Author Archives: Paige Eve Chant

The Dangers of Writing in the Wild

IMG_1869Rural Vermont is, it turns out, very rural. When we arrived, the gray-haired tour guide, who also doubles as the office secretary, detailed which walking areas were safe and which were not. It’s hunting season, she said. You know those blaze-orange beanies you’ve been seeing in town? That’s to set you apart from the deer. I nodded soberly, immediately recalled this horrific hunting “accident” I’d seen on the Investigation Discovery channel months before. Spoiler alert: the dead guy was wearing an orange hat. Stay on the marked trails and you should be fine, she said half-joking. And everybody laughed. But here’s the thing: she was only half-joking.

            Later I saw a woman in running clothes outside my studio building. Where’s the best place to go around here? I said.

            Up the road, she said, past the lumber store, take a left on the trail. It’s a little secluded, but totally beautiful.

            Clearly, I thought, this woman does not watch Investigation Discovery. Do you know how many women runners are accidentally, or not-so-accidentally, hunted when they’re out alone? I don’t have the exact figure, but thanks to a mass chain letter my mother once emailed me—PLZ READ IF YOU LOVE WOMEN, said the subject line, and so I did because what kind of person would I be if I didn’t?—I no longer wear my hair in a ponytail when I run.

            And it’s safe? I asked the woman.

            I’ve never not felt safe there, she said, shrugging. Which I guess is the most assurance we can get in life, but still.

            So, five days into this residency, I’m learning some uncomfortable truths about myself. Like I have a lot of disturbing stereotypes about rural settings. And I watch way too much crime TV.       

            Also, this: when all you do is hole yourself up in a little room to write made-up stories for days on end, personal hygiene seems pointless. Who do I have to impress? I shower every other day at best, let my body hair grow out, wear the same clothes for days at a time. If I catch a whiff of myself, I pull out a stick of my husband’s deodorant, which I sometimes take with me on trips when I travel alone, both to ward off body odor and occasional swells of homesickness. You don’t have to tell me how sad/unsettling/surprisingly effective this is.

            Lately I’ve been skipping a lot of meals to work. The muse and I have an on-again/off-again relationship (okay, more off than on), so when she decides to show up, however belated and bedraggled (muse-work, I imagine, is an exhausting gig in this place full of writers and artists), I stick around. This morning, to make up for last night’s missed dinner, I ate two breakfasts: first, an unabashedly mountainous bowl of Rice Chex in the dining hall, and then, immediately afterward, a maple-chai latte and maple-oatmeal scone at the indie coffee shop around the corner (did I mention I’m in Vermont?). Breakfast(s) of champions, I know.

            So far I am learning that too much solitude can drive a person mad (see above notes on personal hygiene). But so can too many people. There is no such thing as small talk at a residency program for writers and artists. The dial is set to eleven, always. Where are you from?, that most basic staple of conversation between strangers, is neither a simple nor an innocuous question. What are you working on?, even less so. In my experience, communal meals often require a nap afterward—to digest the conversation as much as the food.      

            As for the writing, here is what I’ve learned most of all: it’s really, really hard.

            But there are things that can help. A bottomless supply of mass-manufactured, processed snack foods, preferably beef sticks, Ritz crackers, and oversized chocolate Crunch bars. Frequent, if unnecessary, bathroom breaks. A swipe of said hubby’s deodorant. The view of the river just outside my studio window, where, by my rules, if I happen to nod off on a gray and rainy day like today, I fairly count as writing time. (The runner wasn’t wrong: rural Vermont is totally beautiful.)

            And, maybe, just maybe, a blaze-orange hunting hat for protection here in my little writing studio. Because if I’ve learned anything from Investigation Discovery, it’s that the real wild is inside.  

Leaf-Peeping on the New Jersey Turnpike

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Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new; but that is enough.

– Eudora Welty, “Place in Fiction”

 Say what you will about New Jersey: beauty abounds.

