A Chair with a View

I put on bicycling capris and fill my water bottle. I consider making coffee, taking a thermos out and rolling it between my hands. It’s hot today though. For once I don’t need extra heat. I’ll make coffee when I come back; I’ll need the energy for typing up the latest draft of a short story.

I carry my bike downstairs and ride across the lawn, across a short bridge and into the street. Down the New Berlin Trail, listening to a Nerdist interview with Pauly Shore. They’re talking about how fame ruins some people. How some people never grow up, evolve, find their center.  I ride past the golf course, turn right, go under the bridge. Cross another street, ride around the pond, past kids playing on the steps going into the water. It always smells like fish right there.

Beyond the pond lies a wide open lawn.  A gaggle of geese forage there for lunch. They walk slowly with their heads down, watching the grass, occasionally stabbing their beaks in. They look like a search party seeking a lost trinket.

I rest my bike against a tree beyond them and set up my camp chair. It’s nice having mobile seating. You get to pick the spot that way. The view.  The level of separation. The clean factor. Benches and picnic tables are too close to footpaths. Too close to stares and loud talkers.  I need distance.

Chair

People usually feel closer to me than they are. The closer they are, the louder their noise, the weight of their presence. It’s fine to be in among them, but not for very long. I have to pull away and absorb the experience, or it’s lost to me. Like smelling a strong smell too long or too often. The ability to sense it diminishes.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about the restaurant atmosphere, how it provides just enough stimulation to keep you writing without your mind getting bored of all the silence.  To me, restaurants and coffee shops feel close and crowded and loud, even when they’re mostly empty.  I do have some favorites that are tolerably quiet: The Stone Creek Coffee store on Bluemound, or on 5th street across from the bus station, and (my favorite) the one in the Radio Milwaukee building with its many counters and tables and corners.  The best places, though, are parks. I take my camp chair and a water bottle and notebook and set up camp wherever seems good. Something about bringing your own chair to a public area makes people keep their distance. On a park bench you’re shared property. All kinds of people will come bother you, shout at you from the playground, sit alongside and ask you questions. But when you’re out in some spacious grassy area on your own chair, you’re in a boundary that people inherently sense and avoid. Plus you’re writing which strengthens the barrier.

After an hour or so, my thoughts and experiences stored on paper, freeing up space in my mind for new things, I pack up and ride home, back into the world, exchanging nods and smiles with people I pass.

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You Must Move Forward

There is no perfection.

I pull books off the shelves, stack them on the floor, shove the stacks out of the way with my foot when I need to sit down.

There is no perfection.

I run, outside, down sterile suburban streets that make boring straight lines to the horizon. I’d rather run on trails but today I’m stuck in civilization.

There is no perfect time, way things happen, arrangement of circumstances so everything is easy. Because that’s what I mean when I say ‘perfect.’ No obstacles, bumps, no struggle.

In reality, perfection never happens.  Cut through anyway, and do the thing you need to do.

There’s no easy way in–or out–of some situations. Things happen; you make choices and give big effort; it adds up to experience. The experience continues in you, helping you navigate in the midst of book piles and laundry piles and dirty sinks and long, boring runs and chaotic work schedules.

There is no perfection and that’s okay, I tell myself daily.  You are doing this for you. Because you love it and because it brings you a great deal of pleasure and because you know someday it will bring pleasure to others. Every time you cut through the chaos and write you’re confirming to yourself that you can, despite whatever is happening. Despite a pending move across the country. Despite work chaos. Despite all of life, for your own life’s sake. You must move forward and do what you need to do, period.

Chaos and Two Sweaters

“I just realized I don’t need to go to work for another hour,” Jeremy says to me one morning. “So I could have been without pants this whole time.”
I look at him, then down at myself and laugh. I’m wearing long pants and two sweaters.
It’s that kind of morning. Not cold, but not warm enough to reach me.
So here I sit on the balcony in the sun, writing. Wearing two sweaters, sweatpants and Jeremy’s aviators to take the edge off the page glare. One sweater is bright orange and the other red-and-blue striped. I must look a sight.
I’m finishing a story today. It needs a couple lines tweaked, some further editing, then off it goes to a magazine. True, these 3500 words took me over four months to write, but the real accomplishment here is that I’m finishing something at all.
I’m moving across the country in a few weeks, to a place I may or may not like culturally but sweaters won’t be necessary there which is frankly all I care about at this point. Between sorting books to keep or donate, organizing a quickly expanding ebook library, scanning mountains of old journals and notebooks, talking to apartment locators, filling out applications, and worrying about living for a stretch of time without a car (my blood pressure rises and one of the sweaters needs to come off so hey, worrying does accomplish something)—between all that I’m supposed to sit and focus and write.
Fates.
But I’m doing it, without exploding yet.
The sun now feels warmer and the second sweater comes off. I breathe for a moment and remember the sky and the birds and the ground—all still there. The chair holding me up. The pen in my hand. Chaos takes a step back. The books, the clothes to sort, the sink that still needs to be scrubbed, can all wait for a while. I’m writing now.

