A tool is only as good as its fit to the use one has for it. This is why I have resolved to keep my laptop at all times by my bedside, or on my bed in the empty hollow next to my body, so I can curl against it like a lover in the night, open its lid and wake it from its dreams to write. That’s why I resolved to make difficult my access to all the web browsers on it, and install every word processor known to Linux or otherwise, Open Office, MS Office run through WINE, perhaps doing the same with Scrivener. Just to keep all of them at my fingertips. A tool just to write. Devoted and unadulterated.
The research could remain a different process, could be kept compartmental, but I needed a the same kind of platform that had helped me with my thesis: a writing box. Unidirectional. In only. So I can finish instead of picking a text to bits like a raven with carrion hanging from its bill.
I know this is not what most people would do in my situation. I know that what I’m proposing may sound cold, unlovely, and just plain uninviting to potential lovers… but bear in mind, at this point in my life, taking any lovers to bed with me would be cheating on my wife: I’m married to narrative fiction (don’t ask why she’s gendered female; I don’t know).
I do know, though, that no one else but my laptop and sweet narratives will put up with me at 3 in the morning, when I wake with dragon breath, a distinct lack of hangover, and words spewing from my mouth like flame.
Sometimes it takes you a while to process things. My weekend in the Keys is one such thing. Ending on a sour note, there was one thing that buoyed me through bad, and left my mood elated through the scintillating bits: I had cycled there.
I did it by myself. 90 miles? Yeah, I can do that. My legs didn’t even wobble afterward. I wanted to cry out, “I am a MACHINE!” but that would have been inaccurate. I wasn’t a machine. I was better than a machine. I was the whole universe with 2nd degree sunburns covering my legs, and the cosmos on my tongue.
Dawn through Miami, and urban cycling in the rain, the South Dade Trail bore to me along the bus way, open, untreed, and then the Everglades, unshaded and noon-bright. The Overseas Highway, and its open shoulder, the ocean visible on both sights clear and turquioise, green, blue, aqua, mint, depending on the shifting of the sun, and the distance to sand bars.
I lifted my arms like wings. I rested in fire ants and didn’t feel them. That’s a lie. But I laughed as I brushed them off, breaking their bodies, saying, “Sorry, sorry. You invasive little fuckers. You belong here about as much as I do.”
I counted roadkill. Raccoon. Unidentifiable bird. Pigeon. ‘Possum. I nearly ran down a black snake as it slid across the Metro Path, balked at my approach, and back-wound just in time. “Sorry, sorry,” I called, and nearly pulled my tire from the rim as I skipped the paved trail, and side-scraped the tar trying to hop back on.
It was me and my CamelBak, me and my wits, me and the road and the wheels and my mental map, because I I memorized the route, but had no atlas. After Homestead, there was only one route, anyway. U.S. 1, south.
I’d arrived triumphant, one flat tire, and rescued in the last 5 miles, red-legged with the most important lesson of my life on my lips: reapply.
This language thing that people do… it intrigues me. Fashionable philosophy has been dissecting it for years, and still it’s our playground. We are vain birds, in love with our own voices, mockingbirds and jackdaws, finding all the surfaces to echo back our calls across the sky.
Names, words writing… not the same but interlinked. They have power. To name a thing is to control it, to speak a thing makes it true, to set a thing in writing makes it unalterable. Myths and words of power. Odin gave his eye for knowledge of the runes.
Words are the poles we use to vault the chasms between minds. That is its own magic. To speak, to say, and then to understand. A miracle.
And yet, words are empty symbols we push around paper, that we cast into the air, and we could fill any sound shape with the notions that we like, and so long as we are in agreement. But we are agreeable sorts.
Tonight? Some of them are simply cries to carry on the wind.
The only lights were the roundness of the near-full setting moon, and the sodium arc glow pouring over the streets like honey. The main roads were all dead, save a lone car here or there. Even the joggers weren’t up yet. It was only me and the owls.
My bicycle glided through the empty streets nearly silent: oiled gears are owl wings, and my feet never stopped turning pedals. And then the dawn began.
Through Little Haiti, the cocks were calling, chickens on the pavement, darting away last minute as my wheels cut the air by their feathers. The buses woke up, stage by stage, marquees of “Not In Service” replaced by route numbers and a few lonely riders.
And then it began to grey. The back streets and crossed highways gave way to the Metro Path, and the backyards of businesses, school buses and graffiti and billboards rolled by as my wheels turned, and the sky never glowed past steel. The rain misted down as I said goodbye to Miami. I was on my way.
