How to be present, and write a novel: an impractical guide to life.

28 November 2012 § Leave a comment

My girlfriend Heather returned from Italy two weeks ago, and immediately suggested a road trip to California. “We have people who want to see us,” she argued. “And it’s Thanksgiving! It’ll be perfect!”

That’s how it happens: one moment, I’m hanging out in sleepy Sellwood, just blocks from the Willamette River, walking to cafes every day to pound out my daily 1,667 words for NaNoWriMo, and trying to quell my travel-envy for her 3-week, impromptu trip to Europe. “It’s not a vacation,” she told me, “it’s for work.”

As if hearing that would incline me less toward living vicariously through her. Our splotchy incoherent phone calls in the middle of the night were my covetous connection to international movement. Because of the novel, I swore to stay off facebook as much as possible for all of November, and to stay on track for my word count (meanwhile embark on a juicy road trip full of parties and dancing and tribe). Needless to say, my plan to keep focus hasn’t worked: on average I’ve been about 7,000 words behind, and have gone without writing a letter for days at a time. Now, I have three days to write 10,000. And here I am, writing a blog. Lovely.

Once again I’m just a few blocks from the water – but it’s the Pacific this time, and the surf washing up on the rocky Santa Cruz shores I can hear through the window. Heather and I spent two days on the Lost Coast, Big Sur, living mostly at night it seemed because in the light I holed myself up in a cozy cabin, smoked to trip-hop and old jazz, and wrote.

There’s a reason artists thrive in Big Sur, Henry Miller famous among them. I felt that I could spend ages there. Lifetimes, and not see it all. It reminded me of my favorite parts of the Scottish Highlands, bare fellsides and massive pine trees and the ocean crashing upon the cliffs below. I was running across the moors with herds of deer again, racing the oil tanker to Cape Wrath, where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his childhood with his grandfather the lighthouse keeper. I was alone on the moors as I was in the cabin, feeling the energy of the land around me, its magnetism. Rarely have I seen so well embodied a term I heard once from an ex-lover: seamountainsky. Neither co-existing or co-dependent, it is one entity; a focused, singular motion and stillness, like a film, with all the light and sound elements in just the right place to inspire catharsis, or nostalgia.

An hour before I left the wild central California coastline, because had I stayed another day I would have stayed a lifetime, I saw the cliffs’ dramatic fall into the sea, a walkable descent to the ocean. From our perch, Heather and I had woken up to spots of silver sunglare miles out to sea, and watched them chase us on the curvy, entertaining road north.

The road distracts and motivates me. I wonder if this trip was exactly what I needed: a hit of travel, a reminder that everything I want from life is mine at a moment’s notice, and that I don’t always need my passport to find it. I am pausing to consider my purpose. In the meantime, I will not stop following my heart. In the meantime of that, I have a novel to complete.

Tonight, we’re to have dinner with Roxanne, one of my favorite people. She’s a writer – she’ll get my slight disconnect, my mid-sentence wondering about the next chapter. And she’ll know that glint of being within grasp of victory, despite the distraction that travel provides so thoroughly.

I’m thankful for every moment, every misspelled word, the seminary at the top of the Berkeley hills, peace found in Bug Sur, this trip, and that yes, I will finish this.

word count: 41,471
goal: 50,000
days: 2


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