space and time

The second and third legs of my travels, which took me to the Maritimes & Quebec and San Diego, respectively, have come to a close. Have a few photos of some of the highlights from the first few days of the east coast excursion:

Waves at Acadia National Park, Maine
Bowsprit of the Tall Ship Mar, Halifax, NS
The lighthouse on Cap Gaspe, Forillon National Park, QC
Another view of Cap Gaspe, from the Mont Saint-Alban lookout tower
There are quite literally hundreds more photos from everywhere that I’ve been in the past six weeks and thousands of miles (also literal: my friend Heather & I put more than three thousand miles on her car in our New England/Canadian adventure). I’m looking forward to sifting through them more carefully in the future. Just now, I’d like to pause a moment on how strangely productive all of this travel has been. 
I certainly don’t mean in terms of production, any finished project. I’ve been a shameless and capricious dilettante, starting a dozen different pieces in three genres and finishing none of them since I set out on May 16. I blame some of this on the fact that I was working almost exclusively in my notebook, with a pen, and it’s much easier to do the big organizing/re-writing/overhauling that I need with a keyboard than without, so instead of crashing things out, I took notes and then moved on to whatever was next, returning to make more notes as necessary. (I will say that Evernote may be revolutionizing that annotation process in a really easy and useful way, and it was incredibly helpful even when I didn’t have actual network or wireless access with my phone, which was incredibly often through the Maritimes and the Gaspe Peninsula.) But while I still have my many, many pages of notes and scraps and snippets to actually type up and organize, the overarching sense of it all is that much of what I started deserves finishing. I don’t often feel that way, and my folders are a hive of the unfinished. But all of these things feel quietly, calmly alive in a way that says Take your time. We will be here when you’re ready. This is good. This is important. Because there’s no way, of course, to finish all of these things at once, and it’s madness to try. It’s madness enough to be still at work on a novel’s revisions (more on that in a moment), preparing to start drafting the next, and having some non-fiction planned that really does need to be finished. But this is good madness (I think). At least the back of my writing brain thinks so. It must think so because it’s finally let me think some useful things about the novel I “finished” over spring break. 
That was the first substantial revision. It was a revision that needed to happen, but when I put the files away for the end of the semester, I knew there were some things that weren’t quite right, and, in early May, trying to think about those things made me feel frantic, panicked, and riddled with failure, even though I know that excellent novels do not come about on one-and-a-half drafts. A novel is work, but, in May, it didn’t feel like work, which is familiar, which is what one does, which is strangely comforting in its way. In May, it felt like just one more thing I couldn’t get right. 
So, an ocean, then most of a continent, then the spine of the Rockies and wide deserts between me and it. Up to nine timezones. More than a dozen new students and a host of wonderful new people and a wealth of new landscapes and climates and a lot of delicious food and miles passed beneath my sneaker-soles. A jumble of new ideas. The constant smell of sugar in the air in Sibiu, the pine freshness of Gaspe, everywhere marine salt from Maine to Montreal and then in San Diego. All this distance, all this stimulus. And in small, quiet moments–under the rain-wet tent in Maine, on a silent, red beach on Prince Edward Island, on yet another lookout over Gaspe Bay, with coffee in hand in the Quarter of Spectacles in Montreal–things became clearer. Some small changes, adjustments to scenes and moods, and some cuts, of course, and then, last night, as the last flight started its descent into Casper, the thing I probably needed to know most about the book crept in. I had to write my notes on my actual boarding pass, given the timing, and there are scrawls in all of the white spaces, in the bigger block of white following my name, in the smaller white rectangle beneath the large DEN-CPR, on the back around the advertisement for United’s Mileage Plus credit card. The ideas filled themselves in, wherever there was space. All I had to do was find that space. 
In fourteen days, I leave for my residency at the Jentel Foundation. I’ll have four weeks of space, too, to listen and to work, thanks to the fantastic people at Jentel. In the meantime, there are smaller things to manage, a semester to prepare for, and some finishing to do. But I know where I stand, and the footing is good, and for now, the listening is easy.

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