Monday, December 1, 2008

Be sure to wear some flour in your hair


You've heard of live blogging; this is dead blogging, where I scrawl my ruminations longhand and transpose them into my computer later with only minor editing. I left the laptop at home on our trip to San Francisco, feeling vaguely virtuous about it, wondering if maybe the organic process of putting pen to paper might somehow awaken some inner muse. So far, mostly it's awakened a dull pain in my writing hand and forearm -- a reminder of years of disuse.

The modern ease of putting words on a screen and rearranging them at will -- does that make you a better communicator, or a lazier one? You still hear of writers who prefer longhand, who claim it makes one more careful with composition, the way shooting film requires more thought than shooting digital. I don't know. It's hard to imagine writing a full novel this way. But then, I haven't quite written one the new way, either.

I'm sitting close to a gas fireplace which is operated by remote control. This beautiful, cavernous rental house is a bit chilly now that the rain has arrived. It's a lovely home but it feels a bit too spacious, designed for a larger life than the now-divorced owners could quite fill. The furniture has been selected and arranged more for appearance than comfort. Our house in Wichita seems small and shopworn by comparison, but it is probably more livable. Whatever that means.

One of the good things about living in Wichita is that when you travel out of state, you can look around at your new surroundings and invoke the timeless phrase: "We're not in Kansas anymore." Ha ha. I've used it a hundred times, but that doesn't preclude me from using it again.

You get used to Kansas. And it's only when you travel elsewhere that you realize what you've gotten used to. I grew up in Montana and used to roll my eyes at tourists who would prattle on about scenic grandeur. I see what they mean now. The first thing that struck me driving north on Highway 101 from SFO was the sight of hills with houses on them. Real hills, bulking up against the urban lights -- not the barely perceptible changes in elevation that are christened hills in Kansas. Hills everywhere, and soaring bridges in the distance, and water that glows when the sun goes down.

It's a beautiful place, but I don't think I'd live here even if I could afford it. Too much traffic, too many windows looking down on you from those scenic heights. Here you spend too much time on the freeway, an anonymous obstruction to the Mercedes and Jags and BMWs flying by on either side. In Wichita we had to adjust to the phenomenon of always arriving early for our engagements; in San Francisco it was back to always arriving late, drifting along for hours in a sluggish river of taillights. You'd think the gorgeous views might impart some serenity, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Maybe it's just me.

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