Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Be a traveler, not a tourist.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I first heard it while watching Anthony Bourdain salivate over roasted pork cheeks at a hole in the wall restaurant on one of his excursions. As a side note: Do yourself a favor. Find a properly prepared pig cheek and eat it. I first had them in Cour-Cheverny, France—heaven on a plate. Actually that’s not a side note, it applies directly to where I’m going. We found a tiny restaurant, in a small village, in the Loire Valley. There wasn’t a tourist in sight, because we were traveling.

I’ve considered this post for some time because I didn’t want to come off snarky or pretentious. I still might, but at least I’ve thought about my snarkyness. It all started when I read a well-meant blog about the difficulties of becoming or being a writer. The rejection you face, the thick skin you have to grow, the deadlines to meet, how you have to embrace Hemingway’s “sit at a typewriter and bleed” mindset, that if you can do anything else, do it. You have probably read similar blogs or articles. As I read, my mind harkened back to me at age nineteen.

Being young, male, and well…stupid…I had moved out of my of my family’s home a few months prior. I spent some time working for a cousin and living at his place, then moved again, which prompted living in my car for a few weeks. Finally, I found a roommate and employment. The job was as a hod carrier for a plastering company. 

Basically that meant heaving ninety-pound sacks of cement onto a mixer, breaking the bag open, and shaking the powder into the whirring blades while trying unsuccessfully not to breathe. Then a partner and I tossed thirty-five shovels of sand per bag in after it, while adding water to get the “mud” to a desired consistency. While it mixed, we moved scaffolding for the plasterers and set up stands where we put the cement they troweled onto the wall. Ahhh, but it didn’t get to the stand on its own. I poured it from the mixer into a wheelbarrow and brought it to the stand, then shoveled it into place. We did this all day long, and I have the tinnitus to prove it. (Mixers are loud.) But, that was all after arriving at the job site. Getting there was another matter entirely. 

The owner of the company, my buddy’s father, was a raging alcoholic. My friend and I would show up at the “yard” where the equipment and his dad lived. We would go into the barn-like structure and find him wherever he had fallen the previous night (he seemed to prefer the bathtub.) We woke him, braced for the torrent of inventive vulgar descriptions of us he delivered. During the day he continued these in a belief that they somehow spurred us to higher levels of performance. It is corny, but true, my boss had a good heart and made us breakfast cooked on a barbeque using a broken wooden cement pallet as fuel. He also eventually taught me to use the tools of the trade and I worked my way through college and provided for my young family using them.

Writing = Sit at a typewriter and bleed?  Yes please.

I’m sure you are at the point of all this, but I’ll state it just in case.

Anything…At any point in my life…That was worth doing…involved obstacles and trials. When I lost focus and dwelt on the difficulties, the load became unbearable.

I write because I love it. I get huge kicks from having the story find its way out of me. I enjoy meeting people on twitter and finding comrades who support my efforts and keep me sharp. In essence…I love the “traveling.” I’m going to explore every little back alley I can and find some pig cheeks along the way. Sure, I hope and pray I make the “destination.” But if I don’t, if never find an agent, land a contract, or any of the things that go along with traditional publication, I will still write and relish the process.

How about you?

Why are you writing? What is your focus? What spurs you on?