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Cobalt Blue: A Novel

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Emails to my Therapist

A Different Kind of Empty Nest

Dear Nicholas, I’m in the midst of moving my office–my writing nest–after sixteen years of working in desk-to-desk chatting distance of my dear friend writer Carrie Knowles. This place has been a second home for me.


We’re moving out because the building is sold. I’m leaving this nest behind–empty until the violin maker moves in and these rooms become home to a different kind of music.

To Be Perfectly Clear…

I’m not retiring. I’m not slowing down. Instead I’m taking my office to my home– a radical move since I’ve rented small offices for my small business for the past forty-eight years. 

View from my desk last March

The process of the actual move is at the moment a little exciting. As I write this sentence, movers from Helping Hand Mission are gathering up emptied file cabinets (with many dozens of pounds of unneeded paper already recycled.) 


This is not a move I would choose. I’ve loved these years here.

Last hours…desk bare

There couldn’t be a more fun workplace.  And productive: I’ve finished three books here in these years: one (Cobalt Blue) published, one coming out in the next year, and one newly in the hands of my agent. Carrie has produced more than I have, her most recent being A Musical Affair.

Authors and Authors and More!

The upstairs writer in the building, Steven Norton, has made big progress on his second novel in the much shorter time he has been here. Conveniently for the women downstairs, he is also a hair stylist running his own hair salon up there, regularly trimming my own “luscious locks” (his words, not mine) He has kept an entertaining traffic of people passing my open door as they go for cuts and coloring. 

Carrie and Steven move out a desk top

Many other writers have worked here, as well as other small businesses. Among the authors are Elaine Orr, Swimming Between Worlds, Rachael Wooten Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha,  Susan Ketchin, The Christ-Haunted Landscape, Jodi Barnes, Santa Breaks Bad,  playwright Ian Finley,  writer and cellist Virginia Ewing. Many writer-clients have come through for classes and manuscript consultation.

For a while Kat Hall (also a writer) was delivering facials and energy work upstairs at her Rosehips Skincare Studio. Carrie, who is a visual artist as well as writer, has held art shows in the foyer and her studio.

The building has been and will be until the last minute a lively stimulating place. (I’m not the sort who needs quiet for writing. My character was formed in a newsroom. Helicopters once hovered directly over this two-story building and I did not notice until a friend called and said Barack Obama was on the campaign trail one street away from where I was sitting.) 

Alone in a Silent House?

I could find another office, but it wouldn’t be the same. And I’m ready to stop the forty-minute commute from home out in the country to Raleigh. I had some practice at working at home for the first year of covid. That went well because Husband Bob was also there seeing his psychotherapy patients by Zoom. But he’s going back to sessions in person in his office in a couple of weeks. While less driving and no rent are good, the prospect of working alone is not.

So Carrie and I have already made plans to meet with laptops in hand at the Panera in Apex halfway between our homes, for lunch and work-somewhat-as-usual. It’s possible to stretch out a Green Goddess Cobb Salad for quite a while. 

My new official workplace is going to be the sofa at home in our combo kitchen-den, with my business stuff crammed into the room that is also the guest room and ironing board/sewing/crafts/repairs/storage room. Getting everything I need into that space looms as possibly impossible. 

View from the office porch

Right now I am happy with nostalgia and a grain of excitement at change. And I’m putting my trust in the Panera solution, at least until whenever Carrie absconds to hang out with far-flung grandchildren. After all, we were close friends before we had an office together. This enterprise at 410 Morson Street has been for me a matter of luck and timing. I know I’m supposed to be grateful for having had this era, but it’s hard to see a good thing go.

With Ice Cream on Top

The bitter pill of losing the place has been made easier as Carrie and I have been celebrating these 16 years with special lunches for a couple of weeks now. No take-out sacks of fast food or heated-up cans of soup. Instead seafood! pizza! chicken salad! And one day, my lunch was one of Hayes Barton Cafe’s famously huge desserts–salted caramel chocolate three-layer cake with ice cream. A good way to give a good office a deserved send-off. 

