21 Bishop, Greenwich, Connecticut
When we lived in Connecticut I had a good friend who bought a derelict Victorian carriage house in Greenwich. A carriage house is, or was, basically, the garage of the manor house. A carriage house is where the carriages lived. In this case, the manor house, a monstrous mansion had become a retirement home, and the surrounding acreage had been subdivided into tract housing sometime in the fifties, leaving my friend’s carriage house sharing the lawn with the retirement home.
My friend’s house was a lovely brick and Tudor building without electricity and outdated plumbing. Over the years I watched my friend turn a mess into a beautiful home. And from watching, I learned a lot, like where to buy fabric, how to refinish cabinetry, how to reupholster furniture, but I think the most important thing I learned about was the notebook.
My friend had a notebook and each room in the house had a section in the notebook where she had fabric swatches, paint samples, and most importantly, a picture of what she wanted the room to ultimately look like. I spent a lot of time at antique stores and estate sales with my friend and the most impressive thing about her was even if she found something that she loved, if it didn’t fit or go or work in a particular room or space, she passed it up…even if she loved it.
I think that this theory can be widely applied in all areas of my life. In my writing: if I have a story and I know where the story is going, even if I have a great idea, even if I have a witty, clever bit of dialogue, or even if it’s a sky-rocketing kiss—if it doesn’t belong, fit or work in my story, it has to go. I don’t have room or time for tangents. I can’t slow the story down for detours.
I struggle to apply this same principle to how I spend my days. If I know what I’m trying to achieve, if I really have a picture in my mind of what needs to be done, even if something looks enjoyable or delicious, if it distracts me from my goals then that’s exactly what it is—a distraction—and how much time I waste trying to make it fit, work or belong is ultimately up to me.
Interesting side note: my friend died a couple of years ago. Shortly after her death, I was planning a trip to New York. One Sunday morning while I was sitting in church in the nursery with the under age-three crowd and thinking of my upcoming trip, the address 21 Bishop Street popped into my mind. It was so random and unexpected that I Googled the address when I got home. Sure enough, it was my friend’s house. I hadn’t lived in Connecticut for nearly thirty years. I have a poor memory. I have to really think to drag out even my own past addresses, let alone a friend’s. And yet, here was her address in my head. I considered going there but dismissed the thought. I was traveling with my daughter and daughter-in-law and they wouldn’t be interested in a trip down memory lane. And what would be the point? My friend had died–she wouldn’t be there.
But, as luck would have it, my daughters’ flight left in the morning, and mine in the afternoon. Still, I didn’t go. As it turned out, my plane was delayed for several hours. I absolutely could have made the 30 minute trip to Greenwich. But why would I? So, I didn’t. Instead, I sat in the airport for five hours, wondering what I might have missed.