It Was Easy if You Tried to Keep Calm

I think we all saw it coming soon, but it’s still a shock when it happens. I posted this yesterday morning to Facebook when I first learned the news:

I got up this morning and made some coffee. While it brewed, I watched the birds outside at the feeder. Mostly red-winged blackbirds, though a northern flicker joined them. A few sparrows. Then the neighborhood chickens arrived, followed by some mourning doves. I lingered a little with my wife, who typically works Sundays. Three cheers to Jesus for getting her the time off today. Finally, I sat at the counter and drank some coffee and finished reading a novella called “The Man Who Gave Up His Name.” It’s about a man who leaves corporate work, gives away his money, and becomes a cook. I could relate to him, of course. It is a story written by my favorite writer, Jim Harrison, and is the middle novella in the collection of three that comprises his breakout book Legends of the Fall. I set the book aside, moved to my computer and opened up Twitter. The first post I saw was from Benjamin Percy, offering up an RIP to Harrison, who died yesterday, and I find, despite having never met the man (though one time I did sit outside the driveway of his Arizona home where he died), that I miss him already.

I’m sad. I’m grateful I was able to review his most recent collection of poetry for the Indy. I’m also grateful I still have so much of his work to read for the first time. That doesn’t make it any easier.

It is good to see so many folks offering their thoughts about Harrison. His importance to me as a writer cannot be overstated, especially as a man with fewer years left in life than what I’ve already used up. There are many of his excellent quotes floating around, and I’ve collected my share. However, I am going to close with the following, from “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” which represents the final paragraph I read while still thinking Jim Harrison was alive.

At midnight Nordstrom was sitting in the dark in his hotel bedroom looking at the moon and thinking about lily pads. Sonia had insisted he go to the Museum of Modern Art to see the huge paintings of lily pads by Monet and he had gone after lunch, staring at them utterly blankminded for an hour. Now in the moonlight all of the lily pads on the lakes of northern Wisconsin revolved before him. Sometimes they had small buttery-yellow flowers and sometimes they had large white flowers, strong with an eerie perfume he could smell twenty-five years later in a hotel room. He didn’t know if in the morning he would leave on his trip or go to Wisconsin for a few weeks. Bass hid under the lily pads and he used to swim under them and look upward so that the pads looked like small green islands in the air refracting the light. He had given the cocaine to the Sephard over dinner. The Sephard had been relieved but puzzled when Nordstrom insisted that Slats and Sarah were “nice people.” The was a neurotic English girl with a perfect fanny with the Sephard. She wanted to call a friend for Nordstrom but he said no. He was really quite tired. Just breathing on the bed in the moonlight seemed quite enough for the moment. First you breathed in, then out, and so on. It was easy if you tried to keep calm.

 

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Lily pad via iPhone, Seeley Lake, Montana, August 2012

One-Sentence Journal, Week Forty-Nine

  1. 10/18/2015:  I swear the kingfishers hanging around my ramble paths know I want to photograph them and are deliberately fucking with me.
  2. 10/19/2015:  The enthusiasm from my Canadian friends on the night of their election really makes me look forward to all the bitter, bile-flavored disappointment to come for us ‘Mericans over the next year.
  3. 10/20/2015:  I’m not anti-hunting at all, but I’d be lying if I said all the dudes with rifles stomping through the wandering grounds I frequent with Darla the Adventure Dog don’t make me just a little bit nervous.
  4. 10/21/2015:  Why get projects completed in a timely fashion when you can cram most of the work into that desperate, final hour?
  5. 10/22/2015:  Sunshine gets all the glamour, but I live for foggy mornings on the river, mist rising in clouds from its surface, herons overhead heard, not seen.
  6. 10/23/2015:  Reservation thrift store find of the century: two signed first edition Ed Abbey books and the paperback edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I grew up with.
  7. 10/24/2015:  Sleeping late, a big breakfast, a saunter around the river, and then not much else makes for a pretty decent Saturday.
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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Report from the Road

I flew over to Portland on Tuesday to participate in the first ever Noir at the Bar event in Portland. This is the second one I’ve been part of, the first being in St. Louis a couple years ago. Basically what it is is kind of an underground thing where a bunch of (primarily) crime writers get together and read stuff — short stories, book excerpts, whatever — at a bar, and people come out and listen. It’s a blast.

At risk of sounding whiny, writing can be a lonely and solitary existence. Hell, the morning I left, I ran into a guy I’ve played kickball with for a couple years who was also at the airport leaving on a trip. What I didn’t know until then is that he is one of the main writers for the Independent, who I freelance for, and I wasn’t even aware. I kind of felt like an asshole for being so damn oblivious. But that’s the thing — unless you live in a town with a vibrant, social writing community, or if you teach or something, it’s rare you come face to face with your peers. At least that’s been my experience. I certainly don’t feel like any part of a writing community in Missoula, that’s for damn sure. This event really underscored that for me. I mean, who in Missoula could I have high-brow literary conversations on subjects like, for example, the opening sequence to the first Blade movie, anecdotes about puking into your own pants (I don’t have one of my own, thank you), and erotic fan fiction, all in the span of about an hour?

