After every speaking engagement, tucked into the playful give and take, some form of “What have you been upto lately, John?” It is shorthand for “since you sailed back home?” or “since you finished Sailing Grace?”
I explain – short form or long – that Barbara and I returned to our professional lives, she as an attorney and I as a psychologist. More importantly, we ushered Kate and Erin through high school and college, John Ryan out into that larger world of marriage, family and film.
When young Erin trundled off to college, Barbara and I moved into a small house on a big hill between two lakes. The smaller lake sprawls out from the foot of our dune to the nearest town, seven miles away. At night we can see lights there, reminding us that we are not entirely alone.
There are no lights to be seen on Lake Michigan to the West, a three hundred mile long, glacier-carved gash – freshwater all – over one hundred miles across and in places nine hundred feet deep. Numbers aside, she is all horizon to us, like the view from Grace mid-Atlantic. After years out on those larger waters we are again surrounded by water. We are back home.
When I am not out on the road speaking, I consult with clients one or two days a week. The rest of my time is given over to writing. Barbara continues to work in the city, and stays there one or two nights each week. Our no-good dog Finnegan and I hold down the fort in her absence, feasting on silence, two-dog anticipation for her return. This oscillation between intimacy and aloneness – each ratcheting up the other – is a rich stew indeed. We are very happy.
The summer people moved on in late September – back to the city, to the dry heat of the Southwest, or the moist warmth of the Gulf. The leaves are on their October rampage, green going yellow in the billowing beach grass, then flagrant scarlet and orange. The geese are honking by overhead, riding accelerating Northerlies to the South. The temperature is falling, something not lost on Finnegan, barking to be let back in.
Barbara left for work an hour ago, and will be spending the night in the city. It’s you and me, Finn, shaking the cold out of his fur with such fury that he staggers. You and me and this hot cup of coffee, this blank page and ballpoint pen. I settle down into the chair. The wind rattles the window above my desk, then exhales. Finn works his way in under the desk, arranges his hundred pounds on top of my slippered feet. Another gust, a shower of leaves out of the high branches outside. A welcome distraction.
When I look back down, the page is still there, still blank. I pick up the pen and begin, scrawling and crossing out. Scrawling some more. Scratching away through a series of shifting shadows, the sun out over the Lake. The work takes over at some point, a procession of hours, insecurity offset by the certain assurance – productive or not – of an evening walk in the woods.
All this, and in the deep woods later a deafening silence, those empty and abundant lapses between thoughts where – when I am very lucky – everything I think I am falls away, only trees and trail now – enough – dog and dwindling light.