We have two bathrooms. If my daughter is here, we can’t blow-dry our hair at the same time. If we do, the circuit blows. We didn’t know this about the house when we bought it 8 years ago, so the first time it happened and the dryer stopped working and lights went out, there was confusion, there was looking around to see what in the world just happened and did I cause it to happen and, most importantly, can I fix it? Because every woman knows that if you leave your hair half-dried it feels for the rest of the day like a bigger disaster than it
I just spent a week in the desert. I just spent a week so far out in the middle of the desert that when a friend saw this photograph she said, Where in the world are you? and the immediate answer than came to mind was, not in this world. Because that’s exactly what it felt like. Like I’d left the planet I’m so used to living on, the one where I have all my routines and habits and excuses and comforts, the one where I don’t even have to devise a hundred ways to
ahem avoid working on my book because they’re all right there, waiting. Especially the excuses.
A week ago I took one carry-on bag and left my planet. I rented a house with 4 other writers and the house was so far from civilization that the last roads were barely marked and consisted of nothing but hard-pack sand and dirt and were not listed on Google Maps, though that wouldn’t have mattered because there was no cell phone service for miles to access said Maps. For the first 24 hours, I felt like I did the first time the blowdryers blew the circuit at my house. Stunned. Confused. Wandering around. Wondering if I could fix it.
The first day, I opened the refrigerator a lot (speaking of habits), but someone else had stocked it so not much was familiar; there was no laundry needing to be done and no dogs to walk; there were no errands to run or bills to pay; no repairmen to schedule or meet; no dinner to make except for the one night when it was my turn to make dinner. There wasn’t even a TV to waste hours upon hours watching, though we did manage (after about an hour of how many writers does it take to figure out the satellite tv remote?) to turn on this little thing for the Superbowl only to realize that none of us have eyes young enough to see anything that small anymore, and so with the exception of a few big plays, during which we ran up quick and squinted for the replay, I can’t say we watched it.
Our days were filled with silence. Everyone off in their own corner, writing, working, thinking. Come five o’clock we put away our work and came together and played music and sang old songs by The Eagles — On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air — and America — I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain — while one person made dinner. Nights, we gathered around the fire that only Averil could make and read our work out loud and got feedback and listened to smart people brainstorm advice for where we were stuck. We drank our share of coffee. There were gin and tonics. One night we finally went to bed at 2:45 a.m., and yet we were all up by 7 the next morning, back to work.
I went for a walk or a run everyday, but I didn’t go far for fear I’d get lost. The one time I went off-road (hahaha, I say that like there were real roads) I got turned around while going up some big rocks and had to backtrack to find my way home.
It was weird to walk that many days without holding a leash.
It was especially weird to have no dogs to talk my nonsense to. Hey there JoJo Bird, hows my big girl, ‘d you love your mama, do you wanna go on in the car, Magee Magoo Maguff, how’s my mama Lea, where’s my Handsome man, there he is, soooo Handsome ….
I received voicemail notifications on my phone that I could not access, and so I had (a) no idea who had called, and (b) no idea if it was important. For days.
I did not read a single book.
Up the hill just beyond the house was a giant outcropping of elephant rocks. When I felt stuck or needed a break, I put on a big straw hat and climbed the rocks and laid down on my favorite rock in the full sun.
Only once the whole week did I have to put on a bra or wear something other than sweatpants.
At night, there were more stars than I’ve ever seen in one place.
We had one full moon.
I completely rewrote the 3 chapters I’ve been avoiding for months and months because I had no idea what I was trying to say, and it’s particularly funny because now I love those chapters and one of them makes me cry.
Here’s to going off the grid, to one week in the desert of another planet with unmarked roads and no cell phone service. Here’s to not needing to “like” everything or even see everything. Here’s to breaking the circuit.