/4.15/ zipper breaks in n.y. airport restroom, lack time to change into other jeans, untuck shirt to curtain this latest schism in my life and shuffle carefully onward / think: fiction strives to, but cannot ever, replicate the surreal synchronicity of an existence, each detail echoing all other details id infinitum / change pants and planes in philadelphia: arrows point way to minibus shuttle to sorrowful terminal f exiled from other terminals / d.k.’s arms open wide in richmond airport / pub. day for THE  FEUD: THE HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS: THE TRUE STORY!  / we’re not getting any younger but we’re not getting any older either–not at this moment / picking up mid-sentence where we left off decades ago (see p. 407 of river bend chronicle)  / donut stop: 38 varieties not 39 or 64 / trade rollercoaster “editorial process” stories / i mention my completed-the-day-before children’s picture book starring the mall escalator who dreams of becoming a chef and does it, starting a cafe called escalator souffle / clattering talking heads rhythms on car stereo / lobster pot pie and black coffee / j.’s painting of the chair seen again, adored again  / classic case of house guest hush suddenly sets in / 84 degrees basting loblolly pines, birch trees, purple finch, hose on a wheel, green plastic adirondack chair i occupy in front of the backyard playhouse, sitting there like an overgrown kid not fitting inside his childhood anymore and meditating on that weird fact, yes what an enduring attraction I have for any elfin structure with a peaked roof in back of a proper house or seen beside a rural highway or next to railroad tracks / homemade nutella muffins appear in bountiful kitchen / load books and jars of moonshine into car trunk and drive to launch party at page bound gallery / see l. again after an eon, another man of good words, ex of clinton hill, brooklyn, now dwelling in the legendary shenandoah valley / statuesque k.j. of fountain books selling river bend chronicle too / inscribing one copy “to patrick hat trick” / blue stone bracelet behind table fills my cup with mineral water / swishing spring dresses, summer bluegrass music, wooden riverboat whistle in my jacket pocket asks to be tooted and i oblige, “make creek” native announces fact to d.k., james river writing conference royalty / “know who i am?” and i do, I do certainly,  another surprise guest! / grins implemented and the evening takes (or talks) its most magical of magical turns / language implanted in a life as a life is implanted in language–until at last (or soon enough) it is impossible to tell which came first the language or the life–as if no life could exist without wild lassoes of words to gather in experience, words stamping or stomping shapes out of the inundating murk, words marred sacredly with knowing, guessing, mysteries, worries, hopes… / reunion,  renunion, reonion, re-owned / heritage: the name, no kidding, of the restaurant right next door where after everything i order pork bellies, arugula salad, and almost request peace forever more, but know they’d be out of peace forever more, every joint is / drive back to house and a third floor guest room where the stuffed frog (I know that look) eagerly anticipates my company / read description of dawn breaking on tom sawyer’s island then sleep less like a log than driftwood /4.16/ spelt and eggs / spot six inch lizard staggering upward across loblolly pine bark / transition to berkeley hotel in shockoe neighborhood because I can’t get enough richmond, really can’t / serious talk with m. the desk clerk who has been working on her own book for a decade / warm sushi / fuente cigar in cobblestone alley / visiting n.y. friend g. (with deep virginia roots) delivers me to bbq in garden in neighborhood known as “the fan” due to street layout / painted brick homes, bunched together, reminding me of the mission district in s.f.–just when you think another soothing shade of green or yellow or blue is not possible one appears / loth’s landscaped alley / orange iris gigantus / peek into historic joe’s inn / drive oh what a sight-seeing drive: west end avenue fertility, monument ave. civil war horsemen, thunder wind showers, swerve around downed branch off someone else’s family tree, st. james river drinking slants of rain, the downpour gray as a charging torrent of confederate uniforms:  hats sleeves collars coattails, u. of richmond  brick-a-thon in the post-storm calm… / evening drinks at tobacco co. restaurant and s. miller’s tavern (no relation, sadly) followed by the sedative of cheese fries at city dogs / back at room turn on radio, local npr station, choir chirping h.m.s. pinafore lyrics, “sweet little buttercup, dear little buttercup,” flashback to my youth of attending comic musicals at lincoln park in moline, blankets and snacks, family members spread out and relaxed, our ordeal briefly cooled down, a respite… /4.17/ brush teeth with index finger again as I have been doing throughout trip because I forgot toothbrush / complimentary hotel dental rinse employed as precautionary hygiene measure / pouting and distrustful burgundy hotel pen not used in years refuses to produce tip though i twist twist twist twist shaft / urban farmhouse asiago bagel buttered copiously / goodbye to desk clerk m. / cab to airport to catch midday flight back to n.y. and brilliant wife and green toothbrush / talk with driver re: ethiopian politics / imagine world where tourists (upon arriving  home after all the museums, meals, reunions and accidental encounters) deliver sermons at the tabernacle of travel, spotlight on the winged altar in front of a projection of a boarding pass, one fervent voice proclaiming repeatedly: “your life is completely wasted unless you squander it far and wide!”


Question: One thing that really grabs me about this essay [“Ghosts of the Mississippi”] is how you find physical details (in car rides, for example) that I think readers know but often take for granted, and also how they serve to give the reader a sense of the passage of real time. I realize each piece of work comes about in a different way, but do these kinds of details come to you in early drafts or do they appear when you’re revising and editing?

Answer: You’ve hit on a big thing about the book–this preoccupation of mine to slow things down to the point where Time itself is one of the main characters in all its cumbersome infinite-edged finite-ness. My first drafts are beyond dirty, almost everything is out of place, many of the important details are there, but in horrid clumps I then carve into shape. I’ve always loved the plays of Eugene O’Neill–the longer ones–for how they sit with situations in almost real time. Too there’s an incredible movie called “Killer of Sheep” about Watts in the l970s that captures the experience of economic poverty as it is lived, one deprivation or lost opportunity at a time–the weight of each moment pushing down. The more chaotic your life is, I think, the more you have this sense of each moment as not only a blur but as a hook in you that will be there forever.


With Kat Misko of One Story:

 With Duncan Murrell of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies:

With Vick Mickanus of the “Book Nook” (WYSO):

AUTHOR TAKES THE UNIVERSITY OF SCRANTON (or two admired scholars meet the creature from the green lagoon)

BEN TAKES THE UNIVERSITY OF SCRANTON (or two admired scholars meet the creature from the green lagoon)

Moral of the Photo: The challenge of existence, to a large degree, is learning to live with the mind you have–however oddly it is configured. I’ve always, from a young age, jotted notes, recorded moments, gathered tiny details of days. It’s just the way I grew up, for environmental reasons (to assert a measure of control over the atmosphere of a chaotic house) but also for some mysterious reasons. We are never puzzles that solve easily. We are what is known, and all that is not known yet. And the only real practical application for such detail collecting is writing–which is why, I think, the act has been a bubbling swamp-like center of my life for many decades.