This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5. It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
Even though I didn’t plan to read it on my hike I brought it just in case, The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. I was superstitious about what I read, how I used it for my writing. Mitchell blew my mind with Cloud Atlas, that summer before we moved to Germany. Sometimes you see a film or play or hear a piece of music for the first time and it seems like it’s interconnected to your life, like the two are inseparable. Because they are, and always are, you just don’t notice. I noticed, with Cloud Atlas. The book is a series of stories inside other stories that span time and space, but with these little hooks that connect them all. It seemed my life was like that too, and I was happy to make room for any influence on my writing I could get from David Mitchell.
It was a charmed time, never a time like that again: we’d rented our house out to friends who paid our mortgage while we relocated to my mom’s 500-year-old house in a small, German village. And for a month before we moved there we stayed with my mother-in-law Beth, only a few miles from the house we’d just vacated…with a long, country road in between…yards with goats chewing grass, fresh eggs for sale…July in the Pacific Northwest, everything green, dripping with dew.
I took long walks in the morning and evening after things cooled off. There was nothing to care for anymore: the pets were already in Germany, our things were packed, we had no houseplants. I mowed Beth’s yard a couple times and grilled most nights, that was about it. I could just walk and day dream about all that lay ahead, nine months in Germany, some things planned, many things not: all I had to do was become the artist I’d always imagined, it was time.
So I saw things in the book that felt like I could bring them into my own, the journal style, his confident voice, how much fun he had in the writing, you could tell.
In The Bone Clocks, Mitchell (who’s English) pulls in characters from Cork, which I imagine he draws from his experience living in Ireland with his family. And for me, Cork would always be that stark, brief memory coming out of the airport around midnight, picking my mom up—followed by the Christmas we spent in an old farmhouse in a town with no name, if it was even a town, in the vagueness of “West Cork,” for lack of a better name.
We’d move to Germany but couldn’t stay longer than 90 days without a visa, which we couldn’t get, and had to leave a full 90 days from the Schengen countries, which is basically all of western Europe except the UK—so to the UK we went in a car my mom’s partner Eberhard helped us buy in Germany, and drove to Amsterdam via France and Belgium, and crossed into the UK via the North Sea on a cruise-liner.
I was superstitious about what I read and various other things, that imbued life with a luster of magic, the unexplained, the possibility for the unusual, the life and world I imagined. So it was odd that day we landed in Germany (the first of August) it was a full moon—then full again at the end of the month (a ‘blue moon’)—and with the 90 day cyclic nature of things, that made it full again when we crossed the Black Sea from Amsterdam to Newcastle, and it was oddly still on the deck that night admiring the moon over the water, on the waves, warm for late October—and I fell in love with the recorded English female voice-over announcements on the intercom in our little cabin…nice to hear English again, followed by the same in Dutch, and German, in that order.
And after a month of spooling around Scotland that November we found ourselves in some remote, unheard of place our last few days to celebrate Thanksgiving, a full moon again, and me outside some vast, stone estate where we’d booked an apartment, walking the length of the long driveway beneath a canopy of bony, bare trees, tented hands…the wind gone mad, clouds whipping across the face of the moon, its outstretched, gray-blue craters for eyes.
I was far enough away from the estate I could spy the windows where I imagined Dawn and the kids on the other side: Dawn, on the recliner with a book half-reading, half-watching the same movie as the kids, the two of them with a bag of crisps, that Victorian sponge cake, consuming the remains…and there I was beneath the sky with the trees and moon, wanting so badly to consume it all, there had to be an answer, a message.
We would get on a ferry for Belfast the next day and start a month in Ireland, and my birthday would suck: we’d discover our bank card had been compromised in Edinburgh, and while laying low for Thanksgiving, someone was emptying it out at a series of ATM’s across Scotland, accruing international banking fees along the way…but I had a call with a potential publisher, they said they’d visited my blog and wanted to know more about my memoir, could we schedule time to talk? And we did from the Titanic museum in Belfast—and poor Belfast, to have to boost its tourism by something like that, by identifying with a sinking ship.
The memoir was theoretical then, but felt more real talking about it, as things often do—and as we made our way down to Dublin and over to Galway, and had our family breakdown, with crying and storming off in separate directions on a rainy beach, I realized it was time I hunkered down with it, resolved to take January “dry,” to write every day, to see how far I could get.
Mom said not to be surprised when I saw her at the airport: she had a black eye, looked like hell, but it was the dog, our dog Ginger, who’d jumped on her and knocked her over in the stone doorway, that 500-year-old house: the stone seems harder, as do the beams.
And mom was right, when we met at that little airport in Cork. It was near midnight, and driving back to our crappy flat down the long hill from the roundabout the tail lights were backing up, the cars slowing, and we saw a figure in the headlights in the middle of the road: mom said it’s a horse, a black horse right there in the middle of the highway…and as we came to the next roundabout she asked if she could get out, try to save it…but I said absolutely not, we kept going, mom kept looking in the rearview mirror, and I couldn’t help but feel it meant something more, something ominous, something exposed or gone loose, at risk, that we couldn’t save. Something lost.
It’s not always the case. Mom had never been to Ireland and was alit at the wonder of it all. That glow can form an attitude that makes things better than they otherwise would have been. And so it was—aglow like that—in some random town called Skibbereen, sunny and cool on Christmas Eve-afternoon, the last chance to get to the shops for three days, with St. Stephen’s falling the day after Christmas, the day after that a Sunday, in deep Catholic country.
I stood on the street while mom, Dawn and the kids went in the shops and I stayed outside, enjoying the magic vibe, this bizarre place, “West Cork,” a free newspaper with write-ups on a few locals, their pictures…and two out of three of the stories, the characters, I met on the street—or in a pub—and asked more about them (and they’re Irish, so they told me): and I bought a cap there, a green, tweed cap I loved so much, I wrote with a pen the name Skibbereen, ’15 in the liner but realized when we got back to the States I’d lost it, asked mom if she could look around for it but her place is really old, things seem to fall through the cracks—and I thought I’d have to go back sometime, get another one—those people I met, they could be right out of a story.