Tonight is all preparation. I will be snug in my bed early, for at the tramp stamp of dawn tomorrow, I begin my cycling odyssey to the Keys. There will be much to tell, and with any luck, some photos.
I am not just working on one novel. I’ve laid aside a second, most of it a stringy mess, but with clear bits shining through. This is the clearest passage in that tangle, and it dates from 2010. This weekend, bits of this text have presented themselves instead of fragments of Jorinda and Joringel.
Damien owned the house at twenty– it had been his grandmother’s, and when she died, she left it to him. His older brother paid him rent to store all his crap in the back bedroom, and Damien worked at a pizza place doing deliveries.
I slept on the living room floor in my sleeping bag, and lived out of my backpack. Most nights, Damien slept out on the couch, and I camped out right up against it, so that he had to step over me to get up in the night.
I liked it because every time he got up to take a leak, or get a snack, or get ready for work, he’d lean over and put his hand on my shoulder.
“You okay, Jel?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
Then he’d tuck my hair back behind my ear, pull the sleeping bag up to my neck against the fury of the air conditioner, and scritch the back of my head. I’d lie awake hours just for those moments.
It went like that for a while. Damien would come home from delivering pizzas. Maura would come over after school– I wouldn’t bother going– and the three of us got stoned and played video games. I got really good at first person shooters. Mostly Maura would watch, commenting in her squeaky girl voice, punctuating most of Damien’s sentences with the titter.
“Omuhgawd, I can’t look when you just explode his head like that!”
“Then don’t look, dipshit,” I quipped. “And it was my head.”
“Well, how was I s’posed to know? It was totally a guy on the screen.”
“Naw, it’s good, it’s good. They’re just pixels, Maura,” Damien cooed.
“It’s so bloody, though. It’s mean,” Maura whined.
“Video games are supposed to be mean. Catharsis. Testosterone and stuff,” I never took my eyes from the screen.
“Naw, it’s not mean, Maura. You can’t be mean to pixels,” Damien hummed absently.
“But all that blood. It’s just gross.”
I have a thing against wireless controllers. Mice, too. Give me a hard connection. None of this dead battery shit. At least, that’s what I say to people. It’s what they’d rather hear. Especially when the real answer is that there are times when all I want to do is take that convenient cord and wrap it around some poor idiot’s neck and pull. Y’know. Catharsis. Testosterone and stuff.
“Aw, Maura, c’mere, just snuggle down here. You don’t have to look,” Damien held his arm open away from his chest and Maura curled up, burying her face in his shoulder while he played.
I fragged Damien seventeen times that night before he called it quits. He went into his bedroom, storm clouds and pout, and Maura got up to follow him. I heard the door lock behind them.
Console off, sun set, I just sat in the dark room for a bit. Then I could hear them breathing heavily, so I drew my knees up to my chest and covered my ears with my arms. When they started to moan, I made for the front door.
The night was cool, frosted with October, but I had no idea where to go. I could hear Damien and Maura from the front lawn, so I walked down the hill out to Main, and then from main into the center of town.
I walk the beach at night. I walk the beach for miles, and lose track of the sand I’ve traversed. I walk the beach barefoot, trudging through the loose dunes, or listening to the soft shush of my feet barely dragged on the wet packed tide-way. I walk the beach and tangle my toes with the seaweed. I am looking for treasure.
I avoid the beach in the day. I am not a daylight person, anyway. I am a night thing, but without an owl’s ears to guide me, without a cat’s sight to see by. I stay up into the wee hours. I like to be about in the dark.
In part, I just like places that stay open late, place where I can keep the oddest hours. It’s not about partying, or going out drinking. I don’t do those things often. They are not once-a-week things, but once-in-a-few-months things. Instead, I simply like the night. There’s a stillness that is not quiet. You can hear a place better at night. When all the noise and rush of shouted conversation, the shrieks of glee and surprise and horror, the murmur of social obligations die away, you can curl up cat-like at the throat of a city and listen instead to its pulse. You can meander out to the shore and feel it thrum instead of roar.
And that’s why I walk the beach at night: not so much to hide from all that happens in the day, but to seek out what I can only find by moonlight. The sound of the surf by itself. The sea turtles, hatching, and turning away from the city’s blackout dark in their season. The length of the Atlantic and Florida laid side by side like lovers. The remains of sand castles, untended. These are the treasures I hope to discover.
When I write, I write in the thick of the crowd, in the center of the rush, amid cacophony. When I think… I walk the beach alone at night.
It’s been a quiet night, and I feel rich.