I always do that. I know how important it is to be prepared during a magazine interview, so I try to think of the contingencies, especially when I'm in the islands. When I begged my way onto Alvin Parker's conch boat in South Caicos, I had water, Pop Tarts and a pear in my bag. I don't island-hop without enough money to buy my way out of bad situations or, alternatively, to spend a night where I least expect. And on this occasion I'd slipped my own digital camera into my purse in case Tom's "good" one went hinky on us.
But this time I didn't pack another pen, and here I was in Readymoney, North Caicos -- the farthest point east without falling into the water -- rapidly losing ink.
I was interviewing Curalena Phillips and following her around the trails she has created on her family property, listening to how she fixed up this place based on a dream about her great-grandfather. At first, I thought my writing difficulties were due to the dampness of my notebook in the salt air, but soon I recognized the signs of ink cartridge failure.
I dug into my purse but found I had failed myself in one of my prime rules. No extra pen. Curalena was chatting away, and I needed to keep up. No ink!
I knew Tom was busy snapping photos. So I turned to our friend Lynn Rae, who had accompanied us because of her interest in the gardens, and asked if she could go back to our borrowed truck to find a writing instrument.
Eventually, Lynn Rae arrived with a pencil from the glove box. Meanwhile, Curalena kept talking and moving and I kept taking notes -- in "invisible ink," just pressing hard on the pad, figuring that later I could do a rubbing and retrieve the information.
It was a moment of improvisation that I'd become used to while living here. Island life requires a lot of subbing and new ways of coping. It would be nice to always have the right tool for the job, but with the local hardware stores only minimally stocked and no access to something as convenient as Lowe's or Home Depot, you simply make do. I've fixed my lawn mower with a hammer, learned a Raid-WD40-screwdriver rhythm with the water pump and managed to repair a screen without the spline tool you're supposed to use. I never imagined I would need these island skills in my writing.
But thanks to a moment of inattention or distraction, I did. I pressed hard on the paper and used only every other page in my notebook to avoid confusion.
Fortunately, Lynn Rae delivered the pencil after only two pages of notes. Even more fortunately, my plan for making a rubbing worked. The "island way" was once again successful.
Best of all, I learned a great lesson beyond the obvious, and in this case unheeded, one of always being prepared. I learned how important it is to keep the mind flexible, whether it's in writing or in island living.