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from Lake Forest

Monday, November 10, 2003

Dear Diary:

I’ve been in Lake Forest, Illinois for the past couple of weeks. Days of unseasonable warmth followed by howling winds and, last Saturday, a snowstorm that left about a quarter of an inch of crusty sleet piled up on the lawns and sidewalks.

Staying at a writers’/artist retreat. Twelve women and me. I suppose I should be worried that I don’t feel more out of place. On the other hand, the gender ratio has begun to make me feel a little like a mascot or one of those androgynous oddball characters out of an early Truman Capote story. Or, depending on the day, Charles-Bronson macho.

Everyone extremely smart, talented, and self-sufficient. We’re all about the same age, give or take a decade, and that makes cultural conversations easier. Musically we’re still largely in the 1970’s, and when someone mentions a “young actress,” they mean Jodie Foster. There’s tremendous political solidarity. Comforting, but no heated debates at the dinner table, just a general sense of stunned anger and disbelief. Makes you realize why the Republicans are so hot to disband the NEA.

The food has been excellent and someone usually uncorks a couple bottles of wine. (Which reminds me, it must be my turn to supply.) The glow often evolves into an after-dinner confessional mode. But thus far, it’s tended toward a jovial can-you-top-this tone rather than anything weepy and Oprah-esque.

The other day, I walked into a health-food store sort of place near the center of town. It appeared to be empty, but from the floor, the clerk said: “I’ll be right with you. If there’s a smell of shit in the air, it’s just because I’m changing my baby’s diaper.” “Oh, okay,” I said. I guess she was afraid I’d think she’d taken a crap on the floor herself. Then she went on to tell me, in graphic detail, that the baby had been having some digestive problems. “Look around,” she said. “I’ll be right with you.” I walked out as quietly as I could and had a fit of hysterical laughter on the sidewalk. I wanted to go back and thank her for making my day, but I was afraid she’d think I was unsympathetic to the baby’s problems.

Posted by smccauley @ 01:06 PM EST

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