Rogers: Magic in following my own advice
I showed up just in time for the end of the holiday get-together, bearing my gently-read gift in a brown paper bag the kind lady at Explore Booksellers gave me after I (over) explained: I’m going to this Aspen Words thing in Carbondale and they’re doing a kind of white elephant thing and I’m supposed to wrap … blah, blah ….
She gave me a bag and shook her head at my open wallet.
“It’s just what we put all the books in,” she said. They were out of gift bags.
I had the impression she was used to somewhat awkward, obviously bookish dudes and what my daughter calls expressions of learned helplessness, adding with raised eyebrows and a deathly stare, “It’s not attractive.” My daughter would be referring now to my seeming inability to wrap the book from my bookshelf to share with the writers network I‘d just signed up for and let a long shift keep me from going to their holiday gathering until surely too late.
Should I bother?
The invite had instructed us to scribble a snippet of best writing advice to share with the present. I liked that. Never know when some choice words might finally light the path.
Sure, I might miss the event entirely, probably would at this point in the evening, still editing tomorrow’s print edition. But I could always get a beer at the Beer Place and read the last story inbound on a Thursday night. Savor the white noise and people around me in a warm place at a high top, a sort of boozy conk shell with the ocean inside. Perfect for concentration. Also perfect for writing.
At the beginning of a reporter’s notebook, my gift along with Aspen Words Literary Prize long-lister Jamil Jan Kochai’s other book, “99 Nights in Logar,” I wrote, “Try anyway.”
And started the car.
I’m living alone in this ascetic period of my life between visits from my wife, or my daughter, focused almost exclusively on The Aspen Times. Almost. Lately, I’ve been shifting with the paper from an all-consuming first phase, a steep take-off, to settling more into the fight plan. My monk’s cell lends itself well to also considering this time a writing residency. Yeah, that’s it. A residency. I’ll fly with that.
The real writers flock here, after all, for a few weeks in some lonely cabin, studio or extra room. I’ll have until we figure out the house on acreage and animals and all back in the Sierra foothills, where the mortgage is little more than the rent here, where we can’t see the neighbors but we’re high enough on a rounded hill to catch every sunset through the year.
I have the gift of opportunity while the view is more inward, along with this crazy personal fiction writing obsession to match the professional one. Cursed, I’m sure. What else could be driving all this? I know my family, my friends figure I’m just insane. But then, they seem to have always known this. None expressed a shred of surprise when I told them Aspen was calling, like really calling, a voice of god or something.
Sure, anyway, have you finished that novel yet? That’s a second question they often ask, sometimes ahead of how’s the family.
No, probably never. Another bit of insanity.
I don’t care about finishing. I’m sympathetic if bemused at the frustrations of writer friends trying to find agents or getting published or if published, making enough sales so a publisher will bite on the next book.
Nor am I envious of their triumphs, which would be only natural: the big awards won by my friend I call the Pulitzer killer when I write about him because he has beaten out at least three Pulitzer winners for other awards with his novel “The Great Glass Sea” and short story collection “The Age of Perpetual Light”; another whose nonfiction “Engineering Eden” is listed in Outside’s Top 10 environmental books in the past decade.
I only want to write my story the best it can be, maybe learning how to write along the way, and then doing the next draft better, best it can be. This may be never ending. That’s OK. That’s my personal calling, tugging like Aspen, only for much longer.
I didn’t know anyone still hanging out at Bonfire Coffee when I arrived late, sheepish, holding the bag. The exchange had long since passed. A little pang of nostalgia for the lit folk in Nevada City and Grass Valley passed, and I kept myself from turning around and heading for that beer. Only real writers intimidate me, and here was a room of them, all strangers.
But one caught my eye and welcomed me in. She’s writing a literary sci fi/speculative novel. Like me! Only, she’s farther along and it sounded like she was close to selling her work. A couple of others turned out to be working in similar space. Mentors maybe?
A little later, I had the perfect conversation for me in this moment, thinking like this. Why do writers write, really? It was only a snippet of a longer, illuminating one with a founder of the group who is farther along the same trail and helping others through trickier stretches.
I wasn’t late at all, I realized. Bad comparison, maybe, but this felt in the league of a first sip of that IPA, first bite of that juicy burger, after weeks in the wilderness. I thought back to leaving the community of writers I had come to know back in July. Maybe not so off. It has been awhile.