It has taken me nearly three years to see it, but now that I have eyes, I see it everywhere. Part of it, of course, is the seduction of an east coast autumn, that mythical season I grew up learning about from my mother, a California girl who spent four falls staring up at the treetops, wide-eyed, as she walked to and from classes at Vassar (followed by four winters blow-drying her waist-length hair so it wouldn’t freeze whenever she stepped outside).

New Jersey, of course, is not New York. New Jersey, in fact, is the very opposite of New York, as any New Yorker will be the first to tell you. 

Still, whenever fall descends each year, it graces New Jersey with a rare and unexpected glamor that manages to surprise me every time. The leaves on the trees transform so rapidly, fierce and brazen in their new and changing colors, that, for a brief time each year, it looks as if the world this side of the Hudson will burst into flame at any moment.

 The days take on an oddly apocalyptic feel and, as if in response, my heart takes on a new and sudden greed. 

I want the autumnal world to stay like this forever, eternally suspended in its state of ever-changing-ness. I want the dying leaves to change colors perpetually, taking on ever more spectacular slants of light, keener and more vibrant hues. I want to feast on the sight of the natural world as if it were a performance meant for me and me alone, as if I myself have willed it into being simply by witnessing it.

I want permanence and possibility both; I want things, impossibly, to stay the same and never stay the same again. 

This is the state of my own deeply conflicted heart. I want, I suppose, time itself, that most obvious and cliché hunger of the human heart. I try to quiet it on my daily commute, the solitude of the drive and the transient beauty of the fall lulling me into a rare state of contentment that dissipates the moment I park the car and open the door, set my foot on solid ground again.

Sometimes, on the long drive home from work each day, I find myself staring dumbly out the car window, marveling at the changing colors of the leaves, the muted light of lowering autumnal skies. It is dangerous, this dual vocation of leaf-peeping and commuting, but I cannot help it. (At least if I die in some horrific traffic accident on the back roads of New Jersey, I’ll have died distracted by beauty and not, say, my cellphone.)

Other drivers honk at me occasionally, or tailgate me until they see I will not be moved, then speed angrily around me. I don’t mind. I give them a friendly, unapologetic wave in the rearview mirror. I am an unabashedly west-coast driver. 

Even on the Turnpike, that infamous stretch of road uniting city-dwellers and suburbanites alike as we trudge along on our daily commutes, I feel a naïve and irrational love for my fellow drivers, all of us joined as one in our lonely, slow-moving sedans or SUVs, listening to the floating voices of beloved audiobook narrators and NPR commentators, the glow of our brake lights igniting one after the other like so many altar candles, our curses and complaints rising to the heavens with each tap of the foot, as if driving were its own prayer and not just the desperate thing we do to get from one place to another.

 But at last, three years into this little life of mine here in New Jersey, I have vision: I am finally wide-eyed and greedy for the blazing world around me.

On Being a Writer of Faith (and of Doubt)

10300238_703013109778807_6610893359144546667_nThis post originally appeared on Good Letters, the blog of Image Journal, on July 16, 2014.

I am not the kind of Christian my parents wanted me to be. Case in point: I rarely call myself a Christian in public. These days it seems more of a political statement than I’d like it to be—and often not one I’d care to make.

I just don’t want the ordeal.

Any faith I could be said to have is troubled by doubt, such that most days I do not know where one ends and the other begins. This is not a new problem for me and hardly unique. It is not even, when you come down to it, a problem. It is simply the way of things.

Most days I feel I am a terrible Christian. And most days that’s exactly what I am.

You will protest. You mean well, of course, but you don’t know me like I know me. The human heart is not an easy organ to live with. “Our ticker,” writes poet Lisa Ampleman in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Image, “is not meat / and mainspring but measure and limit.”

I go to church sporadically, sometimes because I’m feeling philosophical about the whole affair, but most times because I’m lazy. I’ve broken nearly all of the Ten Commandments, in thought if not in deed. I frequently use God’s name in vain because, to be frank, it hits the tongue just right in a moment of need and because, when I don’t want to take the blame myself, or when I don’t know how else to account for the mysterious forces of life that lead to the myriad pedestrian tragedies of everyday life, God makes the perfect scapegoat.

