Thursday, May 6, 2010


Stories often begin when you are off your routine of work, sorting the reality about you by moving to a new vantage point wherein to be absorbed into the background, where you are not seen, much less recognized by anyone you know. So there you are, a page or two of handwritten notes in front of you, sequestered in an out-of-the-way corner on the nine-hundred block of State Street, a medium latte set before you with a Christmas-tree design on its foamy surface, cell phone turned off, discovering that the coffee shop has excellent taste in its music: you are accordingly thrown back into another time by the riffing alto sax solo of Johnny Hodges, up front with the Duke Ellington band.

Within two minutes, you are joined by a chum who plunks down. "I thought I might find you here. If there were a place other than Peet's, this would be it."

The logic is stunning, unsettling, reminding you of a writer friend whose daytime job is private detective and who once traced a fugitive to a cheap motel in Las Vegas following the same line of logic, causing the fugitive to remark, "No matter what you do, someone's gonna think outside the box and scope your grift." Which reminded you of another writer friend to whom you in your writing and classroom lectures attributed the sage advice: "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go." Trouble is, you said that once in his presence at a writers' conference, whereupon he interrupted you. "I never said that," he said. "You said that. I happen to believe it in principal, but I never said it."

There you are, stunned, unsettled, with a better-than-reasonable latte before you and someone who knew you'd be where you had not been for at least a year, and then only by the accident of it being next door to a movie theater you were about to attend. The conversation quickly morphs into the issue of how some conversations can effect your entire mood and your entire read of the person or persons with whom you are conversing, leading to the delicate balance of conversations with persons you like and the more elaborate, more ritualized conversations with persons you have little or no attraction for. This particular person, you have begun to discover over an arc of time, is one with whom you are able to converse on that more direct, assured level. The music flows easily into Bill Evans and even you are nursing the belief that it is logical for you to be here.

Thus stunned and unsettled you are nonetheless stunned and unsettled when another person approaches. "I was hoping you'd be here. But oh, I see you're in a conversation. Okay. Maybe I'll find you next week when there's more time."

Of course you wonder about these things. In a sense, one of the reasons you left Los Angeles was in the hopes of finding the kind of comfortable solitude you'd experienced earlier when you sat in your observation post, observing, unobserved, sorting the kinds of things you thought at that age would help your development into the writer you wished to be.

Leaving Los Angeles is an entirely different vector because the moment you left it, you were offered a teaching post there, meaning you were now someone who had left however briefly, returning to observe the changes going on about you that you would not have noticed had you remained. Given the intensity of population shifting, of departures and arrivals, of relationships to and from places, you more fully see the illusory nature of living anywhere because where ever you are, you carry traces, cat hairs and dog dander of origins. You once were hopelessly lost in a sprawl of Mexico City, neither alarmed nor concerned about finding your way to your apartment. Turning a corner and seeing a small cantina where you thought to get coffee, cigarettes, and some directions, you saw, instead a man you knew from the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, who demanded without much build-up, to know when you would be finished with the screen play he'd requested from you. Then there was the time when you were strolling past St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

Perhaps you are not intended to observe from comfortable anonymity. Perhaps this has been the hitch in your vision, all along.

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