Tag Archives: Moscow Idaho

On Starting Yet Another Daybook Again

DaybookI’ve never been good at keeping journals. I’ve started many, but I leave them behind soon after starting them. I’ve tried keeping traditional journals or more work-related daybooks, and once I even tried keeping a dream journal, which was redundant because most of my dreams involved spiders or missing a deadline or sometimes missing a deadline given to me by the spiders.

I know it’s a good habit, not just for writers but for anyone with too many thoughts and too many tasks. It can be therapeutic, and a few times even was. But I’ve never managed to keep a journal for more than a few weeks, despite being a creature of habit. Last winter, I woke up at 6 every morning and exercised for half an hour, and ate the same meal every night for dinner (a can of beans with salsa and cheese). I’m good at regimentation, except when it comes to writing.

I don’t count this blog as a daybook, either, because it’s the opposite of habitual. I post inconsistently, and I have no specific topic. Last year I wrote twelve posts about the Russian Revolution between attempts at satire and wannabe McSweeney’s rants. This year I’m writing twelve posts about American history between joke recipes for smoothies and self-referential metablog posts. This blog is more like an intellectual junk drawer where everything that isn’t easily categorized finds itself one way or another.

Today, I started another daybook. I don’t know if I’ll see it through to the end of the year, but I want to write at least a paragraph every day. Maybe posting about it here will keep me in check; maybe the theme (observations about Moscow from September to May) will make it easier to write consistently. Lately, I’ve wanted to write about this weird place I now live. There’s a lot of take in, even for such a small town. Or maybe because it’s such a small town, there’s a lot to take in, just around the corners, subtle but always there.

My first entry in the daybook was about Farmers Market potatoes. Tomorrow, I hope something just as engaging will fall into my life.

-jk

Fall in Another City

Campus 2.jpgI’m still getting to know Moscow, Idaho. I’ve only been here since August, but it takes me a while to reconfigure myself to new surroundings. I adapt slowly and cling to what is familiar: campus aesthetics, coffee shops, quiet mornings for writing.

The last time I moved, I went from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Lincoln, Nebraska, and it took me about a year to adjust. It took me a year to feel grounded in the place, in the people, like I wasn’t a transplant from the Southwest to the Midwest. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I feel like a double transplant in yet another variation on the west, a west that I want to write down in the long, laborious tradition of writing about places. Do I need to be a tourist or a resident? I’ve gone from deserts to plains to this stranger place called the Palouse, a valley of vast wheat fields and pine trees.

I am not, yet, a tumbleweed, a person with “roaming proclivities.” But I still feel detached from so many places, so up-in-the-air right now. I wish I had spent more than two years with my friends in Nebraska before uprooting myself again. I wonder how long I’ll be in Idaho before I’m again uprooted.

I am still very much a westerner, but after only two moves, I feel scattered. I vote in Arizona, I made strong connections in Nebraska, and now I’m a writer in Idaho. The one constant has been the university as a setting, like a monastic system in which I orient myself toward the library, the English building, and the nearest coffee shop. Campuses are large and sometimes quiet. This is true of Flagstaff, Lincoln, and now Moscow. I like old campuses, brick buildings, planned and structured squares of nature for viewing purposes. In other words, the constant for me is finding places to work, the one thing I hope I am never uprooted from. If and when I move again, I hope there is a quiet campus wherever I go.

 

-jk

 

The Place-Based Writer Goes Places

Moscow Idaho“I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them. I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment.” –John Steinbeck, Travels With Charlie

I’ve been on the road since June 4. I’ve traveled from Nebraska to South Dakota to Montana to Idaho to other parts of Idaho, and I will soon be on my way to another part of Idaho, then Utah, then Arizona. I’ve stayed in a lot of places, and seen a lot of places, and have plenty to write about. The problem is that writing on the road is difficult. Even John Steinbeck, known for writing about people (and dogs) traveling from point A to point B, knew that he had to let his stories stew. I’ve never had that kind of patience. I want to write the moment I get an idea.

I’ve often been accused of being a place-based writer. This makes sense, I suppose, because I place myself in bars with my laptop, then place large quantities of alcohol into my mouth, then place my fingers on the keys and type until I forget which place I’m in. But I also enjoy describing places. Setting is crucial for my stories, because most of my recent writing has focused on historical situations. Most of my stories cannot take place elsewhere, and taking place is an apt description of most of my plots. Setting, time and place, has more influence over my characters than I do, sometimes.

Right now, I wish I could write about the places I’ve seen, notably Moscow, Idaho,where I will live for three years starting in August, where I will hopefully get an MFA in creative writing. The town is small but quirky, surrounded by hills and distant mountains. There is a bagel shop that serves beer and a video rental stores on the same street. I drove into Moscow through a rain storm and misty curving roads, past industrial bridges and tall, deep green patches of forest and small, isolated towns. The campus is old and maintains most of its original architecture. It is a patchwork quilt of red bricks and green vegetation. Under overcast skies and in silvery clouds of mist, the town is surreal, even spooky. It’s the ideal place for a writer.

Not that I need an ideal place. I don’t want to be so tied to place that I need somewhere specific to be comfortable, to be myself. But I will admit that, as far as places go, Moscow looks like a lovely place to spend three years writing about all the other places I wish I was in.

-jk