jhumpa lahiri

About Those 1000 Words

Before the Autumnal Equinox, I decided I would write 1000 words every day until the Winter Solstice.

I’ve done ok on the challenge. But pretty soon into the fall, I rewrote the rules: dealing with 1000 words a day counted. Some days, I just erased 1000 words. But almost every day since September 22, I’ve done 1000 words worth of work, which is something.

Since before the fall, I’ve been thinking about Cory Gilstrap, a puppet maker I met for Making the Mountain. When I visited his studio, he demonstrated some basic puppet motions, and I asked him how he learned to make puppets come to life. Through his bare hand, he said, “I did this every night before I fell asleep when I was a kid. Didn’t you do that too?”

I didn’t. But Cory’s question got to me. I think most people who end up doing something they love have that relationship with their medium. That is, it doesn’t just feel vital. It feels natural. Almost any artist can claim that their medium is the fastest path to truth: a writer could argue that organized words are the most logical way to express an idea, but so could a photographer about images. For the first time in a while, I started to think about why I’m creating people and scenarios to express a truth.

The other thing about this challenge is that it’s happening during fourth quarter, which is the time of year my job gets stressful. I also took a workshop during this period. On my tissue box on my desk I’ve written “Busy and stressed or bored and depressed.”

Because I knew I was creating a hectic fall, I made a conscious choice to read less for the past few months. On mornings where I had to be at work early, I came home to write instead of read. 

Of course, I made time for the Jhumpa Lahiri essay that came out last month about learning Italian. There’s nothing I can say about the essay beyond recommending it. Jhumpa Lahiri translates words into feelings better than anyone I know. She’s the author who made me want to be a writer. And reading the essay, I just felt delight. That delight feels so separate from the work I’m doing right now. Figuring out if there needs to be two sisters in a story isn’t really fun at all. 

What I realized this fall is that I like reading a lot. That’s the thing I did every night before bed when I was a kid. It’s the thing that feels most natural to me. I’ve really missed it.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Korea for Christmas. I’m not bringing a computer. I just want to read books and be present. Let’s be real, I’ll write postcards too, but only because postcards are the best.

You Can Go Your Own Way

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortune may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. – Nathaniel Hawthorne, taken from the epigraph of Unaccustomed Earth

The other night, watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics at a friend’s house, another guest asked me how long I had been in Denver. “So not even a year,” she replied, which struck me as odd, even though it was factually correct. 

A year isn’t that long, sure. But I’ve been here this whole time, trying to figure out how to live and make friends in a city that until less than a year ago, I had never visited and where I knew no one who owed me anything. All that I had was an idea, stolen from Jhumpa Lahiri, stolen from Nathaniel Hawthorne, of striking my roots into unaccustomed earth. 

I might have known that an idea is not the same as a friend who’s not doing anything, but wants to know what I’m doing or even a crashable house party. There are times when I find myself, if not homesick, then acutely aware of where I would be if I hadn’t left New York. Some of my friends rented a house in Woodstock this weekend; I’m sure I would have had a great time. 

I’ve never regretted my decision to move to Denver. Like Hemingway’s idea of love, there is no choice anymore. I live in Colorado. Still, there are lonely times, when I wish I had one more person I could call or a place where the udon soup always put me in a better mood. While wanting these things, it’s easy to forget that my new life isn’t even a year old. I know I’ll look back on this time as a transition, but meanwhile, I have to live it. And unfortunately, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, there is no remedy for time but more time. 

But there are many moments when moving on an epigraph makes sense. Every time I parallel park successfully (which is not every time I parallel park) and sometimes when I ride my bike along streets no one I used to know has ever walked along, I feel proud and also free. Last weekend, I’m not sure what I would have done in New York. Probably something fun to escape the heat and maybe a party where I would have known all the guests for too long. I couldn’t have predicted a year ago what I ended up doing in Colorado: mountain biking and then going to a house show where the band played Side A of Rumours. But there are still more friends to make, a set of Colorado license plates to be acquired and hiking trails to learn. In short, there is still more time to pass.