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Building on the Feldspar

As an undergraduate, I came across an English course titled ďThe Spirit of Place,Ē and I thoughtóYES. Place always meant so much to me (though I didnít yet know what that meant, since all I wanted then was to get out of the place I was in).

I discovered that the professor teaching this totally YES course was a Scot from Glasgow or Strathclyde or somewhere where the accent is so seductive Iíd probably hop into bed with the Scottish equivalent of a Christian fundamentalist. (I like to think this is an untrue statement. At least, I know that a Scottish Christian fundamentalist would likely not be looking to hop into bed. I think, anyway.)

Fast-forwarding more years than I want to believe or admit, I find myself in a place Iíve always loved as a vacation spot, as well as a place where so many important moments in my life as a mother took place: Cape Ann, again. Only this time Iím here for an extended period, and my children are grown, with their own commitments. And my commitment while here is to write. Write. You know, do nothing but write. Because thatís what I want to do. Thatís what Iím here to do. Because thatís the right thing to do. See? I can even make bad puns about it.

And Iím doing it. To the best of my ability. But I am being tested. I am being distracted. I am being bewitched by the Spirit of Place.

I know, what a problem . . . but Iím not complaining. Iím learning to love this strange dance between wanting to be outside, to be living outside myself, to be consciously living in a Place outside myself, while, simultaneously, trying to heed the call that takes me inside to unnamed places, unforeseen places, places where I canít just go sit with a coffee and a croissant, but have to plumb like a half-assed miner afraid of the dark, the depth and the possible, final lack of oxygen.

ďThe Spirit of PlaceĒ versus ďThe Place of the SpiritĒ? Oh, I know, itís a bit too facile. But maybe it will do.

For example, I just finished reading Elyssa Eastís book Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town. Iím a little leery of all thatís made of Dogtown, that big patch of wetlands and an old colonial settlement that people on Cape Ann are quick to honor, protect and take somewhat casually. But it belongs to them, after all, and thatís their prerogative. They donít make light of its mythological pull but they donít confuse mythology with history, either.

Nor does Elyssa Eastís book do that. It almost debunks the myth, preserving Dogtown as a private place, as well as a place that does take hold in oneís spirit. At least it does sometimes, for some people. In other words, itís pretty sacred to those who live near it. Itís not a tourist site. But itís okay to discover what is there to discover, particularly if you travel with no agenda.

I havenít ever gone to Dogtown, yet. Not even after 15 years of coming to Cape Ann. Iím a little afraid to. Iím a little afraid of most things, though, so my fear of Dogtown doesnít really mean very much.

On the other hand, walking down Bearskin Neck a few weeks ago, I happened upon a painter who reminded me of a visual-artist version of a poet I dated in college: ďSpeilerĒ was his last name, which, I think, means ďgame-makerĒ in German. The painter had bushy hair, a beret and a tendency to quote Yeats.

We chatted, referenced dope, the Fuggs and daughters graduating from college. In other words, weíd shown our age, passions and distractions. I figured that was that. But a few nights ago, walking down Bearskin Neck, our paths crossed again. This time there was spontaneous chatting, a shared glass of wine, more shared notes: Cape Ann has many earnest transplants who have come here to make art, music, write poetry or novels or, at the least, live a storied life.

Do some places induce this kind of mania for creativity? Is there any ontological or mineralogical basis for it? Think of D.H. Lawrence in Taos (and everybody who followed him there). Think of Provincetown and all its artists. Or simply think of the Chelsea Hotel.

Is there any truth to the notion of the Spirit of Place?

Maybe. I donít know. Iíll report back. But meanwhile, the bushy-haired painter mentions laconically, ďIím told that Rockport is built on a huge bed of feldspar. Feldspar is supposed to be all about creativity.Ē He lifts his glass. ďBut who knows?Ē

Certainly, I donít. But Iíve decided to build on the feldspar.

óJo Page

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