By Laura Spinella
It’s been a curious couple of weeks. Not only from a writing perspective but from an everyday, tie your shoes, change of season point of view. Fall does that in New England, Maine to Connecticut selling the scenery with everything living up to the hype and gloss of a travel brochure. It’s quick and it’s bright, and you have to hurry if you want to bask in a Robert Frost moment. If you live here you notice the trees, but mostly you anticipate all the raking. Unlike spring, a season that meanders in like royalty arriving, fall is more of an abrupt nudge to the shoulder, “Hey, I’m here—enjoy the foliage on that road not taken. When I leave, old man winter settles in for the long haul.”
In addition to crisp air and apples, a few things have made this fall different than the others I’ve spent in Massachusetts. I’ve had a friend visiting from the South. At my age, as friends go, suffice it to say she’s one of my oldest. We met under circumstances that still leave me, the writer, chagrinned. Kimberly and I were both being considered for the same job at the Union Recorder newspaper in Milledgeville, Georgia. The position wasn’t even in the editorial department, though I felt my shiny journalism degree should have easily won me the job. Not so fast. Kimberly, admittedly a more vivacious soul than I could manage if I underwent serotonin injections, got the job. Weeks later, the newspaper hired me for a different position, and after some wound licking, a friendship was forged that has lasted longer than either of us cares to note. I like the serendipity of it all, especially when you consider that we only lived in the same state for a year. Minus serendipity, we would have stopped exchanging Christmas cards decades ago.
It’s fun when Kimberly visits. After her short career in newspapers, she discovered her real passion, living the word entrepreneur by becoming the most enterprising female contractor in North Carolina. The photos here show the little mountain house she rehabbed before arriving on my doorstep. Basically, when she visits we feed her well and pick her brain about what project we should tackle next in our 112-year old Arts & Crafts rehab. Tomorrow, she heads home, though clutched in my greedy grip is a plan for a customized master bedroom closet. It’s been low on our to-do list, though her brilliant design is sure to make the California Closet folks look like casket assemblers.
While I’m tickled by state-of-the-art storage, that’s a small bonus to a Kimberly visit. Having her around is more like a direct line of adrenalin to the vein. Kimberly is a doer of the highest order, making you think thoughts that seem too adventurous for an ordinary Tuesday and go places that would normally fall—well, somewhere below the urgency for a customized closet. She has a can-do attitude that, frankly, makes me want to tie her to a chair, though because she will laugh at that idea it also makes her one of my favorite people on the planet.
When considering the cathartic aspects of a visit with an old friend, I’m not entirely sure what Kimberly gained. We did tune her into Gilmore Girls and turned her onto those Harvard baseball boys—trivial pastimes for us, a fresh note of fascination for someone who doesn’t dabble in pop culture. For me, however, two things occurred that made this visit memorable. The first is completely selfish in that she insisted on, and I allowed, a cold read of THE IT FACTOR. The fragile writer ego lives for that validation, and this stamp could not have come at a more critical juncture. It’s a long road from here to next fall’s publication, and when someone sits in your chilly sunroom, demanding more tea and silence, it will make you nod with relief and say, “It’s going to be all right.” Even better is when you overhear—okay, outright eavesdrop—on a conversation that said reader has with another friend, someone you don’t even know, and is heard saying, “It was so good! I think I loved it more than BEAUTIFUL DISASTER…” As any author will tell you, this is necessary friendship fairy dust tamping down unavoidable doubts.
In addition to the places we will go when Kimberly visits, which does leave you with a slight Dr. Seuss rhythm ringing in your ears, there’s the pay-it-forward effect. Yesterday, we took the cursory trip into Boston. I enjoy this when out-of-town friends’ visit. Mostly because it reminds me there is a beautiful city that is as much meant for residents as it is tourists. During a stop at Faneuil Hall, Kimberly hunted for the mandatory Boston sweatshirt. A bundle of energy in most regards, she is also a scrupulous shopper. I’ve learned it’s best to let her peruse at her own pace. A decision will be rendered only if and when she finds exactly what she wants. On the other hand, I like to think she uses this same careful attention to detail when choosing her friends. That or I’ve just had a lot of time to stand and think while Kimberly shops.
My point is this: I’d wandered in another direction, where my son was admiring a Berklee College of Music sweatshirt. Now, I understand what it takes to get into a place like Berklee, the bestseller kind of sales I’d have to achieve to afford this pinnacle of music education. I know that Grant is a 15-year old boy, who while talented, does not currently possess a Justin Bieber work ethic. He quietly admired the sweatshirt, only commenting on a price tag that even he construed as tourist gouging. I said, “I think we should get it.” He shook his head, tossing the remainder of his equally exorbitant Panini into the trash. “Nah, I don’t need it. Besides, I have as much chance of going there as I do Harvard.” He motioned to a rack of crimson embroidered sweatshirts, and I hesitated. While he could give the Call Me Maybe baseball boys a rhythmic run for their money, Ivy League is probably not in his future. Instead, I took a Kimberly stance with him. “No, we’re definitely getting it. Berklee College of Music no crazier than, ‘Hey, I think I’ll write a book…’” He tugged it over his head, asked the clerk to cut the tag, practically wearing it to bed and again to school this morning. For anyone who doesn’t have a Kimberly, you’ve no idea what you’re missing. She is the road less traveled, and it does make a wicked cool difference.
Laura Spinella is the author of THE IT FACTOR, fall 2013, Penguin, and the award winning novel, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. Visit her at lauraspinella.net