She thought that to swim in the winter, with snow on the ground and the wind howling, was the greatest luxury.
- Richard Ford, Optimists
Boat shoes as house shoes
Laundry while I write
Something is getting done
A snow storm, fair for December
I tend to blog more when I’m starting a new writing project, as a way to feel like I’m doing something even when I’m not working. For me, blogging is a way to try out phrases and ideas. Even if I’m not writing fiction, at least I’m at my desk, staring at a screen, thinking about how words go together. Blogging is the writing equivalent of 30 minutes on the elliptical.
I’ve recently become obsessed with the idea that the best short stories are about a moment when something is true, or a truth about a character is revealed. So right now, I have a moment, but I’m trying to figure out who would be there and why. It’s confusing and difficult, and leads to a lot of moments of staring out the window and procrastination cleaning.
The more I think about this Moment idea, the more I think the short form is more honest than the novel. The length of the novel implies that you’re getting the whole story. But there’s no “whole story.” Things continue even after that whale hunt that changed everything. A short story doesn’t make a promise to tell the whole story. A short story is just a true moment in a person’s larger life narrative.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’ve also been thinking about how pleasant this fall has been in Denver. It snowed in the first week of October, but then, for whatever reason, the weather has stayed in the 50s and 60s. Fall and spring in the West aren’t as fragrant and lovely as they are on the East Coast, where things are more verdant and fast-paced. Most of the trees turn yellow here, but every once in a while, there’s a tree that goes orange or red. Last month, I was a foodie for fall, and I took pictures of any tree that reminded me that fall in Denver was still worth having. You know me, always capturing the small moments.
For the past three nights, I’ve had a dream about a medium-famous person. He’s famous enough that most people would probably know who I’m talking about, but not famous—or destructive—enough to be in the pages of US Weekly.
Other than the fact that I’m not famous, this medium-famous person and I would get along, I think. We seem to have the same sense of humor, definitely like the same music, and, according to Wikipedia, have similar backgrounds. We could celebrate various holidays together with the same level of irony.
One of my real-life New York friends, who is known in certain circles, though is not famous by any means, knows my medium-famous crush. When I wake up from these dreams, I think maybe I could get set up with this guy. And then I remember someone medium famous probably isn’t interested in starting something long distance. Hell, I’m not famous and I’m not interested in something long distance.
In New York, it’s easy to be adjacent to things like fame and creativity. Bumping up against money isn’t hard, either. One of the best restaurants in the city is in a mall. A fancy mall, but still a mall. In Denver, I’m adjacent to the mountains, which, when considering reality, is much better for my quality of life. But for better or worse, or just honestly, I miss the chance to be adjacent to more unattainable things.
But speaking of America, I just read Independence Day, which is about as American as books come. The book is set during the long weekend of our national birth, and our hero, Frank Bascombe, is a real estate agent.
The book is long and often rudderless, but it’s worth reading if only because Richard Ford comes up with sentences that break you a part. One of my favorites was: “The world, as I told him, lets you do what you want if you can live with the consequences.”
On first read, the consequence part of the sentence loomed large, as consequences are often impossible to imagine. On the other hand, doing whatever you want is pretty easy to conceptualize. In this framing, consequence seemed like a never-ending punishment for choice.
I quoted this sentence to a friend, who had, as Ford would put it, a hardscrabble start. She thought it was an optimistic view. Not everyone has the freedom to face consequences. Another friend said the fear of consequences is what keeps most people in their place. (In either view, North Koreans—the ones who can’t defect and the ones who do anyway—are a powerful example.)
Sometimes when I’m nervous at parties, I’ll ask a stranger what he thinks the American Dream is. Recently someone said there’s a “pat answer,” and that answer is having your children do better than you. In Frank’s case, his child isn’t going to do better than him. But I do think Frank is living a kind of American Dream, and not just because he owns property and has a business. He is able to face the consequences of his decisions, which might be just what the founding fathers had in mind.
Here’s Cat Power covering “I Found a Reason:”