I am on vacation. It’s a working vacation, in that I brought the kids and their attendant need to eat and have their diapers changed and go places to play, and I brought my computer and the online course I am teaching and my blog and everything else that can now e-follow me wherever I go. But still, this afternoon Angie and I left the kids with Grandpa and Nana and went into town to have a milkshake and hang out in the bookstore, Copperfields, which happens to be wonderful. And I have spent the past two mornings in a park on Valentine’s Street in Sebastopol, meeting conversational, open-minded, intelligent mothers (and a few fathers) and their charges and the occasional friendly dog.
Maybe it’s because Sebastopol is a small town, but being in the park here is like being at a brunch. You really talk to people. Everyone who comes into the park smiles at you. There is a strong sense that we are all here together. Not just co-existing as we pass each other in our busy lives, but sharing an experience together.
Being at a park in Berkeley–especially Totland–is more like being at a dance club. There’s a lot going on–movement, frenzy, action–and you may smile at someone and then you may not smile at someone else and you might dance by someone and talk to another person and even buy a drink for a third, but most of the people there are involved with their own groups and it’s too loud to talk for long or to everybody.
Maybe it’s the way this Valentine park is designed. Maybe it’s the slightly lower cost of living here. Maybe it’s just my being on vacation, being relaxed. I loved it, whatever it was.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been a little overwhelmed. Launching an online course, working with editing clients, getting ready to write a novel next month, taking care of my little fellows, figuring out childcare options, watching my insufficient retirement resources (which, honestly, I am using now instead of when I am old, when I fully expect to be working until I die) plummet in quantity, dealing with trying to get married before the out-of-state Mormons yank my right to do so away, trying to get to picture-lock on my short film so it can be finished and sent out into the world, shoring up my old and falling apart house, not to mention cleaning it . . . I don’t know . . . I’m feeling tired.
Chai lattes help. Showers help. Vacations help. Grandparents help a lot. But I have again been reminded of the root of all my misery. I haven’t been reading novels.
I read The New Yorker, and I read some blogs, and I read Egri and this and that from my piles, but for some reason, I read novels in spats. I’ll read four in a couple of weeks and then go back to The New Yorker. Today, I picked up a couple of volumes at Copperfield’s, and just now, I cracked one, and suddenly . . . I relaxed.
It’s as if I trained, as a child, to lead these other lives, in secret gardens and dumb waiters, in attics and at Paddington Station and in Milwaukee and on the prairie and inside the walls of houses, with spools for tables and buttons for platters*. I learned to expect complications and growth and some resolution. The tangled threads of my own life, with its confusion of themes and uneven character arcs, bewilder the reader I am, first and foremost.
Entering the world of a book, the voice of the narrator capturing my attention, the story drawing itself across my imagination, makes everything feel right again. In a book, I know what to do, the right kind of attention to pay. An ardor rises up in me, a feeling of connecting to life itself, a life full (but not reeking) of meaning. Attending to it is pleasurable and worthwhile and productive.
I suppose that I am at my best as a writer when I feel that way about the actual world itself, when I can peruse the vegetables at the market with the same passion for sensate detail and follow the chaos at the playground with the same curiosity about humanity, believing that in time, it will all be ordered into a thing of beauty and character, into a story. And that surely I will be the one to do it.
*The first three people to name the greatest number of the books alluded to in this list, will win free, transferable tuition to my Gathering Your Materials course. To enter, email me the list and your name and contact information by Oct. 20th Thanks.