“Step through your resistances right now and write something great. Right now. This is a new moment.” ~Natalie Goldberg

7 AM on a Monday

I slam my dresser drawers as I dress, letting my young neighbor know I can hear her lovemaking and would rather not.  My cat complains about the lack of sunlight coming in the windows while I make cream biscuits. I don’t follow the recipe–no cream, for one.  Wrong kind of flour, for another. Whatever. I’m making some kind of biscuits. I’d rather eat protein but I’m out of eggs.  Sometimes you just have to eat what you have.

I need an apron.  I make one out of an old t-shirt, cutting off the sleeves and leaving strips in the back for strings.  The collar, left intact, fits perfectly over my head. DIY FTW.

I forget about my neighbor.  My cat curls up on her window seat to wait out the clouds.  The biscuits turn out well: crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  I mash together ricotta and apricot preserves and butter and slather it on. Sometimes you eat what you have; sometimes you make food just so you can put ricotta on it.

Sometimes you don’t need to buy an apron or get a special tea maker or follow the recipe.  A t-shirt works fine; you can make a tea strainer with a mason jar, a rubber band and some cheesecloth.  Save the money for something you can’t make yourself: books on coffee and on writing, an ice cream maker.  Fountain pens.  More notebooks.

These are my thoughts as I sit down to writing practice.

On a Tuesday

It’s Jeremy’s day off and we’re going to eat bacon and eggs.  I’ll make coffee in a minute.  We talk about the day, about upcoming birthdays, about his ideas for the future.  I go back to writing.  Stare out the window until something surfaces: a line of awkward words priming blank paper.  My mind is supposed to be warm by now.  I start having a conversation with myself on the paper.

Practice now.  You’re just practicing.  Pretend you’re knitting garter stitch.  It’s nothing fancy, just practice.  Master the basic form.

But I want to run ahead and produce brilliant work now.  It’s expected.

Expectations do not produce mastery.  They’re just peripheral pressure.  Practice garter stitch.  Master your form.

I lay the pen down and go make coffee.  We forget about the bacon and burn it.  I overextract the coffee and it tastes like peanuts.  Jeremy bites into a bacon scrap and half of it falls and skids under the oven.  The stove quits working in the middle of frying eggs and we have to stop and fix the burner.  We laugh at most of this (but Jeremy is upset about the bacon–who wouldn’t be) and watch a travel documentary while we eat. It’s inspiring and I want to go back and write with the new energy it’s giving me.

This is a great morning, he says.

Yeah. I’m glad we got to do this.

Sometimes you go out for an experience; sometimes you make your own and it’s better.

A Rare Poem, About Spring

Spring

While listening to Pilgrims on a Long Journey

Bare trees, branches

cold beneath iron skies, frost biting down

on the world and me and

life

warmth is on the inside

rising

defiant

seeping up from secret depths

into branches, spilling out green

buds tightly closed

protecting life inside, growing

warmer and bigger.

Iron dissolves into blue water

bowing to spring

hope

is stronger than ice

green

is warmer than winter

every time.

Ice Cream Hangover

I’m sorry now that I ate the ice cream.  I should have stopped before half of the pint was gone, when my head was buzzing.  Nope.  Sugar rush, ice cream hangover–that’s future Jinn’s problem (and it bloody is now).

Even with that, it may not have been so bad if I’d gone to bed before midnight.  Nope, 1 AM.  I blame characters that started a battle without permission in the middle of a supposedly quiet scene.  One girl, the loud one who never thinks before she acts, jumped into the middle of someone else’s fight, pulling others with her.  I finally made it into bed where the battle played on repeat in my mind for the next six hours.

Now I sit at the kitchen table, barely holding my head up.  Sipping black coffee.  Wondering if the ice cream or the characters gave me this dreadful headache.

I’m supposed to write about hiking in Minooka park.  About the tiny beach by the pond where you can ice skate in winter at your own risk.  About skinny trees  poking crookedly out of the wet ground.  About tiny green leaves beginning to unfurl.  A park full of potential, the bones of a beautiful place where soft green light and sticky heat will, very soon, press down on you and make you forget about snow for a while.  I meant to write about how bare trees are like the bones of stories, something you can see and imagine before they’re written.  Trunks and branches telling you what to say, what could be…

Ice cream.  Characters battling.  Making messes.  Barely surviving.  Now they need to talk about it and I’m the one with the pen.  Their personal transcriber.

I swallow two aspirin with the last of the coffee and let the fallout commence.  The trees will be different once I get to them, but they’ll be there.