Poetry, the West, Land, and Solitude

In reading blogs yesterday, it began to become clear to me just how nice it must be to live on the East Coast.

All those cities so close together! So many cultures and communities just a brief commute up or down the coast. All those little states (blink and you miss one—there goes Delaware! Hey, wasn’t that Vermont?)!

You are all so close together. I have written that before. How, when I went to New York, I could barely breathe. There was no sun, no sky. There were people all around me and it was like locusts descending on a field of ripe crops. That is the downside for me: you have no space. You live in cubicle-sized homes and apartments off narrow streets in tall buildings that take away the sky.

The West was an adjustment to me, having previously been only Midwest, but very rural nevertheless. I lived in a State Forest. It was only slightly more advanced than your recent M. Night Shyamalan film. My small town had a different kind of density—everyone knew me, knew my business, knew who I belonged to. The only trouble worth getting into was the anonymous kind, if you could find it. All others carried swift punishment.

And so the West for me is as much mindscape as landscape: openness, expanse, sprawl. I never have to think of smelling someone on a subway because I drive my own car to and from work (twelve miles). I live in the heart of the city and know two of my neighbors. My physical space encourages emotional space: the encounters I have in my life are almost entirely intentional, fully realized, purposeful. There is almost never a chance meeting.

Almost never, and never here, at least.

But what I love about the West is this: my brain fills up the empty spaces between people, thinks thoughts, breathes, makes notes.

My next book is about the PHYSICAL WEST. You know I’m writing fences into it. You know I’m writing death and beautiful women falling from the doors of old missions in historic San Francisco, and I’m writing about the West that does not exist, the West between here and there, the metaphysical West where we are together, but not touching.

You can have your East Coast. I’m sure you like it there, and that’s good. But me, I’m here. I’m only going this way from here on out. When I get to the ocean I’ll know I’ve made it far enough.

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