Ten years of unhoosierdom

I was just thinking about this the other day, and I realized this weekend marks the ten year anniversary of when I packed up and shipped out of Indiana for Seattle. It’s a nice round number, which is the only reason I thought about it, but it is pretty weird. I guess ten years seems like an eternity to me, and it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I left. On the other hand, living in Seattle does seem like forever ago to me, and my whole time at 600 7th Ave and working at Spry seems like another lifetime.

Lots of other little flashbacks remind me of things, but it’s more about Seattle than Bloomington. We went to Newport mall out in Jersey city yesterday, and that little area right around the PATH train station looks so damn much like Bellvue or Redmond, the east side of Seattle. It’s all of those office commercial buildings with mirrored glass outsides that look like airport motels, plus the subtle roads and open skies. It looks just like the area surrounding the Bellvue Mall, the building I used to work at in Factoria, and all of the other stuff around I-405 in Seattleland. And sitting here in Sarah’s apartment, looking out toward the skyline from a few floors up with lots of sunlight from a couple of big windows, it almost reminds me of the time in my place in Seattle, except it’s not raining and there’s no Kingdome anymore. But sometimes the weather’s just right and it makes me think for a half second that I should go down to that ’94 Ford Escort and take a drive up I-5, and then I remember I made my last lease payment on that thing 7 years ago, and all I’m driving is a MetroCard these days.

Ten years… I still haven’t written up a suitable story for that cross-country drive. I wrote a story for this Bloomington short-story book that probably will never see the light of day, but it covers all of the events up to me leaving, and not the actual trip. I drove nonstop, by myself. I went through so fast, there was no real vision of a trip, as much as there was a huge blur. It rained a lot in part of Montana; I blew through all of South Dakota in the darkness. I stopped at Devil’s Tower at about 2AM, technically on the 4th of July. I don’t remember Wall Drugs, but I do remember a few other gas stations with slot machines and nothing else. I listened to every tape I packed at least five times. For every meal, I stopped at McDonald’s, because I didn’t want to hunt around for some other alternative 19 miles off of the off ramp. Montana was really shitty, 12 hours of uphill and curves, almost no roadstops, the few around were no more than barns with a single gas pump that was overpriced and so low-octane, you could safely drink it. Then I crossed into Idaho, and it was all downhill, all beautiful. I regret not taking the trip slower, spending some time and money exploring the nature, taking a few more pictures, relaxing for a couple of days before I reported for duty for my first real job. But I regret a lot of things, and I made it here, so who cares.


Seattle nostalgia

I think I’m already stuck on this book. Maybe I just don’t feel up to it this weekend, but I can’t even think about it without thinking it isn’t that good. I don’t know, I never had this problem with Summer Rain because the whole plot was there and it was just a matter of doing the work and coming up with the details, and Rumored had its problems and there were many second thoughts, but it eventually pulled through. The problem now is that a lot of the notes I’ve taken in the last few months don’t really fit this book, and it makes me wonder if I should just finish this and start something else with those notes, or just start the something else, or do both, or do neither, or who knows what. So tonight I’m just dicking around, maybe editing the web site, and playing video games.

I was thinking about Seattle today, which is always bad news. I was playing around with traffic cameras on the web, because part of an underpass collapsed here, and I wanted to see if there was a picture of it or anything, and while googling around, I found the WSDOT web page and started checking out their cameras, and it made me miss Seattle so much, it was pathetic. It’s hard to explain, but back when I was there, I always spent my Saturdays driving around. When I first moved there, I was always broke, but I still had the almost-new car and it got great mileage, and I’d spent all of my time driving up I-5 to Northgate mall, or down I-5 to Southcenter, our out on I-90 to Bellevue or across the 520 to Kirkland, or wheverever I needed to go. I drove a lot, because everything had a parking lot, and even though traffic pissed me off, I had a tape player and an air conditioner and the new car smell and I didn’t care.

And looking at the pictures… I mean, check them out sometime. Every road in Puget Sound is perfectly carved into the hills, with grassy meadows and evergreen trees wrapping around every terrace. You can’t drive five miles in Seattle without crossing over a lake or passing by a large body of water. Maybe it’s just something familiar to me about looking at these cameras, all of them positioned right at places I remember, that makes me reminisce. But when I look at that and then I look at what I do on most Saturdays here, it’s depressing. I know I took the scorched earth approach when I burned my bridges leaving Seattle, and I think assistant managing a McDonald’s here probably pays more than doing my current job back there, so I’m not in any rush to leave New York, but I just wish I could hop in my car that I don’t have and drive when I’m sick of staring at the same four walls and I want to get out.



