#Setting

Last weekend readers were treated to? assaulted by? a whole string of posts from me, and the reason was simple:  I was back where I write best, in a land happily lacking in chain restaurants and box stores, in San Francisco.  I made a point during that visit to save some time out for just sitting with the notebook or sitting with the portable keyboard to generate some remembrance of the trip on paper or in cloud, the best kind of souvenir in my estimation, next to photos (and I don’t tend to overload on photos, either, as many of them start to look alike after a while).

Does setting matter to a writer?  I know that when I lived in San Francisco I had a more difficult time staying disciplined; even before the departure became evident, I behaved as if my days there were numbered, and even if I had a had a blank book and a well-inked pen with me I didn’t do much writing outside of group work or unemployment.  There was that, and the haunting factor of truth in Hemingway’s statement that you tend to write better of a place once you’re not in it:  he wrote better of Paris in Michigan, and better of Michigan in Paris.  You would think with this philosophy that it would be a piece of cake to write a baseball novel set in San Francisco while living in northern San Diego County, but in actuality it’s on par with dealing with pain sober instead of dealing with pain drunk.  The pain may still be there in San Francisco, but it’s dulled by the City around me, and I can set it aside there and sit in a cafe that can only be found in one place, where I’m sitting, instead of six places in five square miles, like a Starbucks.

Sooner or later, though, reality dictates that I have to return to the desert of chain coffee and Costco, and that reality means I try to bring back experimentation with me.  In my immediate vicinity there are two cafes of a somewhat independent nature, and I tried them to write in.  They suck.  I realize that’s not the lyrical or articulate way to get my point across, but the statement sums up my disappointment best:  Starbucks is better than they are.  All businesses here in Carlsbad are used to making the West Coast palatable for the average foreigner or Midwesterner, so any art attempted at their tables is strange and disconcerting, and then there’s the vibe that the cafe gives off, one of being Starbucks but charging more because it’s not Starbucks.  (I should note that there are establishments in Encinitas or the village of Carlsbad that would be suitable, but I’m nowhere near these areas and some of them house the closeted crazy…and yes, I’m aware of how that reads next to a trip to the Tenderloin in San Francisco.)

So, I save money and heartache and went back to Starbucks this morning.  Finding regulars helps, especially regulars who read paper newspapers (the audacity!), or the artist that I’m lucky to see from time to time who brings in a top-bound spiral sketchpad the size of a cafe table and a toolbox covered with cartoon icons full of oil pastels and draws like we are in the Haight all morning.  He must be the oldest hipster alive or Diebenkorn reincarnated, but he’s here in Carlsbad at what I call the Legoland/Costco Starbucks and I’m not picky–I’ll take him.  I scratch out baseball randomness and he draws in green.  But he doesn’t come every weekend day so I have to make my own magic most days.

There is another option, one that doesn’t have jump-up-and-down appeal for me but I am considering anyway, and that’s to write in the neighboring park.  I say “neighboring” pretty liberally; in order to get there by foot or car you have to drive about 3 miles around suburban sprawl, even though it’s right behind our condominium complex.  (Carlsbad insists on environmentalism in some pretty convoluted ways, very few of which involve decent mass transit to offset car travel.)  But that’s my exercise for a vocation where I’m sitting on my butt for most of the creative process, and the walk helps me generate ideas. The visits wouldn’t cost money like a cafe, and they would be outside in the fresh air, sitting at a concrete picnic table, listening to parents of children’s sports cheering them on.  It’s not a bad park.  It’s a mind-shift, though.  No thick, ceramic cup of cappuccino, no biscotti…instead a recycled metal water bottle and the occasional possibility of a snake or seagull poop drop.  Zadie Smith admonishes us that there is no writer’s lifestyle, and it’s just a matter of moving from the caffeine addiction (which, yes, isn’t good for me anyway) to a water and trail mix addiction, blended with sunscreen application.  It’s just that shift.  Can you write anywhere, Jo?  Or do you need the set design of A Movable Feast to make it happen?

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#October18

I made the reservations this morning for the shuttle to the airport tomorrow, my heart sort of bruising in the process. Gotta happen, little girl, I whispered to myself as I hit the sidewalk, and I knew it was true.

Other things I knew were true this morning: I couldn’t spend the whole day in a turtleneck (since I was going to wear a t-shirt back to the dear old desert tomorrow) when it was already too warm at 7:30 am; I couldn’t wear the boots anymore and would have to wear sandals around the City; I was going to have to gross people out with my feet. If you have read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” then you have a pretty good idea of what I was exposing my City to. I thought I could hide things with some strategically-placed Band Aids, but that “waterproof” claim they have is a load if you have water blisters. Just cluing you in, in case you ever bring wishful clothing on a trip and it tries to hurt you.

So, sandals. So, ugly feet. So, probably not Litcrawl, but I wanted to take some significant amount of time with my writing anyway. I don’t get to do that back in the desert; I get the general impression you’re not supposed to be a writer in SoCal, unless you plan on writing movie scripts. I may have been able to do quiz night at the bar and watch baseball and hang out with my writing group in San Francisco, but all of those things clash like chartreuse and puce in the desert. Or, if they don’t, they are certainly working hard to give me that impression. I’m grateful when I don’t have to give up one slice of me for another slice of me.