Intermittent Sadness, Buried Agitation

My sadness about it has mostly been underground, but began to surface about a week ago. In characteristic fashion, I got depressed in my leisure weekend time (I keep a conventional five-day workweek schedule) and felt fine again when I came back to work.  If history is any indicator, that’ll probably go on for a while because this is a big loss. But then it will end. 

I am also at the moment quite addled without feeling it. This big move is not the only thing going on. But I feel quite calm and yet in recent days I have TWICE sent someone the wrong document: one, a book proposal revision to my agent (she got an old draft), and two, a critiqued manuscript of a client’s novel (she instead got my notes for the report. Jeez!) I wonder what I’m going to scramble next.


The Old Saw About New Doors

I’m regularly reminding myself of that old saying that “when one door closes, another opens.” In an effort to distract myself and try out a new “door,” I took a couple of voice lessons, not the sort of thing I usually do. I wanted to try something so foreign to my ordinary travels that I felt I was exploring a new aspect of life.  It did work in that way, was quite cheering and energizing. And I’m keeping an eye out for other doors. 

A song I’ve been drawn to lately, listening to again and again, feels like a sort of anthem for this move and this time of my life when people are scattering. The song is one of the new ones from ABBA’s new album about the group’s history and relationship as they record again forty years after they broke up. Not all the lyrics fit, but some do, and they capture my mood.  I am not going to sing it here. Instead here is ABBA singing “I Still Have Faith in You.”


 Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and love,



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  • December 13, 2021 at 8:48 pm Reply

    I know you loved that office and I’m sorry you have to leave it – but I do think you’re right that another door will open and you’ll be happy with where it leads! I haven’t had an office in awhile – my garret here at home has been a haven during Covid but lately I’ve been working downstairs in the living room more than I do upstairs. I miss all the offices I’ve ever had! But in a nostalgic way only at this point. Meanwhile, you have a good plan to bridge the span between Morton Street and home. Say hi to Carrie! :)))

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2021 at 9:31 pm Reply

      And you and I had a close call on another good office once upon a time, Billie. Maybe Small Street offers some possibilities. Upstairs vs. downstairs is an interesting choice. Though if I were you, I think I’d want to work in an office with a large sandbox and shelves full of hundreds of good characters.

  • Ron Perkinson
    December 13, 2021 at 9:15 pm Reply

    I sense the melancholy; the anxiety of disruption; the warmth of treasured memories; the excitement of a new order; a fear of a new order; the starkness of an ending. BUT PANERA BREAD? Jeez, I could dry out my own sandwich as well as it does.

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2021 at 9:33 pm Reply

      I appreciate your close reading and understanding of all the layers of this post, Ron. But Panera has excellent salads. Don’t think I’ve ever had one of their sandwiches. I do recommend the Fuji Apple Sesame salad.

  • December 13, 2021 at 9:41 pm Reply

    The only office space we have these days is one at Perch in Pittsboro for the occasions upon which our internet does not work! I never actually think to go there but maybe I should give it a try. 🙂

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2021 at 9:58 pm Reply

      I did pop in and have a look there, Billie. I wasn’t immediately drawn to it as a full-time thing because there was no one there I knew and I do like an all-in-the-same-boat feeling, but it’s a resource to still consider. The library works for me for faltering home wifi. Even when they were only letting people in for brief visits because of covid, I worked parked in my car in the back at the library loading deck where I could get their wifi.

