A few years ago I was lucky enough to be one of the first Fellows at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. At the time, the colony was in Provincetown, and fellows were invited to spend each day of their stay in Norman Mailer’s house, hoping, no doubt, that something of Mailer’s energy
and spirit would infiltrate their own writing.
I was living in Virginia at the time, and since I didn’t want to be in Provincetown during tourist season, I said I’d like to come in the dead of winter. How about January? The administrator replied that they were closed then, but I could come in March. “On Cape Cod,” he said, “March is the dead of winter.”
I arrived in a Nor’easter, and since Cape Air wasn’t flying I rented a wreck and drove down through the grey slush. There were two other fellows in residence at the same time, and each of us had a little apartment with a sleeping loft and a kitchen. We were welcome to work alone in our apartments, of course; but the nifty part of the fellowship was the chance to work in the big brick house on the beach.
So every day we crossed the street to Norman Mailer’s house, where we sat around and wrote. We soon settled into our favorite spots: the lawyer writing a mystery sat in the leather rocking chair beside the sand-scoured picture window; the publicist writing a coming-of-age novel for young adults typed away at the dining room table. I ended up perching on a stool at Norman Mailer’s bar.
At first it was weird writing within twenty feet of strangers, but before long I found that the presence of other writers tapping at their keyboards greatly focused my concentration, and I too pounded away, looking out at the bay now and then just in case inspiration had washed up on the beach and was lolling on the sand.
Alas, inspiration had gone to Costa Rica for the winter. I rewrote some dialog, rearranged some paragraphs, and deleted numerous passages of narrative. I jotted down a lot of opening lines, some of which are still waiting for the next sentence. I did not really accomplish anything, and I was not struck with an inspiration for a world-shaking best-selling novel.
But I count my time in Provincetown as a success. Not so much because of the work I did, or because of Mr. Mailer’s bar, or even the because of the long, pleasant evenings drinking and eating and talking with my fellow fellows.
No, it’s this image that gives me the most pleasure: Every morning, before the other writers and most of Provincetown were awake, I bundled up and walked down Commercial Street to get a cup of coffee.
That’s it, my favorite memory: me trudging along the icy sidewalk in the pre-dawn darkness, no one else on the street. My hands are in my pockets, my nose is cold, in my mind some ideas for stories are yawning and beginning to shuffle around in their jammies, while ahead of me gleams – no, not a green light at the end of Macmillan Pier, but the bright, white light of a steamed-up window through which I can see the blurry shape of a woman waiting to pour my coffee.
I was alone in Provincetown in March, the dead of winter, and the world was my oyster.