My husband left today to spend 11 weeks in Northampton, Mass., where he is starting a PhD program in Social Work. Northampton is about an hour and 45 minutes away from where we live, so JP and I will only be able to see each other on weekends this summer.
For weeks we’ve been preparing for the change, buying (among other things) a new laptop computer, a backpack, shorts, swimming goggles, and a selection of workout shirts and T-shirts (I wasn’t sure if I felt like I was sending him off to school or summer camp). He started his first reading assignments a couple of weeks ago, and I noticed he was suddenly discussing theories of scientific study and human behavior instead of whether or not the evening’s episode of “The Mentalist” was new or a re-run. The other day I laughed when he used the word “verisimilitude” in a sentence during normal conversation. But the truth is I liked the change. JP was feeling intellectually challenged and inspired by his career for the first time in years. It’s been a long time coming, and he deserves it.
Where does this leave me for the summer? Joy Castro, one of the teachers I worked with during my MFA program, suggested I think of this time alone as an opportunity. “Set your house up as if you were at a writing retreat,” she said, and I really liked the idea. Of course I do have my paying freelance work to do every morning, so I can’t totally escape into reading and creative writing for the summer. It also might be a little difficult when the neighbors have a party on their back deck and start blaring loud music, or when the ice cream truck travels up and down the street broadcasting the same few stanzas of a tinky-tanky song every hour (yes, I just made up the word “tinky-tanky”).
The realities of neighborhood living aside, this IS an opportunity. For the next three months I plan to read and write as much as possible. Do you have any book recommendations? Right now I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Just a couple of chapters in, I can tell this 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book (“a collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine that packs a cumulative emotional wallop,” according to the Pulitzer website) is a powerhouse. The concept is interesting, too — the character Olive Kitteridge shows up in each story, binding the text into a whole.
As for my writing, it IS kind of a luxury to have the house to myself (never mind to have it this clean). After I fight off the initial loneliness, I think it’s going to be OK. Joy said something like, “it’s when you have silence that the sentences come.”
Bring them on.