Two months ago, as I walked through the front door of the Weymouth Center for the Arts, in southeastern North Carolina, I noticed a pleasant, capable woman arranging a magnificent bouquet in a large vase in the entry hall. When I complimented her on the arrangement, she responded that she was glad I enjoyed it. “It’s all for you, you know,” she added. “Everything we do here is for writers.”
If you push a pen for a living, you are probably as surprised as I was to hear that anyone, anywhere, devotes themselves to writers. But then you haven’t heard about the Ladies of Weymouth. A volunteer group, these dear and tender souls maintain the lushly manicured gardens and the antique-filled rooms of Weymouth. They host events and fundraisers to supply the writers’ quarters of this southern mansion with fresh flowers, shelves full of books, and a bountifully equipped kitchen, study and library.
Perfect for some. But not, apparently, for my on-again, off-again muse (whom long ago, in the throes of angst and deep irony, I christened Constance). I found myself sitting determinedly at my laptop, waiting. And waiting.
After the first day, I broke out the white chocolate.
After two, I stopped showering and started sweating.
By the next day, I heard time’s winged chariot revving its engine behind me. (I had signed on for only five days at Weymouth.)
Perhaps, I thought, Constance was an old fashioned girl and would prefer to be wooed by hand rather than computer. I was, after all, a guest in a house once visited by North Carolina’s most famous writing son. In fact, the plaque on my door announced that I was sleeping in the Thomas Wolfe room! I didn’t own a typewriter like Wolfe’s, of course, but I had brought a tablet with me. Dutifully, I took it out and waited, pencil in hand, for free-written descriptions and dialogue to flow. I waited. And waited.
By the fourth day, I was biting my nails, over-snacking, and completely demoralized. I went to check my email in the ball room.
That’s where I met another, newly arrived Writer in Residence (there are four bedrooms at Weymouth, with space for four lucky authors). She asked me which room I was in, and when I told her, she replied with delight, “Oh, you got the haunted room!”
“Haunted?” I inquired, not quite as thrilled at this prospect as she seemed to be. She told me that she had been coming to Weymouth for years, and that I was fortunate, indeed. Thomas Wolfe’s ghost, she explained, was mischievous only to writers who didn’t cotton to restless spirits. “He’s always wonderful to people who aren’t afraid of him,” she assured me.
Was I afraid of Thomas Wolfe? I asked myself this on my last night, as I sank into a bed tucked under the famous writer’s photo. The answer, it was pretty clear, was no. When I was a teenager, I’d put myself to sleep by repeating those lush, extravagant lines from the end of You Can’t Go Home Again: “Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. “ Later, when I began writing my own books, the way Wolfe always gave himself so completely to feeling became a benchmark, a touchstone. So my once and future idol hardly frightened me; in my current depressed state, I was much more daunted than haunted. My muse and Wolfe could fight it out, I decided, yawning. I was going to sleep.
Not, as it turns out, for long. At 3 AM I woke in a cold sweat. Something had changed; something was different –about the room, about me. It took my sitting with the voice in my head, then padding to my laptop to transcribe it. It took my writing at break-neck speed my last morning at Weymouth. It took those five frantic hours to accomplish what I’d been hoping for — I had the two new scenes I needed for my novel! Someone had grabbed Constance by the scruff and shook poetry into her. She was on fire! And even now, long home and the book submitted, I’m filled with relief and swamped with gratitude — to a ghost. Thank you, Tom!!!