Do I actually live in New York City? My dad doesn’t think so, and he may have a point. Since L1 and I officially moved there in late October, I’ve spent five weeks in London, a week in California, and most recently, almost a month in Florida. That’s a sixty/forty split between New York and other places. So I guess our first six months on this side of the pond would more accurately be described as Our Big American Adventure rather than Our Big New York Adventure.
The Florida part isn’t actually new to me – I’ve been coming here at least once a year since I was seventeen, and the kids have been coming since they were babies, courtesy of my parents having lived here part of the time for the past forty years. But the prospect of coming here never ceases to engender a ludicrous level of excitement in all of us, and particularly in daughter number two. (“We all love Florida,” said daughter number one, “but K REALLY loves it, in an almost crazy way.”). Apparently, during the month prior to their flying here, daughter number two’s boyfriend was subjected to the daily pronouncement that she just could not wait to get to Florida, she thought she might die if she didn’t get there soon, accompanied by much hyperventilating, squealing and hand waggling.
For most people who haven’t been, Florida probably conjures up the following melange of ideas and images: Disney World, alligators, Gianni Versace, expansive beaches filled with March break teenagers, Miami Vice, sunshine, hurricanes, humidity, old people, tacky strip-malls (and you UK people, please drag your minds out of that gutter and google what that means). Possibly, these days, they also think of the Hell that Mar-a- Lago has become since Donald Trump became President. (Maybe, come-uppance for swing-voting him in?). But for us, Florida (or at least, this little part of Florida we call ours) has an appeal that it partly about the beauty of the place itself and the things we love to do here, and partly about nostalgia. It’s hard not to love a place that you associate with so many memories, as we and our kids do.
My mum has another answer to the question of why we all love it here: “It’s the light,” she says. “The light is very special, and you can’t help but be lifted up by it.” She’s right about that. It is special. So is the sugary white sand and the turquoise water and the sight of pelicans diving into the sea to catch their dinner and the dolphins frolicking while they catch theirs. Uplifting barely captures it.
This year, there were going to be too many of us (three grown kids, assorted boyfriends, my sister and her husband) to stay at my parents’ home, so we rented a place on Casey Key, Nokomis. It was an experiment, and it worked. (Thank you, lovely owners of the beautiful house we had the great fortune to stumble across on VRBO). To our traditional and much loved Florida holiday activities of golfing, lounging on Siesta Key Beach, taking up all the space around my parents’ pool and devouring the contents of their fridge and wine cellar, communing with the wildlife at Jungle Gardens and the Myakka Park alligator sanctuary, and eating every second breakfast at First Watch (hands down, THE best breakfast place in the world), we have added family bike rides, beaching just across Casey Key Road, boating from our very own dock on the bay, and staring at that same bay with either a coffee or a stiff gin in our hands, depending on the hour.
Extra fun was injected into the proceedings by our hiring of a canary yellow convertible Camaro, a car that is the epitome of bad taste and yet somehow works down here. (There is almost always another canary yellow vehicle somewhere on the road, ahead or behind.)
Perhaps more fun than the yellow convertible was watching my eighty-five year old mum playing catch-the-coconut (or it might have been an unripe papaya fruit) on the beach with her twenty six grand-daughter. My mum hadn’t played catch or been on a beach for ages, and she couldn’t get over how fabulous it was, and how much she’d missed it without realising. When it was time to go back to the house for lunch, she said, “I’m not leaving. Get me a camp bed and I’m going to stay here all night.”
It hasn’t been all fun and games and yellow convertibles though, L1 would like me to remind you. He’s been working for a few hours every day while down here, making calls and decisions, writing reports, and thinking (sooo much thinking, on that dock, aided by that stiff gin). He makes a habit of visiting the new Starbucks on the Tamiami Trail because there are always young people tapping away on laptops in there, and it reminds him that Florida isn’t all about vacationing families, snowbirds and retirees. There are some working people here, people with ideas and ambition and bills to pay.
The problem with both working and maintaining the impression that you are working while in a place like Florida, is that evidence to the contrary can build up while your back is turned. L1 discovered this one day when someone commented on how tanned he was.
“I’m not, am I?” he said, panic suddenly rendering his face three shades paler. “Shit. That’s not good. The optics are all wrong. I’d better get out of the sun.”
He spent the last few days of his holiday moving his chair around the deck in order to catch the small, shifting pockets of shade that materialise as the sun moves from east to west. Honestly, I’m not sure why he was so worried. Those hyperactive New Yorkers he works with might say that they only ever take two weeks’ vacation a year – and never, ever two consecutive weeks – but in reality they slink off to their places in the Hamptons every Thursday evening between May and September, and some of them spend the entire period between January and March working from their “Florida offices.”
L1 and the kids have all gone now, back to press noses to grindstones in London and New York. I took L1 and his tan to the airport, and returned to a house where the only sounds were made by a red-headed woodpecker going about his business, and the wake washing up against our shore every time one of those extra big boats went by. I had a moment of wistfulness, thinking, I really miss the people who were sitting on the end of that dock until yesterday, and I’m not sure I want to be here alone. But don’t feel sorry for me. I have a friend coming to visit for a few days, and my parents are just up the road, and anyway, I’ve discovered that a brief bit of solitude in such a place is quite a gift.
Plus, I have work to do. I need to get back on the horse and try to find an agent to represent novel number three (as opposed to novel number four, which is very much still a work in process). Back in February, I thought I’d found one. An agent had declared my novel to be engaging and compelling, with an ending that packed a real emotional punch. She said she wanted to represent me. Three weeks later, and after I’d made the few changes she’d asked me to make, she emailed me to say she’d changed her mind, her list was full, and she didn’t have time to take on the project. You can imagine the stinking email about professionalism, or the lack of it, that I sent her in return.
Before I send out another twenty-five emails to prospective agents (my own agent remains rudely silent), perhaps I’ll try cycling along to Stephen King’s house and dropping my manuscript onto his doorstep. (I read somewhere that a fledgling author had once had great success by doing just that with another established talent who then became her mentor.) Stephen King is a bonafide genius. I’m not a horror story fan, but I can fully appreciate King’s storytelling talent, and he’s written one of the most insightful books about writing that I’ve ever read. And he lives just up the road, somewhere near the northern tip of Casey Key.
I’ve seen arial shots of his house on google maps, so I’m all set. If there’s no doorstep, I could just hang around at the end of his drive, stalker-like, and hope for a sighting and a light sprinkling of his novelistic fairy dust. Wish me luck.