First thing’s first, though: Philz’s Coffee, and then another t-shirt. I donned my Stone Brewing Co t-shirt (insert of visual scream of “I’m from San Diego” here) and then headed out to find another Giants’ shirt. Might as well go back victorious. Along the way more books, mint coffee (you would think those things wouldn’t agree either, but they do), and a visit to the Tropisueno taqueria.

And now I’m back in base camp.

It’s an early start to the airport tomorrow, and I have miles to write before I sleep. The hotel room has no A/C, but if I sit relatively still then I don’t sweat. Back to the desert, but, as Dani Shapiro would tell me, that’s where it’s easier to write. Mebbe so. I’m hoping to learn that without giving up too many of my other slices. I’m hoping to learn that even though I’m not writing a movie script.

#October17

Yep, a day late and a dollar short. Story of my life.

It’s amazing how stubborn I am. Upon my arrival and all the way up to this morning I was insisting it is colder here than San Diego. I insisted on wearing my boots. I insisted on layers. I insisted on fog. Fog jilted me, probably angry that I’m only home twice a year and withholding, the bitch, and the boots were hot and melted the skin on my feet like wax. I won’t post a picture; let’s just say my pinky toes LOOK angry. And I mean furious. As I write this they are hosed in Neosporin and weeping like cranky toddlers.

But yesterday I was still in boots and determined to comb the City for cheap, which meant very little mass transit and a lot of footwork. I breakfasted at a neighboring cafe and then walked to Grace Cathedral. To the disappointment of many in my life, I’m not religious, but I’m a sucker for churches, synagogues, and other places of worship. I walk into these places with the ready knowledge that I probably won’t encounter a band of raucous hoodlums. (Hang tight; that becomes relevant again later.) My favorite sacred places have usually been missions, but there’s a Greek church in San Diego County that can take my breath away. Grace and I go way back; I saw it for the first time back when I lived in Sunnyvale and trying to bounce back from a broken heart that I thought would level me (and maybe it did just a little). It was Christmas. Cathedrals are extra intoxicating at Christmas when you’re alone.

Grace currently has some kind of ribbon installation hanging from its rafters, and because I like the romance I didn’t Google or research the whys or wherefores. It’s stunning to look up into it, a blatant reference to the glory of an Almighty somewhere, and He and I had a bit of a conversation while I lowered myself into a pew. Part of it was me accusing Him of hiding out in this space and him calmly (of course calmly, does God shout, or need to?) stating I wasn’t looking hard enough for Him out there. I explained that the burning bushes in the desert weren’t revealing Him. He admitted that He had been there, done that, but I could try other places. Love the vague look, God, and my apologies for rolling my eyes.

From the ribbons I headed down to North Beach to sit with the Italians for a bit–a different kind of sacred. There some longhand pages happened, a visit to City Lights happened, and then back to Market to hop an N line to my previous home. Hot, still. The Inner Sunset, hot. I could have wept, but I had promised in my own vague way to look for God in some sort of detail, so I got off the N and went in search of another bookstore, Green Apple on the Park. That was a straight-line sell to live there again if there ever was one; I hadn’t had a bookstore in the Sunset for nearly six years. More books procured (my luggage is going to be so heavy), and then Paxti’s, and then back to the hotel to peel off the boots and watch cartoons until a Litquake event down by my old workplace.

The bonus to finally venturing out to a new neighborhood for my hotel stay, as I’ve written before, is that I get used to a whole new set of rules and a somewhat different City. Okay, “get used to” is a strong phrase–maybe “am exposed to” would be more apt. For instance, I’ve never ridden the 19 Polk bus, a route that runs from Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf to the Navy Yard. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more diverse collection of words and their hidden meanings than that route. And the passengers on that route didn’t disappoint in the definition of “character.” A woman who had to be 60 if she was a day, wearing a nun’s habit and cursing in a sermon-level volume insisted that she was pregnant. I tend to grant these folks two things: wide berth and benefit of the doubt (didn’t I just ask God to show himself earlier in the day? Maybe this was His inclination). When she got off the bus, however, two friends who rode that line on a regular basis shook their heads and chuckled at each other. “Wonder if she plans on delivering soon,” one of them said. “She’s been saying she’s going to have that baby for two years now.”

Okay, welp, God maybe having fun instead.

*****

Later, after the Litquake reading I attended, I felt like I fit into Mother Swear’s Seminary. I don’t do groupie well, which I learned at my first Litquake in 2011. I tend to be too quiet, but I don’t know what to say in the presence of really stellar wordsmiths. Still, I got a book signed by the most excellent Andrew Sean Greer, best known for perfecting a Fitzgerald premise in his Max Tivoli, and a writer willing to read something he was working on instead of reading something he had already perfected (although the work-in-progress was more perfect than all of my drivel). He noted that he was working on it in Italy, where it poured out of him, and then he came back here and he was back to writing in slog mode. “But that’s writing, too,” he insisted, looking deep into the crowd, and I knew he was right; I KNOW IT TOO DAMN WELL.

