Friday, November 6, 2009

snow in summer.

Currently Listening To: 5 Years Time by Noah and the Whale
But Wondering Why: I can't get the theme song from Cheers out of my head. Sometimes you wanna go ...

NaNoWriMo, emphasis on the No is not going as I'd planned. I had already neared the 15,000 mark on Thing, so I'm not horribly distressed. Pause to add: that semi-hefty number sounds so much better than it actually is. Hitting that many words is liken to the game of Oregon Trail. Did you play that game as a kid? This is how the two things are similar: you travel so far, for so long, logging many miles on the ol' wagon. You avoid diphtheria, you don't give your friends a proper burial once they get snake-bit, you don't stop to trade pelts, or hunt (!), all because you are focused on finishing the game! And then you're done and it's not all that exciting. You play again, because that's all you can do.*

That's how the 15,000 word mark feels. It feels good until I realize how many of those words must change or disappear. How it will not be finished for a really long time. Every mile counts, I guess. The point is to write, and I am. I'm not behind. I'm just not ahead. Sadly, I don't have as much time as I'd like to skulk around on the NaNo site and look at other people's pages. Remember the community aspect I wrote so fondly of? Yeah, not so much doing that.

But I have something special for you, all in the spirit of NaNoWriNothing.

I'm going to repost something I wrote on my old blog about the concept of place. There is some mention of place and its function in anchoring a story. But, as is the way with most topics on here, I quickly delve into lesser brilliant observations (including cigarettes, Starbucks, and remote heart surgery). It's a fun one. In the spirit of this entry, I included a picture of one of my favorite places up there in the corner. That's the view from the dock on my sister's farm.

Whether you NaNoWriMo or NaNoPaintMo or whatever, I hope you create something beautiful this weekend. And if you create something beautiful, tell me about it. I could use the inspiration :)


I went to a small college you've never heard of which prided itself in being located in the Appalachian region. As there are no famous people who graduated from this institution, a mountain range is it's only claim to fame.

Every new building had "Appalachian" in the title. They frequently brought in environmentalists and writers who gushed over mountains. This is cool. I love mountains too. Mountaintop removal makes me dry heave. Really good Appalachian writing is one of my favorite genres (I am saving ELI THE GOOD, by Silas House, for Christmas so I can devour it
). I've always lived in the mountains and when I moved to the flat lands of Texas, I missed them so much it hurt. Still. After awhile, my college started to feel like that one friend we've all had who is constantly trying to attach to someone famous.

"No, really. The mountains know me. They love me. We go way back, me and

The college even slapped a picture of the mountains at sunset on the brochure. The picture shows a handsome guy standing beside his bicycle, staring out over rolling mountains and glistening lakes. The setting sun makes the water and sky and waving grass look golden, lit from within, inspirational. Spiritual, of course. The wording inside the brochure made it sound like you could see this same view from the front "porch" of one of the dorms. I am a sucker for good marketing. It's so bad. Like, if I can't sleep at night, and I start watching
infomercials, I am convinced I need every ridiculous record compilation they try to sell.** So it is no surprise the brochure lured me in.

According to the brochure (where an Asian guy, a frat boy, and an Hispanic girl all walked across campus arm in arm), a tender Tennessee sunrise would wake me up each morning. In the evening, I could put down my tattered copy of JANE EYRE, sip sweet tea on a front porch that was 200 years old, and watch the sun sink into the mountains again. And then at night, I could curl up in a rocking chair and listen to the crickets sing backup while cute guys sat on the porch steps playing guitars. The brochure whispered to me: Love this place. This place already loves you.

When I moved in freshman year, the view out my dorm window was of bricks. I was there when my friend across the hall pulled up the shades on her window for the first time too. After the dust and
asbestos cleared, we realized we were eye level with a graveyard. The mountain scene, with the birds chirping, was an hour away. The dorm with the "porch" had no air and wasn't really as magical up close so I didn't go there much. There was serenading, more in the form of a chant. One of the guys dorms stood in front of the girls dorm and chanted something about underwear, as part of an annual tradition. Needless to say, that event is not mentioned in the brochure.

But the college, for all it lacked (which was a lot) prided itself on location.

One of my professors (the class was in Appalachian Studies, of course) was especially enamored with the region. His lecture always revolved around place. He wanted to talk about your place, how a location moves you, how you align your heart and soul with where you live. He talked about artists and businesses staking their claim in a place and how you can leave your hometown, move a million miles away from your random little hole in the wall**, but how it will never leave you. It's in the lilt of your accent and the way you treat people. It's permanent, even if you decide you want sky scrapers more than mountain peaks.

