Who were Yours?

After a brief trip, I returned to the island Tuesday afternoon, grateful that the crossing was uneventful and the weather had turned cooler and that I could put my feet up and say, “Ahhh . . . home.”

IMG_5373But as I turned on the TV to await the evening news, a familiar voice rang out: “She had a little trouble with her dismount but she looked strong in the warm-ups . . .” I sat up straight and smiled. The video showed a young woman in sparkly pink Spandex, flipping and twisting and then—yay!—sticking her dismount. I had inadvertently tuned in to the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Trials; the announcer’s voice belonged to Tim Daggett, 1984 Olympic gold medal gymnast.

Full disclosure: I am not, never was, never wanted to be a gymnast. In third grade I sucked at climbing ropes, doing cartwheels, standing on my head. I was better at making up stories, which back then were called “daydreams.” (“Jean! Stop daydreaming!” my mother or my grandfather or Mrs. Smith, my teacher, often barked.)

Today my daydreams are called “fiction.” From the time I was eight or nine, I wanted to write. But if it hadn’t been for a few important people, including Tim Daggett, who knows what might have happened.

I believe that all types of incredibly supportive, inspiring people step into our lives—people beyond our families and our close friends—who, amazingly, think we are capable of reaching our goals.

I met Tim through a business connection, helped him with some marketing projects, and ended up co-authoring his story, DARE TO DREAM (Baker Books 1992). It was my first published book, which was unbelievably exciting. But even more important, while working with Tim, I became influenced by his unwavering determination, his ability to, as he might say, “have a dream and do whatever it takes to make that dream come true.” In 1994, thanks in large part to Tim’s inspiration, my first novel, SINS OF INNOCENCE, was published (Bantam Books).

Later, I attended a lecture at Smith College given by Kurt Vonnegut. His theme focused on the teachers in our lives: he closed by asking how many in the audience had been inspired/encouraged/motivated by a teacher. Most of us raised a hand. Vonnegut then asked us to turn to the person on our left and reveal the teacher’s name. I turned my head. “Miss Carroll,” I said without hesitation. She had been my ninth grade English teacher. And she’d encouraged me—really encouraged me—to write. And write. And write.

So this year when I watch the Olympics, I will think of Tim and Miss Carroll and a few other special people. I will remember that without them I would probably not have 19-and-counting published novels.

What about you? Who were your greatest inspirations? Have you thought about them . . . and maybe thanked them lately? Do it! It feels great. Best of all, sparkly pink Spandex is not required.

Enjoy the Olympic Games!

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Stop and Smell the Sea Air.

Stop and Smell the SeaSometimes I forget where I am. I get so busy, have so much fun, work so hard, go to so many movies and lectures and book groups and you-name-it, that I forget to remember what brought me here in the first place.

The sea, of course. The vast, empty beaches in winter, where you can walk for what seems like forever, with only the roar of the waves (they really do roar in winter) for your companion, and the only thoughts in your head the ones your imagination can dream up.

I learned that two decades ago when I came here to write my first Vineyard novel. Back then, a solitary walk on the beach helped de-stress my mind, helped set my imagination free. I “met” new friends like Jill, Rita, and Ben—I imagined their lives lived on an island, removed from the world and yet not. Over time, I met dozens of new friends while I strolled on the sand: Liz, Will, and BeBe; Jess, Richard, and Ginny; Mary Beth, Nikki, and Gabrielle. Some politicians, some trust fund babies, some just plain people, like me.

Yesterday, it was almost 50 degrees here. (Nice change from last weekend’s blizzard that limited visibility to your hand in front of your face.) I knew it would be a fine day for beach walking.

I went to South Beach, climbed over a sand dune (it used to be easier to do that), and there it was: the forever-stretch of barren beach, the gray, roaring waves, the tide either coming or going—I’ve never been sure how to tell which way was which. Sort of like life, I guess.

A long time ago, the great Olympic gymnast and wonderful friend, Tim Daggett, said, “If someone tells you they don’t have a dream, you’d better check their pulse.” I moved closer to the water and checked mine. Surprisingly, it was still going strong.

I breathed. I smelled the sea air. And I let myself feel open, once again, to all possibilities, to anything I could imagine. I looked far to my left, far to my right. I saw no one, but I started to walk. As you can see by the photo, I wasn’t the only one who’d been there. Apparently lots of people—perhaps some real, perhaps some imagined—had thought it was a good day for dreaming, too.

Advice of the day: Find your own kind of beach. Then watch the magic happen.