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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Heads or Tails

"That title is kind of presumptuous, don't you think?" husband said smiling at me in the bright light blown off lake Huron by the wind, "on the road, Jack Kerouac and so on?" It nettled me although it was a joke. "Those words are everyday words and don't belong to Kerouac or anyone else," I said. But of course I was wrong. Because of course they do. And I thought, aware again of that sharp little seed lodged somewhere between my ribs, that seed of doubt about my way with words and my ability to discover and to express what is new, utterly new, that a certain naivete is required, a certain stupidity, to begin writing and to go on writing, to garden your own strip of thought and feeling, when so many before you have written so much and so much better than you can even wiht a hundred years of practice, so many who have taken over continents of language whereas you know that you will never be able to claim more than a square meter of ground. To hell with the feel-good notion that you are unique, that nobody else can see the world through your eyes, that your point of view and experience are worth mining, blah, blah. I want to quit writing. I want to go bake some bread. I want to make something that I can touch and taste and smell literally.

So during my vacation I tried simply and only to experience -- not under any circumstances to think about the words that would describe my experience. I ran with a brisk cold wind against my face, smelled the trees in a summer storm. I took photographs. That's a kind of storytelling, but of an innocent kind: observation without interference. I took photos of the sky, obsessively. Of a dark-skinned man sweeping horse manure off the strees of Mackinac Island. Of lighthouses, of water and promontories. Of a screaming baby. Of waves crashing into a cement-and-rocks wave breaker. And yet only now, only after I've put these things into words does the experience of them feel complete. It's not enough to have paddled into the middle of a lake rimmed with water lilies. I have to tell myself: Here I am paddling into the middle of a lake rimmed with water lilies. I am ashamed to admit how exhilarating those words feel, even before they are written down. I remember Flaubert who wrote himself maniacally out of his novels, yet said, mockingly or not it doesn't matter, Madame Bovary, c'est moi. What an existence this is, between monstrous selfishness and monstrous absence of the self.

I come back to this over and over again: who is the self behind the words and what does that self signify? Who is the storyteller, and who the storyteller behind the storyteller? I think too hard about it, and not hard enough. Sometimes I feel like the ass who starved because he couldn't decide which pile of hay to dig into first. Sometimes you have to pick, heads or tails, and go with it. Write if you must and stop asking yourself why and wherefore. Or else hang up your pencil, or keyboard, and go out into the world of physical things, unambiguous things, of yeses and nos and really, it's as simple as that.

And it is, no matter what else your word-hungry heart tells you, as simple as that.


Blogger Wendell77 said...

I'm glad you visited the Midwest! We just went on a little wedding trip to Door County, WI. Do you feel there is a different set of emotions created by the Great Lakes than the Pacific?

August 29, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

The emotions are decidedly different -- the Great Lakes are beautiful, I had a sense of the order and balance of things gazing out at the water, whereas the ocean for me is frightening, awe-inspiring, unsettling. There is one thing about our trip that I can't get over: how immense this country is, which is something I knew in that vague intellectual way that you know such things, but do not really grasp until you drive for days and days and everything you see is new and far away from everything else.

August 31, 2006  

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