Drove down to Philadelphia, arrived in late afternoon. It was a bright and beautiful day. In the car, M played a podcast series about Charles Manson. Mostly, I drifted in and out of sleep. Would wake periodically to some disturbing story or gruesome detail. I don’t remember dreaming.
One of M’s oldest friends lives here. I recognize places we’ve been before, over the years. Before the children and jobs. It’s a perfect evening for walking, so after decadent pizzas (truffle and pecorino) and happy hour wine (just me), we walk through downtown for gelato and then sit with it in the park.
This morning, I wake feeling anxious. There are a few things I should have done before we left, a few emails still unanswered. And gradually, I start to see how quickly the time here will go. Already, plans with friends today and tomorrow. Any vague notions I might have had about stretches of time to read and write now dissipating. I have a busy week ahead — appointments and meetings I will need to have prepared for. It’s wearying at times, but I remind myself: This is in fact the life I have chosen.
Among my various notebooks, I find one I kept during the week-long summer writing course I took at Brown nearly ten years ago now. I was finding my way back to writing. Workshops in the morning, writing time in the afternoon, which I mostly spent in the sciences library. (I think I put myself in an unfamiliar place, so that I would remain in a state of heightened alert.) Readings in the evening. I remember it being a good and productive week. Wayne Koestenbaum was one of the visiting authors. He read from what would become Humiliation, and my notebook is filled with things he said about living as a writer. The long game of it.
On reading voraciously and widely: “What if you haven’t even yet discovered the nationality of the writers who will become most important to you?”
On finding your form: “You’ll write a novel, and then a second, and then a third, and maybe then you’ll find the right form, which will all be informed by the three novels.”
“Become an activist of your own sensibility,” he said. “Become a cultural sleuth.” I wrote all these things down, sensing their importance, even if I did not then know what they meant. I think I am understanding a little better, now.
One of the assignments that week was to draw some sort of map. I don’t recall exactly what the prompt was anymore, but it must have made some reference to childhood or to memory. After a few false starts (my drawing skills are extremely limited) I came up with this.
What I love about discovering this scrap (I’ve written “napkin map” in the upper corner, just beyond the frame) is seeing how I am always attempting to express something about longing. About wanting some other thing, about the emotional charge of desire. I see myself existing in this liminal state — here, but not here. Here, but looking back. Here, but awaiting the next thing, just around the bend, following the curve of desire.