Tuesday, January 24, 2012

where INTERN lives now

Two weeks ago, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend moved to a small town in northern California, where they are renting a shadowy nook on the grounds of a failing ecovillage. INTERN has passed through this town many times on cold and wet hitchhiking trips up and down the coast, but never dreamed she would live here. Now, she's the one waving at hitchhikers, but never driving far enough to take them anywhere they want to go.

It's a very good place place to be a writer, or anyone on the lookout for stories. You can sit in the coffeeshop and listen in awe and dismay as baby-faced highschool seniors discuss their upcoming bachelorette parties, or eavesdrop on pot growers griping about how much further the price of a pound plummets each year.

You can linger in the cluttered aisles of the tiny health food store while a barrel-chested back-to-the-lander expounds on his methods for harvesting wild yeast for homemade ginger beer. You can walk down the road to drink unusually strong gin and tonics in a huge, vacant bar decked out with logging photographs, and walk home again feeling like you've really done something with the evening, even though you haven't.

One of your neighbors beats a drum every morning and leaves gifts of bundled sage on your doorstep; the other one thoughtfully informs you of the best nights to go to the casino at the rez. The local newspaper consists almost exclusively of stream-of-consciousness letters-to-the-editor from people who have grown used to having their bizarreness tolerated and even celebrated by the rest of the community. As you read them, reality peels away. If these people are OK, you think to yourself, maybe I'm not doing so bad.

It's been a long time since INTERN has lived in a place where one can feel productive just by sitting on the curb and absorbing, knowing that something interesting is bound to happen or appear or amble up the sidewalk and tell a knock-knock joke. As a writer, INTERN often feels anxious about producing enough: enough blog posts, enough chapters, enough articles, enough tweets. But simply being is productive too, or can be. At least, that's what INTERN's been telling herself over the course of many hours loitering on the street.


INTERN wants to know: What's the most interesting place you've ever lived? Why is it that the world feels so rich and observable at some times and in some places but not in others? How important is lived experience to writing?


  1. It sounds as if INTERN has found her eco-niche at last!

    Most interesting place I've lived? I'd have to say London. It's boring to say that, but Johnson was right. The fact I don't live there now might be a testament to the fact I can only take so much interesting these days.

  2. I haven't lived in a lot of places, but I did spend one summer living in Spain as part of a study abroad program. I wish I could have lived there longer; it was so interesting to be in a different atmosphere where people actually took siestas in the middle of the day. It was a little unsettling for me at first, because I really am a workaholic, to be around people who weren't as obsessed with their work as I was and who seemed to be so much more relaxed and happy. I didn't see any drive-thrus in the neighborhoods I explored, because people actually took the time to enjoy and savor their meals with family and friends. I loved it, and I think if I could have stayed there longer than just a couple months I would have relaxed more too.

  3. “What's the most interesting place you've ever lived?” was the assignment for English B, and the girl who handed out the assignments spoke briefly of journeys and solitudes and suggested we write what we know. And there is always someone in the class who lived in a lighthouse or an island or somewhere famous so that the others muttered “it’ll be easy for him to write what he knows,” and all the heads bend over to scribble something interesting. But ‘interesting’ is a slippery word; it knows itself but suffers a sea change when passing hands; it fades from something rich and strange back into itself and whatever self it had becomes the self that is the story, for the teller is the maker. It is not the place that was lived that was interesting but the way that the living in it was done. I went to the woods to live deliberately, to learn what it had to teach so that when it came time to die, I would not discover that I had not lived. The woods were not interesting. It was the living deliberately that was interesting. Paris is not a moveable feast, no more so than New York or Cleveland or any other collection of buildings and crowds. It is what one does there that makes it interesting, and though the tale of having lived there may be interesting to tell, in the end it is an experience that cannot be given to another, no matter how richly worded, so that the other may say he truly possesses it. It must suffer a sea change. The giver may no longer recognize it and the receiver cannot give it back. So though we trade our tales back and forth we actually never give anything in its original form. We all are young and easy under the apple boughs about the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, with each sun we are born over and over and run heedless in our ways; we are so often blind to the places were are in that when our eyes are open we think the times ‘interesting’, and the blind times not, as if the sea could be divided against itself. So long as we keep our eyes open time will hold us green and dying, and we’ll sing in our chains like the sea. I kept my eyes open when I wrote this, and put in all my yesterdays, but you see it as in a mirror dimly. This is my assignment for English B.

  4. LOL! That sounds a lot like a town I used to live in. It must be a California thing. :-)

    Now that I think about it, I really miss that town.

  5. I lived in Ulan Baatar for six months (Capital of Mongolia). Most stretching and 'rich' life experience of my...er...life.

    I think the places that take us out of our comfort zones are always the ones that make us most thoughtful. The commonplace setting is usually processed on beta-brain.

  6. Oxford, England. People get smarter just by breathing the air.
    Second place: Northfield, MN. Also a college town. I live in Alaska now and must say that as a writer, where I live is really important to how motivated I am to write.

  7. Ireland had always been a dream of mine to visit and when I finally got there, I wanted to stay. After spending two weeks travelling around Southern Ireland was enough to offer me a lot of stories.

    Visiting Blarney Castle, Trinity College, the small fishing villages and everything in between. Even standing at the top of the Guinness Factory and seeing an homage to James Joyce's Portrait of An Artist As A Young Man was so inspirational.

    Even now, though it's been years since I've been, I can think about experiences in Ireland in hopes of finding new stories to tell.

    This is why lived experience is good for writers, or at least, for me as a writer. I think that by thinking about my life and what I have experienced, I can add some of that emotion (good or bad) to my characters to give them a more "real" feel.

  8. When I was living in The Gambia, West Africa, there was a story in every phrase. One day, I'd share a cab with a malaria-stricken six-year-old on her way to the hospital unaccompanied and the next day attend a hip-hop concert in a venue that was situated with a mosque on one side and a casino on the other. I'm headed back in a few weeks and can't wait to "absorb."

  9. What a cool place.

    The most cool place I've lived? Wherever I've just moved...for the first few months. Once I find a routine everything becomes normal and slightly less interesting.