Maggie Neal Doherty


In Stories that make up a life on June 3, 2014 at 10:09 pm

For the first time in more than five months, I’ve padded up the carpeted stairs to my office and settled into my chair and loaded the dashboard on this blog page.

Yes, five months. The last time I looked out the windows behind the computer screen the view was white: snow frosting the roof of our neighbor’s house across the street. Now, the lilacs are blooming, leaves full and bright on the trees and the grass grows fast in the recent cycle of sunshine followed by rain.

I have not wanted to plop down in this chair, switch on the lamp and spread my elbows wide on the glass topped desk. I’ve even ignored the rows and rows of books lining the shelves, forgetting how much I loved this little nook on our second story, grateful that the previous owner, George, known as the “Judge” in our neighborhood built one fine office. In my neglect, the dust has accumulated and paperwork is scattered about.

I left this space, a space I felt to be sacred to me and my writing and my memories and my longings for stories and Lake Huron because I broke my arm on February 2nd and for many weeks, couldn’t type or write or think clearly due to the painkillers. Yes, another injury from skiing. Just as I was recovering from last year’s crash in Steamboat Springs. Right arm casted I spent my time on the first floor of our home, drowning my pain (there was a lot of pain, and for a long time) and frustration and despair with hours of television, pain pills and junk food. I didn’t seek solace in a book — I was so depressed that I wanted nothing to do with the objects that give me such joy. How could I have broken my arm?

The broken arm was not the only thing that gave me trouble. It compounded another issue I’d been grappling with since December. How to complete school and open a brewery? With my arm in a cast for more than two months and the ability to type greatly reduced, the answer seemed clear but no less heartbreaking.

So, I’m admitting this for the first time in the public/social sphere. Perhaps this is another reason why I haven’t posted since I visited my family before Christmas, believing it would be the last time I’d see my stepfather Vince alive.

I quit school.

Two years into the master’s program I adored, two years into a writing life I felt, on most days, so happy to have created, I had to let it go. Physically, I could not keep up with school with my injury. And as the work required to open the brewery mounted and mounted and I realized that we’d probably open in summer I couldn’t imagine trying to attend residency with the tasting room in operations.

I cried, a lot. I cried on the phone with RWW’s new program director, Rick Barot. It was our first introduction, this call. I told him about my arm, the brewery, that my stepdad had been given six months to live. I then talked with Stan Rubin, the program’s founder and outgoing director. I cried more. I sobbed to friends and family alike. It was one of the most difficult, heart wrenching decisions to make.

Tonight, now that the sky darkens, pregnant with storm clouds rarely seen outside of the Midwest, I will spare the details on dropping out of RWW. Essentially, I could not commit to the program with my current life situation.

And after a week of tears and Game of Thrones marathons, I decided that I couldn’t live two lives: one of the brewery and one of writing. It simply wasn’t possible to do both and do both well. The brewery has fully consumed Cole and me so there’s little time for continued reflection on my decision to leave school. I’m either dealing with various departments in the government to get the brewery’s required approvals and permits or loading pallets of grain or power washing floors or interviewing candidates for jobs or folding tshirts. What I’m doing is not writing. What I’m doing is another dream and passion of mine: opening a brewery.

So, I have yet to find a regret. But again, I haven’t had the time or more honestly, given myself the time. And I’m only up in my office to write checks for insurance and scour drawers for any folders related to the brewery I may have forgotten now that we’ve moved into our tiny shared office in the brewery. But I was drawn, compelled to do the thing I haven’t done whatsoever since the┬ástart of 2014, and that is to write. And here I am, back at my computer, writing.

As Rick told me, I have a lot going on right now. And that RWW will always be there for me. Perhaps it’s not the best time for my life. I hope that’s all true. And Stan told me, which made me sink to the floor, that I really am a writer and no matter what I was a part of the program and that matters. I hope that is true as well. For now, I am happy that on this June evening just after I took the dogs for a walk before the oncoming storm, I sat down and wrote the words I’d been avoiding for months now.

So, I’m a graduate school drop out. That’s just one part of this whole entire story…

How Many Snowflakes Heal a Heart?

In Stories that make up a life on December 16, 2013 at 12:40 am

105 could make it lighten, rise up and out from the heavy body, flutter above the gray clouds and believe that while November may be the cruelest month, winter is on its way.

3 landing on a nose, then melted with cupped hands and a full breath.

2007: enough to call it powder? Enough to slide on skis?

Or just enough to make it a weak layer on the mountain side?

