The space to create
I called a friend of a friend who was a chef for Richard Branson at the Virgin Mansion outside of Oxford and found myself helping to cook a feast for a band called The The in the company of a man who would help me recover from an abusive marriage even as he broke my heart by not accepting the fact that he was gay. That first day was magical, tea in the Duke of Marlborough's garden, shopping and cooking together, talking about everything, I read aloud David Coppefield until we both fell asleep. By Christmas he arrived in New York, his arms full of presents, by New Year's I told him, sobbing, what we both knew. But he had helped me not fear men anymore.
That summer I came to Djerassi for two months, my first experience at an artist's retreat, a strange life of writing, talking, reading, walking and being free of whatever parts of your life might get in the way of your writing. I'm not sure what those were then. In 1992 Djerassi was a bit like camp, social, silly, fun. The cook thought she was bisexual, the other writer was going through a painful separation, I was poor and living in Manhattan but after years of crises and tragedies my life was relatively free of pain.
I have come back to Djerassi in 2010 for a month. I have left my husband, my soon-to-be-17 year old son and a network of friends whom I adore. When I told the resident manager I had been here before, he opened a book and there I was, smooth faced, childless, single, unburdened by house ownership and not yet on the radar of AARP. I was also rather brutal. I had left an older, married lover in New York after insisting he leave his wife although I was going to move to London where I planned to write and live on a small inheritance my parents had given my sister and I. As I recall, she was going to get her roof fixed while I moved to London without a job.
I was writing a novel about a terrorist, about a woman who is married to a terrorist and doesn't know it. Probably I was trying to express some belief that all men were secret terrorists. At the end she has to kill him to save herself and her daughter. I have no idea where any of that book is. No one bought it but I travelled to Ireland and found a graveyard where most of the dead had the same last name as my grandmother. My father had a serious operation and my Uncle died of cirrhosis. I was having an affair with my British publisher but when I came home I was furious at my former lover for replacing me with someone who didn't live across the Atlantic. I accused him of being selfish but mainly I was shocked at his ability to find someone else. My father was in a terrible depression. I interviewed for a real teaching job at the MLAs and was suddenly, completely in love with a quiet man who worked for the Wall Street Journal and told me I was sleep deprived. We made a baby, got engaged, married and moved to London. I became a mother and forgot I ever stood on a table in a see through Jean Paul Gautier dress reading raunchy prose.
That was then and now I am divorced, remarried, the baby is almost 17, I live in Chicago, I can't be bothered stirring up trouble like before. I am someone other people often seek for comfort, for advice and experience. This is gratifying but sometimes I miss that other person I see in those pictures from 18 years ago who was standing on a threshold, who thought she had already lived so many lives but was destined to live many more. Despite her selfishness she had a kind of courage, an ability to cut through distractions and claim the territory necessary to write. For these four weeks I need to swim backwards, against the current. The memoir is fragile and bewitching but easily reduced to whining narcissism. I can revisit this past, retrieve the memory without losing what has taken me years to gain; serenity, maturity, an awareness of the fragility and rarity of love.