Christ said: Do not judge. Go in peace. Give love freely.

I habitually fail at all three.

So.

Any qualms I have with calling myself a Christian are paralleled by the qualms I have in calling myself a writer. Once I make the declaration, people want to know what it means.

What kind of writer are you? people ask me.

A terrible writer, I want to say.

It takes me hours to compose a single status update, months to complete a blog post, years to finish a novel draft that is languishing with three final chapters to go. I’ll empty the crumb tray in the toaster or scrub the toilet or watch marathon back-to-back episodes of 90s sitcoms before I will sit in the chair and write.

And even then, once I finally manage to produce something, I regularly get the most basic kind of feedback: Your ideas are vague and abstract; your sentences too long and unwieldy; your word choice awkward, imprecise.

I am a beginner still.

“There is deep gladness,” writes Francisco X. Stork, “in the acceptance that what I do, poor as it is, will be my best” (Image #79).

I do not disbelieve this, but it is hard to keep faith in the gladness when mostly what one feels, day in and day out, is the abiding poverty of it all.

I am reminded of Annie Dillard’s telling of the Hasidic rabbi who left his house every morning convinced that he would die in fits of prayer. Or, similarly, the ritual slaughterer who every day left his home and his family in tears: Who knows what will become of me after I call on the Lord’s power and before I can summon the words for mercy?

All I know to say of the writing life, and of the life of faith—which for me are one and the same—is that to attempt to write, to attempt to believe, is to suspend myself, willingly and perpetually, in that split second of time wherein I might be saved or I might be damned.

And what compels me to this life of radical suspension is the very thing that continues to steel and sustain me for it: the devoutly artistic and doggedly interfaith work of Image.

For writers and artists whose creative work is deeply, perhaps stubbornly, informed by a religious or spiritual worldview, reading the pages of Image is like coming home. In Image we encounter a rigorous yet inclusive artistic community that strikes down the myth of a heart divided between a life of art and a life of faith (or doubt, as the case might be).

The work of Image, when all is said and done, restores us to ourselves. In its pages, we are made whole again.

“Artists need communities,” writes Greg Wolfe (Image #79). “The writers need to just keep writing—and, remarkably, they’ve continued to do so.”

He’s right, of course, but I reckon many of us might not be writing today if it weren’t for the community of Image. I certainly count myself among that number.

If I can call myself any kind of Christian, if I can call myself any kind of writer—let alone (on those rarest of days) both at once—it is because of Image.

I hope I can prove myself worthy of the call.

The State of a Modern Writer

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Recently, my hubby and I tried to work together. He is a writer, too, though I doubt he would call himself this out loud, or even thinks of himself in this way; what I mean, though, is that he writes for a living. That he is a demographer at work on a dissertation and I am a daydreamer at work on a novel seems irrelevant when it comes to actually doing the work: both of us, after all, have to get our lovely little asses in our chairs and write.

 Sometimes we try to do this together. It does not work often; we are different creatures. My hubby likes coffee shops and office spaces, the gentle pressure he feels to work when other living beings are thinking and moving around him, ostensibly doing their own work in the world.

 I prefer to work at home, alone, where I have a little writing desk wedged into a corner of our living room, facing the wall so as not to become distracted. But distractions abound. There are dishes to be washed, after all, and snacks to be eaten, and back-to-back marathon episodes of Sex and the City to watch. There is also, of course, the couch, where yesterday, after changing into my workout clothes with every intention of walking outside by the canal, arms pumping, I proceeded to sit down and watch television for three and a half hours until I realized I needed to get ready to meet my hubby for a social gathering we had planned. At which time I stripped, showered, and re-dressed myself in what I hoped was casual chic before leaving the house, never having written, or worked out, at all.

 So. Today we went to the public library, my demographer-hubby and me.

I will sing the praises of my local library, whatever local library that happens to be, until my dying breath. I am a believer in libraries. I am, you might say, an enthusiast. Scratch that: I am an unapologetic evangelist.

