I’m far more active on my sketch blog, Condition Clear, and of course on Twitter and Flickr these days. Hope you’ll all follow me over!]]>
I’ve tried to make a go of writing elsewhere over the past year. Like most fresh starts, it went pretty well at first, and then it became clear that where I was writing wasn’t the problem. Writing has turned into something hard, something that gets harder every year, that gets harder to come back around to the more distance I put between myself and the last time I finished a page, a chapter, a story.
This weekend was probably one of the best I’ve had in the past couple of years. There were no demands on my time. I slept in the middle of the day. I rested my brain, and ate cupcakes and fed ostriches and walked around a tourist hamlet with my wife. We ate an expensive, delicious dinner with good friends, and watched a very serious movie that settled like a heavy damp rag on the night, and then we made up for it. We watched a terrible movie that violated every law of physics and good taste, and indulged our latest TV crash diet with several consecutive episodes of dark teen noir.
But in the middle of that weekend we visited some older friends of ours, friends who are terribly excited about Felicia and her being the face of this younger generation that’s picking up the torch that old knitters and weavers have been carrying for their whole lives. They’re genuinely interested people, the sort of people who don’t really seem capable of faking attentiveness. I don’t recall how, but the subject of my book came up, and they fairly glowed as they asked if I expected to finish it within a few years. As I explained that I had been working on it for ten already, it occurred to me that I have never really known how to talk to people who really want to know about this book, or any aspect of my writing. It isn’t a Serious Artist kind of thing; it’s more, I think, that I have so rarely encountered people who are truly interested that I do not exactly know how to talk to them about what I’m writing, or why. Their good-natured questioning only served to remind me that I have been not so much struggling to write these days, but struggling to remember to write at all.
After this encounter, we strolled up the road to the cupcakery, but it wasn’t yet open. Felicia steered us into a cozy bookshop that neither of us had been in before. We poked through the books about Sweden and looked at the art titles, and eventually I wandered into the fiction section. I got distracted by the McMurtry titles, and discovered one of his three memoirs — Literary Life, I think it was called. On the inside flap, or perhaps on the reverse cover, McMurtry talked about his sixty-year writing career, and how from a young age he desired only to be a “man of letters”. (How I despise this phrase.) On an early page, before the actual text of the book began, he wrote:
I have had the same postal box for sixty-seven years: Box 552, Archer City, Texas.
My family’s first phone number in Archer City was 9.
On the ranch we still fed cattle out of a wagon.
I write on a typewriter.
I come, not just from a different time, but from a different era.
Generally you don’t have to say these things, and I’m not terribly interested in writers who do, but McMurtry has always existed on the peripheries of my book-reading life — Terms of Endearment was my first encounter with his work onscreen, and I have loved it since discovering it at age 12 or 13 — and these words encouraged me to read on. What followed was most of what you would expect — pages of memories from writing programs, encounters with this writer or that, readings that shaped a boy’s interest in writing. All of this reminded me for the second time that day that I am not writing.
This really got under my skin. Years of late I worry that I have programmed my work in such a way that I can only perform it in isolation, removed not only from daily distractions, but entirely from the distractions of the life I live here. For the last five or six years, I have taken writing trips — a week or two each year where I retire to some remote spot, usually in Oregon, and usually not as remote as I like to tell myself that it is — and during these trips my output is torrential. The most prolific one, I think, was in 2009, and I returned home with some 50,000 new words or so. The problem has never been my ability to write during times when there is nothing to do but write. It is when I return to the real world that I am unable to sustain even a fraction of that output, and my book generally lingers, mostly untouched, until the following year’s excursion.
But maybe this is an unfair way to treat a larger problem: that I am unable, it seems, to make writing such a daily task that I might make progress, even at a ponderous, glacial pace. And now this seems more important than ever, as the work I do grows into something larger and more consuming. Design work was always a way to pay the bills while I indulged my novel-writing on the side. The balance shifted years ago, and this bend has left my writing rather withered.
Ten minutes a day. That’s the goal now. To start small, sustain that awhile. Remember what it’s like to put words down each day, to carry a narrative. To think of my characters each day, and then to turn those thoughts into words. There have been other similar goals before, and they’ve each just been clever ruses, the illusion of progress. None of it will ever work until I just do it.
And so tonight, as I am unable to sleep, just a bit of writing once again, in this most familiar of places where I have written for the last twelve years. Here, among the degrading code, the buggy comment plug-ins, the dated bio, the lumbering and outdated WordPress install, writing is effortless, just one more entry in this long, long conversation I’ve been having.]]>
I remember many nights of waiting in cars to pick up this person or that. An ex-wife, a good friend, an acquaintance of someone’s who just needs a ride somewhere. I recall the nature of the conversations that followed — the tones and cadences if not the topics. There was nothing remarkable about those nights of wait-abouts, nothing terribly special about them. Tonight feels different.
So I sit here, parked on the sidewalk of a quiet street, one lit up by trees infested with Christmas lights like fireflies, bordered by storefronts and shops that are traced with tiny dots and dashes of light. There’s one building in particular that I’ve come to wait in front of, and its very tall windows are fogged-over — perhaps by the warmth of conversation from the party going on inside, or maybe by artificial spray-can frost. In this dim light I really can’t be certain which.
I am waiting for a woman whom I have waited for many times already. Like my grandfather, who often waited for my grandmother on shopping mall benches or in the driver’s seat of their car, content just to sit and watch the people around him and be, I find myself enjoying these times. There’s a certain anticipation about them; traveling from one place to another in order to be there, waiting for her, when she is finished bustling about. To be the smile she sees when her feet are aching or she is storming in barely-contained frustration about some impoliteness that has scorched her day. To just be her constant, the man who cares for her, who waits for her, who will make sure she always has the things she needs. Even if it’s just something as simple as a ride to our home.
So tonight I wait for her. She’s inside the building, tidying up after the party, collecting the food that wasn’t eaten. She’ll come out in a few minutes, feeling good about her night, wearing the anticipation on her face of the night’s project, a scarf she can’t wait to make more progress on. This is a woman who wears her happiness like a warm coat, snuggled around her face and body, barely containing her good mood. When we are in the car together, driving places, she traces my fingers with her own, or skims her hand up my neck and into your hair. She points out my lead foot with a flick of her eyes. She sings songs in her pretty voice, one of my favorite things about our weekend road trips.
Tonight she emerges from the building wearing the smile you thought she might be wearing, the smile that makes you all goopy inside because it’s just so honest and true. Tonight she’s your fiancee, but there is a night not so far off, five or six months from now, when she will emerge from this same building as your wife. I’m going to enjoy every minute of the wait.]]>
Nothing like snow at all.]]>