under a blueberry bush by the stone wall, where I occasionally take Sailor for inspirational lectures about facing down one’s fears of wild things. The trailer, which eventually became a massive field mouse condominium, and was so thoroughly moused that there was no rehabilitating it. Eventually, it had to be burned in the field: it turned out that the guy who had sold it to us had failed to transfer the paperwork, so no junk yard would take it, but I believe several family members had a terrific time hacking it up with chain saws and lighting a humongous bonfire. One only hopes that the mice escaped in time, but mice do have a tendency to take care of themselves.

And the writers? Well, I can reassure you that books are still written here.

14 comments:

Katrina said...

Sounds idyllic! Best of luck with the writing, look forward to seeing your updates when you return.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing my sabbatical in a similar sort of place, with a similar family history. My borrowed house has been "winterized" but it has no insulation. I can't wait until January!

Historiann said...

Sounds incredible. I seriously need to unplug. I have done this recently for vacations, and may do so again next week--but I really need to do this to follow your example and get writing.

Have a blast--and a beer for me.

Amy said...

I also had a Kaypro and finished my dissertation on it. Did you use Wordstar or Perfectwriter?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Jeezus fucke! That sounds fanfuckentastic!

Did your inspirational lectures have any effect on Sailor?

Susan said...

When I finished my diss I wrote on a typewriter, then went to the computer lab to enter on a main frame. (And, of course, I walked 10 miles to school in snow etc.)

But this sounds like a lovely place to write...

Jennifer said...

I typed the field notes and interviews for my dissertation on a typewriter. Then I advanced to using UNIX (does anyone remember that old computer software?) in the computer lab on campus and printed out chapters in the basement of the Statistics Department building. As I recall that was the only place on campus where one could print things out.

I didn't own my own desk top until I got my first academic job. (impoverished student starving in overpriced Bay Area). As I recall someone helped me download my dissertation from UNIX on some of those old disks, then I had to translate it into Wordperfect when I was working on my first book. (My 10 miles through the snow, etc.)

Yes, It does sound lovely there. But what are those fluffy cats doing?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Then I advanced to using UNIX (does anyone remember that old computer software?) in the computer lab on campus and printed out chapters in the basement of the Statistics Department building.

Believe it or not Linux and Mac OS are basically UNIX under the hood.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment re: "UNIX now under the hood." Am very glad I no longer have to type out the command every time I want to creat a new paragraph, indent text, put a word in italics, and so on...

Anonymous said...

I had a shin-banging suitcase of a Kaypro, too. 'twas a gift from my mom and techie dad my senior year of college. At first glance (closed up), I thought they'd given me a sewing machine! Wrote about half of the dissertation on it (Wordstar), until I inherited my younger sister's Apple with that newfangled awkward mouse thing.

Matt L said...

Inspirational TR!

Doctor Cleveland said...

That's beautiful.

(And yes, I'm nostalgic for my old Kaypro, too, but not so that would go back.)

Urban Exile said...

How lovely that description is. I wish I had known this story as it was happening, but it's very nice to know it now. Have a wonderful time, TR.

Anonymous said...

I hear the Berkshires are simply ghastly this time of year.