Friday, January 18, 2013

My Fantasy Workplace

I recently shared a bit about how I work on my friend Francie Greenslade's blog. I was tempted to make things up, especially seeing many of the beautiful and inspiring places other people write. I decided to tell the truth, which is plain, but maybe not out of any impulse toward honesty. It's possible my fantasy writing place is more bland than my real one.

I want to live in a cheap motel somewhere, a place with a kitchenette and 1970s furniture. I'd stay in each motel for a couple of weeks, writing at the old kitchen table, sitting on the lawn chair outside my door in the evenings, having a beer or two. The motel would be just off a secondary highway with mostly local traffic, and the sun would behave like the sun of my youth, which only means I'd notice it as I would back then, when hard work was new to me and my work days were long.

I've lived in places like this before, while working on various highway construction jobs in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC, and in places like Carrington and Jamestown in North Dakota, or in the town I went to school last, Vermillion, South Dakota, though I didn't live in the motel then, but I would go swim at night sometimes in the pool of one that seemed always vacant.

I remember one time staying in Takysie Lake working on the reconstruction of a logging road, when everyone else went home for a couple of days. I stayed because Vancouver was too far and someone else stayed, too. His name was Tracy and he worked in our field office processing our survey data. He lived in a tiny trailer just by the field office and I lived at a lodge by the gas station/store in town. We met for breakfast that Sunday but the restaurant was closed so we ate at my house.

For him there was no way out of the life. This was his work. He didn't complain, but he did say on a previous job he'd been out on the grade one day way ahead of the machines when someone tracked him down and told him his father was dying, and by the time he got home his father was dead. Now what about my kids? he said. I never see them either.

He was a methodical man. Most people I met in that business were--they held to rituals long after they'd forgotten their purpose.

I feel like if I could be alone in such a place, just watching the highway, I'd write my best novel. I would live with fewer clothes, a percolator for coffee, no Internet, and I'd see the people who came and went in the motel, people who'd been left behind by all their high school friends who were in larger cities and had found better work. And when I needed some help I'd have a few books. The books would save me like James Kelman's A Disaffection did one summer when I worked by myself in Maple Creek.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Title

The title of this blog comes from advice David Mamet gave his daughter Zosia about acting: hit your mark, look the other person in the eye, and tell the truth. (At least this is the paraphrased memory of it I have from seeing Zosia Mamet interviewed on one of the late night talk shows).

            In the last few years I’ve written a lot about art’s function[1], and find it hard to continue in that vein, though it is an important subject to me. But there seems to be no way to write simply and clearly what art should do; any attempt at clarity seems prescriptive and limiting and in fact its success may end the whole conversation. So instead I want to try to write about smaller things, things that are on the periphery of that conversation but are not meant to be definitive.

            Mamet’s advice seemed, as soon as I heard it, perfect for any artist, and applies to writing this way: you get the perspective right, then you look where you are supposed to look, and be honest. Quite simple in theory. Difficult, really.

[1] Only two essays were published, mind you. They were editorials for the first two issues of Ryga: A Journal of Provocations.