Monday, February 16, 2015

Run, run, run, run, run, runaway...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Anyone who knows me has heard me complain over the last month and a half about getting work done. Oh, I've been getting plenty of work done - sweeping hearths, toting wood, gravity flushing toilets (the downstairs water line is frozen) washing dishes by hand in a tub (ditto.) But the real work? Writing? Not so much. Throw in snow day after snow day with everyone in the family home (including my husband, the special ed teacher) and...well, let's say I was getting close to taking an axe to the wall.

So I ran away from home. To Nantucket, where my beloved agent (hi, Meg!) has a house standing all alone and empty because, let's face it, Nantucket's big tourism time is not during blizzard season. It's been marvelous, much better than the other time I ran away from home with a sandwich, a book and a butter knife (personal protection.) I hadn't really thought the plan through back then, being eight, and so neglected both money and clean underwear. Not to mention a passport, since I was an American national living in Germany at the time.

This time, I took busses from Portland to Boston, Boston to Hyannis, and then the ferry to the island. When I was eight, I had a similar plan, but the only transportation service I knew of on our army base was the school bus, and it was unfortunately Saturday. I spent some time skulking around the bus stop, ate the sandwich way too soon, and eventually sat under a bush to get out of the sun. I was sort of like Claudette Colbert in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, except instead of Clark Gable, I was rescued by my mother, who gave me a hug, brought me home, and fixed me my favorite meal, Kraft macaroni and cheese.

How about you, Reds? What were your runaway adventures?

 RHYS BOWEN:   Julia, I'm so sorry you've been going through all this. It makes me shiver just to read about it. As for running away, I've thought about it many times over the years, Julia,(like when all four children were down with stomach flu)  but never when I was a child. I suppose I must have had a fairly contented childhood. But I was born with a travel bug. I am told when I was taken to the ocean for the first time when I was two I started to walk into the water, wearing only my sun-bonnet, and kept on walking. The adults watched with interest and then had to sprint in and rescue me when I got close to my neck.  After that I bugged my parents to let me go abroad and traveled to Austria alone when I was twelve.

But more recently I have used research as a good excuse for a mini-escape. I write about New York and England, don't I? So I have to go there regularly. And it is always amazing having to please nobody but myself, having no schedule but my own. I should do it more often--like tomorrow!

HALLIE EPHRON: Your question stopped me. Have I ever run away? I don't think so. I imagined doing it as a kid -- I might even have gotten as far as tying a bandana on the end of a a stick and loading it with a peanut butter sandwich. My parents just ignored me. It was their way. Which made it silly to run away... from what?

I confess my favorite place to be is home, so even with another blizzard threatening it's where I want to be. But then, we're not gravity flushing our toilets. Yet.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, I'm not sure I can even begin to sympathize. I think the longest we've ever been weather-locked her is five or six days...

I think I ran away once as a kid--if you can call climbing a tree in our front pasture and refusing to come down running away. I was in trouble for something and must have thought I could avoid the fallout. Or that my mom would come and beg me to come down. Not. I got tired and hungry and really uncomfortable, and finally had to climb down at dark, go home and face the music.

As a grown-up (sort of) I have run away to write, usually to not very exciting hotels. I keep wishing someone would offer me a catered beach cabin... ??

JULIA: That's sort of what I have right now, Debs, only with a frozen arctic wasteland instead of a beach.

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm a homebody too, like Hallie. John says I have a deep taproot, and wilt when transplanted if the prep work isn't done carefully. I ran away to France for a semester during college. Despite a month in Paris, and four in Avignon, I was dreadfully homesick. So running away was not a great solution. I remember when I was very young, my older sister disappeared--after threatening to run away. My parents searched everywhere, more and more frantic. Finally they found her hanging at the back of a chair in the living room, lifting her feet when anyone bent down to look. Like I said, homebodies at heart!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Yes, my favorite place is home, too definitely. When I was a kid,  used to threaten to run away, all the time. It was very unsuccessful, since every time I'd announce I was going, my Mom would say:  "Have fun" and "Don't bother to write!"  And m sister would say "Can I have your room?" Which sort of took the fun out of it.
 (I was also always waiting for my REAL mother, the queen of someplace, to come pick Princess Me up. She never did.)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I don't think I ever ran away as a kid, but I definitely run away now! (But in a good, recharging way.) Like Debs, I go to the UK and Europe in the name of "research." I've also done some housesitting gigs/short hotel stays just to get some uninterrupted writing time. Last year around this time, I housesat for friends in Cambridge, Ma. who HAVE THEIR OWN LIBRARY. Heaven! Also an enormous soaking tub and fantastic Indian food delivery. (Note to self — check in with said friends to see if they need a house sitter again!)