  • Susan Ketchin
    December 14, 2021 at 1:29 am Reply

    Hi, Peggy, so glad to hear from you. I completely relate to your mixed feelings about leaving the “Free Range Studio” . It’s a lovely, sun-filled place and I loved to write there! I loved your description of lively people coming and going. I write better in those kinds of situations of cheery noise and clatter better, too. It’s good to be remembered and to remember at this time of year, and doubly hard to be moving away from a space you’ve known, creatively, for 40 years. You will find another place, I’m thinking. Have you looked in Hillsborough? It’s becoming a veritable writer’s colony up there! I’ve moved back to Chapel Hill (!) and that’s another place of splendid vibes and old-time memories to make some music with in your writing. Cheers to you and your work! love, Susan

    • Peggy Payne
      December 14, 2021 at 4:53 pm Reply

      I do remember running into you in Chapel Hill, Susan, and you were looking notably terrific. I’m glad you’re finding good vibes and music there. I’m going to try home for a while. Hillsborough is certainly an impressive nest of writers, but a very long way from my house. Thanks for all your good wishes.

  • Carol Majors
    December 14, 2021 at 2:15 am Reply

    This is something I have experienced in the past few years, and I gotta tell you that finding my little outbuilding was the right thing for me. This gave me s sense of place for my imagination and my accouterments (turns out they go together). I can nestle in its space in front of the small window watching the natural world, sitting at my familiar desk, just as I began my work journey in front of an attic window. Not every day is good weather for a shed day, but having a creative contained space to go to makes using the working space in the house feel better.

    I remember well the old days when we were both on St Mary’s Street. Ironically I cycled back thru the old neighborhood before completing the cycle of working from home again. I wish you well with this letting-go and moving-in. Your nest on Morson St. was a most amazing run for each of you. I look forward to following what amazing things are revealed to you in this cycle.

    • Peggy Payne
      December 14, 2021 at 4:49 pm Reply

      I do remember fondly our days on St. Mary’s St., Carol. And now that building is dwarfed by the towers all around it. I’m glad you have your shed. Sounds perfect. Liking an active scene as I do, I may have to perch my desk in a traffic median eventually. We’ll see. I appreciate the good wishes.

    • Robert Braxton class of 1966 B.A. philosophy
      December 14, 2021 at 5:47 pm Reply

      Little outbuilding is the way writer at Wake Forest Univ Winston-salem, NC, Emily Herring Wilson went. Some like solitude and privacy, some like company (partners in crime).

      • Peggy Payne
        December 14, 2021 at 9:58 pm Reply

        Little outbuildings can be so charming too.

  • Robert Braxton
    December 14, 2021 at 5:43 pm Reply

    salivating at two white sets of (book)shelves – we are in contact (personal) with re-settle Afghan refugees (a couple, Alexandria Virginia) and small bookcase is one thing they requested, among furnishings. Also, the rent for 15th floor aparement they found is quite expensive, as you can imagine.

    • Peggy Payne
      December 14, 2021 at 10:01 pm Reply

      I did give both those sets of white shelves away, Bob. Sorry I couldn’t spirit them to Alexandria!

  • December 14, 2021 at 5:48 pm Reply

    Your journey continues, and this post is as good a description of office and personal metamorphosis as could be. No one knows what happens in the cocoon while the animal is transforming into the next stage of development. I’m really sorry the building’s being sold, and Carrie’s moving toward making the rounds of far flung children and grand children. You two have been and continue to be the closest of friends and writing-officemates. The changes aren’t your choice, and there’s an ocean storm of healthy grieving that’ll be happening as you swim through it. I think it’s not something you get over, but rather, pass though, again and again.

    And I remember the words of your wise therapist, something like: to lose close family and friends ,you have to have had close family and friends; and if you take them along inside, with you, you can go on, and if you don’t, you cant.
    You can, and you are, following the wandering ,winding inner road that’s right for you – I guess a path is made by walking on it. Warm Love to you along the way, bob

    • Peggy Payne
      December 14, 2021 at 9:51 pm Reply

      Nicely therapeutic words of your own as well, Bob. And, of course, warm love to you.

  • […] a lot of people–this seems like a nothing as a loss. In fact, after my other post about this move quite a few folks unsubscribed and that was while I was still feeling reasonably cheerful about it. […]

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