11 Jun 2011, 10:19pm
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place energy

Like any good blog entry, this one wanders.

A. and Jordan are bicycling down the coast; they started in Portland and are now somewhere south of Santa Cruz. Two weeks ago after a week of posts to the craigslist rideshare board, I wrangled a last-minute ride up to Arcata to join them for a week or so’s ride back down here to Marin. I didn’t bring my camera, and my little camera, which I’d loaned to A., was stolen out of his panniers somewhere in Oregon. So I have no photographic documentation to offer, which every once in awhile is probably not a bad thing at all. At the beginning I was thrilled to be riding my bike. I love my body when it is moving. A few days later I was exhausted through-and-through. In Gualala, ninety-six miles from the farm and a day and a half before I had to be back, I called it quits. On Sunday morning I took a bus to Santa Rosa, got lunch with my dear friend Matt, and, after I missed the bus that would’ve gotten me to San Rafael and then to Olema before dark, asked him to drive me all the way home, which he very kindly did. A few hours after I arrived, just as I started to worry about them, A. and Jordan pushed their bikes up the driveway and through the gate.

(edit: A and Jordan after their 96-mile day—)

So: I couchsurfed; battled headwinds; stuck out the rain; stared up at redwoods; climbed to the highest point on the Pacific coast bike route (its not that high); rode down the hill all the way to the coast, which stretched out magnificently ahead of us for a few hours until it started to rain again. (The three of us also talked on and on amongst ourselves and with anyone who would listen about food and diet and veg*nism, but that is a story for another blog entry.) The physical difficulty of it surprised me. Sometimes I don’t quite believe that this is the same body that carried me over the Rockies and the Appalachians less than a year ago. Trying, now, to turn that shock & awe into inspiration. Gotta move my body.

During the trip I started and finished reading one book and started reading another. The first book was Mink River, a novel by Brian Doyle, a Portland author. I had seen two rave reviews for it in two unrelated spaces within a few days, and then when I was in Portland I saw it at (of course) Powell’s, and so I picked it up. I loved it. It is engrossing and beautiful, and somehow even the rain in this novel is invigorating. It is magical realist and synaesthetic (for example, one of the characters can smell pain). It is about a fictional small town on the Oregon coast and some of the human and animal folk who live there. That’s it. It reminded me of what I was trying to do during my senior year of high school, when I wrote part of a magical realist novel that tried for the same kind of compassionate omniscient style that Doyle makes look so easy. Except (I thought, while I read), Doyle’s novel is rooted in a place and a history that he seems to really know and feel, and he is not making the mistake I made of trying to be universal—which means he manages, quite nicely, to speak broad, even universal, truths.

But on further reflection I think the difference is more that Doyle is a writer with willpower, and I was a seventeen-year-old with dreams (and of course that is a very big difference). The Paris I wrote about was just as real as Doyle’s fictional Neawanaka, if a little less dimensional (and probably quite a bit less believable). It may have been a more real place for me than wherever it was I really was. When I was in high school I lived in Tacoma, Washington. Neko Case sings this great ode to Tacoma called “Thrice All American” (”it’s a dusty old jewel in the south Puget Sound”) and a few weeks ago someone had the album on in the kitchen here. When the song played, I laughed and said “I went to high school in Tacoma!” But my nostalgia was essentially an affectation. I remember the school, of course, and a few interchangeable landmarks: the park by the water, Tully’s Coffee, or Thriftway, which we would walk to after school mostly to walk somewhere—I can’t remember what on earth we bought. Maybe the local public high school, where I took my SATs, but again this is an affectation so that when the movie Ten Things I Hate About You comes up in conversation (which is, you know, all the time?), I can grin and say, “hey, that was filmed down the street from my high school! I took my SATs there!”

Anyway, I wasn’t there. I was in Paris. I had been there, for real, a few times before (yes, I was, and remain, incredibly lucky and privileged), with my mom and once with a large school group in middle school. Somewhere in there I fell in love with the idea of it, or something. Paris was my obsession and constant daydream. My email at the time was parisdreaming@hotmail.com. My email before that was stqce@hotmail.com, which is the typo you make if you’re an American trying to type “stace” (my family nickname) on a French keyboard. I read books about Paris, but only books that waxed as romantic about the place as I did. I fantasized about buying a one-way plane ticket, living in a one-room apartment on the top floor of an old building with a hidden courtyard (like this:

yes, exactly; the Paris of my dreams was extra-saturated and over-exposed just like this photo I took), lighting candles in front of Jeanne d’Arc’s stained glass window at Sacre Coeur. A few months after I gave up on the novel, my parents gave me a plane ticket (round-trip, though) for my spring break, and I went, alone. I was unbearably lonely and spent most of my time in museums, exaggerating my interest in the art in order to feel better about going back day after day, because I felt that it was okay to be alone there. (Plus, if you’re under 18 you can get into most Paris museums for free. I saw everything at the Louvre. Everything.) In the light of Real Paris, the Paris of my dreams faded away.

In Portland I started to learn how to apply the dream-place energy to the real-place and make magic happen. What I felt for Paris was powerful but unanchored. What I felt for Portland was more productive, though just as romantic.

All that to say that I am thinkin’ a lot about place, and place’s place (!) in the sacred question the thread of which I follow with my life and living: where is freedom?

And also that Mink River is excellent and may take you to unexpected places, like Paris.

Tomorrow it will be three years from the day I got hit by a car.

Thought of you off and on all day. Love you.

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