The Act of Returning to Normal

I’m in Provincetown, MA, the extreme tip of Cape Cod, for the week. P-town is extreme in a lot of ways—it feels almost surreal to be in this distinct center of art and culture in early August—with ten thousand other people, no less. I’m here taking a five-day poetry workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, studying with one of my favorite poets, Daisy Fried.

When I last came to P-town for a course at the Fine Arts Work Center, it was just after Y2K. I was in my thirties and so young. I was in a tortured artist-not-writing-much mode, my son was still running around with airplane arms in the living room, and I was struggling with an alcoholic in my life. I was attending Al-Anon and dealing with the guilt and pain of textbook codependency.

I remember walking around the galleries and restaurants in a daze, until I stumbled upon a great bookstore and gift shop on Standish Street. Recovering Hearts was like a mini sanctuary of inspiration. There, I flipped through Melody Beattie books, picked up tiny Buddha statues, and rubbed worry stones with my thumb. You just didn’t find all this kind of cool stuff in New Hampshire.

Suddenly, a tall, lean guy who was also browsing leaned against the counter next to me.

“You look like the corporate type,” he said.

I was surprised that he was even talking to me, but also surprised it was that obvious.


“Yes,” he said. “I can tell.”

“How?” I asked.

“You just have that look.”

“Oh. Well, I work for a non-profit,” I said, “but in management, so I guess that’s why you said that.”

“Aha!” He said. I guess I didn’t fit in the rainbow palette of the locals, and I wasn’t toting a spouse on my arm, so I didn’t look like a tourist. I was alone, unsettled, browsing through the recovery section. So what else could I be?

He asked why I was in P-town, and I told him I was at the Fine Arts Work Center taking a poetry workshop with Gregory Orr.

“That’s cool!” he said.

“I do love writing,” I added. “But I’m struggling trying to relax into it….and not being with my son.” Actually, I felt tremendous guilt for going away for a week to just write. It made me sick to my stomach. What kind of mother does that?

“Really?” he said. “Why are you struggling? It sounds like a great opportunity!!”

“Ugh,” I said. “I just feel like I’m not taking care of my family.”

Saying this out loud actually made me tear up.

He surprised me by lightly grabbing my arm. “You absolutely are taking care of your family,” he said. “This is the best thing you can do for your family!”

I almost fell over. How could that be possible? I didn’t know any universe where taking care of others wasn’t the first priority. Forget that “put your mask on first” crap. My plane goes down? I was strapping on my son D’s mask first.

But the truth in his words hit me in the chest. I was reeling.

Before I left Recovering Hearts, I bought a set of Healing with the Angels cards by Doreen Virtue. I went back to the tiny room where I was staying at a B&B and opened the deck, and read the directions. If nothing else, maybe the angels could help me figure out which end was up.

I had never gotten into Tarot cards, or anything like that. But I liked the idea of angel cards—guidance as you need it, always with a positive message. On the first page, it said to do the reading with an open heart, and that the angels would have personalized messages just for me.

“Your angels will confirm the validity of each message by giving you signs in the physical world. For instance, they may guide a car in front of you that has a bumper sticker that seems written for you.”

Ahh, I thought. Bumper stickers. I knew better. That was kid stuff.

If your angels are especially skilled, they may send you a message when you least expect it. You may find yourself in a tiny bookstore in some weird place. They will plant a guy right in front of you who will notice something about you that is true, and that will wake you up in that moment to make sure you are paying attention. Then he’ll start a conversation with you, even though you look scared and you don’t think you want to talk to anyone.

And that will be the guy who will tell you to stop worrying and start living.