Ann Beattie’s most recent collection, The State We’re In: Maine Stories, was published by Simon & Schuster in the US and by Granta Books in the UK. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
1. You’d be right to assume that if you live in Key West, you pay no more attention to the much photographed buoy (it’s fake, and on land) at the Southernmost Point than a New Yorker pays to the Empire State building. For a while, sculptures made by winter resident Seward Johnson used to be set there, but they were removed to the roof above the entrance to Key West International airport: there they stand, Mom, Dad, daughter and son, assembled with their sunglasses and beach paraphernalia above the door. (But people arriving are usually so stressed out, they don’t look up.) However, they are our gargoyles – just like all the ones (like all those flowers ‘born to blush unseen’) getting washed by acid rain on NYC buildings. So: I’m too good to go to the buoy and smile for my photograph for the folks back home, what do I consider the ideal Key West marker/backdrop? Many gravestones in the graveyard, including the much joked about, ‘I told you I was sick.’ Seems a good backdrop to a photograph to me – but this place does weird things to your mind.
2. Let’s admit that there’s a lot of drinking in Key West. You’ve got the choice of putting on your Santa suit and passing out on Duval Street (not kidding: my husband and I turned the corner a few Christmases ago, and there he was, passed out cold) or joining in with the annual alcohol festival called Fantasy Fest (one of my former students, seeing images on TV, emailed to ask: ‘Ann! Are you okay?’). On a lesser scale, you could join the 100,000 boaters who come to the island to make a lot of noise offshore, then reconvene at a closed-off block party, or in the millions of bars. I’m too good for such things? What do I suggest, since, let’s be honest, I’m not a teetotaler? I suggest UVA, on Fleming Street, where you can buy a bottle of excellent wine the owner, Mark, knows all about, as well as sit at the bar and have a glass of wine poured by a bartender who’s actually interesting. There are also wine tastings, and nice things for sale that you wouldn’t expect in a wine shop. Earrings with that Chardonnay? Mark has a great sense of humor.
3. Then there’s my own apartment. To afford it, we rent it when we’re gone. Therefore, when I return, it might take me a day to pull up the blind and see that the window glass is shattered (okay; day 3. I’m lazy. Blinds always go up crooked and you have to carefully adjust them, so raising the blind is always something you want to think about), but it can take me quite a while to realize that I’ve acquired a new, used beach towel (out of which falls a frilly thong). Except for broken dishes, things don’t tend to disappear, but to appear: shotglasses with faces that have googly eyes; aforementioned thong; mink jacket hung in closet (not kidding). So, for a fiction writer, time is lost thinking: What if this was my life? Who would I be?
4. Related to this: My husband is a painter. He finds magic in the graveyard, sculptural beauty in the banyan trees, inspiration in the palm fronds, as well as setting up his French easel a few years ago to paint work crews who were digging up the streets at night. People are usually taken aback, then quite nice to my husband, so that construction guys could be heard giving him hot tips (‘We’re going to jackhammer over there next’) as he stood painting, under the glare of their fiercely bright artificial lights, in bare feet and his tropical shirt depicting much-laundered parrots (so no one ever asks him directions). I love my husband, and I like many artists in Key West, who can be found in unmarked studios (the amazing John Martini), as well as in the newly constructed Studios of Key West, a really cool deco building on Simonton Street, a project done by local architect Michael Miller.
5. The Tropic Cinema. We used to have to watch movies sitting on folding chairs at empty government buildings at night – it was that bad. Then a bunch of hard-working, courageous film buffs (thank you, George Cooper et al.) got the Tropic started, with its four screens and its totally cool t-shirts, wine by the glass to sip while watching, and a great film selection to be viewed from comfortable chairs, in beautiful screening rooms.
Photograph © Patrick Emerson