Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shawshack Redemption

Last month, as previously mentioned in this space, my friend Jill and I went to a dune shack on Cape Cod.  In theory, we went there to write.  The romantic notion behind the dune shack is that you go there to practice your art, with such practice made easier by the fact that you are stripped of distractions, like electricity, the internet, and phone service.  You trade in all your technological mod cons for the bare basics:  pumping water, making fires, wandering the shore watching for whales.  This simple existence motivated the likes of Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, and Jackson Pollack.  Armed with a box of Palomino Blackwing pencils and two blank composition books, I was pretty stoked to get busy.  I’d had no time to write at home, so with a completely blank schedule and the spirit of goddamned Eugene O’Neill, I was sure to be unstoppable.

Who was I fucking kidding?

Full disclosure of factoids that were out to get me: 

 1) I’ve had plenty of time to write, honestly, I just hadn’t been doing it.  Mostly because when I do write, it’s 96% garbage.  If I added up all the time I wasted on Facebook and devoted it to writing pure crap with a 4% rate of return, I probably still would have enough decent material to put together a book.  I just haven’t done the work.  I have no deadlines, therefore I have no discipline.

2) The dune shack was a forty minute walk from Provincetown, which is like dying and going to Ultra Cute Ice Cream and Pizza For Every Meal Vacation Wonderland By The Sea Super Gay Heaven.  And I heart sweet, creamy, delicious, beautiful gay distractions.

3) My concentration, of late, has been completely fucked.  I’ve given up on trying to read anything longer than a magazine article as it’s an exercise in futility.  I have a handful of stalled projects that consist of notes on my phone or two shitty sentences.  The last few things I’ve had to present to the world were written long ago, and the work I’ve done editing them comes with a heaping side of This Used To Be Effortless For You, Now It’s a Sisaphusian Boulder Hell Bent On Flattening Your Ass.

We spent a day or so getting accustomed to shack life, doing chores, trying to make things hospitable.  Surely the muse would appear after communing with seals, a night of drunkenly reading Salinger aloud by the fire,

after a stroll on Eugene O’Neill Way?  No?  Okay, fuck it, we’re going with the Anne Lamott theory that one is not blocked, one is empty.  Time to go fill up on something to write about.  We’d already had an amazing first day on the Cape, when we met Maggie, a friend of a friend. It was like we’d known her all our lives after an hour.  She took us to watch surfers on Coast Guard beach and to get groceries; she was our partner in crime for a night of fried seafood, cocktails, and clove cigarettes in the center of town.  It was like being in high school again, without all that pesky teenage angst.

Over the next few broody dune shack days, I wrote one story that was clogging up my head about a messy relationship I was once in.  Fifteen pages of pure crap, but I was sure it was what was standing between me and writing up a storm.  Hmmm.  Nope.  

Divine intervention hit once again with the introduction of Katie and Shannon, who were mentioned here before.  Katie and Shannon wandering by our shack on Thursday morning just seemed like a random act of pure awesome.  The four of us immediately struck conversation gold, having a wonderful afternoon on our deck playing games.  Then the ladies invited us to join them in Provincetown for their last vacation night, and off we went. 

There were mojitos and shots of Bulliet Rye with adorable gay bartenders,

 and Italian food and restaurant owners named Muffin and crashing of lesbian bachelorette parties and cold beer in wedding coozies and lovely ladies hanging upside down from the ceiling,

and waking up hungover in a beautiful bed and breakfast with new friends who offered us a shower after we hadn’t had one in five days, which we declined (still trying wrap my head around that decision).  Jill and I walked back to the shack through the dunes, and although I was dehydrated and unwashed and tired and still waiting for the muse, I had to admit it was more fun than a person should be allowed to have by law.

With the time on the cape coming to a close, I made peace with the writer’s block.  If I wasn't going WRITE a book, I would at least READ one.  Reading is fundamental, right?

I brought This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz.  It’s a collection of short stories, so it wasn’t so daunting to test my concentration skills out on it.  It’s the third book featuring the same protagonist, Yunior, so there was an element of coming into something already in progress as I began the book.  It’s also misogynist in tone, rife with Spanish, which I found maddening as I was left to guess the definitions based on the context, and deeply set in a world I couldn't relate to.   That said, I absolutely loved the book with every piece of my being.  So raw, so honest, so heartfelt, so lovely.  There were many mentions of his struggles with writing that I swore were placed there just to make me feel better.  I finished the book, feeling so satisfied with the notion that even though I hadn’t done what I thought I might do, I did what felt right.  Like sitting around eating trail mix in my underwear.  

And then we got stuck all night in the Boston airport with a box of Boston creme donuts after not showering for a week, which was a hilariously discordant coda.  But that’s another story.

Upon arriving home, I felt a subtle shift in attitude.  I started having ideas of things to write about.  I started writing this blog again.  I rewrote an old story and did it at an open mic.  Getting back into writing was much like pumping water from the dune shack well, you had to pour water into it to get the flow started.  I guess I just needed to focus less on immediate water output and more on priming the pump.  
(Water pumping deftly modeled by the glorious Jill Howe, who took many of these photos)

I’ll leave you with a delightful poem that will stick with me from the trip, printed on our lovely lady bachelorette friends' wedding coozies.  

Here’s to the girl who wears the red shoes
She smokes all my cigarettes and drinks all my booze
She ain't no cherry, but that ain't no sin
'Cuz she still has the box that the cherry came in


I started writing for an online magazine called Nvate recently, and I have a bunch of plans over the summer that mostly involve hanging out with kids and trying to teach them stuff.  No doubt it will be interesting.  More soon.