Warning! All photos in this post (except the forecast) are from 2018/19! It’s dry as a bone here with daytime temperatures in the high 50s low 60s (12c/15c)!!! Yikes!!! The mountains around me are mostly bare of snow. The local ski area is open on weekends with man made snow. They are doing snow dances all the time, I think.
December is upon us and all of the things that brings along with it, in my case a houseguest! Yay! I’m glad that this weekend there is nothing in the forecast but warm temps and sunshine. The pass will be clear for her to drive.
And then December’s social events followed by the blessed, gorgeous hoar-frost-trees cold of January and maybe maybe maybe maybe…. Snow. That beautiful all-too-elusive substance is alleged to be in our forecast for the end of next week, but Bear and I are not holding our breath. Still, December is supposed to be a magical month.
As with most things in life, time will tell. I remember as a kid I didn’t understand what the grownups were saying, but now that’s right up there with the truest words I’ve ever heard.
The seasons here are pretty distinct. In the years I’ve lived here — with a couple of outrageous exceptions — winter hasn’t started for real until after the solstice.
Maybe I’ll go paint snow… Maybe the dances aren’t enough.
“Hey Martha, when you dip my rawhide pencil in your coffee, I really like it. I want you to keep doing that, OK?”
“OK Bear. It’s better than finding a dozen of these things under the couch because you took them — begged for them! — and didn’t chew them! Rawhide pencils don’t grow on trees.”
“Never mind, sweet girl.”
“OH! You mean when I bury them!”
In the midst of all the weirdness here on Planet Weirdness, I have been rehabbing the shoulder and riding the bike-to-nowhere. The result? The shoulder is almost itself again, and I might be able to Langlauf assuming that the Old Farmer’s Almanac is wrong and our winter is NOT cold and dry but cold and snowy. The only problem right now is that I cannot get up from a fall as my shoulder isn’t 100% yet.
The other mechanical obstacle is that my skis need new bindings, and I’ll do that as soon as I am able to get up off the floor without the help of a chair or something.
I recently read Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers: Peril and Heroism on the Winter Trail by Paul Schullery, a naturalist who worked in Yellowstone Park from 1972 to 2008. It’s a book about early skiing in Yellowstone Park, an activity no one did for fun, but was done to stop poaching. It’s not a great work of literature by any means, and the author loses the thread of his original “thesis,” but it’s a fascinating book.Back in the early days — the turn of the 20th century — and for quite a while into the 20th century — Yellowstone had been relatively undiscovered as a winter destination, but times have changed. At the end of the book he makes a quiet plea for people to leave The Park alone in winter.
“The ‘C-words,’ carrying capacity, caps, and ceilings, words that neither managers nor local commerce like to think about, are being heard more often all the time. Conservation groups are alarmed at the wildly accelerating (that is not too strong a term for what is happening) winter use of the park, travel in formerly isolated parts of the park has on park wild life, and managers are alarmed at the growing winter duties their budgets were not designed for.”
I’m completely happy to leave wild places to wild animals. Time was I believed I belonged with the wild animals in the wild places, but my beliefs have evolved. It was a long process that finally jelled when some local mule deer decided I was their friend. As I watched a doe approach me from a herd I’d been watching for some time, I saw that I couldn’t do her any good. I could only hurt her. Her natural curiosity, and the continuity of my (and Bear’s!) attention over weeks, had inspired her to act in a way that wasn’t in her self-interest. I called out to her, “I love you but I’m not your friend!” and waved my arms in the air, atypical behavior for me (in her perception, anyway). She stopped, pulled back her head and turned, bounding away. I never saw them again.
Nature isn’t a safari park.
I had the “dream” of spending the time near/around my 70th birthday skiing in Yellowstone Park. That’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started x-country skiing. After reading this book, I abandoned that dream. I don’t think The Park needs another person on its fragile winter trails, another person on a “snow-coach,” or another person on a snow mobile. It occurred to me that snow is snow, mountains are mountains, and Bear and Teddy can’t ski.
A year or so after the Good-X and I moved to San Diego (1984) we bought a 1972 VW camper van with a pop top. It was an awesome vehicle (until the block cracked) and we had a lot of fun with it. We also had moved our skis with us from Colorado. We had heard — though we wondered how it could be true — that the mountains east of San Diego sometimes got enough snow to X-country ski.
The first time we went up there was with a couple with whom we were friends and from whom we rented an apartment. We went to the Laguna Mountains. Of course I had no idea at that time that the valley in which we skied that day (on 8 measly inches of snow!) would someday become as familiar to me as my hand, or that I would learn to regard those 6000 foot “hills” as mountains. I was, I admit it, a Colorado snob. Now I know.
