Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Is It About Monhegan Island?


It's no secret that we would love for you to join us on Monhegan Island in September for a week of knitting and yoga. For those of you who have not yet been-- either to the island or even on a retreat-- I've been trying to figure out the best way to capture that Why You Really Should Go message. I know it might sound kooky to say that the answer might lie in SEVENTEEN magazine and quilts, but bear with me if you will, and see if what I have to say about those things makes sense.

I spent summers of my youth at the Jersey Shore, which fostered a lifelong love of the Atlantic Ocean that remains with me today, though I don't often get over to that coast. When I think of days "down the shore" as we East coasters refer to it, one memory that pops up often enough is me, covered in baby oil (I know, I know-- but we didn't know then what we know now about SPF), reading SEVENTEEN. I was particularly fond of the super-fat issue that came out probably in late July-- the Back to School issue with hundreds of pages of ads and hints on how to turn just five articles of clothing into a year's worth of snappy ensembles. (Ha!) Long after I was too old to be reading that mag, I still sometimes picked up that one annual issue, feeling nostalgia not so much for school or teenagerhood, but more feeding a longing for days long past when I actually had the time to loll about seaside, not a worry in the world. (Oh, sure, I worried anyway, but looking back and comparing real life, adult worries-- mortgage, parenting, job security-- to teenage troubles like pimples and evasive crushes, I see that I really didn't have a major worry.)

Now let me jump to quilts. Even though I am a lousy seamstress, somehow over the past seven years, I tumbled down the quilt hole and have come to make much of my living through writing about quilts. My second book on the topic comes out this fall and my third, which I'm researching now, comes out in late 2010. Sometimes I get bogged down in my studies, and weary of reading about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the textile industry in Europe. (Did you know that importing chintz for home use was outlawed in both England and France? I didn't think so.) But one thing I never grow weary of is actual quilts. And while I've become a quasi-expert on quilts-as-art-- to be hung in museums, not spread across beds-- in my mind the mere thought of lying on a quilt on the lawn, or being wrapped in one at night, fills me with delicious comfort. And even though I did not grow up among quilters, nor did I ever have a quilt in childhood, for me the notion of quilts can evoke a purposefully false and joyful memory. Wrapped in a quilt I can pretend I spent my formative years surrounded by them, hunkered down beneath them drinking hot cocoa by the fire.

So okay, what could these ideas have to do with Monhegan Island? Well, when I got there, even though I did not grow up summering in a rustic setting (the Jersey shore is the opposite of rustic), and even though I also did not grow up hiking trails through carefully preserved wilderness areas, something about being on the island immediately allows me to inhabit the mind and attitude of someone who did have these opportunities. The possibilities for the imagination are endless on the island. I can stroll up to the little lighthouse and fancy myself a lighthouse pilot, alone but not lonely, reading and writing poetry, keeping ships safe from the rocky shores. Or I can trek up to the Fairy Houses left in the woods and pretend I spent my youth building these structures. And-- perhaps this is the best thing-- when I am on the island, I can, if only for a week, imagine that I do not have a care or concern in the world, other than honing my knitting skills, stretching my body, and making a batch of best-friends-for-the-week. We come together, not knowing one another's baggage or hurdles or secrets. We confide what we wish, present our best selves, and laugh for hours by the fire.

We are all stars in the movie Relaxation and the benefits of this brief but happy time together reverberate for me long after I've taken the ferry back to the mainland. This is not to suggest that life back in reality is harsh or unpleasant-- I actually have a life heavy with blessings and hilarity. But the escapism I feel-- much like imagining I am a carefree model in a teen magazine, or a quilt enrobed child on a snowy night-- might be the thing I love best of all. It's something I can only get by showing up, knitting in good company, staring out at my beloved Atlantic.

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