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.