So I'm missing my teeth, feeling vaguely grumpy, getting ready to write about subjects I know nothing about, and daydreaming about people who have a lot more spiritual discipline than I have at the moment.
Usually, I like to write these letters with some sense of creative gestalt. In this, Garrison Keillor has always been a major influence on me, how the stories from Lake Wobegon ramble here and ramble there, and as often as not ramble around to some point that suddenly makes a whole. My favorite was a story he told near Christmas one year. I didn't own a radio at the time, but a housemate of mine sometimes left the radio in his room on while he slept, and sometimes I could hear a rebroadcast of Prairie Home Companion if I sat quietly outside the door to his room. I'm sure if I'd asked him to turn his radio on for me during the first broadcast he would have done it, but I never thought of it.
So, one night as I was sitting there in the dark I heard this story about the Lake Wobegon Christmas pageant, and how the surly, self-centered teenagers of the town were being drafted to play angels. They didn't want to do it, being surly and self-centered, but as Garrison said, it wasn't about them. They should get over themselves, at least for one night. And then he said "go, be an angel," and the story was over, and suddenly, with that one line, a disorganized ramble about an extremely local, personal issue with specific (imaginary) teenagers became universal. And I thought, yes, that's what I want to be able to do as a writer.
I've had two such moments as a proto-writer. The other was when, reading Jaguars ripped my flesh, by Tim Cahill, I realized that the author had been paid to run off and have adventures and write about them. That sounded like a good deal to me, so I decided to be a writer. I haven't gotten paid to go on assignment yet, but I've done a lot of interesting things and I can write about them. Tim Cahill also has the gift of purposeful rambling. Me, at the moment, I'm just rambling.
Are you coming to commencement? You said you might, but I can also imagine something popping up for you. Things do pop up. For me, writing popped up, and trail work popped up, and school popped up, and Chris popped up. They say if you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans. I generally like making people laugh, but I usually don't bother to plan very far ahead, and things generally work out.
I do try to plan, sometimes. I went to college to learn how to do X, Y, and Z so I could get a better paying job, and I ended up learning things A through W, and still not being able to get a good paying job. So I went to graduate school, thinking that a real science degree could help me get that job, and I discovered that I'm actually not cut out for that job, but I am cut out for being a writer. I can't explain why a degree in conservation biology appears necessary to my becoming a free-lance writer, but it appears to be so.
So here I have once again rambled my way into some kind of gestalt, some kind of theme, this time about rambling.
And you remember the redwing blackbird I told you about hearing last week? Well, I hear him again now, through the window behind me. It sounds like he's singing from the same tree, which IS a sweet gum; I checked that out. So I'm feeling better.
I hope to see you at Commencement.