A Year Ago…in New York

When I read Sam Anderson’s article on Laurie Anderson (no relation), this paragraph struck me:

The last time I saw Anderson, my family and I had just come back from Oregon, the place of my birth, a place I tend to see, still, through the idealized glow of early childhood. After two years stranded on the East Coast, I missed it terribly. But out in the real world, Oregon had changed. Downtown Portland, after months of clashes between protesters and the police, was largely boarded up. People were living in tents on the sidewalks and streets. Early on our first morning, we woke up to the sound of a woman screaming outside, over and over. We walked past human feces on the sidewalk. It was the middle of a deadly heat wave, the hottest temperatures ever recorded, and to the east wildfires were raging out of control — in every direction, the horizon was blurred by smoke. The ragged trees of my youth, up on the hills, looked like ghosts. Finally we drove south, away from the big cities, and the smoke only thickened. Some of the most beautiful places I have ever been, my favorite places on Earth, were nearly unrecognizable. You couldn’t see the scenic mountains right on the edge of town. The air was like barbecue smoke. It felt like an apocalypse, like a failed society.

It’s been a little over a year since the last time I stepped foot in the Adirondacks and the house I grew up in. Here’s what I wrote.

The house is no longer ours, and it was never mine.

A panorama of a my parents’ garage when I was helping them move. Oct. 21, 2020

It was my parents’ house, but whenever I see a picture of the ski jumps or the 46 High Peaks in fall I can smell the dirt.

I actually have a jar on my desk filled with dirt and pine needles from the small neck of woods behind the house.

Earlier in October, I got a package from a friend in Saranac Lake, a close friend, and a Paul Smith’s College colleague. It was the first edition of William Gibson’s short story collection Burning Chrome. It was sent around the last time I saw him in person, drinking 3 Floyds Alpha King. I fell into deep appreciation with a dash of sorrow.

I miss these people terribly. My fellow Adirondackers.

You want something so badly that any reference to it immediately assaults your senses. That isn’t easy to justify, But I think it is part of the process of mourning. A lot has changed from this global near-death experience. But I think the best way to move past it is with appreciation, which brings some sorrow.

The best word for it, I think, is sublime. My phone screen still features a photo I took last year of my home’s deck and the giant white pine. The leaves changed in peak fall colors.

I turn to Seneca’s consolation to his mother about going into exile, and I often think that I’m in exile.

The body’s needs are few: it wants to be free from cold, to banish hunger and thirst with nourishment; if we long for anything more we are exerting ourselves to serve our vices, not our needs.”

This is why when I wake up in the morning and see the changing leaves outside of my loft space bedroom, I smile and say, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Stories We Tell Podcast

This is my friend Tim a year ago this past week in front of his garden.

This was the last time I was in the Adirondack Mountains. Who knows when I’ll make it back there.

He started a podcast this summer and wanted me to be a part of it. It’s called the Stories We Tell, and it’s about the stories writers tell themselves, others, about all the things in the writing life. But really it’s about counteracting the toxic narratives told about writers that romanticize substance abuse, mental illness; that there’s only one way to become a writer, one process, one entry point, one way of getting published, and making a living.

All of the above is bullshit rolling down a hill.

The podcast is about stories of good writers who make it work—through substance abuse, neurodiversity, day jobs, and parenting. It’s about the reality of being a working writer in today’s diverse publishing marketplace and not just someone who showed up on the New York Times Bestseller List and has a cushy teaching job somewhere.

And to write good stories, you have to first acknowledge that being a writer is not to accept the label of an introvert but realize that it takes two to be a writer. A reader and a writer.

Second, that to write good stories, you have to try to be a good person.

You won’t find any Charles Bukowskis, Hunter S. Thompsons, or Ernest Hemingways here.

Here is the most recent episode and for season one, go here.

Here

Now for Summer 2019.

Big Woods Restaurant at Hard Truth Hills. Nashville, IN.

That’s all for this season. Thanks for reading some of my radical transparency. I hope you got something out of it rather than my crazy repeated phrases and concepts that may or may not have made any coherent sense. Here’s what I’m working on for the summer: 

1. I’m preparing for the birth of our second child.

2. Spending a lot of time on home improvement as a result of looking at Digital Minimalism and getting the house in order before the baby arrives.

3. Being less planned in what I’m working on, going with the mood of the week. I have diary updates, short stories I want to write, probably a nonfiction article for a magazine to do, a pair of comics, and a short film script that I’m going to play with between now and the fall.