A few years later, another professor (whose class I adored) said great writers have a "sense of place." In a way, this applies to setting. Good writers can make you
feel a place. They take it a step further than description and make it something that envelops your senses. (I love books like that, books I label winter books or summer books because the seasons in the pages seem so real.) You can picture the streets, the buildings, or the home that's mentioned. Sometimes weather becomes like a mood ring for characters. And so on and such. But, on a more personal level, a good writer feels at home in the world she creates. For a reader to feel it, you have to feel it. Or something. I don't know if I ever understood exactly what it all meant.

But now, all these years later, I understand.

In Starbucks, there is a table I like. We will call it My Place. My Place is in the far back corner of the store, near a power outlet. I have done some great writing there (well, great-
ish). Something about sitting there inspires me and for reasons I can only attribute to caffeine magic, I usually write pages I love. I need that table like the desert need the rain. It's just the routine maybe? Sit down. Power up computer. Stir coffee. Scrape foam from stirstick back into coffee. Put lid on. Type, type, type, type. Maybe it's the view. Maybe it's that I feel hidden even though I'm sitting in a busy coffee conglomerate. The phone might ring. I never notice. People chatter. I don't want to eavesdrop. Music plays. I don't sing along. I just lose myself in what I'm doing. It's a rare but wonderful job related high.

And now, someone, nay a villain masquerading as a young urban hipster has stolen my place. No matter when I go, the same guy is always sitting in My Place. ALWAYS. He wears a heavy jacket, yellow sunglasses, and a knit hat. He wears hipster ski stuff in Chattanooga, where 55 degrees is considered a "wintry blast." He sits there with his computer, his
Marlboro's, his iPhone, and a stack of papers and pretends to work hard.
Until today, I figured he played a round of Final Fantasy. Snood. Solitaire. He looked too involved to be doing real work. And how can his work possibly be more important than mine?! I'm confident the only reason you would sit there that long, long enough to get up and take smoke breaks, is if you were playing a game or if you are a delusional writer writing a book. I am writing a book. I call dibs on the magic book table. No matter what time of day I go, he sits in MY Place that I claimed two years ago. Every time he walks outside and talks on his iPhone and lights a ciggy I stare, menacingly, from the loser circular table. The one where the sun gets in my eyes. The one where I hear everything the people on the couches say to each other. Aunt Edna is having surgery and Casey took the dog to the vet...


Today when he left, I casually leaned over and looked at the paper on the edge of his table. It actually did look smart. As in, I have no idea what language it was even written in. For a second, maybe a second and a half, I felt bad. Maybe he's doing remote heart surgery from Starbucks. I don't know. But then the fog of compassion cleared and I wondered if it would be too obvious if I put his stuff on my table and moved my stuff to his table. Then I wondered if it would be too obvious if I casually tossed his stuff in the floor. Carried his smarty-pants stuff up to the counter and said, "You know the skinny guy inventing the new language? He forgot this" and then ran back and put my computer in My Place where it belongs.

Fearing violence would be my only response, I texted Sarah and said, "I want to kick him." My best friend would talk me out of this. My best friend would help me see reason.

texted me back and said, "Do it."

Another friend called just then, just in time to save the day, so I quickly told him the whole story. He said, "Just put your stuff down at his table and act like it's no big deal. That's what I would do. If you sit down at his table maybe he'll leave."

Tempting ... both so tempting ... my friends are so understanding.

And yet, I am a professional. Actually, that's debatable. I'm not a professional. But I am a dedicated aspiring. So I'm still a writer.

A good writer knows how to settle into the place she's writing. If I can't feel it, I can't make you feel it. The world may offer me gamer boys who steal my Starbucks seat. The world may give me a table with no view. But there are many artists wedged in closet apartments cranking out beautiful masterpieces with no view except a screen. I cannot be limited by my surroundings.

In the immortal words of Reading Rainbow - I can go anywhere. And sometimes I think I've created a place so cool someone else might want to go there too. And isn't that the point of it all? That you open a book and want to go there? That you feel sad when you leave this random (yet gorgeous) place a writer dreamed up? For a few hours you get lost in a place with no limitations, a place where snow falls in summer, the ugly stepsister gets kissed, and bees make noises that sound more like guitar rifts than radio static. You can swim through starlight or fall in love, or fly, if you want. And all you have to do is open a book. Or start pulling words together on a page. I love both those things so much I could squeal with delight right now. But I won't.

