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Unrepentant, Waiting for the Muse....

We are seated in my living room; I have asked to be interviewed at dawn, when I am at my sharpest– a few hours of rest, some coffee, my brain in gear from watching Morning Joe and Shaun White’s stunning gold medal pull-off, Lindsey Vaughn’s downhill run despite her bruised thigh, wipe-outs and snide pokes at male figure skating. Our man in black the other night all alone on the ice did look Tinkerbell-ish, but…go Team USA, “medalling” is tres fabu-luth…

The interviewer seems to be a sensitive, open person; she comes in and sits in my white wicker rocker.  She welcomes a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, setting it on the table beside her.  She gets out a yellow pad and uncaps a pen.

“I guess I’ll start with the obvious question.  What drives you to get up and write at this hour?”


She looks startled.  “What do you mean?”

“If I write something each day, it means that I have at least a few of my oars in the water.”

She looks at me somewhat apprehensively.

I try again.  I have noticed that the male pundits on cable typically preface every comment with “Look…”

“Look.  After years of trying to be many other things and do other things, I have to face that I’m a writer.  I write because I can’t help it. If I don’t write, I get depressed, and then I blow off the entire day.”

“Can you talk a little more about what it is about writing… is this therapy?”

“Sure.  It’s therapy in a way, but mostly, it’s a matter of a compulsion to articulate things.”

“What kinds of things.”

“How things are.”

“You know, you’re not giving me much.  I need specifics, if you want me to work up your story and post it on my site at They WriteThey BlurtThey Break Wind.com,  so people will read you.”

I start over.  “Sorry.  I hang with someone who talks monosyllabically a lot.  He’s into using as few words as possible at any given moment, even though he’s a writer too.”

Anyway, I write because I love language, I love making something out of language.  I love to paint a picture with words, tell a great  story or write a poem that tells it like it is: I love to write passionately and precisely; my latest poems are very emotional but contained somehow; the form forces me to be definite.  I’m writing memoir too, vignettes, unearthing memories now tinged hopefully with humor, showing…hopefully, because it’s important to write truths– the pathos of the past but that over time what seem like ordinary experiences turn out to be extraordinary and that within each narrative there is a seed of redemption; in writing the piece I claim the things that happened and make them mine…they offset what has been a rather bleak life the last few years.”

She is writing furiously now.  “May I have some more coffee?”


“Let’s talk about where you think you’re going.”

“Well, into an early grave, if I don’t write.”

“Can you be more specific.”

“I mean that in the past two months it’s as if I am waking up after a quarter of a century straying from making art.   Just call me Jen van Winkle.   I mean, I kept writing but at some point I lost my confidence, I stopped caring about it and me and I put all my energies into caretaking….”

She looks confused.

“Caretaking. Caregiver’s Stress is actually in the DSM IV.  You may not know that it’s a real problem for a lot of women; it’s why some women get so mad that they shoot people.    Anyway,   I am in many ways the product of my generation and my mother’s generation.  When feminism came along many women artists and writers answered the call to be more than housewives.  I tried, and I was never actually a housewife, but I blundered into relationships and moved into farm houses and got lots of creatures so that I was on duty and nurturing all the time.”


“When I lived alone in the city and tried just to be writer and just to take care of me, it was too lonely.  I couldn’t spend hours alone in an apartment looking out at the sky now and then, writing and writing.  I needed people.  I went to bars.  I drank a lot and discovered I was a real entertainer.  I became a party girl.  What I’m doing now is just an extension of how I would go over to people’s houses and guzzle their wine and tell stories about my various encounters and my crazy family for hours.”

“But you published; you have written that your career took off during your city years.”

“That’s true, in and around my escapism and self-medicating, it did.”

“So what happened.  How did you come to leave the city, how did it affect your work.”

Well, it was the spring of ’78 and my father had died, a relationship was in the ditch, my job came to an end– the money ran out– I think I was tired.  I think I just thought, well, I’ll go home to the West for awhile.  I got back, and there was a lot to do.  And, I gave myself a very grueling physical life, cooking, raising animals, living in the country.  I didn’t know how to set limits on how much of myself I gave to these things.  I’m not sure I know how to balance these things now.  Like I said, caregiver’s distress.”


“No children. l Tried many times.  I have a fibroid or something…it’s been there for years.  It showed up on a vaginal ultrasound, like a tenth planet, right in my uterus.  Ever had one of those?”

