I’ve started to recognize this mountain like a human face. This strikes me as odd somehow and deeply intimate, although I am not sure why. I am able to recognize city streets, freeway off ramps, curves in a trail. But the mountain, too, has a face. Each of the hulking volcanoes along the Cascades has her own face, and I start to know them all.
Rainier is the one I see daily. At roughly 8:34 in the morning as I descend St. Helens Avenue, late as always to work, there’s a moment at the old car dealership where Rainier appears. If the morning is even a bit clear, the mountain bellows from the hollow in between the buildings over the Puyallup River. I only have a few seconds of the view before the road again dips between the buildings and it is lost. But temporarily it is a riot of gold, haloed in a cloud or—on the rarest of days—crisply visible to the tip.
This is how I have memorized the ragged top of Rainier. I now recognize it instantly in photos, distinct from Hood or Baker. Rainier has that odd rounded top settled into a crevasse. Is that right? I can’t be sure. Perhaps this knowledge is partly cheating, as I see the mountain on every license plate around me daily. But I also can distinguish it from Hood – that one, a simple triangle.
It surprises me that it surprises me that I should become aware of my surroundings like this.
It’s coming up on two months of posting “content” daily.
Friends, why did I say I’d do this until it all ended? We still barely know what it is, and when it will end is…
Danger thoughts. Don’t go there.
In any event, I know the answer to why I did this thing to me: it was mid-March, and every hour brought some fresh surprising hell, and I woke up one morning feeling like hot compost and a little inspiration hovered before me glittering like a diamond: I could write more. I could escape the black hole that threatened to swallow me by giving myself a new project. A little structure to the day. And how hard could it be?
The answer, seven or so weeks in, is: not that hard, but also, somehow, quite hard, in sheer terms of time I could otherwise be spending on other things.*
(The other major reason I did this is, of course, I was such an idiotic boob back then.)
The problem is, trying to post every day means I’m always running.** This doesn’t always result in the best content. (I mean, it probably usually does, but just not always.)
It doesn’t allow me time to let the thoughts sit and marinate, as they used to do when I was posting about once or twice a week. (This is largely because the time I optimistically allocate daily for brainstorming and free-writing, 7-9am, tends to turn into just sleep-in time before the harrowing commute from the bedroom into the living room office.)
Writing time, whenever it occurs (right now: quarter to 11pm, which is to say, past my brain’s daily expiration date) is either very slow, very scattered writing (every fourth day or so), or else depleting the ol’ partially-written post archives, much like eating through all the emergency beans in the emergency bean cabinet (the other three days).
On that every-fourth-day when I somehow write a lot, I meander back and forth between twelve different ideas, popping in little details here and there in a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of an outline that I know future me will be able to clean up.
Future me never seems as certain about what past me meant as past me was. But she was enthusiastic; I can give her that.
The end result is something like having several different stews cooking on various burners, and I’m spicing them occasionally, often forgetting which one was the curry and which one the sour broth, and then I hear a bell and it’s dinner time and I grab one of the stews and serve it up to you.
And some days, like today, right as I’m about to serve it I take a look in the bowl and go, hmm.
*Ironically, the most time-consuming part is all the posting and cross-posting to Instagram and Facebook and occasionally Twitter, each of which demands a slight reformat and various buttons to be pressed from various devices. I guess I could just stop doing that, but then I’d really be shouting into the void.
**Not literally. Although I also feel like an idiotic boob every time I run.
If you’ve been on the internet in the last five years, you may have noticed that all of a sudden, “content” is everywhere. There’s new content, great content, content overload, and there are content creators keeping the whole operation going.
The word “content,” of course, has many meanings across all parts of speech, but the one I’m referring to is the third noun entry here: “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”
Let me concede off the bat that “content” in its internet usage is a “real word.”*
This is the second half of a short story. The first half is here.
I move in that weekend. He lives in this sweet little town in the mountains and owns a house that looks cozy and big to my cramped city eyes. I fill out the transferal paperwork online for my job. Moving locations due to a sort is one of the few things they’re able to process basically immediately. That’s one of the reasons the system works so well. Congress made it really clear that the public-health benefits of everyone’s commitment to proper sorting would basically set the economy on fire. If we’re all happily coupled with the person that we all know is perfect for us, that takes away a lot of the romantic drama and longing and heartbreak that reduce productivity. It’s a win-win.
