How to draw a map home
#4 Where Vermont becomes more than a memory
In addition to a monthly Midlife Anti-Hero newsletter, I send weekly postcards, chronicling my midlife quest for what “might have been.” Scenes from the road to reinvention include moving to Vermont to renovate an old farmhouse, working with a life wizard, leaving a three-decade career, and the biggest adventure of all—figuring out what comes after, “I quit.”
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I thought the Life Wizard I interviewed was a bit too woo-woo for me when she said, “You already know your path; you just haven’t seen it yet.” I hired her anyway.
In hindsight, I realized she was right.
Our roadmaps are a grand cartography plotted since birth. Multi-colored pins mark the circumstances into which we are born, the relationships that lift us up or hold us down, moments of inexplicable wonder, and soul-shifting trauma—all dots waiting to be connected.
Like Vermont, in my case. I had no history with the brave little state other than an abiding love for Ben & Jerry. Yet, here I am.
It’s not random. Not luck or serendipity.mused on “the path not taken” affirming what I’ve long wanted to believe: that while the map may already be drawn, we connect the dots with the choices we make. As Paige writes in her newsletter Work in Progress:
“All my choices that led me to the here and now were intentional and I have no regrets.”
You see, I chose Felix, and because of Felix, I found Vermont. Would I have come on my own? No way to know, but I am sure of this. I made my way here, and I chose to stay.
In our early years, Felix and I drove to Vermont nearly every weekend, toting mountain bikes or skis. Still wound up from the workweek and our city commutes, we would thread through traffic just as motivated as we were to get away for a while.
“Masshole!” We cursed the red-plate drivers who cut us off on I-93. “Yankees suck!” we shouted at New Yorkers (as Red Sox fans do) when they clipped by us at speeds more suited to the nearby Nascar track.
Then, just south of Exit 32, the massive granite shoulders of Franconia Notch would appear. The last flat-landers (what we call anyone not from the mountainous regions of Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont) peeled off toward their slopeside-lakeside condos while Felix and I continued northbound—we had the road to ourselves.
We drove a little slower, breathed a lot slower, and turned off the radio news as the road narrowed to two lanes threading through the White Mountain National Forrest. One time, driving into the notch toward Cannon Mountain Ski Resort, where the summit-tram-house light shone bright and steady, I insisted that light was the North Star.
I remember seeing the highway sign welcoming drivers to the Green Mountain State for the first time. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu—no, it was more like a homecoming. A few minutes later, when we passed the exit for Route 2 in St. Johnsbury, I returned to the backseat of my grandfather’s car.
We must have taken Route 2 on drives to visit our cousins. It’s still the main east-west highway between Maine and New York. The hills and valleys were every shade of green and gold and red. Shredded wheat haybales dotted fresh-mown fields.
At six or seven, I would have held Softy, my special pillow, close to my cheek, watching rambling white farmhouses, maple trees, and sugar houses roll by.
Forty years later, I saw it again so clearly. When we turned off the exit, past the black and white cows and the tall yellow Victorian with the red barns and white picket fences, I remember thinking, I want to live here someday
What I wish I’d known
For most of my life, I thought there were “right” paths everyone should follow. I tried several routes along all kinds of roads—steep, rocky, scenic, or paved with fool’s gold. I felt like a failure when everyone else seemed to be enjoying the ride and I was getting motion-sick. I felt like a failure when the road got too rough to continue. I was lost and at a dead-end.
It never occurred to me that I could build my own road.
Maps serve many purposes: celestial, nautical, geographic, weather—treasure! They place us in context with the world. The poet Joy Harjo points out that the oldest known map, the Imago Mundi, describes one region as “the winged bird ends not his flight.” Other spots on the map read “the light is brighter than that of sunset or stars,” and “where a horned bull lives and attacks the newcomer.”
Draw a map of your life with words. Maybe you are a traveler. Maybe you are the destination. Maybe you are buried treasure.
Take a deep breath and write.
Wait! Wouldn’t it be fun to write with others?
Join me for a generative, non-judgemental writing group. I’m a certified leader in the Amherst Writers and Artists method, and design groups for creative, open-minded people seeking personal, professional, and creative growth. Beginning writers are especially encouraged to join.
October 30 - November 20, 2023
Stick Season Writers: Prompts for Slowing Down
Our senses come alive in late fall. We can see deeper into the forest, hear the crunch of leaves under our feet, feel the warmth of the first fire in the woodstove, and mmmm, the pumpkin spice! This four-week writing workshop is for writers in any genre at any level of experience. We’ll write to prompts designed to evoke rich and meaningful details that help the reader immerse themselves in your setting and characters.
Each group is limited to 8 participants, allowing everyone an opportunity to provide and receive encouraging, thoughtful feedback.
Sharing your work is always optional. The goal is for writers to leave feeling supported and inspired.
This AWA workshop will take place on Zoom, on four consecutive Mondays from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (Eastern*), beginning October 30.
*Note: Daylight Savings Time ends 11/5