Just not today.

Today the library was so crowded that I could not think. There was no room for my precious characters, only the obnoxious sounds and rhythms of real, live people doing real, live things—like making video calls from public computers (is this a thing now?) in supposedly sacrosanct places like the library.

The librarian directs me to the Quiet Room. Oh, I must be mistaken, I want to say, I thought the library was the Quiet Room. Like, of the universe.

I feel defeated. I return to my table, where my hubby is writing, silently and dutifully, his gorgeous ass in the chair at the shared table we’ve managed to stake out in the bustling common room. 

I’ll be right back, I tell him. He raises an eyebrow but says nothing.

I find the aisle where they keep the books about writers. Then I find the aisle where they keep the books about everything else. I come back to the table with an armful of books. My hubby looks up at me. “I thought you were going to write,” he says.

“I am,” I say. “This is writing.” Except we both know better.

So I sit down. I sigh. I flip through my books. I untie and tie my shoelace. I open my laptop. I think less than charitable thoughts at the woman behind me, who is gabbing at someone in a different time zone, the on-screen image fuzzy and frozen but still, apparently, close enough to the actual likeness of the person to merit the call. I go to the bathroom. I sit back down.

I whine about the state of the modern library to my hubby, who nods sympathetically and listens politely but then returns to his work because he is, in all ways, a better person than I am. 

I stare at the blinking cursor on my screen. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and promptly begin to fret in silence about the state of my misanthropic, curmudgeonly soul.

And this, it turns out, is the perfect condition for writing.

So there, in that quiet room of the universe, I write.

 

An Ode to Watching Television, Old-School

unnamed-1To be clear, I got it for free. A postdoctoral fellow in mathematics had posted it on the university’s classifieds page.

27”, I read in the ad.

27”, I thought. The perfect size for our humble living room (which, it should be said, has an orange vintage settee in place of a couch because, let’s be real, I’ll choose orange tufted velour over practicality any day of the week).

But I had forgotten: 27” was much bigger a decade ago than it is today.

Especially when said 27” comes in the form of an old-school tube television that a skinny, bearded mathematician has to wrestle into the back of your economy-sized hatchback car.

The last time we owned a television set, we were newlyweds living in a tiny in-law unit in the backyard of a mansion in the Berkeley Hills. We kept it on a rollaway cart in our lone miniature closet and pulled it out whenever we had the hankering to watch a movie.

Then we’d climb into our little secondhand Honda and drive to The Silver Screen, a dingy video rental shop at the height of its dingy-video-rental-shop glory, with stained carpet that smelled of stale popcorn and burnt plastic, endless rows of DVDs catalogued like so many library books (the “Adults Only” section tastefully cordoned off by a hanging beaded curtain, through which forbidden lights glowed), and always the same gentle giant behind the counter, a large man made larger still by the tiny toy rubber ducks he brought out for every customer: if you picked the right duck—the one with a sticker dot on its underbelly—you walked away with a free DVD rental.

Somehow, though, even picking the wrong duck felt like a prize all its own, with that moment of hopefulness hanging in the air as your hand hovered over the tiny rubber ducks, mysteriously gravitating toward one or another, lingering, before finally settling on the chosen one, presenting it, belly up, to the man for inspection.

We were loyal customers long after Netflix came into fashion. (Say what you will, I will always mourn the loss of the dingy video rental store. I believe firmly that a neighborhood is not a neighborhood without one.)

So I submit that, driving back home with this behemoth of a television in my trunk, I was happy.

Granted, the first night we had it in the house, we could not sleep—its blank face an enormous abyss in the corner of our living room, amassing an unnamable and ever-growing energy—but we covered it with one of my old scarves and now we sleep like babies.

There are other problems. It rings obnoxiously if it runs too long, which apparently is after about eight minutes or so, but if you turn it off and then back on again, the ringing is replaced only by a low and steady humming. And, of course, there is the issue of its size, which, apart from that mild embarrassment all its own, blocks half of our only window in the living room.

