blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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Me and My Books, Hanging Out

In order to properly articulate how I get down to it, I think I should start by talking a little about my belief in the living word. (Allow me to start big and borderline banal and I promise I’ll whittle it down to small by the end.) I read and I write to make my days better and longer, not to escape from them or to kill time. My favorite books are short ones, real short portable ones that I can take with me on jaunts and forget they’re even stuck between my belt and my back. The 70 to 140 page books are the ones I have the most memories of and with. Those are the kind of voices I want listen to as well. Those are voices that understand all conversation of any value is reciprocal. Give it to me, storytellers, and I’ll give it back. Take it for a spin, stop somewhere to read a chapter, pause (or be interrupted!) and see how it’s colored my day, jump back into it when I then need a pause from whatever it was I just got into as a result of how it colored my day initially, ad infinitum.

So my writing process isn’t much different. When I’m busy writing I’m just as busy wondering about and excited by how my writing is going to influence my day. When I’m busy writing fiction I’m also busy reading fiction. I have to be reading fiction while writing fiction. Not because I’m a rip-off artist (at least not in any sort of conscious way, I swear). In fact, I think I could make a solid argument that the words in the fiction at hand are just as important to my writing as where my mind goes in the spaces between those words in the fiction at hand are. And yes, nonfiction doesn’t cut it. If one of the reasons I’m reading is to help me write then even a bad fiction helps my process more than a riveting nonfiction could.

At the wide end of this reciprocation, my writing regimen is subject to extreme feasts and famines. I’m no good at holding down a day job and writing at the same time. I can manage only one intensely at a time. While I’m in a day job season I may be taking notes, plotting, dreaming, and sending out copies of pieces I’ve already written, but it can’t be said that what I’m up to is writing properly. When day job season ends I move somewhere and get down to it 24/7, living off of whatever money I’ve saved. I’ve written four books. I was only able to crack the code for the first after quitting a bartending job and moving to Bolivia. The second I wrote while the tour guide company I worked for laid me off for the winter. As I opted to not go back to work when the good weather arrived, the unemployment checks kept coming until I finished the book. The third I wrote while living in between Glasgow and Bologna, playing guitar in a group (which means for free) in the former and subtitling English films for Cinamateca Bologna in the latter (got fired from that not due to my lack of mastery of the Italian language but to my misery at understanding the million eponyms and peculiarities of British English). My fourth I wrote in Mexico with money I saved from a video game scandal I worked on at a law firm in New Jersey. When my money runs out and I return to work I put my blinders back on and abandon writing completely (aside from note taking) until the next complete chance I get.

I can’t write without physical activity either. If my body does not move my mind does not think. Walking is the best. Swimming in the sea is second, albeit a rare and unlikely godsend. Biking is a false substitute (maybe even a decoy) for walking, but I do find if I carve huge semiographic paths on bike I’ll generally come home with gold. Like beginning at my apartment in Brooklyn, riding over the Manhattan Bridge up to a loop around Central Park, then down and over the Brooklyn Bridge for a loop around Prospect Park before stopping for a drink with pen and paper in hand. In Europe, where so many of the old cities are circular, I like combining cross-city linear cuttings with curves around the old city walls. Lines vs. circles also always produces. If the weather is not on my side, watching physical activity while stretching or lifting weights can fill the void. American football is the perfected balance of calculated chess and the chance of pure brute force. Hence some of my most auto-romantic writing seasons have happened in the deep fall: football brunch + home workout + post match(es) evening walks to a just distant enough bar followed by a late night writing session. Amazing.

I need a distractive art piece as well. Another light writing project I begin at the time as my great American opus is crucial. Not only does the side project take the burdensome weight away from my opus, but it flowing more freely and carefree means it also often flows more honestly. When editing time comes I comb through my primary piece making sure it truly is of my voice, not overly straining to be beautiful or profound; while in turn I review my distraction piece to make sure I didn’t reveal too much about my base objectives! In the end it’s a coin toss which one I think turns out better—which has very little correlation to which one actually did turn out better.

Finally, returning to my belief in the living word and my love of the short book, the last leg of my process is a reduction. I’ll spend as much time clarifying it down to the bare essence of volatile aromatics as I do crafting the story at large. I have no desire to hold the reader’s attention for longer than I need to. I only want the letters I deem absolutely necessary to remain. It’s this respect for reciprocation that I hope gives my stories breadth: walking away with memories of my writings are part and parcel to and as important as walking away with memories with my writings.  end