Monday, January 24, 2011

1/18/2011: A Writing Vacation

My one-man exodus was not to be. Not just yet, anyway. All roads to Kunming were sold out. So I settled on a 7 AM Wednesday morning departure. Let my people go, eventually. Let my children of Israel sleep off the hangover on a 24-hour train ride. Not such a bad deal, though. This extra day gives me time to fold my underwear. And it gives me time to think about what my little trip is going to be about.

A writing vacation. The words have been kicking around in my head for a while now. A writing vacation. What is a writing vacation? Have I heard those words before? I feel as though I have. But I'm not sure whether they constitute a proper phrase, whether the words "a writing vacation" are actively in use among modern day practitioners of non-Chinglish English. I haven't been home in a while. My English isn't what it used to be. I'm not sure whether a writing vacation is a cliché, or an expression that I have newly minted, right here on the spot. Whatever. It doesn't matter. Because I am set to embark on a writing vacation. That's all there is to it.

A writing vacation. I'm too lazy to Google it. So let's just assume that I have coined a phrase. Right here on the spot. If so, I reserve the right to define my coinage and redefine it as I go along. And so, pending future revisions:

1) A writing vacation does not necessarily entail writing. Nor does it necessarily exclude writing.

2) A writing vacation is not what happens when a writer goes on vacation. Nor is it what happens when a vacationer suddenly decides to take up writing.

3) That is to say, a writing vacation is not to be confused with Jack Kerouac loading up on amphetamines and setting off on a trans-American road trip. Nor is it to be confused with some Baby Boomer sporting a fanny pack and a Discover Thailand t-shirt who suddenly gets a fire up his ass to write the Great American Novel even as he's bankrupting the Carnival Cruise seafood buffet. Whatever a writing vacation may be, it is neither of those two things.

4) A writing vacation should include some writing. But it should include a great deal more lazing around cafes or bars, depending on the hour. It should also include much coffee or beer, depending on the hour.

5) The "vacation" component of a writing vacation needs not involve travel - not too much of it, anyway.

6) Hell, if anything, travel should be avoided on a writing vacation. A writing vacation should consist of two trips and two trips only: the trip out of Dodge, and the trip back to Dodge. A writing vacation means getting the hell out of Dodge and lingering around for a while in a slightly nicer place than Dodge, for a period of time just long enough to allow the writer to get his head screwed on straight before his inevitable return to Dodge. A hiatus. A sabbatical. A respite from Dodge, an escape of sufficient length to ensure that the writer will be able to write again when he gets back to Dodge.

7) So, if you accept premises one through six, a writing vacation boils down to this: the writer catches a long-distance vessel to someplace considerably warmer than his natural habitat. Once there, the writer shouldn't feel especially compelled to write. Nor should he avoid writing. No. The writer goes about his business. He scratches his junk when nobody is watching, if that is his wont. He farts. Belches sometimes. When nobody is watching. If that is his wont. He takes a load off. He loiters. He talks to strangers. He eats a lot more than he usually does. He drinks less than he usually does, because he is not writing as much as he usually does. So he doesn't have to drink as much as he usually does. But he still drinks prodigiously. Otherwise, his usual habits remain intact. He smokes, if that is his wont. He drinks coffee, then switches to beer at the crucial moment. He is relaxing, sure. Taking it easy. But mostly, he is on the lookout. On the lookout for something worth writing about. On the lookout for that svelte raven-haired girl in the wire-framed glasses. On the lookout for inspiration, if any of that sweet stuff is to be found just sitting out in the open. But mostly, the writer is changing his scenery. Rearranging his props. Mostly, he's just buying time before gravity pulls him back down into his usual ruts. Just buying time before he's séanced back home to haunt his old haunts once again. Buying time before his widening ass is coaxed back home to settle into the canyonesque ass-groove of his usual barstool at the Jack Bar in Nanchong. The writer is on his writing vacation, but he pictures himself back home. Round about closing time on a Tuesday night. That telepathic nod that means "gimme another beer, Liu Bao." The frowning wallet, the fuzzy math, the ritual paying of the tab. The insufficient dough. The IOU's. The IOU's. The IOU's. The writer needs a break from all the IOU's. The writer needs some UOI's. That is a writing vacation.

There will be writing on this writing vacation. But it will not be my usual writing. My usual writing is like a Prom date. She takes a long time to get ready, but comes out looking somewhat presentable. Or so I would like to think. But this writing will not dress up much at all. This writing isn't even going to the dance. No, this writing is going to O'Leaver's with the guys. Shirt half-tucked (half-untucked?), soy sauce grease stains everywhere. Cigarette burns on both thighs of his corduroys. No frills. Rest assured, this writing will not be driving itself home. Somebody call a cab. I am throwing away my bag of tricks. On this writing vacation, I will avoid introspection. I will avoid digression. Let this blog post be the most meta I get for the next week or two. What is the opposite of meta? Is there an opposite of meta? At any rate, this will be an opposite-of-meta writing vacation.

Lastly: On the Necessity of This Writing Vacation. Whatever else this writing vacation might be, above all, I feel that it is necessary. In Nanchong, I found myself sinking into one of those ruts that sucks and sucks until the rut is wide enough to swallow the wagon whole. I wrote every day, but I no longer felt like I was writing when I wrote - which is to say that nothing I wrote surprised me. I was no longer capable of surprising myself in writing. Which is bad news, indeed. I caught myself reaching into the same old bag of tricks. Writing was no longer a pursuit, or a journey. It was a habit. Like masturbation. Or smoking. It was just something I did. So with the murky abyss sucking my wheels down into the earth, I flogged and flogged those horses until the wagon finally lurched free. Yahhh!, I crowed. Yahhh! Without much forethought, I set us on a steady course towards Kunming. And now we're rolling south, rumbling south in search of green space, in search of new territory, new frontiers, and inevitably, new ruts to sink into.

A writing vacation. The ticket to Kunming is burning a hole in my pocket. Or perhaps it was the cigarette I just dropped on my thigh. Either way, from here on out, dear reader, the gloves come off. The tuxedo comes off. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword. Melville quietly takes to the ship. And wearing something like a smirk, the vacationing writer, on his writing vacation, dons his best tuxedo t-shirt.

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