But now I can snuggle with my man on our vintage settee as we watch Jeopardy in the evenings, stuffing our faces with popcorn and calling out all the wrong answers. I can spend my Friday nights falling (even more) in love with Alice Walker on “American Masters.” And I can engage in that long-forgotten, oft-forbidden act that has fans and haters everywhere: channel-surfing.

So a free, 27”, CRT tube television with absolutely no bells or whistles (unless you count the ringing, of course)?

Best. Prize. Ever.

How to Write in a Sick Person’s Body

photo-48This post originally appeared on Good Letters, the blog of Image Journal, on October 16, 2013.

Not too long ago, just as spring was turning over into summer, I awoke with a slight numbness in the fingers of my right hand. The morning was early yet, the sky outside still dark, and as I wrote, my fingers were a little slower than usual to find their keys. By the end of the day, I was fumbling in the most ordinary of tasks, like opening a jar of peanut butter or reaching for a doorknob.

The next morning, I dropped my toothbrush; days later, I could no longer sign my name, which struck me as somewhat scandalous. I could not brush my hair (a secret vanity of mine), or unbutton my husband’s shirt (a secret pleasure of an altogether different kind).

Before the end of the week, I found myself in the radiology unit of our local hospital. As the technician pushed me into the MRI machine, I thought of medieval monks with their halos of hair and the coffins they climbed into each night to sleep.

Time is an altogether other force in the tube—it operates by a different set of rules—but inside, holding myself stiller than still as each scan sounded its blaring alarm, I did not worry so much as wonder at this swift betrayal of my body. Even then, in those early days, my body did not seem unkind to me.

By the time the diagnosis was confirmed, nearly two weeks after the onset of my first symptoms, it seemed oddly anti-climactic, almost beside the point. Time passes and time does not pass. And so already, even then, when I heard the words multiple sclerosis, what interested me most was not the disease so much as the disability, because if my hand failed me once, falling away from me like so many strings of a marionette, it could fail me again, and how could I write if I could not feel the keys beneath my fingertips, hear the rhythm of my words as they made their first noisy appearance in my early-morning world?

At first, I thought I might keep it a secret, this new disease, because privacy is a long-lost treasure in this world. I was eager to set something apart, to call something mine and mine alone. It made me feel powerful, toting around this secret knowledge, harboring this (mostly) invisible disease in a body that is, if you are the kind to trust appearances, young and healthy and able.

So I made a private resolution to tell no one. But, of course, it did not last. It turned out to be a perverse and misguided effort, far too exhausting to maintain. Secret ills, after all, are quite different than secret pleasures.

So here I am, much to my own chagrin, writing about it, not because I want to (I do not, in fact), nor because I feel the need to “come out” with it or to “identify” with it or even to “process” it—no, nothing so noble as any of that. I am writing about it simply because it happens to be in my way, this disease.

Before my diagnosis, I woke up at five to write for two hours before heading to my day job. I sacrificed sleep, exercise, and, on more than one occasion, meals, so that I could tap out my fanciful stories on this ancient laptop of mine.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, there is no way out except to go through, so here I am, doing it the only way I know how to do anything, which is to write my way through it, trying to navigate the gnarled, foreign landscape that my body has become, with words as my unsteady compass.

There is a whole trove of literature about sickness, I know—a rich tradition of “illness memoirs”—by writers who are also doctors, scribbling story ideas on prescription pads in between appointments with patients who may also be writers themselves, like me.

But to be honest I am not all that interested in reading about the experience I now find myself to be living. I am too restless; I do not have the patience for it. Once is enough (and too much, at that).

What interests me, rather, is how to be in this new body of mine that seems to demand so much more time and attention and, yes, feeling, than ever before. When I most want to escape my body, with its sudden, myriad betrayals and petty idiosyncrasies, how might I manage to burrow still deeper into myself, to take up refuge in this body of mine that has disappointed me so, and therein find the monk’s cell where I can write?

