After last week’s rant I got more than the usual number of emails and calls from friends concerned about my state of mind. Yes, I had a mental and emotional stormfront pass through, but — here’s a secret about writers — the key expression is “The map is not the territory.”
How can I explain it? It’s probably true for all humans but exaggeratedly so for anyone in the word business. Words are tricky little buggers that we string together hoping they will capture and convey a story, information, directions for something, even emotions. We hope they’ll interest a reader, hook you in, cause you to reflect on your own stories, or remind you of others. Words that look so neat and tidy on the page that they appear solid, and look even more true once they’re printed in the newspaper, or a book, or by gosh even the internet. Sentences are useful building blocks but they are never like life.
Life is messy, flows out in all directions, contains a never-ending network of interrelated narratives that are separated by minuscule shadings and tempers. Life is an unmanageable tidal wave that is impossible to control or capture with words, though some of us try. To wrangle life with words we must take one sentence and make it stand in for a whole range of other sentences that have been left out. The other thing to remember is that once a piece is written — with its tiny word-blocks all sequenced and cemented in place — it is already out of date. Time, life, space-time has already moved forward a million trillion steps in another direction or in all directions at once, as illustrated by a mind-boggling book I’m currently reading, Carlo Rovelli’s “The Order of Time.”
Rovelli is a theoretical physicist, heads the Quantum Gravity Group at the Centre de Physique Theorique at Aix-Marseille University in France, and is one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. He’s sort of this century’s Stephen Hawking and is trying to convince me/us that there is no “now,” no “past/present/future,” no time… For instance Rovelli writes that Planck time at its extremely minuscule level is “a hundred millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. A minimum interval of time exists. Below this, the notion of time does not exist — even in its most basic meaning.”
Rovelli, in his aptly named chapter “The Inadequacy of Grammar,” also quotes Boethius to set the mood and address my remarks above, “For those standing below, things above are below, while things below are above… and this is the case around the entire world.” All things are relative, all things relational; often things are not what they seem, or at least not for long.
Anyway, this is the long way around saying, I love you all to pieces, now I’m fine, thank you for your concern and “The game is [still] on!”
When in doubt, my motto has always been “Get outside yourself.” Hence last weekend’s trip to Vancouver, which I’m told by those in the know is the ‘Couve. If you’ve never stopped in the ‘Couve but only zipped forward as fast as traffic will allow over the bridge to Portland, you may be missing something. Vancouver is waking up.
Downtown Main Street is like a more manageable Seattle, or maybe even like Pioneer Square used to be in the old days when there were cool things on every block and only the people who lived there knew what they were. Tucked away in the ‘Couve first there’s Kiggin’s Theatre now showing a documentary about our beloved North Coast writer Ursula LeGuin. Right across the street is Vinnie’s, known for grandma’s meatball recipe. Just up the street is Jerusalem Café, where Nidal serves a fantastic family-style lamb shawarma. Further up Main there’s the not-to-be-missed Bleu Door Bakery and Café (brunch on the weekends, pastries Frenchie-style, and great coffee all week except Monday). There’s Divine Consign, nearly one full block — upstairs and down — of great quality furniture, rugs, art, and clothing all hoping to find a second home. (Half the proceeds go back to the city!)
What are some of the other things you may miss on the Peninsula that you’ll find in the city? Shoe repair. A dog park. Easy access to the Sunday New York Times newspaper and magazine. (Parking meters — not.)
Or how ‘bout an Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, also known as AWP? OK, this one is pretty esoteric — AWP is a national organization of writers which comes together once a year and happened this past weekend in Portland. (OK, so it’s not the ‘Couve, but it’s close enough.)
AWP really draws an international audience. “In 2018 there were close to 12,000 writers present — or as Frank Yacenda said rather condescendingly in his article about last year’s gathering, “I use the term ‘writer’ to encompass poets too…” — well, thank you very much! Anyway, Portlandia was full to the brim with what one of my genius-friends describes as “mad desperation,” i.e. 12,000 people glad-handing each other hoping to either get their own work published, or to find some gorgeous young “emerging” writer of ethnic mélange to be the first to publish.
I suppose I’m waving my sour grapes banner when I admit that I attended the conference just long enough to get my badge, try to find a seat in one room of hopefuls in the ginormous Oregon Convention Center chock full of economy seats — as in: all of our upper arms and rib-cages are touching — and then promptly ran out of the building to get some fresh air.
What this meant was grabbing a quick Rachel — a pastrami and coleslaw on rye — at Kenny & Zukes Delicatessen on my way out of town and heading back over the bridge to the nearly pastoral ‘Couve.
It’s the country-me that needs the city; and the city-me that needs the country, so finding a balance requires both. The city-me has always been more connected to Seattle — where my mom was born, the home of my grandparents on Beacon Hill, my post-grad alma mater, etc. — but, folks, we now have to admit that Seattle has outgrown its britches! The traffic is hellish no matter how you try to beat it. So I’m back to Rovelli here — there is no past or future possibility for finding a decent traffic-window into Seattle: it’s all now and it’s all horrific.
These days when I want a city-hit, I take the meandering drive through our favorite sister-city across the river, try not to look at the timber-slaughterhouse of Longview as I pass through, get on a blessedly fluid I-5 south and whisk myself into Vancouver, the little city that could, and, oh yeah, the town where I was born.
I guess some version of the quantum loop theory is in effect — at least for occasional weekends, I’m back to where I started.