She clears her throat.  “I bet your relationships gave you interesting material.  Marriage?”

“One year, to a psychology major five years my junior. I met him while I was in a psych ward.  He was a mental health assistant.  He came and sat with me and held my hand and two weeks later, quit his job and moved in with me.”

“Amazing.  Written about that?”

“Not yet.  Notes.  I’ve gotten to the part where before he popped the question I found him in bed with someone else, rammed his car up onto a hump of snow, got out of my car and put a snow shovel through her front window and baptised him with brandy when he came out of her room naked.  He proposed the very next morning.  But, yeah,  one year.  I wasn’t cut out for marriage.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, I think I just gave you a big fat clue.  But you should interview him.  He’ll tell you why in a very short sentence.  I guess I feel confined, on duty, under pressure to live up to somebody’s expectations.  I mean, I always thought I’d get married… and I did, but ultimately I see now that I just don’t do well sharing the same space with someone..or they don’t do well sharing the same space with me, either way. ”

“So what about now?  what are you working on.”

“Well.  I have lots of things I’m “working” on…there’s just not much time.”

“Hold it.  Why not.”

“Well, I’m pretty worn down, used up, from hard things.  I’ve written about them and I’m not going to post all of them here, and I hope to bring out a book of memoir, we’re all like lemmings leaping into the sargasso of our personal pasts, hoping that they’re interesting, trying to write memoir.  I’m trying to figure out the memoir boom.  Anyway, so I’m working on memoir by writting vignettes, pieces.  It’s not quite right to call them vignettes because they’re autobiographical.  Nobody knows what to call such things. They’re just compulsive pieces of writing all about your self, but at least I’m writing again.  That’s what I tell myself.”

“I suppose “blog posts” doesn’t do them justice.”

I give her a sharp look.  “Sometimes.  But generally, I don’t think so, in my case…. I find that I like posting engaging, evocative pieces…. people are being very kind and supportive and I need that right now, after thinking for so long, in spite of the validation I had when young, that I’d lost it, my edge, that I wasn’t a writer anymore.”

“Wow.  So, you’re writing memoir, and it sounds like you think, even though lots of Americans live into their eighties and nineties now, that..you’re kind of in the twilight of your life…”

“Right. And a novel.  I started working on a novel.  Everybody wants to write a novel and have a ‘debut’ novel and at 61 going on 30 in real-time, I do too.  I want to take the world by storm and write something really good.  But I think my debut is going to be my finale and I will leave behind a very small ‘”oeuvre.'”

“Don’t you love that word?  It’s so elegant, and you pronounce it so beautifully.  I suppose you know French?

“Nope.  I know some words.  I know Spanish…I’ve actually made love in Spanish…and in Italian… I know how to say, ‘It’s dry there.  Put a little olive oil there.– e’ seco ancor, olio di olivi, prego..grazie, bravo.”

“Do you have an idea for a novel?”

“I do.”

“What is it.”

I lean forward.  “Well..look:  you know I did a Google search yesterday to see if anybody had written about this the way I hope to…but it’s about a bunch of whores on the American frontier who get tired of living on their backs and decide to steal a bunch of horses and drive them all the way to …

“Really?  You know, that sounds a lot like a spin-off of Lonesome Dove, when the ex- Texas Ranger  Woodrow Call decides to take cattle to Montana Territory….”

“Yeah. You really can’t help being derivative these days.  Everything worth reading has been written already, practically… But you’re right, it is a spin-off.  I started thinking about how Lonesome Dove is all about the power and mobility of men– except for one woman character and she holds down a ranch, but one of the characters is a prostitute and she is portrayed as so fragile and vulnerable…enough already– I bet the women of the mining camps and prairie towns who survived by turning tricks were actually pretty strong.  They were just practical.  They found a niche market.”

“Nice. ” The interviewer is musing, reviewing her notes.  “Is this your serious work?”

“Well, it’s serious, yes, I would say that if you plan on writing something for as long as it takes to write it, you’re serious….  I should really be thinking about surgery on my deformed, improperly healed broken leg, even perhaps launching a lawsuit over the whole mess, but that depresses me.  It doesn’t depress me to write about whores in rebellion in the male-dominated Southwest… I hope to write one or two pages a day and see where it goes. ”

“Have you started?

“Sort of.  I have a character in mind….”

“What about a title?  Got a title?”

“Glad you asked.  Westward the Ho’s.”

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