When you’re here in the snow, you can see how people get stuck. You think about going to another town, to another bar in another town, but you are snowed in and it’s hard to get out, but even before you are snowed in, you know what might happen, so you don’t go anywhere. You know that the weather might overtake you and you might get stuck, so you stay put. You stay in the town where you are at the bar where you are, with the people that you know and you continue to be the same person. And maybe that’s a good thing. You belong to a tribe and your people know and like you, or they at least are willing to have a beer with you and sometimes that’s a thing that feels just as good as people liking you.
In California, you can always get in your car and drive long stretches and you are in another country. I don’t mean another state, I really mean another country. The northern part of California feels absolutely like a different country and then the area north of that, a still different one. Smog land, fog land and log land. The very north part of California is starkly beautiful and very lonely.
I went to Crescent City one time to do a reading and give a keynote address. The people who drove me around told me that more than half the people who lived there self identified themselves as having mental problems. They are stuck on this narrow spit of land which took me two planes to get to, one a tiny prop plane. The house where I went to a party was very beautiful and the woman who showed me around said she would give almost any body part to get away from Crescent City and be any place else. Even though it seemed to me she could simply get in her car and drive, clearly, she was stuck there.
Karen Shoemaker’s talk at the residency this time is about the crucible, the place where you get stuck whether it’s a trail, a hotel, an island, a mental hospital, Omaha, Crescent City or a small town in Mexico, it is hard to get out. If you’re a good writer, you make it clear that the character is indeed stuck. I like this idea of being in a crucible and of extracting your character from that crucible.
When I sent my son off to Kathmandu, he was then in a crucible, and in that place he had to change. He had to become a different person, a person who knew how to act on the world, and not just to act out, but to act with intention. I like that. When he came back from that trip which included India, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and a number of European countries. The second trip took him to New Zealand and Australia, another crucible. I look forward to seeing what he will do next. Because the crucible is the dark and after that, there’s light, action happens in the light.