Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fire and Ice

I woke up early this morning after falling asleep near nine o’clock last night when the President was due to begin his State of the Union address. Yet, even with what would seem enough sleep, my eyelids feel like flypaper and my back has been transformed into an enormous throbbing ache. This morning, light flurries covered the footstep-mottled snow from Sunday with fresh powder. Everything was aglow with the reflective light of the morning's snow.

Now, Dixie is wandering the perimeter of our backyard, as Archie nuzzles against the comforter on the other sofa. My wife has just phoned, having forgotten her lunch, so, in a few minutes, I'll be off in our dinged-up gold Escort, sliding across the streets on balding tires to have lunch on the other side of the Ohio River.

Although I'm looking forward to a brief conversation with my wife at what seems an unusual time for me, I'm also weary and concerned about writing time. The morning, as ever, was spent minding the dogs, while surreptitiously catching up on a handful of emails. Oddly, last week was incredibly productive. I drafted three short stories—all of which have more potential than the majority of stories I've written in my life. But to get there, I'd settled into an odd rhythm.

Each day, after waking a bit too late, I would mind the dogs, getting in a writing exercise or two between emails with my wife and jaunts outside to tire the puppies. Some days, I'd even remember to eat a modest lunch—a sandwich, a bowl of cereal, or some form of pasta left over from dinner. Then, at last, around 1:30, I'd saunter off to a local cafe for hours on end.


That is not what happened today. Instead, exhaustion caught up with me, and I lazed on the sofa with the dogs for a two-hour nap, dreaming of vistas now forgotten. I woke just as my wife arrived home and read and read, in search of something akin to insider advice on the publishing industry.

And now, here I am, approaching the end of the day, lamenting the seeming lack of writing accomplishments as though it were a moderately serious injury, like a sprained ankle that would keep me off my feet for the better part of a week. Why?


In college, I took to writing in a cafe near campus. The cell-sized establishment, thick with smoke, catered to students from the nearby campus. I would sit there, sipping a hot coffee, lighting cigarette after cigarette, while contemplating the next tiny line to scribble along the lines in by black hardcover journal. But as I look back on that time period, imagining myself, a friend or two or five is always present. Perhaps someone sits across the table from me, reading a thick textbook for a class on Information Design. Or perhaps, across the aisle, a group gathers around a surprising trick in a game of bridge. Regardless, there is always the presence of others in these memories.

When the cafe, inevitably, closed, we were lost. There was chatter of transforming one or another friend's houses into a make-shift coffee house, but that didn't happen while I was still in school. Instead, we found another establishment where the smoke would fill the rooms, where we could write papers, poems, or stories, and where a game of bridge or spades was almost always ongoing.

At times, I miss the camaraderie of those days—so many of us gathering together like a gang. The endlessly foolish possibilities of youth constantly simmered beneath the surface. Greatness, it seemed, loomed at every corner, to the point where I started to get pissed if anyone called me a genius.


Last week, while at the cafe I now frequent, I made the acquaintance of an elderly man. For Christmas, his daughter had purchased him a new, black laptop, sleek as ice on an unsalted winter road. He needed help connecting to the free wireless and then logging onto his email account. In return for that smallest of favors, he played me a few tracks of a jazz CD his son had helped him record. He played the alto sax, long ago, with a series of long sustained solo notes, that trilled upwards and downwards with a gentle lethargy that sounded nearly pre-bop. More, he told me tales of a Cincinnati from long ago, when he had more work than he could imagine, and how each night, as he played his wife's favorite song, he would wrap his arms around her, cradling his saxophone behind her back, and dance the melody into those smoky clubs.

It shames me a little to say this, but part of me, longed for the solitude that I so often seek out in cafes now. I engross myself in the silence of chatter, and the act of actually leaving the house makes it easier for my psyche to think of the task at hand as work—even if the payment for such exertions remains constantly delayed. I take those two to three hours and focus on my current project without worrying over the dogs, jostling between emails, and quick glimpses at CNN. I manage, lately, to move ahead.

But through happenstance, I lost a day of writing.

I suppose, in many ways, this is the precarious position of the writer. We need both to experience, whether through reading or active engagement, the world. We need, also, to lock ourselves in a figurative hermitage, where writing, and writing alone is primary.


My wife is sleeping soundly on the sofa, with the puppies. I have a few moments now to gather my bearings and set out into the frightening landscape of a glowing white page. Emptiness everywhere, waiting to be filled with verbs, nouns, etcetera.


Anonymous Karen said...

Hi, I liked this post, but my heart responded to the newest one even more, I just read it!

In my alternative reality, which is SO much better than my reality, it's the positive chances I didn't take that I know would have been the alternative, I never think about the negative chances that I didn't take that might have been the alternative...

I posted a comment this morning but alas, I think it got lost in the ether. Now I'm trying to remember the essence of it, but I think it was just basically the balance between isolation and engagement with others, in writing like in thinking --

-- thinking requires solitude, yet thinking requires synergy of minds... as writing requres a balance of both.

I, as a writer, or trying to be one, struggle with feeling lonelier than if I were not writing, but anyway, sorry, can't seem to recapture my earlier comment. I'll try to send this time so the comment sends...

5:56 PM  
Blogger Les said...

Thanks for the comments, Karen.

9:02 PM  

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