From my high valley even the highest 14er rises only 7000 feet from the valley floor, no greater gain in elevation than the top of Cuyamaca Peak from San Diego. In fact, it’s just the same. I learned that a mountain is a mountain in relation to the land from which it rises, regardless of how a mountain is defined by geologists or geological surveys or Alpinists. I’m not a mountain snob any more. The Colorado fetish with 14ers now seems a little silly. If you want oxygen deprivation hold your breath. 😉 I’m joking. I know there’s a lot more to it than that.
Today when I look at Windy Mountain or Pintada from the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge I see snowcapped hills that rise 5000 feet from where I stand. Mountains, but…
There are two ranges outside San Diego, separated by one of the innumerable fault lines that criss-cross California. Between the two is a narrow valley with a fissure and a spring that, in time, I got to know well. The ranges are the Cuyamacas — in which I lived for eleven years, and, just 10 miles further east, the Lagunas, in which I hiked and skied. The Cuyamacas have a leash law. The Lagunas do not.
Sometimes you see photos of San Diego looking east from Coronado Island. You see ocean, town, bay, city and, behind everything, a snowy mountain. That mountain is Cuyamaca Peak.
The second time the Good X and I skied in San Diego County we headed to a trail head at Green Valley Falls (fantastic falls in spring and in a wet summer, idyllic with pools and slides to play in, drop down, swim in, wade). We parked, paid our $5 day use fee, strapped on our skis, and headed up a trail we knew nothing about. It wound around the north side of the mountain to the west where it looked down on San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. We climbed, and climbed and climbed until we got to where we could see San Diego, but that wasn’t all we saw. We also saw fresh cougar tracks.
I didn’t know anything about mountain lions then except that they are dangerous. I had no knowledge of that world yet and little curiosity. We high-tailed it down and headed home, stopping on the way to watch a movie and have dinner.
Twenty years later, I would live at the base of that mountain and see it on fire. Later, I would see that far western slope with fire weed blooming. I would hike the trails in the Laguna Mountains in all weather, and ski to the top of Garnet Peak against all sanity and all odds. I would see a mountain lion.
The skis in the featured photo are just like the skis I took with me in 1984 from Denver to San Diego. They are — were — wonderful back country skis. They needed to be waxed which I liked because I could control the “slide” depending on my adventure. I found these old skis three years ago in a thrift store here in Monte Vista. They aren’t my very skis, but when I saw them they seemed to call out, “Get us OUT of here!” I had not had my hip replacement (second one, different hip) yet and I wasn’t moving very well. I was with my friends. We’d gone for lunch but weren’t ready to go home, so we visited a new thrift store in town. Without thinking, I reached for those old skis and cradled them in my arms. Elizabeth said in a soft voice “Are you going to ski, Martha?” There was so much pity in her eyes that I set the skis back where they were and went back to shopping. I returned to the store alone a few days later, forked over $30, and brought them home. They stand in my studio along with many other very personal treasures from my life. In a way, that room is my “medicine bundle,” my little trove of talismans.
Looking back on my first forays into the San Diego mountains, it’s funny to realize all the things I didn’t know yet. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know yet.
P.S. I’m writing my ski stories because writing the stories is how I figure things out. Now that it seems I’ve reached the end of this moment in my life, I want to see it more clearly and understand it better. I hope it’s not too tedious. ❤
The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.
I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).
I vowed never to do it again.
A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.
The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.
It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.
My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.
I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.
So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.
I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.
I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.
There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.
It was my fourth time on X-country skis.
That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. 😉
My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.
I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.
And maybe I still don’t know.
*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.
Watching all the violence and unrest over the past two weeks, listening to the President essentially turn our nation into a dictatorship this afternoon, I thought again about what I decided today while I was riding the bike-to-nowhere.
Not even I will claim that the bike-to-nowhere is interesting. I like the road trip videos I watch, and I even have a favorite (Picos de Europa, in Spain). Still, I’m pretty sure the bike-to-nowhere is why I can walk now and do not look quite like Jaba the Hut.
There are a lot of ways to ride that thing and for a while I’ve been going for longer rides, but I have a couple of goals with it and one of those is burning calories. I don’t eat a lot, but I have a very efficient metabolism. I’ve had to struggle with my weight since I was a younger woman.
I did Weight Watchers in my 20s — that was surreal. The diet centered on fish and peas with other weird stuff included, such as strawberry pie made with whole wheat bread smashed into a pie pan to look like crust and strawberries suspended in diet Jell-o. BUT if you’ve ever wondered how Barbi keeps HER figure (besides that she’s made of plastic) I’ve seen Barbie plastic meals and they are fish and peas.