Instead, I will emerge victorious! You will not keep me down, Oakley wearing, cigarette smoking, Starbucks boy! You have stolen my seat. You have stolen my power outlet. You will not steal my inspiration. The only view I have today is the view I created, the really bizarre world I imagined. The cursor is flashing on my computer in a bright little code I finally understand: Love this place. This place already loves you.

Even without my magic table ... my view is pretty darn awesome. :)

Do you have a special place you like to write, read, draw, paint, etc? :) If you tell me what it is, I promise not to shove your stuff out of the way and steal it.

* My brother installed Oregon Trail on his computer for awhile - not the cool old one, but a new one where the characters talk to you. We played a few times, and he mostly just wanted to hunt. But, every now and then, he paused to use the diary feature, to log his journey, and I kid you not his two sentence entries were comic gold.
**My brother wants the Jack LaLane Power Juicer because he wants to put a shoe through the shoot and see what happens. It occurs to me you might think he is very bizarre based on these footnotes, but I assure you he is not. He is, however, very hilarious.
*** One summer I worked at a camp in Middle Tennessee. On Saturdays, we used to drive to a town called Holenwall because it was the only Wal-Mart for miles.


  1. 5 Years Time! Yes! Great song! Oh right, you were the one that introduced me to it.... Go on youtube and look up "Jazzy dances to his favorite song."

    During my freshman year of college, I took a (lame) First Year Seminar course that also focused on the idea of place, and how that shapes you. Though I grew up in the country (except for the first 9 years of my life), being at a college in a city shaped me and exposed me to so many different perspectives.

    My favorite places to think/journal/pray:
    ~the little prayer chapel at ENC at quiet
    ~my bedroom here in Kiev (I do most of my schoolwork in the dining room, so it's not like it has to change purposes)
    ~somewhere quiet in the woods

  2. This has to be one of my favorite blogs. I am a place person. I have the usual seat at Starbucks and I find it awkward if I have to get a new one. I love to travel and I have been to many places that inspired my imagination. One was in Tennessee. I was there for a wedding and we stayed on the campus of Union University because the bride had gone there for school and all that jazz...anywho, the view from the guest suite we styaed in was amazing. I loved Jackson, even though it reminded me of Moore alot, and it was HOT, but that just made it all the better. Another place I love is the park near the Y I work at. I take walks there when I need to think, talk, clear my head, or enjoy the beautiful day God created. The last place I love to be to come up with something creative is my boyfriend's house. I do alot of my thinking, writing, and imagining in that comfy, southern home. :) I love it so much. They also have this amazing backyard with a wooden swing between two huge pine trees. It's a beautiful place. Thanks for this post.

  3. What a perfect post. I am in the middle of trying to write a short story (10-20 pages) for my creative writing class and have not felt inspired at all. I am terrible at coming up with plots that aren't cheesy/have already been done. But I love everything you wrote about place; that IS one of my favorite things about other stories.

    My favorite places to write:
    -ANYWHERE outside or on my porch
    -the little blue chair in my room (I should blog about that chair sometime soon. Maybe tonight if I don't work on my story.)
    -the Fayetteville Public Library. It's wonderful. Not only does it have huge windows with a fantastic view, but it has won awards for its architecture I think.

  4. Jessica, the Jazzy video is so cute! As soon as the bird started making noises my dog jumped up here and kept tilting her head back and forth. At first, I thought she was dancing too. In retrospect, I think she was very perplexed :) I like what you said about the city shaping you. I so agree with you, too. I think anywhere you move, particularly the first place you move to on your own, can shape you just as much as the place you grew up. I like to walk in the woods too :)

    Steffanie, all those places sound so beautiful! I've only driven through Jackson, never been to Union's campus. It's so fun when you stumble onto a place that inspires you like that! And I'm glad you understand my fixation with having a certain seat in Starbucks ... :)

    Samantha, do blog about your chair! I have a favorite writing chair too (it's pink ... I should re-cover the thing but I can't bring myself to do it). I'm jealous of your library, btw. I think libraries are so inspiring. The one in my city is pretty but doesn't sound quite as awesome as yours :) Being surrounded by so many books is enough, but having a big gorgeous space all around you is definitely a bonus.