JULIA: I think we can all agree that running away from home as a grownup is far nicer than running away as a kid. Indian food delivery beats squished PB&J sandwiches every time.

How about you, dear readers? What are your runaway stories?


  1. Is running away from home a rite of childhood? When we were eight or so, my twin sister and I decided we would run away from home and, although the reason for this decision eludes me, I remember my mom giving us the paper bags we requested so that we could pack our things. I have no idea what we put in the bags [which our very wise mom let us pack on our own] but ultimately we decided we would not run away after all because our bags were too heavy. So we unpacked and mom made us some lunch.

    Although we've had more than our share of cold and snow here, it doesn't begin to compare to what's been dropped on Maine . . . may your snow days be over soon.

  2. I never ran away as a child, either, but was delighted to go to Brazil for an entire year as an exchange student when I was only 17. At 23 I headed off to live with a boyfriend and teach English in Japan. My other years abroad were with husband and children, so they don't really count. Nowa days, like some of you, my only runaways are for solo retreats: house sitting, a fabulous artist and writers' retreat house in western Mass, a Quaker retreat house on the Cape. I pack up a bunch of simple food, a couple of bottles of wine, and my laptop, and spend days writing almost around the clock. Would love to be on Nantucket right now!

  3. Cute stories. Hank, I can just hear your mom--I said the same thing to my kids.

    I "ran away" when I was seven or eight, and dragged my little sister along with me. Our dad worked nights, and he was asleep, so we snuck out, with a packed little suitcase--packed, I'm sure, with essentials. We went to my friend Karen's, about five blocks away. Karen was an only child, and her parents owned a neighborhood grocery store that they lived above. We ended up going back home when worldly wise Karen said she could give us a sandwich, but no money. (I suspect she had heard her dad say exactly this to other, much older supplicants.) We got back before Daddy was awake.

    My husband ran away, for nearly a year, when our kids were at the running away age. Friends in rural California were going to Chile for a year and they offered us their home to live in. Steve used it as a base from which to photograph Western birds and animals, but our kids, especially the 10-year old, dug in and refused to go. They would have gone to a tiny school with 30 kids, and ride a bus for an hour on dirt roads.

    I didn't want to go because our house is an actual house, with different rooms. Their house was 900-square feet with no interior walls except around the bathroom. I'd have gone totally stir-crazy. It was a crazy year, with a lot of cross-country travel.

  4. When I was eight or so, I was obsessed with the west, and wanted to run away to Billings, MT (which I had never visited, and still haven't). My best friend at that time (and close friend in our middle years) did just that-- wound up moving to just outside Billings in her sixties.

    But I've spent so much of my life traveling (for speeches, conventions, meetings, conferences, family occasions) that for me, running away is more of what I've done this past weekend: instead of going to my nephew's wedding in Key Biscayne (14 hours in the air each way for a long weekend at a hotel that would have cost more money than I had), I did my favorite thing, locked myself in the house, put out piddle pads for the doglet, and sorted a piles of papers here. (Found a note from my late grandmother among the receipts, bills, etc. so it was worth the effort.)

    That's one of the reasons a writers' retreat has never appealed to me. Running away for me isn't putting a physical distance between me and my home, it is ducking a whole pile of "shoulds" and doing something that I want to do.

  5. My siblings and I built a 'cabin' (packing crates, an old shed door?) in the 'woods' (under the walnut trees behind the dog kennel in the backyard). We packed, yes, pb&j sandwiches and a thermos of hot chocolate on which to subsist, determined to live there until some grievous wrong our parents had done to us was righted. Unfortunately, the cabin was not equipped with running water, toilets, or lights. We never made it past twilight.

    I can sympathize, Julia--we have what seems to be unrelenting cold and ice until I just want to pull the covers over my head and stay there! But, still have power.

    I'm glad you were able to get away to write. I can definitely see how a getaway can help--the 'shoulds' don't get a chance to derail you when you aren't at home.