It certainly feels that way for me. There’s a lightness in my heart of the kind I haven’t felt in years. My general sense of worry, of insufficiency, goes quiet, even as I’m packing all my boxes with Alex’s help and leaving the place I’ve called home since college.
That night we have sex for the first time. Alex makes it clear that he’s happy to wait for as long as I want, because again, there’s no rush at all. But I pull him into bed, shaking my head, and kiss him hard. As I should have expected, it works out. Really well. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but really only a bit. The system works. We smile at each other like giddy co-conspirators before turning out the lights for the night.
A few weeks later, we introduce each other to our families. First mine come to our house, because they’re RVing around the country and it works out pretty well. I’m nervous about how they’re going to act, because they’ve always been a little weird around my exes. Alex squeezes my hand and I know what he means: It’s going to be okay, because it’s going to be okay.
Below is the first half of a short story I wrote recently. I’ll post the rest tomorrow. (Update: it’s here.) Let me know what you think!
Sitting down with my phone, I think: my chances are now about as good as they’ll ever be with Chris. There’s so much going for us. Similar taste in music (equal parts Baroque and Top-40); movies (anything with a good balance of comedy and drama, but nothing at either extreme); and activities (generally bookish, but also running). Such a good match.
I would generally be paranoid about thinking things like this, because you never know nowadays whether your thoughts are going to stay private or whether you’ll see them echoed back to you online, but now I’m letting myself hope openly about our connection. After all, I’ve been in love with him for, what, eight months now? “Love” might be a bit strong given that nothing has actually happened, but I’m not sure what else to call it when I get indigestion with anticipation of seeing him, try hard to figure out how to ask my friends about the status of his relationship, and start planning my whole life around how to accidentally run into him. Basically, it’s time to close this deal.
A little while ago (roughly 40 or 50 years by the feel of it, but under a month in clock time) I decided to post here once a day for as long as quarantine/lockdown/shelter-in-place/stay-at-home/whatever lasts. This has been fun for me, and good practice, but also a little frantic. Sometimes I wake up with ideas, and many days I don’t. I’m keeping a head start with a decent backlog of little stubs I can expand into posts.
Well, I have that backlog for now. My brain (ever the asshole) keeps piping up to ask: “What if you suddenly run out? What if you find yourself one day with nothing to say?”
(Note that my brain is less concerned with me having nothing interesting to say, because that particular fear ship has sailed).
This feels like a pretty mundane version of the plight of Scheherazade, who forestalled her execution by prolonging her storytelling. Did she also wake up every morning seeing “add to the story and don’t get executed” on her to-do list, and break into a cold sweat? Did she ever know that she had, say, 235 more nights of material ready to go, but wonder what would happen on night 236?
The differences, of course, between me and Scheherazade are that I’m the one who required my daily post, rather than a murderous king. Also, unlike the execution hanging over her head, there are absolutely no negative repercussions if I skip a day. But apart from that, the comparison is ironclad.
All that’s happening here is that my old friend, the scarcity voice, has pulled up a chair. Yes, we have enough for now, but what about when we don’t?
To which the only response is a hair flip and a glib “what about it?” and then one must lace up one’s tennis shoes and go for a walk.
A confession: I’m letting Book Two, just a poor little baby manuscript, suffer. She’s been an estimated 90% done for about four months now, and I just cannot bring myself to do that last 10%. That almost certainly means there’s something wrong with what I think the last 10% should be, because that’s what books do when they’re trying to stop you from ruining them. But I can’t even bring myself to do the work to find out what it is that needs fixing.
Maybe the problem is that I doomed her from the beginning. I started her off saying that I didn’t care how she turned out; that she was just practice; that I didn’t expect to do anything with her no matter how she turned out. Upon reflection, what an unkind way to treat an idea. What would Liz Gilbert say?
I mean (for effect, pretend I’m contorting myself into a classic observational-comedy standup pose, leaning wryly on a mic stand) talk about “kill your darlings!” For what I said about this little book they oughta lock me up and call me a murderer!