Missing Emerald City, sort of

Re new nephew, his name is Wesley Douglas Owens, and all is well. I know that me gloating over a new nephew is very unkonrathian given that I hate kids, but I’ve found that I’ve actually enjoyed having my first nephew Phillip. My younger sister managed to be a good mom and raise a kid that’s smart, funny, and well-behaved, and I’m more than certain that Monica will be a good mother too. And what’s weird is that I remember when I was Phillip’s age, and being around him is almost like a portal into my past, the days when I spent all of my time playing with Legos and the last Star Wars movie was bigger than Jesus. So that’s cool, and I’ll enjoy watching another one grow up.

There’s a new guy at work who came to us from Seattle, and when I first talked to him on Friday, it turns out his wife also worked at WRQ, my last employer in the Emerald city. I always have the same conversation when I meet another Seattleite, similar to the one I have when I meet a fellow Hoosier that is expatriated and living in New York. It’s the conversation that starts with where you lived, where you worked, where you hung out, and goes into how much you miss Safeway or the Upstairs Pub or Garcia’s, and how cool it was to hang out in the Pike Place fish market or the Irish Lion, and how you can’t get good salmon or parking or whatever else. But this conversation was even more detailed, because we talked about the offices on Lake Union and the benefits policies and the Fourth of Julys on the terraces with the fireworks on the lake and the company picnics at Mount Si. And then I thought more about it, and realized it has been FIVE YEARS since I left. FIVE YEARS.

That’s a real sack of bricks in the gut right there. I guess when I talk about Seattle, there are a lot of reasons I’m finally glad I did get out when I did, and try something new. I mean, it’s not hard to create a list of reasons why the place hit the shitter around 2000: the vanishing job market, the WTO riots, the vaporware monorail and the taxes that prop it up, the taxes for the two stadiums (a quarter billion dollars to a football team that was 6 and 10 in 2000, so they can play six home games a year in a non-multi-purpose stadium), the traffic, the Microsoft millionaires driving up the rents, etc. etc. etc.

But I still miss it. Seattle was a far more liveable city if you can overlook the flaws. I mean, New York has way more to offer to most people, but the quality of life issues are so horrible, and you’ve got to spend some cash to avoid them. I have a lot of good memories of Seattle though. I think the real problem is that the Seattle in my mind is Seattle 1997, and I can never go back to that, just like I can’t go back to Bloomington 1992.

Speaking of getting out of New York to improve the quality of life, I’m thinking about vacations in a vague sense. I might try to skip out of town for a week in August, to spend it in cooler climates or at least in air conditioned hotel rooms for the worst part of the heat. I bought some book called 1001 things to see before you die or something, it is a giant flip-through book that you read when you are bored rather than when you want to travel, but it has all sorts of crazy ideas in it. I’d like to do something cool and travel-oriented like drive a dune buggy around or go rally racing or even snowmobiles, but I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe I’ll just go to Coney Island and ride the kiddie go-karts.

OK, gotta go write…


Boston planning, memories

It’s been absolutely fucking unbearable here, heatwise. I spent most of yesterday sitting in bed with a fan pointed at me, reading and passing in and out of sleep. I managed to get out of the house today for a haircut, some shopping at St. Marks (including Toy Tokyo and Kim’s) and a late lunch of breakfast at Kiev. I also went to Barnes and Noble and got a book on Boston, so I won’t be completely lost when I get there on Thursday.

I’ve been to Boston twice already, both times at the end of ’95. Both times were for work, when I was at CompuServe, and both times I was there for a week for a trade show. I had fun both trips, although on the first one, over Halloween, I got really sick and had to fly home with a full-on head cold, which became the absolute worst pain I’ve ever endured in my life. But both times, I saw a good amount of the city, although most of it was spent zipping around in cabs with people who knew more about the general geography, so I have no idea which way is up. But now my new book has a map, and I should be able to get around a bit better.

My memories of that whole era, the first six months of Seattle, are far enough back that I only remember mostly good things. I spent all of my time hacking on my first two books, I didn’t have a TV, I didn’t have any money, and I tried to do a lot to find out more about the new-to-me Emerald City. Most of that involved spending the last few bucks after car payments and rent to go to Elliot Bay books, buy whatever Bukowski I didn’t have, and go to whatever book signing they had. I remember meeting Barry Gifford, Richard Rhodes, and Kay Jamison within a month of each other in the basement of that old bookstore. And when I didn’t walk down to Pioneer Square, I would drive north and south on I-5, going up to see movies at Mountlake Terrace and wandering around the Northgate mall.

I just realized I have a shitload of travel books, both of places I’ve been and places I’ve wanted to visit. I wish I could visit each of the places I have a book for; it would be cool to go to Japan, Amsterdam, New Orleans. I don’t think I am taking any more big trips this year, although I am going to Vegas and probably taking one more long weekend. But next year, I’d like to roll all of my tax money into plane tickets and hit a lot of places.