  6. I'm not sure I ever technically "ran away from home." I know I threatened to on occasion. To which my mother always responded, "Fine, but you'll go out of this house with everything you came into it with. Nothing." I think the thought of being naked on the street deterred me. But I did "run away" to hide from my brothers and sister frequently - usually up a tree somewhere. Until I got old enough to be the babysitter, then there wasn't any running anywhere. Sigh.

    I've "run away" to weekend writing retreats with my Sisters in Crime chapter. Other people, but no one bothers me when they see me hunched over my laptop, furiously pounding away. I think I need to do that again.

    Is this winter over yet? We aren't gravity-flushing, but it was -2 when I left this morning. We got stuck in the house with no power for about a week several years ago, but we have a wood-burning stove for such occasions, so we just hung blankets over the doorways and hunkered down in the living room (fortunately we have gas appliances, so we kept hot water and our ability to cook - which was good, because we weren't driving anywhere because of the snow).

  7. Lordy, I just love the things we learn about one another here. I too am a homebody and it's where I most want to be.

    But, I did run away from home one time when I was married to one of those other guys. I took off, went to Ocean City, MD (just a couple hours away from Aberdeen, MD where we were living - he was in the Army). I stayed for about a week. I had called my parent to let them know where I was and swore them to secrecy in case "he" called them (he didn't). It was winter and it was wonderful - not many people vacation in Ocean City during the winter. I did, of course, go home. But only because I didn't have enough money to stay. The marriage, of course, didn't last a whole lot longer after that.

  8. I never ran away but my little brother did once. He was 8. He stormed out of the house with a suitcase and started walking alongside the road. My mom let him walk a while, then got into the car and brought him home. She opened the suitcase on the kitchen table. All that was inside was a plastic superhero toy. She asked why he didn't pack more and he said, "I didn't know that was in there. I just figured I'd need a suitcase."

    I run away from my life every December for 2-3 weeks, to an artist colony. I recommend highly to all.

  9. Ramona, what artist colony do you go to?

  10. within recent memory, I was snowbound on Cape Cod in a vacant house. I had power, heat, hot water, and even basic cable. I remember curling up for a nap, watching the snow belting down, secure in the knowledge that my family was safe somewhere else, and I was accountable only to myself.

  11. Funny this should come up now! I am finishing up my 32nd "Runaway Weekend" with the girl friends. Every President's Day. We used to go to Lake Tahoe but now stay clear of the snow (usually) and rent a house at Clear Lake Ca. We usually stay in PJ's the whole time. We eat, watch movies, drink, eat, play games, talk, and did I mention eat? I call it my "girlfriend fix".

  12. I keep thinking of the Anne Tyler book, the one where the woman just walks away from her family. Ladder of Years?

  13. Susan, I have been to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts three times. This year, I'm applying to the Millay Colony for a change of pace.

    I am also in the process of investigating retreats in the northern Virginia area. There are several around Harper's Ferry, one run by Quakers and another independent.

    Quakers and Francisans offer various retreat opportunities along the East Coast and in Pennyslvania. There is a Franciscan center called Clare House outside of Philly (attached to Newman University, I think) that's also within my sites. Some of the places that offer spiritual retreats will also allow a non-spiritual person or group to rent space for group or individual stays. It's a safer avenue than a hotel, I think.

  14. Franciscans? I love Franciscans. I must check that out.

  15. I'm running away a week from yesterday for three weeks in London, in two different flats. I'll be working, but I don't have to be responsible for anyone but myself. I'm sure that would get old after a while, but for three weeks, it's dizzyingly exciting.

  16. Yes, I think "running away" is best when you know you have something to come back to.

    Julia, how are you doing? We are fighting ice dams...and shoveling thorough five feet of snow so the oil delivery guy can get here.

  17. I'm doing fine out here, 35 miles from the mainland. The blizzard didn't sock us as hard as expected, so although the lights blinked a few times, they didn't go out. I hosted my agent's aunt and uncle for 24-hours, two semi-retired academics who napped or worked while I was writing. Then we'd have fascinating conversation over stew and wine. Bliss!

