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Best Writers Conference Blog

   My best experience at a writer's retreat was not, strictly speaking, mine. My husband, a poet, won two stints at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown MA, which at that time was a National Endowment Community. I was just along for the ride.

  The first time was just a few months after we got married, but the second was when our son, Jeremy, was almost a year old. That made the experience far more special and precious than the first time around.

  Jeremy was born in southern CA, where we had lived since 1980 and where we still live, so snow was new to him, and it delighted him no end. He would sniff it like a dog, lifting it up to his face, touching it tentatively with his tongue. He didn't even notice the cold, especially since he was bundled up so much he could barely move, scrambling around the dunes in his snowsuit, his nose red as a rose hip, practically the only part of him that was exposed.

  He especially loved the art openings, where he would run up to each of the artists and writers in turn, trying out his latest words. Since he had no siblings, his major interactions involved the family's two cats, Lolita and Tampopo. Whenever I would leave the room, I would would hear hissing and running, as he chased them around the apartment with a toy baseball bat. Following one such adventure, at an evening art opening or poetry reading (I forget which), he came up to me and opened his mouth and eyes wide, emitting an uncannily accurate hiss. "Cat made a made face!" he announced. When I laughed, he repeated the line to everyone in the room. We all felt like family, and Jeremy had quite a few surrogate parents that winter.

  Provincetown is 26 miles out to sea, which makes for some fairly bizarre weather. The electricity would frequently blink off, along with the heat. We laid on so many blankets and quilts that it was hard to move and the three of us cuddled together in the bed talking. Or sometimes my husband would regale us with his latest effort on the harmonica, which he was in the process of learning to play.

  I remember instances of green snow and strangely colored skies, and the ocean froze at one point, something that happens only rarely. There was always something worthy of notice on our walks in the dunes, the scrub woods, or on the beach, a pelican or puffin, a wildflower, a particularly large dog.

  We had no television, except for Jeremy's Dr. Seuss videos and Disney movies, but we read quite a lot and spent a lot of time at the library or parading down Commercial St., where Jeremy always found other toddlers to play with.

  As the only family among the fellows that year, we decided we would give a big party at which we would serve a big pot of gumbo. We gathered the ingredients, which included pounds and pounds of fish heads and cod cheeks, among other things, and assembled the group to begin chopping and prepping as I stirred the roux, waiting for it to turn the proper shade of pale brown. The crowd rocked to raucous Zydeco music as they chopped or stirred, and later, we all ate gumbo for weeks from our freezers.

  Needless to say, I didn't get much writing done that winter, but nonetheless, I still remember it fondly today.