Right out of the gate I got to meet a couple guys whose books I’ve read and that I’ve communicated with but never met in person: Johnny Shaw and Barry Graham. Johnny organized the thing, edited and published me in Blood & Tacos, and has written a couple award winning books of his own that I highly recommend. Our conversation went late into the night, got a little beer-slurred at times, and covered a lot of ground. It was awesome. Barry Graham is originally from Scotland, doesn’t shy away from saying what he thinks, and besides writing some gritty-as-hell fiction also happens to be a Zen monk. I’ve read at least half-a-dozen or so of his books, both fiction and non-fiction, and every one is excellent. He recited his material by memory (a particularly gruesome scene from How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy), and was outstanding. His writing is intense. Hell, even his TWITTER posts are intense. In person I found him warm and loquacious. I look forward to crossing paths with him again.

I also got to be a bit of a fanboy. Greg Rucka is one of the best comics writers out there. He’s written the heaviest of hitters — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — as well as creator-owned stuff that are considered industry classics, like Whiteout and Queen and Country. I’m particularly partial to his more recent Portland-based P.I. series, Stumptown. He’s also found time to write something like a dozen novels too. I mean, the dude was an answer to a friggin’ question on Jeopardy last week, for crissakes! It was a thrill for me to meet him, and he was a great guy.

I also met two writers I’d never read before, Lisa Alber and Roger Hobbs. Lisa’s debut, Kilmoon, comes out in the spring. I’m pretty stoked to get a chance to read it. We had gin and tonics together, something I’d never had before. It was a nice little break between beers. Roger read from his current WIP, but also found out that day that his previous novel, Ghostman, had won the 2013 Steel Dagger Award for Best Thriller. I’ll definitely be tracking that down ASAP.

I also got to hang out with my friends Aaron Draplin and Leah Mckolay, who I was thrilled and grateful to for coming out to watch and hang for awhile. I killed a couple hours earlier that day talking shit with Draplin on the DDC Factory Floor as well, which is always a good time.

I could go on and on, frankly. It was a great trip, a great day, a great night. I came home tired but inspired. I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to make the trip again, because it is worth every minute, every penny. What a blast. What a fantastic group of friggin’ people.

 

Behind the Music

soundcity-poster-pYou know for a “writing” blog, or at least the blog of a “writer” of some kind, I really don’t talk about writing much. Certainly not writing advice, mainly because I don’t have any; I figure there are enough blowhards out there driving frustrated writers down conflicting paths to misery. But even my own writing I don’t talk about much. So here’s a little update. I haven’t been doing much fiction writing at all lately, though I have a couple story ideas clattering around, and some notes taken here and there, and I have a pretty solid novel idea with a few notes here and there as well. However, the bulk of what I’ve been working on is freelance nonfiction writing. Have some irons in the fire, some stuff that will see the light of day in a few months, things like that. I’ve written the occasional piece for the Missoula Independent as well. I mention it because there is a piece out today that is about something I really dig — the music documentary Sound City produced and directed by Dave Grohl.

I hope you check out my review in the Indy today. Here’s a little excerpt:

As a guy who has made music with friends for many, many hours in recording studios, the film hits me where my heart is when it comes to the creative process and how music should be recorded. Forget digital cutting and pasting. Forget perfect performances. I want bands live in a room, making music together, playing the songs as a unit to capture living, breathing, human performances. Other musicians and music geeks of similar values—those graybeards and kids digging through vinyl bins at record stores—will no doubt agree.

That snippet really sums it for me, in many ways. It was tough — really tough — to squeeze what I think of this documentary down to 700 words, but it came out okay. I feel like music, and my various pursuits in it, really defined the first 35 years or so of my life, and, once the realities of those failed efforts set in, left me flailing for the last ten or so, bitter and jaded and cynical and surly. Sometimes it’s hard to even listen to music, because so much of it is an ache akin to visiting places where you spent time with a former love, or with someone who has moved or passed away. Writing is a creative pursuit that I’ve been trying to plug the holes with, and it has worked to varying degrees, but I’m not there yet. It’s hard to imagine that writing will ever provide the kind of euphoria that fragmented moments on stage or in the studio have, but I’m trying. It’s a totally different discipline; I’ve found nothing in writing that comes close to that moment of connection that happens when you are playing with people you’ve labored hours in rehearsal with, and everything is clicking, and there are people in the audience connecting at the same time. It can be truly transcendent. I think Sound City captures what that can be like, what it has been like. It’s a fantastic achievement.

As for writing, we’ll see. I enjoy it, and I realize I’ve tried to make it something it’s not. So I’m working to discover exactly what it is. I may ultimately throw in the towel for something else . . . but not today.