We are askew. There’s a lot going on, caring for an injured relative in a smallish log cabin on-the-grid. Daily life looks different. So right now, in snatches, I’m reading Louise Dickinson Rich‘s We Took to the Woods, one of my favorite Maine books. This is a good book, and it’s marked, plenty of marginalia from previous readings. Here’s my note on the title page, in pencil: “see p. 131-32 for the heart of it — what she has to say about their life in the woods.” I haven’t looked at that yet for this blogging. I began reading all over again this time from the beginning where she describes how she came to the woods 20 years before, one teacher among a group of such hikers (along with a guide). And how she came to write the book in 1942, living off-the-grid.
Click on this table of contents to enlarge:
These chapter titles are so intriguing, and they match her dry style which is, at the same time, familiar in tone and whimsically matter of fact. So, definitely a New Englander, she was the daughter of the local weekly’s editor somewhere in Massachusetts, and guess what, yes, she is related to That Dickinson. I like her book about her childhood even better than this one. She and her husband are some of the lucky few who were able to make enough of a living to live in the woods, buffered from The Outside by miles and miles of woods lakes mountains trees. You have to come in over water, but when you get there you’ll find a five-mile carry road with the unlikely name of Carry Road. This road does not lead to The Outside, but along the mostly white-water river from one camp/worksite to the other. And probably most of us today would not even call it a road but a track. You can find out more about these types of woods roads by reading the book I respond to in “My Hero, Lost On A Mountain In Maine.”
I don’t want to give the impression that we are living so far from The Outside. Our rural area has been in transition ever since our move here. The whole cycle of The God’s Cycle finds this as one of its main themes. Our’s is a resort area and has become so built up we scarcely recognize the place we found on coming here to the Western Mountains of Maine. That’s one reason why I love reading this 70+ year-old book. The logging was what opened up the woods just a little bit and made the Carry Road necessary.
But with the way things are going at home, I’m reading now on her writing experience. She found she had to make it is much of a profession as possible, by keeping what she called office hours. Otherwise she would not get the writing done. “If I can’t think of anything to write about, I sit just in front of the typewriter and brood.” You have to be diligent, strict, not discourteous exactly, but quietly firm about it. I’m finding that if I want to get the files finished up for publication, I may have to spend some of those office hours in the village library, seven miles away. Multitasking is fragmenting under these conditions, and yet the domestically trivial must be accomplished no matter what. Otherwise it becomes NOT trival. It would be grand if I could ride my bike there, but I don’t think that’s going to fit.
And how is this: “Feeling like a fraud is one of the bad things about being a writer. You have to be a little disparaging about your work sometimes…. there’s a lot of talk by writers about just doing pot-broilers until one is financially secure enough to embark on a really serious work. Frankly, this is hooey.” Louise Dickinson Rich thinks that this implies “writing down.” Condescension. She even says it’s resented by the editor of your book. If she is able actually to make a living from, selling well enough to eat off the work, she’s doing the best she can, because when such a writer stops, she stops eating.
I don’t have her problem: I don’t make enough to earn a living off writing, or even pay for materials and tools. But I haven’t stopped eating. (Yet.)
Maybe in the comment about “fraud,” she’s getting at this: “Everything I write, no matter how lousy it turns out to be, is the very best I’m capable of at the time. My writing may be third-rate, but at least it’s honest. You can’t be even a third-rate writer without taking your work seriously.”