Monday, May 16, 2011

This Writer's Life

So, as I write, very few hours remain of the 15th day of May and my own monthly bit of typing is due to be posted here by early on the 16th. Some hard-working editor back east is expecting a manuscript from me in approximately nine hours and is it done? Decidedly not. Oh well, not two days ago I caught myself quoting some crabby scribe to a writer friend, that old wheeze about writing being the price one pays for being able to live the writer's life. As it is, sometime betwixt now and dawn, I'll get sufficient words in order, take Mimi out into the cool for a walk, then come in and collapse; fall asleep listening to the BBC - makes for some odd dreams, I can attest.
And it occurs to me, as it is growing very late, that this nights's moments would dazzle and perplex the folks about whom I've been writing all day, early Americans who never pressed SEND. Never flipped a plastic switch by the doorway and have a room go bright. Turned a key in the ignition or flushed a toilet or picked up a phone or cranked up the AC. Their whole lives were spent in the first half of the 19th century in an endless power failure, from a certain p.o.v. Calls to mind David McCullough saying something about how difficult and inconvenient and uncomfortable a regular day could be for those living in the long ago. All the more remarkable, the things and thoughts they accomplished, when nothing but fire stands between you and cold, hungry dark, when nothing goes faster than a horse can run.
An minute now I'll go pop a soda (Would Dolley Madison even like a Diet Coke?) and get back to this manuscript (tic-toc tic-toc and I still haven't explained the Missouri Compromise.) The book's about America's "westward expansion." There's a big fat, boiled down euphemism for a gritty, gut-wrenching, back-breaking, optimistic, multi-faceted, unstoppable and glorious/courageous, sucks-to-be-you-Indians nightmare if ever there was one. Not something I'll say to the next set of little faces, arrayed before me, their owners sitting, 'cris-cross applesause' on a hard shiny floor. No, you can bet money that I'll be absolutely entertaining as I tell the little squirts that "a nation is like a person. Don't you guys feel like if other people knew more about your past, what all you've had to put up with and the good things about your life, that they would treat you better? Cut you some slack? Understand better why you're the kind of person you are?"
They nod, bless their hearts.
"Well, a country is like a person. A nation, whether it's the United States or Nigeria or Mexico or Japan, is more than borders, boundaries, and a fluttering banner. A nation is a combination of all of the stories of all of the people - not just the famous ones - back upstream in the living past.
I mean, history is more than just a bunch of dead people's birthdays and factoids and one stupid war after another," I say, as little by little, I work on my big scribbly drawing of Abraham Lincoln. ("Do you guys want his with his beard or without?" "BEARD!" At Christmastime I draw reindeer antlers sprouting out of his stovepipe topper. )
Now school visit season is over and writing must be done, if I want to stay in the game, that is and I do.
All yesterday and all today and well into tomorrow morning, I expect, I'll be alternately paging through books, then typing, then staring at what I typed, deleting, typing some more about the mountain men (oh baby, what a smelly bunch for a scratch 'n' sniff book), the [Amazing Impossible] Erie Canal (gone into another printing, praise all that's holy), Tecumseh of the Shawnee and early travelers on the long trail to Oregon, Narcissa Whitman, for instance, who made much of the trip, balanced upon her horse's sidesaddle, lest she appear unladylike (oh, her aching back!). I wrote about her and her missionary/physician husband once. (Are stories really inside those boxes of unopened books?) Thank goodness this particular book ends around the time of the Alamo so I needn't go into what happened to the Whitmans and all the reprisals visited upon the 'ungrateful' Cayuse Indians for doing what they did. I'll leave the folks on the Trail, the trappers at their rendezvous in some mountain meadow, and let the future be a surprise for them all.

1 comment:

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Tight deadlines and sleepless nights? An entirely different technology and lifestyle from the folks whose tales we tell? Cris-cross applesauce school talks? I can Identify! You've got it down pat....great blog, Cheryl.