God showed up anyway, then, even if I got all awkward in the realization.

#October16

I’m here. Back at home in the City. No pressure, because I want to come back here on a permanent basis, like a pitcher wants to stay with a team, hoping he doesn’t get traded to someplace like Houston (no offense, Houston), hoping he can stay in a City where he can ride a scooter to the ballpark without melting or getting run over, hoping fate doesn’t thread him in a slingshot and launch him into an unrecognizable abyss.

Kinda like that.

Extended metaphor aside, I landed here at 1:33 pm this afternoon and have been on my feet ever since, in a place where I am so at home that I forget that I’m here and how easy it is here compared to fighting every…damn…little…thing back in Southern California. It’s so easy here to hop a bus or light rail or train and nearly teleport oneself. Back in the desert I’m walking everywhere, long distances. Thinking of that now makes me nearly suicidal, that and the predisposition to chain businesses like Buffalo Wild Wings or Olive Garden or Starbucks. There was no way I was going into a Starbucks on this trip, even in the San Diego airport.

Why is it so hard there? Why is it so different? Why do people LIKE IT TO BE so different there? But I’m the only one who doesn’t like it there, and I’m the only one still trying to understand why people prefer it.

I guess if I sit still long enough, I’ll get it.

*****

The hotel I selected would be a disappointment to nearly anyone else. Imagine a hotel that is clean but is so completely worn down that Allen Ginsberg probably stayed there. I think all of the furniture is from his heyday. There are two chairs, two ironing boards, one wastebasket the size of a loaf of bread, one microwave, one mini-fridge, and no alarm clock. For an establishment with a check-out time, it seems strange to have no way of telling time in the room. The room phone doesn’t even have a clock on it. Since I don’t wear a watch much these days I’m actually okay with no alarm clock, but it’s probably the first hotel room I’ve occupied without one. Two ironing boards…no alarm clock…seems like an odd choice of selected amenities.

The hotel is in a neighborhood that I’m not really familiar with, either, but I’m good with that; it suggests that I’m rediscovering my City. Rediscovering home wakes me up, knocks me out of that funky dream that is me relaxing so much that I miss a lot of what is going on around me. Example: I had forgotten how all of the downtown workers would dress up in black and orange dress clothes if the Giants make it to post-season. I had forgotten the Muni marquees, the height of the buildings and how SO MANY of them are that high, all knit together. (In the residence next to Legoland, there aren’t any tall buildings; just a tall windmill and a tall water treatment tower.) The conversations are still lacking (“like,” “you know,” “like” TELL US ALREADY), but there is a heartbeat here.

It’s getting more and more materialistic, though.

Just since I was here in the spring, this place has gone glittery. I’m seeing businesses wear away into realty signs and more demolition than I would care to. San Francisco is supposed to be funky, broken down, (did I mention my hotel room, and just not lovingly enough?) and full of near condemnation to the point where people who go to these dumps are the coolest people. Now the coolest people own wrecking balls. I don’t mind that Zuckerberg and Twitter and Uber showed up…but are they trying to create a world that doesn’t create anything organic or weird ever again? I know: for that I should move to Austin or Portland, but why should my home change? Why should I have to change where home is?

I’m writing from a clean but care-worn cafe this evening called Borderlands. The cafe is bright and old wood trim and spare and shouldered right up against a bookstore of the same ownership and the same name. It holds no world of wild ideas, like dripping its coffee from antique globe or serving only nitrogen ice cream, but it seems weird in the fact that all of its furniture matches. Still, I love to write here. Given a choice between writing here and writing at Philz in the Mission, which looks like a furniture flea market, I would probably take Philz, but I’m still happier here than at most places in the City because I know this place, I remember this place from tutoring on Sundays at 826 Valencia and visiting the Mission library and all of the writing groups. Be it ever so bland, it comes nowhere near a chain, and for four days I will come nowhere near a chain, either.

#Postseason

Oh, she’s going to be upset now…her boys lost a NLCS game last night.

Actually, I’m fine with it.

Duly noted:

  • I’ve seen my boys win two World Series contests;
  • I’ve been to a victory parade;
  • I’m kinda rooting for Kansas City, too;
  • I just like good baseball.

Would it be great to see my boys win again?  Well, SURE.  But could I handle it if they don’t?  Most definitely.  The reason I have liked them for this long is that they defy all of the recommended statistics on performance and still manage to kick butt, which defies gravity and logic and just sits on faith like an angel on the head of a pin.

But…I’ll have to pay for it.

As Giants’ fans have gotten more and more belligerent as a collective, and as the players develop this reputation for defying the odds, and coming from a big, rich marketshare…now I know what it’s like to be a Yankees’ fan, or Cowboys’ fan.  You start to feel sorry for those people who fell in love with a team because of its game instead of because it was the popular bandwagon.

So the little sliver of me that wants my boys to win comes from the idea that I get tired of being ostracized as a Giants’ fan for our rep, and the big piece that is rooting for Kansas City is willing to trade that…even if I have to trade it early to the *cough* Cardinals.

At the end of the day I and my baseball fan fiction just want a good game.