The Writing on the Wall
Nesting in a new place always involves special attention to my writing desk. Here in Cabin L2 at Interlochen, my desk sits midway between the “living room” and the “dining room,” which are, in fact, one combined room about 12’x15’. My chair is arranged so I face a wide window, immediate neighbor to a few hemlock and ever-racing squirrels and chipmunks. Surrounding the window are six important lists, titled as follows:
1. In progress: This charts my current freelance work by queries, in progress, forthcoming, and recently completed.
2. Other shit: A scribbled mess (that only I can read) of ideas for nonfiction essays to write or revise or, as the case may be, a simple description of an image or a question that came to mind and seemed worthy of addressing in nonfiction.
3. Okay, So Check This Out: An ongoing list of memories or lyric essay topics that could expand on my MFA thesis.
4. Accepted: A stack of acceptance letters nailed to the wall.
5. Rejections: A stack of rejection letters nailed to the wall.
6. On the Road: Similar to “other shit” but entirely specific to fiction ideas I’ve had since hitting the road.
On the far wall, I’ve tacked two giant pieces of poster paper and divided each in half by long columns. They each serve a purpose:
Yellow paper, left side: An ongoing list of technical terms, images, ideas, and slang words relating to Vietnam, Vietnam veterans, the Vietnam war, and the Vietnamese. I acquire this information from stories people tell, memoirs I’ve read (Tobias Wolf, Frederick Downs), or movies I’ve seen.
Yellow paper, right side: Currently blank. The idea here is to finish the Vietnam side and then start reading about Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, the “war on terror,” and drone attacks. There is a character in one of my stories that keeps turning up in Vietnam, which has already been written about a lot and written about quite well. I’m curious to see if, after doing some research, I might be able to place this character in a current war zone instead. Also, thinking about, reading about, writing about, and paying taxes to a government which is currently engaged in WAR makes me totally uneasy. Experience has taught me that needling the tough spots makes for better writing.
White paper, left side: Quotes from students, staff, and faculty since I arrived at Interlochen. Example: “Can you microwave bacon?” (student). This also lists strange behaviors I observe, local sayings and/or rules, and any other oddities. Example: “Black squirrels? WTF?” (this, inscribed with a double underline, the day after I saw two of them quarreling outside my cabin).
White paper, right side: Lists and definitions of ecological terms and names of places/events/people/legends all pertinent to the Great Lakes Region. Example: “1 bloom” refers to a 2’ bar of iron and, around here, “the lake” always means Lake Michigan. Sources for this include local experts as well as book authors such as John Bartlow Martin and Jerry Denis.
Sitting at my desk, surrounded by these lists, I can almost feel my ideas rallying around me and fueling my efforts. It’s as though my desk resides inside my own mind and when I sit before the computer, I’m steering a very curious ship. That ship has some goals—as indicated by the writing on the wall—but it’s also free to roam as the imagination sees fit.