The fact that I have a 15-year-old car that makes odd noises and has an unnerving smell of gasoline was not going to stop me from having a day pretending to be on vacation. As a writer who has never had much money, mostly my “vacation” consists of a few hours at the lake, paddling around for a while in a kayak, bobbing across the wake of jetskiers, or sitting for a couple of hours at the bookstore, drinking coffee and reading a book I didn’t pay for. I paid for the coffee, though.
Since I am currently unemployed—an unemployed writer, wouldn’t you just know it?— I have plenty of time to contemplate sitting in my apartment looking for work, or not looking for work, or wondering how to look for work, and wondering if I’ve done those things long enough to justify a nap.
Today I decided to take the day off, to actually go somewhere, any goddamned where, just to get Out Of The Apartment. From among the plethora of vacation hotspots that do not actually require travel or money, I chose the small towns of St. Marys and Ridgway (correctly spelled), not far from me in Pennsylvania.
Before starting my big day out, I had Vacation Goals for the day, but now that the day is over, I can apply my highly developed skills as a writer and revise the past to make meaning of it. So the revised goals for today were: (1) to visit the Straubs brewery in St. Marys, too late to take a tour, but providing an opportunity to learn how shockingly cheap the beer is at the brewery, provoking me into buying two cases, and (2) to visit the Elk County History Museum in Ridgway, to look at many old pictures of buildings on fire.
I can play with words and describe the day in various ways. I might be humorous and point out the impression from the museum that all of Elk County must have gradually burned down over the years. Or I might be profound and talk about driving home astonished by the beauty of clouds above a ridge, just as I passed a dead deer and could smell the corpse, so that death and sublimity mixed in that moment.
Either way, or another way, I’m choosing how to present it. I got the impression on Tuesday over lunch that someone suspected me of not having proper reverence for the mystical process of writing. We didn’t talk about it much, but it seemed to me the idea of consciously applying craft was being denied. Given that I have been a writer for half a century, and my interlocutor claimed not to be a writer at all, I had a minute of thinking Well which one of us actually knows about this?
Truly things do sometimes appear in our art, and we may not know where they came from. That may be more true for other forms of art that don’t use language, where the expression can be more purely emotional. But I believe very strongly in the craft of art, that good artists work hard to learn it. Letting a poem or a story just “flow out of you” and then you’re done—that’s for children, a technique that mostly produces rivers of drivel. Serious writers work at what they are doing.
So should I, as a writer, be the conduit through which art mysteriously appears? On a good day, I am. But on a bad day (which is mostly when I try to get some writing done), I’m still trying to turn something out, and I rely on skills that I’ve learned over the years.
Ya want profundity? I got yer profundity right here. Today I found cheap beer. Get out of here.