The flight from Long Beach to Chicago was a breeze. It took some time to rent the car because folks, including Tom Brady’s dad, were flying into the Windy City and drving down to Indianapolis for tomorrow’s Super Bowl. Coming from L.A.-area traffic, the drive from O’Hare Airport to Ragdale was amazingly smooth. Does Chicago not have rush hour anymore, or have our standards changed?
Ragdale is nestled in Lake Forest, a luxurious northern suburb perched on Lake Michigan. Upon arrival, we had a glass of wine, a tour of the Barnhouse, and a delicious home-cooked dinner with our six fellow residents and three enthusiastic staff. Several of the residents are from the area, and one is a fellow Knox College alum. Our rooms are comfortable, quiet, and warm.
Books by former residents, including Scott Turow, Sara Peretsky, Mary Gaitskill, Jennifer Haigh, and Alice Sebold, line a wall of shelves by the front door. Anna started reading the uncorrected proof of Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Space this morning. Finding a memoir about growing up on the Space Coast was just the sort of serendipity we like to use as encouragement.
Yesterday, on our first full day, we found the gym at Lake Forest College, where Ragdale residents can work out at no cost. It’s the nicest gym we’ve ever seen. The Metra station is nearby, as is the beach, though we haven’t traversed there yet. The Whole Foods was a little farther than we thought, but we picked up a few essentials and got our bearings in case we need to get out for a meal or stop at Barnes & Noble.
And we wrote. For hours. We had pizza with the other residents last night. And then we wrote some more. Some of our drafting is from scratch, and some is drawn from things we’ve already written, though not cut and pasted because we don’t want to inadvertently shape our big project by the structure or language of previous work. We’re rethinking and trying to figure out something new.
This morning, Anna admitted that she’s sick with a cold. Doug will travel into Chicago for dinner with family and friends without her. Today is a break in the routine. We’re not writing as much, but we’re still writing.
And we’re quietly celebrating two birthdays. Charles Lindbergh, who made the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, was born on this date in 1902. If you don’t know the story of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, we recommend The Spirit of St. Louis, starring Jimmy Stewart, himself a pilot and a WWII veteran who trained B-17 bombardiers in the United States, flew B-24s overseas in the war, and even managed to earn a Mach 2 pin by flying a B-58 Hustler—one of Doug’s favorite aircraft—to twice the speed of sound.
Lindbergh’s life, of course, was far more complicated than the film portraying the accomplishment that brought him instant fame both in the United States and abroad. He was interested in a lot of things, including Robert Goddard’s work in rocketry and Nobel Laureate Alexis Carrell’s work in organ surgery. In fact, Charles Lindbergh invented a perfusion pump that contributed to the development of heart surgery. He was given unprecedented access to German and Soviet aviation facilities before WWII and began publicly opposing the war. Some of his statements smack of anti-Semitism, and there are stories (including his daughter’s book) of affairs and secret children in Europe. The story that garnered worldwide notoriety, though, was the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s young son in 1932. The boy’s remains were found a couple of months later, and a perpetrator was convicted and executed.
Charles Lindbergh’s story is a lesson in complexity for us as writers and seems to be, like any life, the weaving together of several stories that may not be seamless. We strive for narrative arc, cause and effect, a beginning and middle and end, but we don’t want to jerry-rig our story.
That brings us to the second birthday. Clyde Tombaugh was born on this date in 1906. We wrote about him briefly in “Happy Birthday, Neptune!” Tombaugh was a fellow Ilinoisan who made his way out West. While working at the Lowell Observatory, he discovered the ninth planet, Pluto. For a long time, that was a good story. But Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006, though even before that, museums had started opening displays of the Solar System without Pluto. The story changed—or rather, the facts remained the same (Pluto is still out there), but the interpretation changed as time passed.
So Clyde Tombaugh’s story is a lesson for us too, as we’re figuring out how to tell our story. The story may change, the details rearranged to lead to new ideas, and that’s okay.