Anyone who knows me knows this just isn’t my style but here I am and that table is my desk for this week. I am at the Chautauqua Institution, a village on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in far southwestern New York State, founded in 1874 (hence the Victorian style and yes, those are plastic flowers) as a place for lectures, performing arts, interfaith worship, and recreational activities. Each week throughout the summer, the grounds fill with people exploring a theme. My week is War and Its Warriors: Contemporary Voices, so naturally, I am here. Of the speakers who will lecture or conduct classes this week, I had the books of four of them on my shelf. To hear what they have to say and to have time to ponder it – that’s my kind of vacation.
This is a writing retreat for me, too, though. I will emerge from my little third floor apartment for events and walks and to find something fresh to eat but the rest of the time I will be writing. The One String Violin keeps pulling at me, disturbing my sleep, not letting me off the hook, nagging me to go deeper and then deeper still. Whereas at the beginning I thought I had a side role – editor, supporter – I now know that my identity as a complete civilian, an identity I will not give up, is a part of the story. How did I come to be the kind of person who would take on co-authoring a book with a Vietnam veteran, a long and improbable journey? How did I come to be the kind of person who would be given that project? Can it be more than a dual memoir? Can it contribute in some small way to bridging the divide between civilians and veterans, between the civilian world and the military world? And if I do that, will that be a step toward ending the perpetual war that saps all our energy, lulling us into the belief that war is inevitable, simply a fact of human existence? This week I will have the chance to take these thoughts out of the book I am writing and the many I am reading, and I am thinking big.