Potholes in New Jersey is a better harbinger of spring than robins, than croci, than those marshmallow peeps poppin’ up at the corner grocery. Those pervasive little asphalt assassins never fail to creep up on you around every bend and over every hillock, disguised like shimmering little macadam birdbaths until you hit one and bam! there goes the hub cap, spinning away like a frisbee.
On my way home tonight I counted no less than thirty-seven of the replicating little suckers. And that didn’t include the ever-widening fissures that form due to the expansion from the left-side/right-side paving, the winter erosion of the softer shoulder, the gully driveways develop as it cracks away from the road and of course, the always wonderful frost heaves. And that was just on my side of the road. Which, oddly enough, quickly becomes your side when you swerve into my lane to avoid them.
But if all this isn’t bad enough, the cure isn’t much better. How many of you have driven smack into a fresh pancake of cold patch, that municipal quick-fix of asphalt the town boys tamp down with shovels and their own boots, to shut up the one irate taxpayer that doesn’t quit calling until it’s fixed. Ahh…the lovely ping-ping-ping of loose tar as it plies itself to the undercarriage of your car. You’ll be scrubbing that off until nigh on August. Soon those road patch patties will be as ubiquitous as dandelions, and just as hard to get rid of. Because if you’re betting on highway dollars on high to get them gone, you can just forget it. The bank is broke, and staying that way for a while.
For the meantime, take your comfort where you can get it. After the winter we’ve had here in Jersey, just seeing the road means it’s only a matter of time until we’re burning our bare feet crossing it. And that, my dears, could only mean a day at the beach.
Today I ventured from home and hearth up to Greenwood Lake, NY. It’s a beautiful seven-mile long lake that straddles the border of New York and New Jersey, and the view you see here is what I saw out the window of the restaurant we lunched at. The hills go right down to the lake and are now covered in snow, as is much of the town from the two feet that were dumped on it last week. But I couldn’t help thinking how gorgeous those hills would be decorated in fall colors or in the full thrall of summer. There’s a swimming beach across the lake as well, which I’d dive right into, given the chance. And I’d sure like to catch the sun setting (or rising) over those hills, trailing light and shimmer across the water. And let’s not forget the hot summer nights spent over a beer at that bar, listening to music, trading stories with the locals. Ah, sounds like the life…
So why am I ruminating on this? Because life is thrusting changes upon me, and I’m trying to find that sweet spot that’ll alleviate some of the scratches I’m sure to come away with. Part of that is looking forward to environs and opportunities new and hopefully pleasant, as well as something that’ll guide me towards the inspiration that writers are always looking for. Right now I’m working on a project that may either come to everything or absolutely nothing, and it’ll require a lot of work and research and faith in my abilities. Am I up to it? In my heart of hearts I believe so, but rare the writer that doesn’t occasionally think they’re just faking it, that they’re pretenders, that at any minute they’ll be exposed for the fraud they are. Is that really me? Do I really believe it? Or am I just looking for some adulatory stroking, a reaffirmation of just how fabulous I already know I am?
Does it matter? Because would either reason leave me less deserving? I don’t think so. By nature, writers are a prickly lot, part artist, part introvert, part exhibitionist, intensely clamoring for attention then wary when it’s received. Am I really that good, or are you just being nice?Tell me the truth–do you REALLY like it?
Again, does it matter? Because we both know you’re going to do it anyway. Writing’s a lot like cooking–the process is long and messy, and sometimes–a LOT of times–you get burned. But if you do it right the results can be delicious. Which of course, just make you do it again and again.
Those familiar with this blog know I also teach college, both undergrad and graduate, and this past weekend I finished reading a grad student’s thesis. It’s a young adult urban fantasy, quite inventive, and intrinsically reflective of the everyday life and culture of modern youth (as long as that youth is also a witch, a werewolf, or a supernatural of the author’s own fabrication). The piece was written by a young adult, though not as young as the protagonist, but still young enough to be fully vested in the reality she was presenting. And because of that, I was struck by one thing which has definitely changed since I started writing many years ago–how much our plot devices have been changed by our modern devices.
Think about the plot of the underground classic Rocky Horror Picture Show–a young couple’s car breaks down on a back road in 1975. They have to walk to a house so they can phone for help, thus entering into strange environs where hijinks ensue. But everyone has a phone now, so they’d just call AAA or Roadside Assistance and wait in their car until the tow truck arrives. Or in 1969, when Claire of Dragonfly in Amberneeds to find a copy of the Fraser’s deed of sasine. She must travel to Scotland and ask a county clerk to research it for her. These days, she would simply do a Google search, and locate the county website, communicate through the county portal or email the clerk directly. And how long would a modern Jane Eyre have to wait to find out about the mysterious Mr. Rochester? Seconds via another Google search, or maybe go right to LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter, or even TMZ or eOnline, hoping whatever trash-talk site of the week has covered he and his latest arm candy, the big player that he is. So how do we work around these new solutions to old plot twists? How do we throw the wrench into the mystery or the romance, tossing a roadblock into the long, complicated trail that leads to our story unraveling?
Damned if I know. But what I do know it’s got to be more than just the phone’s battery dying, the lack of hotspots or WiFi, the profile erased, or any other iteration of deus ex machina. It’s going to take a work-around of creative proportions. Maybe the tow truck arrives is haunted, the deed of sasine has been destroyed in a conflagation, or Mr. Rochester is actually a woman. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as it’s so fresh the pages start turning by themselves.