Although I can't afford it, or maybe because I can't, I'm buying and furnishing a house near the sea a very discounted house, mind you that will be, part of the year, a residence for writers.
Now, we're not talking the MacDowell Colony here, or even my beloved Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Ill. We're talking a room of one's own, for two weeks at a time, away from the phone, the kids, the laundry. There won't be much education though my friends and I might throw in a seminar every so often and there won't be lovely meals (writers will have to byob: bring your own bagels).
The price will be right. A cleaning fee and that's it.
Because of a sort of identity theft (by a very close relative), we sold the house we once owned on Cape Cod for 10 years.
No one needs a second home.
But, although I love the spirit and community of colony life and will be part of it every year as long as I'm allowed, when a friend who could afford to do a thing like this decided to live her life more prudently, I stepped into her shoes. Over the years, I'd met wonderfully talented women, such as a young lawyer who was writing a memoir of the experience of re-learning everything she knew after a brain event, who can't even afford modest fees.
Thus, we've been battering Craigslist and bartering furiously, and it's been a lesson in sociology to try to furnish a house for about $2,000.
Predictably, those people who could afford easily to give a person a break for a good cause won't.
And those people who don't know where they'll end up next will throw in the single-bed mattress for an extra $50 and give you their sweatshirts because it's raining.
We've bought sheets from a garage sale in a tony neighborhood and paid $8 for used. We've bought sheets never out of the box from a Chinese couple in a dicey apartment building: $20 for two sets. We've met people who wanted us to pay them before we hauled the furniture outside and people who trusted us enough to leave a beautiful comforter in a plastic bag on the porch if we'd leave the money.
We've met Mohammed and Adela and Tony and Raisa and Azoua and Nicole and Martin and Davila. We've met a guy who was a doctor in Nigeria and a young woman who will be one in Wisconsin. And we met this young guy called Will who threw things at us a great bed, dishes, a toaster oven, lamps, a table, even the comforter on the bed. And he refused to take a nickel. Others did the same thing, with some funny chairs and a couple of couches.
They could have had the money.
Instead, they had the joy you get when you know you're making something possible. It's like a lucky clover in your pocket.
Sooner or later, I'll get around to figuring out how people can sign up or try out or line up to come to what we've started calling One Writer's Place.
But already, gathering, instead of buying new, has reminded me that while life is easy go, not-so-easy come, being stingy can never make a person happy. I never really forgot that paying it forward just feels better. But the grief of the past 18 months made me cautions. I lost the equivalent of two kids' college educations to a relative I tried to help (who then helped herself) and who now declines to repay me (although she recently married a millionaire).
I retreated. I was less than willing to give than before. Now, although I'm prudent, I'm tired of being too cautious.
A friend once described the difference between her and me: If her best friend wanted to borrow her favorite sweater, she would lend it, but worry all night that it would be ruined, while I according to her would give my friend the sweater and save myself the worry. That was a nice thing to say. I hope I deserved it; and I'm sticking to it.