After that experience I realized the best way to keep things under control was to manage my portions and exercise. I never viewed exercises as “exercise” (I don’t even view the bike-to-nowhere as “exercise” — it’s the sport I can do right now). When your joints are no longer “joining” (ha ha) all of this is a challenge.
So, looking at my “Map-my-Walk” workout log I saw I wanted to burn more calories in a week than I have been and realized I could do it by 7 shorter rides a week. Strange but true. I commenced that regimen yesterday. It’s kind of fun (relatively) to ride against the clock. I can do that AND walk a dog every day so it’s good for all of us. I can’t walk the dogs far enough to do me much good in the calorie department, though in the soul department it’s necessary to get out there as often as possible.
Anyway, as I was riding in this different way, I finally felt the stirrings of inspiration that have been missing since the virus started. “Yellowstone Park,” I thought, suddenly. “I’ll train to ski at Yellowstone Park this winter.” And then I thought, “For that I would risk my life.” I was stunned by the realization, but it also made me happy. It’s not the Birkebeiner, it wouldn’t be a crowd of people, and who’s to say that by January — assuming we still have a country — we might not have better treatments or even a vaccine?
There is no better summer training for Langlauf than what I’m doing. Suddenly summer seems less oppressive, the virus is still the virus and this fucked up situation is still fucked up but if I make it through? Maybe I’ll see wolves running through the snow and the steam from the hot springs making phantoms of the bison.
I have not been out of the San Luis Valley since September. That’s a record. I love it here, it is Heaven, but damn… I have not talked to a person in the flesh since my birthday 2 1/2 weeks ago. Yeah, I’ve been busy, and I am an introvert, but seriously? In the first place, I don’t have a lot of friends and here in winter people hibernate. I think a lot of people make quilts and do other stuff inside. I’m one of the few people who’s outside everyday.
I’d hoped to do a lot of X-country skiing but discovered the first time out that 1) my quads had shortened from the months of rehabbing the foot meaning NOT walking and just riding the bike-to-nowhere so, 2) I was having problems getting a good kick which requires extending the leg, 3) the foot, while healed, could only stand to ski for about 1/2 mile. I pushed it, but why hurt myself? I’m not going to. When I figured out what was different between this year and last year I realized I had to focus on walking for a while and langlauf if I was lucky. When I started, a mile and a half (in snow) was the limit of a walk before my foot hurt, now I’m going much farther (in snow). BUT the snow is melting. On the other paw, the dogs are happy to be going out again and so am I. I realize how much I like walking them.
We have a month before the golf course will open to golfers. I hope to get the most out of February no matter what it is. And, some property owner out there in the back-of-beyond has put a locked gate across what was once part of our favorite walk. I understand why — lots of kids driving on that “road” — but it’s really too bad. 😦 Plus the incredible amounts of cow manure on what was once a beautiful nearby trail to the river and the damage to everything growing there… I don’t know about people.
The last time we had legitimate snow was December 20. For a while that was fine because temps stayed below freezing, but now? Every day seeks to imitate spring and hits the 40 F/4 C or above.
It’s all worse because the end of 2019 was very exciting with shows, and readings, and radio appearances. 2019 had its problems, but it was an exceedingly productive year for me as a writer. The thing is, I like to write, but I don’t have a story. I’ve often thought that the times Hemingway didn’t have a story were the times that depressed him and he regarded the blank page as the “white bull.” It must have been hard on him with publishers waiting for a manuscript and sitting there with nothing to say. The uninitiated believe that writers are subject to depression because they write. No. It’s NOT writing that’s depressing.
And money. Prices on things go up all the time and I am, right now, trying very hard to pay off debt rather than incurring more.
Anyway, I’m thinking that this coming week I might just take Bella up to Wolf Creek Ski Area where there is a X-country area and ski as long as I can. Wolf Creek ALWAYS has the most snow of any ski area in Colorado. It has a 75 inch base last time I checked and the X-country ski area is groomed. I just hope I can ski long/far enough to make it worth the trip. I’m also a little worried about the “take a friend” warning. I don’t have one. My outdoor friends are four-legged. Bear has to be leashed. I have yet to figure out how to ski with a leashed dog.
Bear and I have waited a LOOONNNGGGG time for what we like most: being outside in the snow. Not that any snow has fallen for about a month but it doesn’t matter as long as the temperatures never go above freezing, and they haven’t. It doesn’t look like they will, either.