A Baptism by Dishwater, Courtesy of Mary Oliver

photo-47On days like today, when I wake up early enough that the world still has a kind of blue-lit darkness to it, I feel as though the world belongs to me alone. Snow covers the ground in patches and the sky hangs low. I stand at my kitchen sink, looking out over the canal outside my window, where wild geese gather, honking happily at me in the cold morning air.

I sip my cup of matcha, then feel the fluttering of an old woman at my back, a gray-haired poet moving about my kitchen, making impossible exhortations as she roots around in my green cupboards: “You do not have to be good,” she says. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

I try to believe this.

In the fall, outside this same kitchen window, there sprung a beautiful, bright red bush. It was an unworldly color. All season long, washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I stared at that bush in my bare feet, half-expecting it to burst into flame at any moment.

Some days, there was the rustling of leaves, a sound that, if you did not strain too hard, might be a whisper.

I have nobody who can confirm this, but I should tell you: I believe I am my best self when I am standing alone at my kitchen sink. All manner of things happen to me on that little rug where I wash the dishes. Geese descend. Poetry arises. A bush alights.

And the voice of the burning bush, as it turns out, sounds a lot like Mary Oliver.

Sometimes, on days like today, for one brief, blessed moment, I manage to answer the call of the geese, take up my place in the family of things. I stand on holy ground.

Then the light shifts, the moment passes, and it is only me again, standing in front of a smoldering bush, my hands warm and wrinkled with dishwater. I look out the window in wonder.

The canal has frozen over in the night and now a few geese tentatively venture out onto the ice, thrusting their webbed feet onto the cold hard surface of the water. Every step an act of faith. The rest of their gaggle looks on from the safety of land, watching and waiting, performing their own acts of faith. I know it as well as they: All is holy now.

When you wash the dishes, a Zen proverb says, the dishes also wash you. A reverse baptism of sorts.

So I swallow my last sip of tea, then plunge my hands into the soapy water, wash the mug in slow, concentric circles. My bush has turned to ash on the cold winter ground.

Still, the geese come, tiptoeing over the frozen ice in all their wildness.

A Peculiar Case of the Body Snatchers

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As it turns out, I have a body.

I am thirty years old, but this is news to me.  

I have spent much of my life in my head, contemplating and imagining and daydreaming and worrying and, of course, reading and writing. All of these skills are very good skills to have, I believe; for me, they are essential to meaning-making and good storytelling and, that very best thing of all, love, love, and still more love. (Which is to say: the good life.)

And yet, spending so much time in my head sometimes gets me into a bit of trouble.

For starters, a permanent crease (read: wrinkle) has settled between my eyebrows, such that it looks like I’m perpetually in deep-thinking mode, even in those rare moments when I truly am just staring off blissfully into space, for once not taking myself too seriously—not taking myself any way at all, actually. (Now that I think about it, I suppose my face really has gotten stuck “that way,” as the adults in my life always warned the child-me that it would. I did not know then the hazards that too much thinking could pose to a person’s soul, much less her body. Sigh.)

I am what I believe they call too cerebral. (As if you hadn’t gathered as much already.)

And so, when my body began failing me, at first I did not notice; or I noticed, but I did not heed it. Who needs a body?

Well, I do, it turns out.

After a brief hospital stay (all is well, thankfully), I realized that this body of mine needs me as much as I need it. That is to say, it requires a certain amount of sleep each night, and daily exercise, and three sound meals a day. It needs to drink water each day (and not, say, subsist on a liquid diet of pop or coffee or my beloved chai tea), and to stretch and move about whenever possible instead of succumbing to the sloth-like stupor that inevitably sets in after eight hours in a cubicle; and it needs to touch and be touched by another similarly embodied human being (it is surprising the things in life, both great and small, that can be cured by a good, strong dose of spooning).

And none of these things, of course, can be done telekinetically (much as we might wish our bodies to be like so many spoons, bending this way and that way with thought-power alone).

This stubborn physicality is one of the greatest gifts of the human condition, I believe, and not only in the obvious pleasure-seeking ways we tend to think of at first blush (though certainly those, too, of course).

