It all began one sultry night in a bar in Venice Beach, California. The roofless space fused cigarette smoke, the salty stench of the sea, and the cologne masked sweat of three men surrounding me. To the left and right, perched on their stools, like cocks on the roost of a hen house, two gorgeous men competed for my attention. To my back was a wizened old man with a girlish muse on his arm. Somehow his sagely words kept sneaking between the hunks and worse yet the encroachment of his emaciated frame.
My girlfriend was the one who broke the spell. Upon returning from the restroom, she ordered a T and T, lit another Marlboro Light, and tore my attention from the two dueling cocks to introduce me to the mismatched duo at my rear. The elderly man's face looked like the mask of a vampire's last incarnation. Her face appeared as pure as a new born chick, but experience had taught me that innocence does not usually take residence with debauchery. Or, as my attorney once told me, squirrels only mate with squirrels. I soon learned he was a "well known" poet. This was obviously a marketing ploy to sell his workshops, but the girl appeared smitten with his genius. She professed to have taken more than one of his classes since moving to Los Angeles from Minnesota three months ago. She had also completed all the exercises in "The Artist's Way", and insisted I do the same.
The poet apparently had a magic touch as I found myself confessing a desire to write a novel about a past experience. He leaned closer as I mentioned the word "write" and looked deeply into my eyes, in the manner of a predator smelling the blood of prey, and asked me to elaborate. I explained I had flown to the summer home of friends on the outskirts of Montreal, and upon arrival my young son and I were rowed out to spend the night in a Victorian Mansion on a deserted island. There was no phone reception and the boat garage was empty. I later learned from the lake's inhabitants that the house was said to be haunted and the enclave filled with secrets, evidence of which I found inside the residence. To make matters worse I could not swim and had a phobia of deep water. My experience on Black Lake was so powerful I felt the story must be retold.
The ancient scribe downed his shot of whiskey, wiped the excess with the back of his heavily veined and spotted hand, and looked even deeper into my eyes. His orbs wore the veil of a prophet or mystic. "My dear", he told me, "what you must do is write down how it felt to be rowed out on a lake at midnight to stay in a house that terrified you. Do not think about writing a novel. Focus only on writing about how you felt as you entered the boat, were rowed out onto the lake, and approached the house. The story will begin to unfold and take you to places you could never have imagined."
His words melted into the languid music of the night, the rising voices of the intoxicated, and the nearly tribal vibrations of the satyr's hunt. The evening began to swirl and spin, with beautiful people surrounding and engaging me as the poet and his muse disappeared into the mist tinged night. It was an evening to be remembered always. I can still see the image of silvery fog flowing in from the beach, capturing me in its midst, and drawing me into a magical fortnight, until the morning when I was deposited back into my former life.
On the morning of my return I awoke to my domestic chores. I made breakfast for my sons, drove them to school, and began the routine of my day. The house I purchased after my divorce had a severe structural problem with a lawsuit attached, and one corner appeared to carry all the baggage of the residence. With a Feng Shui book in hand I had attempted to cure the ills of the spot by hanging a vibrant plant. However, this particular plant did not seem happy with the bad Karma corner and was drying out and turning brown, munch like the Venice Beach poet. I filled a container with water, took a stool to the lofty dark spot, and stepped up to feed the foliage. At the moment the water took soil I was hit with what felt like a poltergeist. I was thrown, or fell due to lack of balance after three days of partying, and landed on my foot, breaking it outright.
Later that day I was released from the local emergency room with a bound foot and crutches. In dire pain, and daunted by the prospect of navigating the twenty steps down to my front door, I sank into an abyss of self pity. My mind shut down at the thought of ninety days with no respite, a Sartre-like No Exit, for what seemed an eternity.
I had nearly touched the brink of despair when I remembered, at the edge of drug induced consciousness, the poet's words. I took a pad and pencil in hand and began to write about my journey to the house on black lake. After a few pages of hand writing I transcribed to my computer and began to write in earnest. A torrent of words poured out, like a floodgate released. I wrote about how I felt as a newly separated woman being rowed to an island, lonely, isolated, without support, struggling to protect my child, lost, desperate, claustrophobic, and nearly drowning in frustration and sorrow. Confined to a bed, unable to walk, with no one to care for me, with the full weight of a mother's responsibility weighing on me - the experiences fused. My words spilled like the tears of the tormented, raging and fierce. Words held captive for a lifetime, like prisoners released from the dungeon of the Bastille. Freed at least, starved revolutionary words hungry for the taste of expression. Fully spent, I struggled from my bed to check on my sleeping sons, and then returned to gaze through my bedroom window at a luminous full moon. I was alone and nearly immobilized, yet free to express myself fully for the first time in my life. And that is when I realized the wisdom of the poet's words.
I never stopped writing from that moment, although I spent years exploring the topics of my novel, chasing romance and adventure, and educating myself in the art of writing and story telling. Nearly six years later, the week after my novel, "The House on Black Lake", was published; I reentered the bar where I first met the poet. In the ensuing years my life had transformed in a way I could have never imagined. I was no longer a passenger guided by a lawless and cruel fate. I had become the navigator of a life lived with creative passion. The seat I held years ago was now held by another woman, but I would not have taken it, as I had moved on. I found another space on the opposite side of the bar where I could see the poet's spirit looming yet, and made a toast to the wise man that changed a life in a smoky bar one sultry night in Venice Beach. He will never know he was the catalyst for my transformation. One can never be certain how a life will be touched when we share our wisdom, and that is the power and beauty of the word.