    I think Ellen Kozak nailed the essence of running away - it's not the physical distance, it's ducking the things you "should" do and instead doing what you want to do. I confess that physical distance does make it a lot easier for me -- when I hit a sticky spot in the writing at home, even if I'm all alone, I find housework suddenly becomes incredibly appealing!

  18. Being home right now is sort of running away because I am not with the part of my family, including husband, vacationing in Florida. For the last few days, as the storm churned up, snowed, blew -- I have been getting all sorts of little things done: scanning photos, dealing with the all the little pieces of paper lying around (an email address, a book title, a reminder of something that happened in May). The events I was really staying home for were cancelled -- but I have to say that I have enjoyed these days.

    Finding alone time, here or away, is what I am often looking for.

  19. Julia, that sounds like a great start for a book. Island. Winter. Alone. Of course, you'd have to find some unexpected stranger there when you arrive. The enigmatic handyman, the reclusive neighbour, the owner's long-lost cousin. Whatever. And having gone by bus and ferry reduces the options of quick escape.

    Works equally well for mystery, suspense or romance. Depending on the stranger, of course.

  20. Julia, so glad that you are getting your needed time alone to write and not be worried with all those everyday disasters or roadblocks to creativity. It's nice to think of you on an island ensconced in your own world of imagining. Of course, I hope Clare and Russ are there, too. Oh, I love all of the pictures on the blog today.

    I have enjoyed reading everyone's runaway stories from childhood and adulthood. I never ran away as a child, but there was a next-door neighbor boy with whom I plotted to save our money and get married when we got older. I think we were about 8 at the time, and needless to say, I don't even know where Danny is today. I do love adult runaway adventures with girlfriends, especially my friend with whom I have converted to a book event companion.

    I have a situation that allows me to have my home as my place of alone time, as my husband works out of another city and only gets home every four to six weeks. It's rather spoiled me, being able to do as I please. However, there is that nagging sense of should-be-doing-housework that invades my paradise.

    Today, we finally have gotten snow, with a foot or so expected. I know to Hank and all you other snow veterans, that sounds like a drop of water in a large pool, but for us, it's a major deal. People here seem to panic with a couple of inches. I am well fixed to spend time inside, with my one regret not having Edith to cook for me. I read about her snowed-in meals, and I simply drool.

  21. Oh, whew, Julia..every time I saw the weather map I worried. xxoo

  22. One time that I ran away sticks out as special was the time I took the bus from Marblehead to Salem and caught the train to North Station in Boston. I wanted to take the ferry. It was winter, though, and it didn't do the choppy atlantic throwing bits of ice in your face thing back then. I got off and sat down on a long bench. I didn't know where to go. Then I saw two detectives walking towards me. How did I know they were detectives? One of them was Uncle Jimmy.

  23. I ran away from home when I was four and took my twin sister with me. We put our bathing suits on, took our towels and tubes, and took off for the pond by the school. Dad caught us at the back gate.

    What is really funny, at least now it is. A few weeks later, after my sister and wrote our names in the dirt on a State Trooper car. I guess the Trooper said something becasue we both hid the next time a State Troop pulled into Dad's gas station. They found my sister but not me. The State Police dredged the pond for my body. Four and half hours later my Mom sat on the side of her bed crying. I came out from the feather quilt at the bottom of the bed and said, "Mommy, why are you crying?" Mom said she didn't know whether to kiss me or kill me. I remember that was my second hiding place and I guess I fell asleep.

    My twin and I laugh about who is the evil twin. I don't know about evil, but I know I'm the adventurous twin. LOL How many run-ins did you have with the police before you were five. I had three, but that's another story.

    Only time I run away these days is to house sit for one of my kids...and I enjoy every minute of it.

  24. Loving these runaway stories... I thank my lucky stars neither of my kids ever ran away. I'd have been beside myself. My daughter had a friend who, at 11, got as far as Logan airport. Bag packed. Scary.

  25. Deborah: the Anne Tyler book WAS Ladder of Years; I constantly recommend it to people in book clubs because, of all the books I read when I was in a club, no book generated more heated discussion than that one--whether the main character makes the choice to stay away from the home she left, or to return. Anne Tyler is never less than good, but that's one of her best.

    I LOVE the artwork. I'm sure I had the Runaway Pancake when I was young, I MUST see a movie that stars Petula Clark AND Margaret Rutherford, and the pulp fiction cover was wonderful.

    I never ran away, myself...