Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hooray for Poverty, and Riches

As we know, sometimes accidents are more educational, more salutary, than anything determined. Such was the case with the e-mail in-box last week.

I received the following message, in its entirety, from one of my dearest friends, a talented painter and ebullient soul:

It isn't all so bad, I know. I am living my dream really. I just want to be paid better.

Turns out she meant it to go to another friend, with whom she'd been having a discussion about how to manage the frustrations of a hopelessly busy family life while worrying about how to keep the finances upright.

I shot back my response, before I knew I needn't have. And I found myself saying something I had no idea I actually thought. But now I know I believe it, with all my heart.

No, it isn't. And in fact I'm beginning to realize that low pay IS the trade-off for living the life of one's dreams.

And I'm also starting to feel lucky that I do not in fact make a lot of money. It has a tendency to ruin lives.

Yes, we have it good, both of us. Beautiful children we love, the occasional laugh and hug, and cocktails.

No woman ever had more.

In Line, Lynn McCarty

Saturday, September 18, 2010


There comes a time in every writer's life when she has to face the music. The name of the tune is "Deadline." Until then, she may sway to "Denial." But then the lights go down, the disco ball spins, and there's an insistent thumping through the floor.

I had done much considering of what one might call my working method--an astronomer could discern nothing remotely methodical in it, and most of the time it does not work--but then I received a letter inquiring about how it was that I organized my thoughts over the course of a long work. It would seem the letter writer has the same challenges ("How do you return to your focus? . . . How does one return to a frame of mind that is familiar, or at least conducive to the ideas of the previous pages?") as I do, mentally. Poor sod.

I have been giving this some thought lately, finally, since I am in the midst of my rush to the end of my book (after waiting a year and a half, writing basically nothing). These days I fret endlessly about exactly the matters my correspondent has raised.


I just hope and pray it will all turn out intelligible, or that a reader can at least connect the disparate dots. There is so much to say that my brain can probably be heard issuing sounds like a bowl of Sugar Pops when the milk is added.

Perhaps it is another form of denial, but here is my "working method" in a nutshell: I simply trust, in an almost religious sense, that since it was conceived by a single mind (barring the very real possibility of schizophrenia, I guess), then the myriad ideas are related to one another.

This is made harder by my incapability to write linearly. My ideas, to put it another way, are all over the freaking map, and I can't corral them any better than I could the fleas in a prairie dog town.

So, off in the distance, I see a hazy shape: the structure of the book. It is a stack, or a body. And not that I claim anything poetic for it--believe me--but the outline is conceived, when it is conceived at all, in exactly the same way that a poem comes to me. In a state of faith. In a state of external blindness. So that, I hope, I am in a state of internal seeing.

Or, in less mystical terms, I do what feels right at the moment. Out of the horrendous mess of all the notes and the snatches of longer bits I scrawl whenever the urge hits me (and it does so at the bizarrest times, like just after I've gotten out of the shower, or turned out the light, or walking with Nelly, or riding of course), I may reach for pieces written a year or two before. I had no idea then when or if they would ever be useful. And some of them never are. But amazingly, given the sad state of my memory, I can recall that they're there. Somewhere. Now, in which of the three notebooks, two file folders, and thirty-nine printouts, I couldn't begin to say. Just the looking can take an hour or two, and drive me crazy. I am highly unorganized, within this precisely organized mess.

"If you have any hints, tips, or the like that might possibly aid in keeping my stack of pages on track, they would be appreciated."

My dear D----! If only I could! But I sense that they are already quite unsteadily steady on track. You just do not know it yet, or trust yourself that they are. There is in fact some internal librarian in your mind, scuttling about and ordering thoughts according to the Dewey Decimal System.

Of this I am sure. It is just that librarians are very quiet. It is their profession. And fearfully doubting that we can pull it off: as writers, you and me, that is ours.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ride: to Eat

The motel nights punctuated the days: the period at the end of the sentence. The next day, a new sentence to write. At last, they strung together in a long prose poem, The Big Trip. The meaning was not known until the end. And the end has not yet been arrived at, since big trips have an endless coda--memories. They recur at strange moments, disconnected sensations bubbling up from somewhere unseen. The sun slanting across the Napa grapescape. Garberville ("The Hemp Connection"; the Sherwood Forest Motel). And, like the commas and semicolons in the middle of those sentences, meals.

Outside Yosemite, at the Best Western, the Spaniards swum darkly in the pool; the French spoke in low tones to one another. The Germans asked politely, and formally, in near-perfect English for directions at the front desk. And at the "breakfast buffet" the next morning, I cringed: So this is American cuisine, they thought to themselves. Cheerios, white bread soft as paste, gluey margarine, "coffee," gelatinous jam inseparable from its plastic pack.

This is largely how I, too, ate for a month. The high end was Outback Steakhouse; the low end was . . . low indeed. Much trail mix passed through the digestive system, many cheese crackers. In the hellish heat of Kansas, of Nevada, orange dye mixed with chemical electrolytes washed into the bloodstream. A pack of peanuts, ice cream, French fries. More French fries.

In San Francisco, we wandered through the farmer's market at the Ferry Building, and my craven sighs were audible. Not just organic peaches, by the cartload, but nine types of organic peaches. A great spillage of colorful produce. And none of it would last a half hour in a tank bag. So we wandered some more (twelve dollar malted milk balls?), fresh fruit juice from our single taste dripping from our fingers, and then turned to walk back to the shop: the bikes were ready, wearing fresh rubber, and we needed to ride again.

There is a kind of riding where meals are simply a kind of fuel to burn, and procured at exactly the same place as the bike gets its gas. Or maybe from the saddlebag, where you've stashed the granola bars you bought at Target way back when. I had food that had seen hard miles, crushed beneath the electric jacket and the laundry bag, from New York to California and now back to Colorado, where their crumbs perform a utilitarian function at last, when I was hungry enough not to care. Much.

The motel rooms
were our temporary home. (What is it with the astonishing proliferation of chain hotels in America? I must remember to update my drugstore rant; there's something up with the economics of so many, many imposingly large, anonymous structures, with their expensive rooms and, yes, identical [and identically bad] breakfast buffets). For maybe ten hours. A quick swim. Then to dinner at the nearest option, usually scoped out while still on the exit ramp. Applebee's, IHOP. There was real food out there, but it required getting back in gear. Sometimes you just want to walk, you know? So, next to the chain hotel, surprise, there is the chain restaurant.

This is America. But that is also America, too, and we saw it all: the miles, the miles, the miles. The variegated. The old, the places they have not touched. The Cowboy Cafe nearly made me laugh, its perfection. The dust in the air, across the empty crossroads.

We saw it all. Or what we passed, which felt like all.

For the record, the pies at the Thunderbird Restaurant were delicious. And if they were in fact ho-made, well, I think everyone deserves a pleasant way to spend their downtime.

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Return

Returning is itself like embarking on another journey: inserting yourself back into this newly strange thing called your "life"--as if that wasn't!--becoming "yourself" again--but who might that be?

I have much unpacking to do. From my luggage. And from my mind.

But then: Welcome back.