Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Assorted Musing (some even writing related)

by Mike Crawmer

Last Friday evening, around 8:30 or so, I was floating in the bathtub-warm water of the hotel pool at Carolina Beach, looking up at the stars and wishing the moment would last forever. Of course, it couldn’t, but I it didn’t hurt to wish.

We left the North Carolina coast Saturday morning, heading north for D.C. En route we stopped in Petersburg, Virginia, to check out the local architecture and history. The quart of ice water I downed at lunch offered relief from the hot, humid day. But by evening we were sorry we hadn’t packed jeans and a sweatshirt—D.C. was downright chilly, though warm compared with the frigid house that greeted us in Pittsburgh the next afternoon. Truly, what a difference a day (and several hundred miles) makes.

North Carolina isn’t the Deep South, but I’m happy to report that the rich, languid tones of the southern accent are thriving down that way. I’ve always been fascinated (if occasionally befuddled) when exposed to a true accented American English. It all started when my family moved from York County (the very definition of “homogeneous”) to a new D.C. suburb back in the 60s: one set of neighbors was from Massachusetts, another from Texas, and still another from New York City. It was like a United Nations of English dialects. That, and studying Latin, French, German and Russian, has left me with, I think, an ear for the subtleties of language and a facility with writing dialogue (cue for my critique group members reading this to chime in with any contrary assessments).

Getting to and from North Carolina meant hours in the car searching the dial for a compatible radio station--not an easy task down South where fully one third of the stations require a twang in your singing voice and another third require some familiarity with the New Testament (especially Revelations). But one day I did hear a bit of chatter, and this example of the further debasement of our common tongue: “Before I came from being single to being married….” Honey, I wanted to scream, you didn’t “come” from one to another, you “went.” Apparently, I’m not with the times, where it seems “go” is succumbing to “come.” I would no sooner start this paragraph with “Coming to and from North Carolina” than I’d say, “Go on, let’s come” when trying to leave the house in a hurry. Why don’t people “go” anywhere nowadays? Why do they always “come” and “came”? (And don’t get me started on the almost complete replacement of “take” with “bring” in all uses.)

Lesson learned from beach vacation: Leave the laptop at home. Best intentions to write (something, anything) were never realized. Every day brought a new distraction (usually sun, sand and beach). Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be when you’re on, as the Brits say, holiday? But when I do write, I want to be in that “flow” I heard so much about on Ira Glass’s This American Life (again, while driving). That’s the state where all your creative energies are focused on the task at hand, where through discipline and diligence and a love of craft, you, the creator (of words, paintings, pottery or the crocheted pot holder) are for that time truly in the moment, unaware of time or self or the immediate world around you.

Here’s hoping you’re all experience that flow in your writing lives. It’s something I find all too rarely—though there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the moment bobbing around in the ocean last week.


Anonymous said...

Laptops are for rainy days on beach vacations. It sounds like you didn't get any of those.

Mike, I'm so jealous!

Joyce Tremel said...

Mike, it sounds like you had a great vacation!

I can't help asking: what did you see in Petersburg? Did you go to the Crater? Pamplin Park?

Anonymous said...

Ah, lovely Petersburg, Va. where over half of all the retail trade is crack cocaine. It's a community where violent crime, teen pregnancy, and alcohol sales have topped the charts. It's a very dangerous city (second only to Richmond - a city that owns the country's highest murder rate per capita).

It seems that Joyce has some fond memories of the area (Petersburg is rich in history). I spent many weekend nights working undercover narcotics in this lovely metropolis and my memories of the place aren't so hot. Just for starters, two of my friends were shot while working there - one in the abdomen and the other in the face with a shotgun. Oh, that's the same geographical region where I shot and killed a bank robber.

Ironically, the officer who was shot in the stomach was my instructor for officer safety while I was in the police academy. Many years later, after I became a police academy instructor, I taught the same class to the officer who was shot in the face. Both of these guys are examples of how tunnel-vision affects even the best of officers.

Oh, I love the Carolina beaches, but I don't even like to drive through Virginia anymore.

One more thing. Joyce, the Petersburg area is Mountain Man country. :)

As they say in the south, ya'll come (but bring your gun).

Anonymous said...

Joyce--We didn't see much, actually. Downtown is still recovering from that devastating '93 tornado that ripped out so much of the historic center. We did manage to get to the big cemetery (name escapes me) off Crater Road--with some 30,000 rebel dead buried there it's reportedly the second largest military cemetery in the U.S. after Arlington (though all I saw were civilian graves--the cemetery must cover dozens of acres). More fascinating for me was the time I spent at Fort Fisher on Cape Fear, just south of Carolina Beach (which is south of Wilmington, NC). I had no idea it was such an important Confederate stronghold and how critical taking it was to the Union side. I'll fill you in later on that.

Anonymous said...

That might be the Blanford Church cemetary.

Anonymous said...

Lee--I had no idea of your personal history with P-burg, or of the town's nasty rep. Guess we should be thankful we got out alive, but then again, we only walked around a few blocks downtown in the middle of a hot Saturday day when the streets were empty and what few stores remain were closed for the day.

Joyce Tremel said...

Lee, if you're trying to talk me out of liking Virginia, it's not working.

I can see where the Mountain Man would fit right in there.

Anonymous said...

I'm teasing about Virginia. It's a lovely place. After all, Virginia is for lovers...and rapists, robberers, drug dealers, murderers, snipers, and dog fighting. Oh, and let's not forget all the politicians who have second homes there. Dick Cheney for one.

Mike, it's not just Petersburg that's so awful. it's that entire region. The area is really depressed. Income levels are low and unemployment is high. The cities there sit along the I-95 drug corridor and that adds to the unusually high crime rate.

Anonymous said...

Mike: I learned a long time ago that taking a laptop on a beach vacation was a waste of time. One less thing to pack, I say.