And slide, there goes the snow.

It happens so quickly.

Like death. Like a heart shattering, splintering and fracturing (does ice come to mind? a spiderweb of frozen water? Yes, that’s what I see, after the glacier has bulldozed me to the ground).


Or, now for something kinder, like a snowman. 1.2 billion flakes, rolled and packed and punched and shaped. Three roundish globes to make a body, smoothed by hands damp in their woolen mittens. Don’t forget the eyes. Or the carrot for a nose.

Perhaps to some, like me, we lose count after the thousands and lose sight of each individual flake, lacy and intricate and well, frankly, magical. I see snow as the accumulation – much like the accumulation of life (or death, which seems to be happening a lot lately. Either suddenly or the “six months to live” rigmarole) but it’s all too convenient for someone like me, a skier, a worshiper of mountains, to make such metaphors from snow. Is it true or is it a myth that the Eskimos have many words for snow and we, and who are “we” exactly, have so few?

Do we need those many words? Yes, I know there are types of snow, names for a particular kind or shape or form. But do we really need to dig deep and unearth all these terms for snow?

Or could it be that snow is a word I’m using in place for pain?

Pain will do, won’t it?

When life is either suffering or not, does it matter what kind of snow or what kind of pain it is? What good does it do to find the different meanings, to take up the microscope and look deeper, closer?

It’s either cold.

Or it hurts.

Yet, it only takes one. Flake that is.

To make me smile when the world turns dark and closes in (almost pain, but not quite. I try to not let it sink into my bones. Let me be shaped by mittens, rolled and packed. The snowman has no heart, just a nose made from a carrot.).

Hope, is what I feel. One flake is all it takes.

No Internet Here: Ben Rover

In Stories that make up a life on November 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm
Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana

Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana

I went to the cabin and I wrote.

That’s the simplest way to explain my four day retreat to the Ben Rover cabin near Polebridge. Of course, there’s more to it than that. But stripped of conveniences and crutches of ‘modern’ living like electricity, the Internet and regular work duties and responsibilities, simple works.

Is it easy, this simplicity? Hardly.

Stripped is essentially what it is: layers pealed off, nerves exposed, vulnerability.

And, essentially, good for writing. Not easy, but good. Exhausting and exhilarating.

A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!

A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!

Certainly not easy on the hands either–who knows how long, or if ever, it’s been since I’ve written that much by hand? My hands would cramp and I must have gripped the pen a bit too hard because purple bruises bloomed beneath my fingernails. Writing with pen and paper became physical. No longer would I drift off, thoughts rushing fast and aimlessly cast on a blinking computer screen. Without the computer and keyboard, I was more careful with my thoughts, with language. The engagement of my whole body was a new experience–I was no longer filtering my words through the screen of a computer, distracted by the scores of possibilities presented when connected to the Internet. Can’t remember the name of a channel in the Les Cheneaux Islands? Well, Google’s your friend. Looking for a better word or need clarity on nautical history of the Great Lakes? Your answer is one click away, or maybe two after you chase the rabbit down the next hole, ┬átaking a brief pause to check status updates on Facebook.

Can’t let life pass you by, that’s what the Internet promises.

North Fork of the Flathead River

North Fork of the Flathead River

I went into the woods carrying bags and bags of self-doubt. Would I be able to write? Would I be able to keep the fire going (literally and metaphorically)? Would the loneliness build and I’d bury myself under the covers and weep away my retreat?

Self doubt be damned in the North Fork of the Flathead. Without the buzz of incoming text messages, the noise of the Internet, whatever baggage of uncertainty I carried dissipated. I reacquainted myself with the page. Alone with my thoughts, the only music I heard was the crack and pop of the woodstove. Clarity emerged through the darkness. I interrogated my assumptions, and devoted time to previously written work, examining it with such concentrated effort I couldn’t believe hours would pass and I was thinking and writing, writing and thinking. One night, I said aloud, much to my surprise, “I even like editing.” Who was this woman, clad in her flannel shirt flecked with bits of bark from hauling firewood from the shed into the cabin? Who was this woman who rose at 7, made too strong of coffee (didn’t think that was even possible) and opened to a blank page in her notebook and wrote through lunchtime?

While I know this to my core, but tend to forget: when we disconnect from the ‘world’, we connect with something greater. I went into the woods looking for the surly, down trodden writer who let herself interfere with her stories. There among the lined pages of a notebook, between the messy handwriting and margin notes, I found her.

No Google search needed.


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