Seattle the distant dream

I realized today that after about four months, Seattle is nothing but a distant dream to me. I pulled a book off of the shelf today (Steve Katz – 43 Fictions) and a receipt fluttered out, an ATM slip from a Seafirst bank. The red 1 on the back and dot-matrix printing brought me back to 5/23/98. I guess maybe once a week I have a heavy thought back to various points in the whole Seattle experiment. I’m not saying I hate New York and want to be back there – I mean, sometimes I go on a heavy trip about being back in Elkhart again, but I would never do it again. It’s just I have a bad habit of thinking back a year, or two years, and trying to compare it to now, to see if I’ve improved at all. I guess I usually think that moments of my past are best, but then I’ve probably screwed myself by thinking more like a writer and less like – well, whatever everyone else thinks like.

And I got on a big nostalgia trip about last year because I got on this huge self-reinvention thing last spring and summer, trying to figure out what path to take and what to do next. After breaking up with Karena, I spent a lot of time oscillating between thoughts of doing things to meet more people and extreme hermitdom. The latter brought greater productivity to me, and let me do a great deal of work on Rumored to Exist and Summer Rain. And it made me feel more like a writer. It also freaked me out, and made me more depressed. But I got a lot done.

I guess the reason I’m babbling about this is one of the reasons I haven’t updated in a while, and that’s because I have been lost. I mean, I’m almost always in the apartment, so it’s not that kind of lost. But I don’t know what I should do next. I have so many options open to me, that it’s almost confusing to figure out what I want out of life. And in wandering between different internal dialogues about the whole thing, I haven’t solved many things. Maybe I should give examples.

Sometimes, I want a job. Sometimes, this recruiting firm gets me to put on some nice clothes and go to interviews with big companies who are looking for writers. As of now, none of those have resulted in a job. And I guess that’s a good thing. Maybe I’d like the money and the desk and the people, but it would be counterproductive to my writing. There are times I am so blocked that I think “fuck it, I will take any job, even if it involves 2 hours on the subways to mop floors at a laundromat, as long as I don’t have to face writing again.” I usually get over those phases. But as my bank account dwindles, I feel drawn closer to this option.

A recent kick was grad school. I thought that I wanted to go back and get an MFA in creative writing. I looked into it, and decided that I had too many strikes against me, and it would be better to take the $15,000 that I didn’t have anyway and use it to keep holed up in my apartment and keep writing. I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of the situation, because it is exhausting. But that’s another option.

You may wonder, “why isn’t he listing his writing as an option?” Well, I am and I’m not. I want to finish Rumored to Exist. I want to edit Summer Rain. I want to work on more stuff. But I don’t know what to do aside from the writing. I don’t know what to do to meet people, make connections, and get out of the house. I thought grad school would make instant contacts, but it’s too much bullshit with GREs and application forms and tuition residency and comprehensive exams and foreign language tests. And I thought a job might work, but it’s a step in the wrong direction. And most of the writer’s workshop options in New York seem to be “pay me $1000 and I will teach you how to write in 10 hours” and not useful to a quasi-professional.

Somewhere in the middle of this chaotic argument, I made one universal statement that became like the 0th law of robotics to my entire mission: I need to finish Rumored to Exist. I need to make it a good book, the best I can write. Everything I do, every dollar I spend, every minute of every day needs to be directly related to the completion of this book. There will be no other side projects or diversions until I get the galleys back from the publisher.

I am starting to think a few things that would be considered anti-social but would probably help this process much more. First, I am not going to try to workshop the book. I think if I spent my money on a workshop, all I would get is a bunch of Anne Rice wannabes who would shit their intestines if they read any of Rumored. I don’t need people who don’t know what they are talking about to criticize my work, and I don’t need to waste my time reading theirs. And I don’t need to get tied up in the world of book publishing name-dropping.

So, maybe I do need to be a hermit again. Maybe I need to ignore the world until this book is done, and stop worrying about defining myself with outside shit that’s just there for people who need definitions. Right?

Yesterday, my computer completely died and I lost one of my harddrives. Luckily, it was not the one that holds all of my writing and personal files. Un-luckily, I had to drop $200 on another drive, and after two days, I am only about 90% functional. It has been a nonstop hack-fest trying to get everything running again. For some reason, I can only boot from floppy now. It appears that no known computer hardware can actually work with a harddrive bigger than a few gigs, and everything that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers have led you to believe is wrong. The only way to get large drives to work is by sheer voodoo. This is because They want you to throw your old PC out the window and go buy a brand new one anytime anything goes wrong.

I don’t remember what else. A lot has gone on, but it’s mostly categorizable in the “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” file. All I want is one full day of writing without something asinine happening that consumes 12 hours of my time. I’m hoping by the end of the month, this will happen. In reality, I know it won’t.

[2020 update: I can’t believe I thought an MFA would cost only $15,000.]