Teddy — with whom I’ve decided to share my birthday because he was 6 months old when I got him last June — and I took off on Tuesday to celebrate and evaluate the packed trails. They were (and still are) beautiful
I finally skied (Langlaufed) the groomed trails yesterday and today Bear and I took a long snow ramble. The snow is at least 8 inches deep — fluffy, light, crystalline old snow. Perfect beautiful soft sweet I love it so much. Skiing yesterday was great except the stupid snow baskets came off my poles and weren’t cool about me putting them back. I dunno…
So today out there in boots with my best snow pal, I was able to evaluate the entire groomed course that I didn’t ski yesterday (having had to go back twice to retrieve snow baskets, grrr…) and make plans for tomorrow. My poles and their cheesy baskets will get a stern talking to in the morning, because I must seize the day. ❤
“Won’t you try a little bit harder, couldn’t you try just a little bit more”
Another beautiful day on skis. The snow was less great than the other day but the way I see it, the snow doesn’t owe me anything. If I’m going to engage with it, I’m the one who has to adapt. I have no problem AT ALL surrendering to the imperatives of snow. I’m honored to have the chance.
I had to break trail today and learned that my skis, which are named “back country,” seem to be mostly designed for groomed trails — but that could be my lack of skill at this moment. As I skied from snow to ice to some small patches of grass to deep drifts to the lanes I skied on Saturday, I thought about that a lot. I thought about all the skis I’ve owned and when, sometime back in the mists of time, I switched from “fish-scale” — waxless — to skis that needed to be waxed, I never looked back. Sometime I learned back then the advantage of skis whose grip I control.
Groomed trails are nice — you don’t slide sideways, you can predict the surface beneath your skis because it’s been packed and prepared. Breaking trail is often not skiing at all. I had forgotten that, even though in California when I had the chance to Langlauf, I always had to break trail — again, with different skis than I have now. Sometimes that was hilarious as it could mean navigating through low manzanita bushes. Once I skied up Mt. Palomar with the dream of seeing those beautiful white observatory domes in the snow. It’s a five mile trail, all uphill, and some of the trail is bushy and all of it is narrow. It was still fun. The reward came coming down the unplowed road, though. It was wide, snowy, steep — fun. As we whizzed past a family who’d driven there from LA to “Visit the snow” a kid yelled, “Mom, that’s what we should do!”
They’d gone to the snow with a beach umbrella, beach chairs and a cooler. They looked very disoriented. A boogie board would have been a good thing to bring, but they didn’t have that.
Today I also thought how — last year — we didn’t get significant snow until January, and then we got A LOT. The San Juan Nordic Club went around grooming everything in sight — even the driving range! The temps stayed below freezing for a couple of months, so the groomed tracks stayed in nearly pristine condition — the only kicker (ha ha) was waiting until the highest sun of the day (1 pm or so) when any ice that had formed in the night would have surrendered.
It’s doubtful that I will switch back to waxable skis; it will depend how ambitious I end up being and how skillful. For now and maybe forever the waxless skis I own now are fine. It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, anyway.
The other “iffy” tool is “the foot,” but it held up again today, only mildly painful when we were in motion. The thing is, I realized, after nearly 3 months of not being asked to support my weight continually, it’s a little out of shape. It’s only been these last few weeks that I’ve expected it to hold me up for a whole day while I painted, or to keep me upright walking Bear as she checks her messages.
As I did my happy loop of the local golf course I thought, “The cool thing about this is I can get better, more skillful, stronger and as that happens, I will learn more and, I hope, take on a bigger challenge.” The golf course is — right now — all I can contend with. I’m so lucky to have it.
Here’s my jubilant little crooked lopsided bow-legged self out there in Blissland having NO problems skiing with my friend. (Yay foot!!!) We’ve talked about it for at least two years, but various problems kept it from happening. The snow was perfect — slick and fast. It’s been below freezing since it fell which means beautiful, perfect, snow. ❤
Replete, of course, by fox and rabbit tracks…
I have nothing more to say other than I’m VERY happy and looking forward to more adventures as the winter progresses, god willing and I’m not ambushed again by a perfectly flat harmless grassy trail.
P.S. It seems that anyone who wants to know what my dad looked like can pretty much see from looking at me. Ah, DNA
This is the first time I’ve been without a creative project in a VERY long time and it’s weird. Baby Duck consumed most of 2019 and the culmination was fantastic. The Price was finished at the end of 2018. Besides those projects, I had a personal project that I also finished, a little book for a tiny audience of me and two other people. Yesterday I cleaned up my “studio.” It was filled with Baby Duck stuff for the book launch. Now it’s ready for something, but I have no idea what. Painting is a sketchy (ha ha) thing for me. I have to really FEEL it to do it. No stories to tell at the moment, either, so my life feels like it’s in a holding pattern.
