Five weeks ago I had reconstructive surgery on my left ankle, and I thought that being laid up would be sort of useful. That I’d get a lot of work done. I’d read books! I’d get back to the one I’m writing! I’d knit (I did knit …).
The truth is that I seem to have spent most of the past five weeks fucking around on the internet. And complaining about not being able to do anything. I got nothing useful done.
And so, I finally had to face up to the fact that I needed a new planning regime. I have not been using my 3 days off work productively, and as one does, I’ve been watching good ideas float off into the ether, and things I meant to write about drift off, happily unmolested by my attempts to corral them into meaning.
So I pulled out the planner again, and went back to a method that’s worked for me in the past. It’s nothing fancy — just identifying at the beginning of each year, month, and week what you intend to accomplish, then keeping track of the steps you take to make those things happen. And re-evaluating at the beginning of each week and month. Basic stuff. Keeping on track stuff. Making yourself account for your time so that if you do do something as ridiculous as spend an entire afternoon following rabbits down Twitter holes (or looking at knitting on Instagram) you at least have to own up to it.
We’re just about at the vernal equinox, which I think of as a sort of new year, so here’s to resolutions, and to getting more things accomplished, and to breaking loose from my drifty, pleasant, but ultimately unproductive state …
As you might have noticed, blogging has slowed to a trickle here at LivingSmall. For the next few months, I’m going to be prioritizing some other projects, including the new novel I’m working on. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I had a viable writing project, and now that I seem to have the employment/paying the bills thing sorted out, I need to put my writing energies into that project.
Blogging won’t stop altogether, but it’ll be sporadic. Thanks for being patient everyone …
I’m lucky enough to have gotten to know both Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison over the years — I studied with Gary at UC Davis where we were also both involved in the Art of the Wild workshops at Squaw Valley, and Harrison, well, we have a bunch of friends in common, and he’s a neighbor here in Livingston. I actually first met Harrison when he came to Davis to do a reading and to visit Gary. Snyder was teaching a course in Zen and Chinese, Japanese and American poetry — it was one of those courses where several professors sat in, including Alan Williamson who used to gently chide us when we turned the Romantic poets into straw men for our arguments. Harrison came to visit, and then years later, when we ran into one another again here in Livingston, it’s that class that still stands out. That one course was worth all those years in grad school, all the hassle and pain and even the thousands of dollars I’m still paying off.
One reason Harrison came to Davis that spring was that he and Gary have been corresponding since 1965, about Zen, and poetry, and all the rest of it. Will Hearst had them down to his spectacular chunk of the California coastline and filmed them pretty much just walking around and talking to one another. The movie’s available on Amazon now, and it’s only $19 dollars, so I went ahead and bought a copy. And while I wish they’d gotten a little more of both writers’ humor in to the piece, it’s well worth investing in a copy if you’re interested in Zen, or the California school of poetry, or the challenges of representing nature in the written word, or Harrison or Snyder.
So I have a new writing project — it’s in the tiny larval stages so I don’t want to talk about it too much, but I’m working on a murder mystery. One of my dearest friends here in town is Maryanne Vollers, author of the amazing books Ghosts of Mississippi: The Murder of Medgar Evers, the Trials of Byron De La Beckwith, and the Haunting of the New South and Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw. We were both at a dinner party last night, and Maryanne arrived with a big bag of books for me. There we were like a couple of kids, cackling and pulling out books like Evil: An Investigation and Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologistout of the bag. “This one’s really great,” Maryanne said handing me Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. While the non-writer dinner guests were sort of appalled, for the most part, this is Livingston, where not only is the cackling of writers in the corners of parties perfectly normal, but where you can count on your friends to have a stash of books on the psychology of murder that they’ll loan you. I love my weird little town.
Wow. This was a surprise to me somehow — Gourmet Magazine is closing. My first job out of college was repackaging Gourmet Magazine content into the first few volumes of Best of Gourmet and Gourmet’s Best Desserts (we also did other titles for Conde Nast). I’ll never forget going through the bound volumes of Gourmet Magazines — my task was to xerox every dessert recipe that had ever appeared, cut it out, and tape it onto a sheet of paper. These were the old days, when we did things on paper, and when type came back from teh typesetter and was glued to mechanical boards with wax. That was my other primary task, running big black portfolios of mechanical boards from our office on East 21st Street up to the Conde Nast building, then over to the Gourmet offices so they could be signed off on.
The Gourmet Magazine offices were like another world. This was 1985-87 and there were grown women wearing kilts and knee socks and those weird scarfy things women wore tied around their necks as some sort of business tie substitute. It was like a prep school or sorority gone slightly elderly, and slightly odd.
But I learned a lot, not only about food and cooking, but about how a recipe should look on the page, how it should work, and the importance of testing to make sure it worked.
It just seems a shame. Gourmet has a long history, and if nothing else, it’s a record of the remarkable changes in American attitudes toward food and travel over the past 70 years. And they published some wonderful writers. I’ll never forget bursting into tears over Christmas break one year when I read that before she’d died, Laurie Colwin had finished a year’s worth of columns, and the magazine planned to run them all. I’m so sad I’ll never have the chance to pitch them now …
So far, so good on the unemployment thing. While it’s never ideal to be the one voted off the island, I find I don’t miss the job at all — I miss the people I worked with, but I don’t miss being chained to my desk from eight in the morning until six at night; I don’t miss the anxiety of thinking someone might send you an instant message while you were getting a cup of tea and then decide you’re slacking; I don’t miss being treated as an incompetent by my manager, and I’m beginning to get over the numbness that has been plagueing my right arm and shoulder for the past couple of months.
This week, frankly, I’ve been sleeping a lot. This feels a lot like the summer after I finished my Phd exams, when I slept, read plotty, unchallenging books (that summer it was the Raj Quartet, this summer it’s the Inspector Montalbano mysteries by Andrea Camelleri), and just went into recovery mode.
The first thing I did last week was to re-organize my office. Out went the big desk that was too high, and which I think was a major contributing factor to the arm numbness. Up from the basement came the ugly-but-comfy armchair and the tilty table from Levengers (really great when I have to type in quotes from books for the new freelance gig). Also up from the basement came my wee desk from Target — when I took the finials off the bottom of the legs, it’s exactly the right midget height for me to sit in a chair with my feet on the floor and type. I pulled out my old corkboard and tacked a few note cards with article ideas up, and purged all the stuff from my office bookshelves that I’m not going to need anymore. A vase of flowers from the garden, and I’m set. A new office for a new era.
I also managed to get a lot of things done that I’ve been working too much to address. I got the snow tires off my car (well, it did snow in June, but not that much). I washed my kitchen floor. I weeded the vegetable garden, picked the peas and the favas and planted some endives for fall. I rebuilt the chicken coop (a proper post on that later) so the chickens can’t get out. Chuck and I went for a 10 mile hike. I went up to my Milk Lady’s farm and relocated the rooster (he’s cock of the walk in the hen house apparently — very much the new guy in town and loving it) and bought some hens from her. I went big-grocery shopping and went to Costco and got some acupuncture for the bad shoulder. I took the dogs swimming in the Yellowstone and then for a short hike (Owen’s robo-leg held up great). I got my hair cut.
And yesterday I finally got back to my new office, finished up one freelance project, got started on another, and figured out how to re-write the opening section of the novel I now have no excuse for not finishing. A week off was delightful, but now I can hear the clock ticking. I have six months to figure out this next part. Six months to finish my novel, and drum up enough freelance projects to keep the little ark afloat. Six months minus one week, and counting …