“Seriously? I already gave it to the computer. Twice.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I need your claim number to assist you.”
She sighs heavily. Repeats the 22-digit string.
“Was that 4206 at the end there, ma’am?”
“I do apologize, but I am unable to find it.”
A deep breath. “Shall I repeat it a fourth time?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do advise that you do.”
“I do apologize for any inconvenience, ma’am. I can confirm that I have now located the claim. How can I assist you today?”
“I want to cancel my claim.”
“All right, I’d be more than happy to assist you with that. I understand that you want to cancel your pending claim for,” a pause while she reads the screen, “a defective boyfriend, remedy sought: breakup, for a claim amount of $2,000. Can you please tell me in a few words why you wish to cancel this claim?”
“I—well, just didn’t need to make the claim. I just want to retract it.”
“Can you be a little more specific, ma’am? I see that this claim was filed 48 hours ago, so it is in the processing queue set to be paid out and the relationship terminated in under 24 hours.”
“I don’t understand, I can’t cancel?”
“Correct, ma’am, unless one of the available cancellation options is selected, at this stage of processing, the system will not let me cancel.”
“I see. Uh, I guess my reason is that I regret starting this process and I want to wipe it from the system.”
“Ma’am, I’m afraid that’s not a listed reason.”
“So there’s like a drop-down list of acceptable reasons to cancel?”
A slight waver of disloyalty in her voice as she admits: “Yes, ma’am.”
“Can you just read me the options and I’ll tell you which one is right?”
There’s a longer pause on the other end now. It tolls the death knell of the sacred secrecy of the drop-down list. But it’s 5:55, and the call center shuts down at 6:00 or when all open calls are closed out, whichever comes first, so she says, a little quieter, “For this category of claim the options are ‘romantic argument resolved (bilateral),’ ‘couple’s counseling scheduled (bilateral),’ ‘flowers/date night/grand romantic gesture offered (unilateral),’ ‘apologies for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral),’ or ‘sudden death of one or both parties.’”
“Oh, definitely the one about unilateral apologies. That’s it.”
“All right, I can assist you with processing that cancellation reason. Can you please tell me which party initiated the apology for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral)?”
“All right, ma’am, I will record that. And on which date did you issue that unilateral apology?”
“Today?” she says, as though it’s a question.
It’s 5:56. “Are you sure you didn’t apologize within 12 hours of the breakup request?”
“Yes, I’m wondering if you actually apologized within 12 hours of the breakup request. Because if that’s what happened, this claim won’t go on your record and your premium will not increase.” She drums her nails on the desktop.
“Oh, absolutely, you’re right now that I think about it, it was definitely—you know—just an hour or two after I filed the claim.”
“I do thank you for your answers, ma’am. I will be happy to put in a cancellation request on this claim. You should see a confirmation email in your inbox shortly, and a courtesy copy to the other party.”
“Oh, no, please don’t send one to him. I—isn’t there a note in my file? I requested this claim to be kept private, just to me.”
“Unfortunately I’m not seeing that request, ma’am. I’m showing that the other party was copied on notice of your breakup request.”
“I’m showing that it was sent this morning.”
The line goes dead.
She pulls off her headset with her left hand while finishing out the claim with her right. Confirm no email to other party (good luck to her putting that cat back in the bag. That’ll be an old-style breakup in no time, with no compensation. You hate to see it.) Confirm cancellation, confirm cancellation reason in acceptable time window, no penalties. Turns off the lamp. Grabs her coat, steps out into the rain and hurries to the hole-in-the-wall burrito place for some takeout.
Many people are asking: how do you do it? How do you write novel(s) and this award-winning weblog while maintaining a full-time job and friendships and other activities?
Well, I say, leaning back knowledgeably in my chair, it’s all about discipline. For example, it’s very important that before I finish this sentence, I open several new tabs to check the news. The news is terrible right now, so it will definitely upset and distract me, which is important for my process. In general, stopping mid-sentence or even mid-word a good deal to change tasks is highly recomm
And by the way, don’t think that I don’t actually practice what I preach. Look: in the last two minutes, I opened thirteen new tabs in my browser, and had a momentary blackout where I had no idea where I was or what I had been doing before. The system works, people.