A huge curve in my life’s normal pattern is the injured foot. It hasn’t even been that long — five weeks, and I know a bad sprain can take much longer to heal.
So, in the meantime, the dogs have gotten used to not going on a walk every day — or at all. And I continue to ride the Bike To Nowhere because I can do that and it’s about the best training there is for Langlauf which is the purpose of life anyway. I discovered videos on Youtube with absolutely fantastic rides lasting an hour or more — sometimes I ride the whole time, sometimes just 10 miles of wind sprints, basically a chain of fifty yard dashes from the seat of my Airdyne. They are produced by “Ride the World.” Here’s my favorite so far. To get to this spot, you “ride” a narrow road of amazing hairpin turns…
Last week there was lots of exciting chatter after my front page spread and interview. The guy who runs the papers in the San Luis Valley asked if I would be interested in doing a column — weekly or monthly — and I said sure. He also asked if I had any ideas for such a thing and, honestly, I don’t, but I shared a couple of ideas. He wrote back saying we’d meet at the end of this week, but it’s Thursday afternoon and there has been no word. Once more it looks like my promising journalism career is nipped in the bud. It was nipped in the bud back in 1974 when I got my BA and went immediately to the Boulder Daily Camera and asked for a job. “Can you type 35 wpm?” as the guy at the desk.
“No,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said.
But I don’t really have anything to say in a column. People around me know this place better than I do. I’m not going to write about politics. I could write about writing or putting a self-published book together, but I’m not sure I’m even interested in that — or that anyone else is, either.
And what can you tell people about writing? After teaching it for more than thirty years, what I know about it comes down to only a handful of things. First, to write you have to write. Second, you have to keep writing, even if you have no reason to write and nothing to say. Third, you will, sooner or later, maybe, find yourself becoming interested in the words you use and the way you use them; but you might not. Fourth, you might start reading what you’ve written. This can go one of two ways — you can fall absolutely and uncritically in LOVE with it and, as we know, love is blind. OR you can think it’s such shit that you quit. Of the two, love is more dangerous BUT it will keep you going. And then…
Somewhere in there you’ll discover your voice. And you might discover your story, too, and after that? You have to stay true. Stories live apart from the writer. I think starting with a character is the easiest because, just like other people, characters carry a world with them and that gives you a lot of information you won’t have to figure out by yourself. A strong character will tell you a LOT about him/herself and where he/she is from and what he/she values in life, yet, in many ways, it’s like meeting a new person.
Since I write historical fiction, I have to do research to learn about the worlds in which my characters live because THEY take it for granted that I know already. Since it’s THEIR world, they think everything around them is normal and part of everyone else’s life. You can tell them, “Dude here’s the thing. I live in the future. I’ve never hitched a horse to a wagon,” but that guy is NOT going to believe you so you have to learn how he does it.
In a way, the same is true if you write about the future. That future guy is all, “Dude, you know about this, they’re all over the place,” and won’t believe you when you say, “No, I didn’t know you could use a Fardel Gambit to escape a Bastorian Jail!”
That part of writing a story is fun. It’s fun going back in time and discovering that in the 13th century there WAS no paper or that in the 12th century there was an enormous earthquake in Northern Italy and thinking of the effect that would have on the world in which your characters live.
I actually have a WIP (sounds nasty. Means “work in progress”) but I’m not convinced. Necessarily it echoes some of Martin of Gfenn because it’s the story of a young guy learning to paint, but I don’t want it to be a repetition of that story and sometimes it feels like it is. I haven’t figured out who the protagonist is, either. I have only a vague idea of the world in which the teacher lived/lives. Lots of stuff still kind like a fog. Sometimes things just start that way and you have to let them do their thing until you’re doing it with them.
My goal, though all writers are often required by the people in their stories to abandon the goal, is to show the OTHER medieval world, the one in which young men joined the church not to serve God, but to get an education the only way that was possible. I want to write about the wandering scholars, their art, their values, their world.
I read this quotation from Picasso yesterday. It pretty much sums up my feelings about the WIP. “You mustn’t expect me to repeat myself. My past doesn’t interest me. I would rather copy others than copy myself. In that way I should at least be giving them something new. I love discovering things.”
So maybe tomorrow morning I should just roll up my sleeves and see where Bro Benedetto and his illegitimate son, Michele, want me to go.
Dammit. I just got an idea for a newspaper column… I could interview a different artist in the San Luis Valley every month and write about that. Shit. See what happens when you “just write”? You get ideas.