If the Good Book and the cult sci-fi classic are to be believed—if, that is to say, from dust we are created and to dust we shall return, one way or another—then perhaps, in this fragile, glorious in-between time, we could stand to think a little less and be a little more.

(And, of course, by “we” I really mean “me.” Sigh.)

It is in these bodies, after all, that we live and move and have our being. So, as seems to be my mantra lately, a little less thinking just might be good for me.

Maybe, with a little bit of practice, I’ll be able to un-stick this poor face of mine, after all. 

Confessions of a Rookie Blogger

 

IMG00038-20110107-1358I cannot tell a lie. I have blog envy. You know the blogs of which I speak (er, write): those hip, beautiful, impossibly current and tirelessly relevant blog entries that someone, somewhere out there in the ether, devotedly posts in such timely and regular fashion as to make the rest of us (read: me) look, well, lazy. (After all, the title of this blog just about necessitates that I, in fact, post in fits and starts, wouldn’t you say?)

These blogs are witty. Or full of beautifully staged photographs keenly stylized so as to look precisely un-stylized. The bloggers have christened themselves with clever nicknames. Or they’ve christened their readers with clever nicknames (because, you know, they actually have readers—scratch that, they have followers).

Some days it’s enough to make this rookie throw up her hands in despair.

Because, to be honest, I find the Internet—and all its constant, continual updating of information and commentary—to be, well, exhausting. Sure, I waste as much time as the next writer reading Buzzfeed accounts of the nostalgic whimsy of the Koosh ball when I should actually be, oh, I don’t know, writing. But I find it over-stimulating, this kind of reading—it’s burdensome, draining. I still operate in an increasingly shrinking universe where paper rules. I find comfort and rest and beauty in the pages of physical books. I need to hold the story in my hands, feel the weight of the words as a physical presence in the world. (The word made flesh, you might say.) But I digress. (Sigh.)

Here’s the thing: I think my reluctance to take up blogging seriously (which is to say, consistently) has less to do with my own laziness (stay with me here) and more to do with my own tendency to take myself a little too seriously. In other words, I think too much. And sometimes I overwrite (shocker, I know).

When I think about that first blog post I wrote oh-so-many months ago (it may as well have been light-years ago, such is the nature of time in this age of the Internet), I cringe: it may have been right for something (one hopes), but it doesn’t seem to fit the nature of a blog post (or so I’ve gleaned from my own limited experience as a reader of such things).

Are there blogs out there that parse out the nuances of blogging? I don’t mean the occasional how-to posts by those other, experienced, successful bloggers. I mean bloggers whose blogs actually cover, as their sustained topic of interest and exploration, the blog as a genre? (In this self-referential age of comedy, there must be, no?) Because, as you might have guessed already, I have no idea how to blog. It strikes me as such a painfully self-conscious and labor-intensive way to write—but then again, what isn’t?

So, all this to say, my new commitment to this humble little blog of mine is: Think less, write more.

Wish me luck.

 

The Land I Left Behind

Not long ago, I bought my first car and drove across the country to this little college town in the middle of the Garden State. I felt like a pioneer in reverse, the golden paradise of California’s central valley shrinking in the rear-view mirror.

When people here find out where I’m from, they look at me like I’m crazy. They think of beaches and surfing and impossibly beautiful weather with bodies to match; a sun that shines year-round.

Oh, I say. I don’t come from that California.

First they don’t understand; then they’re just disappointed.

I don’t blame them.

Still, I want to tell them, California’s sun is like no other sun. This much is true.

I have lived in the northwestern corner of Spain, the south of France, a little town along the Mexican border. Nothing has felt so far from home as New Jersey, this great suburban land that is both comforting and infuriating in equal measure (in the way that suburbs so often are).

Still, I am trying it on as home. I keep trying it on, taking it off, trying it on again. It is mostly an exercise in trying.

But every so often, driving along the back roads that give the Garden State its name, I roll down the windows and swear I catch the scent of something that could pass for the farm air of the land I left behind.