I like to joke that ever since moving to Indiana that the summers are so hot here that I behave in a way that I used to during winters in New York: the only reason I go outside is to go to my car and turn on the air conditioning—which is currently broken, so…But the winters here are no big deal. In fact they’re delightful because no one goes out to the woods to walk around and we do.

As always, you’ll be able to find my weekly progress in my newsletter. Don’t hesitate to subscribe, say hey, or talk to me about whatever is on your plate. I’m here and willing to listen to you as you’ve willingly subscribed to listen to me.

Have a great summer. Stay cool. 

What I’m working on now for Spring 2019.

Just a stack of books I have downstairs. You should see my nightstand.

That was the series of posts for spring. Thanks for reading and following along. I’m going back into my Writing Den, where I’m going to spend a lot of time in my notebooks, and catch up on the stack of books I have. I’m going to rest, dream, and mess around in a notebook.

Also, I’m going to move house.

We closed on a house this past Friday and we’re moving over Easter so there is A LOT to do and I won’t have a lot of time to be messing around online, so I won’t be posting on here, Twitter, or Instagram again until after Summer Solstice, BUT! My newsletter will still go out weekly. In fact, I’ll be writing it as I hit post on this.

Have fun, be well, and enjoy the weather. Now take a hike!

Status for Spring 2019.

“Oh Shit”

For one week only, this blog is now opened and feature new posts daily. Thanks for being here.

Hello, I’m David Press, and this is my website. I write fiction, comics, and personal essays. Over the winter I finished the fourth rewrite of my novel, The Human Library, and started a new job as an academic advisor at Indiana University-Bloomington.

I’ve been reading Brian Gresko’s book When I First Held You, which is a collection of essays by novelists about being writers and fathers. Folks like Dennis Lehane, Benjamin Percy, and Rick Moody contributed to it. In one interview at Literary Hub, Gresko interviews Polly Rosenwaike on juggling the duel identity of being a creative writer and a parent.

And in part I think many men, even self-aware enlightened men who read, still struggle to publicly embrace the role of fatherhood, or see it as something worthy of writing about, because society has taught them that’s not what men do or how they behave; it’s too sentimental. When I put together my anthology, I imagined that there were other men out there like me who would jump to read thoughtful, sensitive essays on the subject, but for the most part I hear from women (when I hear from anyone), and when the book launched it was mostly women supporting it, for which I was grateful though also surprised. 

Gresko makes an interesting point that far too many literary authors don’t talk about being fathers, so I thought that for a week I would talk a little bit more about my literary autobiography, being a father, and how I manage to stay productive with so much going on in my life.

So, here goes. Thanks for being here. For a week, I’ll be here, and on Twitter and Instagram, so feel free to say hey over there if you want, or subscribe to my newsletter, that will continue weekly once I go back into my Writing Den for the rest of spring.

This is 38.

(Twenty years, me and this watch.)

This year has seen quite a lot of change. It’s hard to quantify just how much change, but here goes.

One: This has, by far, been the hardest year of my life. While traveling this past week my wife and I have come to realize that in many ways I’ve been going through a grieving period. Like something died and I’m struggling to come to grips with it. In many ways, that’s very true. I didn’t know what I was getting into last summer when I quit my teaching job, moved across the country with no connections and just my family. So in a lot of ways I’ve been grieving for my old life throughout the year.

Two: As a result of this grieving process, I’ve focused deeply on the new stories I want to write and that begins with how I portray myself in finding a new job: a creative craftsman. A big source of inspiration in the last year has been the work of Cal Newport.

Three: As a result of focusing deeply on the stories I want to tell I’ve come to realize that helping people tell their story is at the root of everything I’ve done for the last eight or so years. Probably longer.

Four: That became especially evident while researching academic advising as a direction for my career to go in and how, as Peter Hagan wrote, you’re doing this:

  • What is the “narratological advisor?”  Three basic things would make you a better teller of tales.
  • Constantly increase your storehouse of stories.
  • Recognize the primacy of stories in advising.
  • Take to heart and keep ever before you the narratological quandary posed by Yeats in the epigram that began this article.  It will keep you humble.  [Which is]:

        O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
        How can we know the dancer from the dance?

          Five: As a result of diving into the foundations of narrative advising and academic advising, I read Jenny Bloom’s book—Appreciate Advising Revolution. In it I read about the victim/creator roadmap and realized exactly what it is that I’ve been going through. And got help.  My wife wrote recently about it, so probably the biggest thing I learned this year was that like going to the doctor every six months to get your health checked you should also do the same thing for your mind. Making a drastic change like this will inevitably do some damage on your body and mind. So get help.