Momentum

Blogging must be the hardest writing there is.

Oh, I’ve been essaying like a mad thing. All year I’ve been working on a book, a memoir, and I’m in my third section of a creative nonfiction writers’ group, during which I’ve workshopped six pieces, four of which I’ve submitted for publication. I’m hopeful, but certainly not holding my breath.

But blogging feels like something different. Perhaps it’s an unfair bias, but I don’t want to put my essays into the blogosphere. I want literary recognition. Is that silly? Am I a luddite to still believe in paper and editors and things that take a long time?

I’ll tell you some things. I’m applying to MFA programs for next fall. I’ve told my boss that I’m leaving my job next summer to pursue writing. I fully expect to be back in school next fall, but that’s out of my hands. If it doesn’t happen? I’m still leaving my job. Even if just temporarily, just to see if I can piece together a living through words.

This has been the plan since forever. I just forgot for about ten years.

Last weekend I went home. I rented a car and made the seven hour drive (each way) solo, wanting to take in the landscape between Davis and Victorville one last time before potentially leaving California. I spent lots of quality time with my nephews, brother, Mom. We visited my Dad’s grave in Riverside. We brought flowers and circus animal cookies. It was 92 degrees in Riverside and I foolishly wore jeans. I got the kids to play ’20 questions’ to help pass the time on the 45-minute drive to and from the cemetery– a mere blip compared to my long haul, but to an 8- and 9-year old, interminable.

At home, I gathered old photos. I wanted remembrances of all my departed to make an altar for Dia de los Muertos, and possessed no pictures of my maternal grandparents or paternal grandfather, or of Dad’s Grandma, Granny, the oldest relative I knew. I found photos of each of them, and of some departed uncles, great-uncles, and some fabulous black-and-whites from the 40s and earlier, of people I don’t know and even Mom didn’t recognize, but photos that spoke to me of history and lineage nonetheless.  I brought them all back, but that’s not all I brought.

There were lots of good reasons to make the long drive instead of taking a short flight home last weekend, but what I really wanted to do was collect my trunk and bring it back. The old-fashioned steamer trunk-style foot locker that my parents bought for me to tote my personal effects to my college dorm room, and which wound up coming back with me and remaining at Mom’s house during my first boomerang move back home in 2000. I filled the trunk with memories: snapshots and portraits, journals, yearbooks, letters and greeting cards, old poems, stories, and essays. It lived in the closet of the spare room/my room, with a lock on it, and naturally I left the key at my place in Davis. Steve helped me load the trunk into the back of the rental (it was too heavy for me to lift by myself), and I drove it the long way back to Davis. Across the desert and over the Tehachapi pass. Highway 99 from Bakersfield to Stockton, jam-packed with trucks and cars and people getting from here to there. Highway 4, the shortcut across Stockton, to the 5 North and Sacramento and the 80 West and traffic all throughout the causeway, traffic and NPR my constant companions from Stockton on. And I got home and I wrestled the trunk into my apartment and found the padlock key in my dresser drawer and unlocked the treasure chest.

So many memories. So much evidence of who I am, who I have always been. The whole history is there: I have been writing so long. And I was always good at it. Maybe I wasn’t as keen of an editor as I think I am now, but even in early works it is plain that I was in love with words. And I think I’ve come so far but all the things I’m thinking about, working through, focusing  my writing on– it’s always been what it is now. My poems and stories in high school deal with all the same themes I’m up to now. Isn’t that amazing? Or utterly unsurprising?

I gave myself a deadline of my thirty-third birthday, now a month and a half ago, to complete a draft of a memoir, in thirty three chapter-essays. I met that goal, but have had difficulty returning to the manuscript to begin the work of figuring out what it’s trying to be. I want and need more time to spend on it, but my pesky job keeps getting in the way. But if I’m honest with myself, I know there is no hurry to finish the book. The writing has been patiently waiting for me to pay attention to it for all these years, and now that I am, I feel obligated to make up for lost time, all the years I spent out of practice because I thought I didn’t have what it takes. Now I’m coming to consciousness that I do have what it takes. The book will happen in time. For now, I will just keep writing.

And, I hope, blogging.

Gumby

The theme song to “Gumby” that accompanied the closing credits always made me cry when I was little.

. . . He can walk into any book
with his pony pal, Pokey, too.
If you’ve got a heart,
then Gumby’s a part of you.

I can’t tell you anything that happens in a single episode of Gumby, though I must’ve watched it every day for a few years. I don’t remember particularly liking the show, though I rarely missed an episode, and had a much-loved toy Pokey. I remember the profound sadness I felt whenever it ended, when those cheerful children’s voices went on about books and ponies and hearts.

I sing the song to myself now, two decades since I’ve seen an episode of Gumby, and still feel a ghost of that old sadness, familiar and immediate in my throat. He was once a little green ball of clay, just like Adam in Genesis and all that.

I wanted to be Gumby.

Gumby could walk into a book, any book. Literally. He could go into the world that existed within a book, whether jungle or pirate ship or outer space. Forget flying. Nevermind invisibility. Gumby’s is the super power I would choose, if I could pick one.

(As a child, what world would I have chosen to inhabit, if any? Zuckerman’s farm. Hands down.)

If you’ve got a heart then Gumby’s a part of you. You’d think that would be a comfort to someone who so desperately desired to do what Gumby could do, but I didn’t really dig that sentiment, or that line in the song. There was something I didn’t like about Gumby, something didn’t sit right with me. Something creepy about Claymation. Something outdated.

Why was I so sad when the show was over? Something about the time of day, about what came next? This rings a bell like a warning. Better not to think about that.

Focusing instead on the feeling as it related to “Gumby.” Perhaps it was frustration. In every episode, I looked for clues. How does he do it. Gumby, how do you manage to get into those books? Literally into them? Frustration, when it’s over, that I’m no closer to an answer truth. The episode never offered me clues on how I could do what Gumby did, only these platitudes about reading books and using your imagination. Well, duh. I could do that. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to take it to the next level.

Gumby, please, man, you gotta fill me in here. How can I do what what you do? I need tips, clues, hints, anything. Help me puzzle it out so that I, too, can escape into any exotic or mundane locale I choose, so long as I own or have access to a book about it.

How does Gumby do it? The answer I always came back to is that you have to be made out of clay for it to work, to possess Gumby’s infinite mutability, his power of transfiguration at will, which is of course something that I can’t do. Even if, as Genesis suggests, I am made of clay.