In Which Buck Bump Shadows Our Heroine

6 March 2005

I sent Mark to California perfectly healthy, and he came back ill. I can't say I find this situation perfectly satisfactory. It leaves a few things to be desired. A healthy Mark, for example. Sigh. (He has gotten less energetic about insisting that he isn't sick. I think missing out on fun including Sonya's birthday party last night made a difference there.)

He is not, however, grumpy-bear-sick, so that's something.

What a nice segue! I just started reading Warren Rochelle's The Wild Boy, which has a grumpy bear on the cover. And, apparently, immediately inside the story as well. This is one of the ones Stella picked up for me at a library book sale for a quarter (we do that for each other), and I hadn't really looked at it, but every once in awhile I get the urge to read something that's been on my book pile for awhile, and I've been leaning towards short books lately. So there you have that.

One of my friends in California once sent me a copy of an essay he'd written about choosing books from his book piles. It's an important art. Reading a book at the wrong time can spoil it forever, or can make a bad situation worse. I still think it's unfortunate that I had nothing but Vonnegut to read in the car on the way to and from my Gran's funeral. Vonnegut needs a good deal of taking care of, and sometimes that's a good thing for someone who's grieving, to have to take care of someone else, but in that case I just wanted to shout, "Shut up, sad basset man! Poo-tee-weet somewhere else!" But it was what I had, and what can you do? Not read? Certainly not that. Not an option. So I read Vonnegut and glowered. And then it was like picking a scab when I got back to my dorm room and had other stuff to read: I had to finish the Vonnegut, because it was there. And then I had to keep glowering. Luckily, people are fairly tolerant of glowering from people with a fresh grief.

Mostly not reading the right book is not so catastrophic for me; I'm not nearly that fragile a reader. I'm a fairly amiable reader, really. But the right book at the right time, oh, that's much better than amiability alone can provide.

I got a massage today to make my back behave, and it underlined the fact that I haven't been getting quite enough sleep lately. Usually when I get a massage, I get relaxed, but remain perfectly awake: it's the middle of the day, after all. This time and last time, I've fallen into this weird state where my brain bifurcates and half of it is aware and awake and the other half is clearly dreaming. Yesterday I was flopping with a book and had this, where I was aware with half of my brain that I had not pushed my hair out of my face and gone on with the book, because I couldn't say what had happened next in it, but the other half of the brain was doing exactly those things. It was even weirder towards the end of my massage today, because it wasn't one of those coherent dream states that's almost like being awake, it was something with Michelle and birds. This is why it confuses me when people talk about having to be asleep for X hours before you can dream: I apparently can dream without being asleep at all.

It's not like those gappy naps, either, where you're never conscious of being asleep but you realize you've lost half an hour somewhere. I first became aware of those on trips up to my grandparents', when it hit me that radio stations probably weren't playing medleys of the Temptations and Simon and Garfunkel spliced together, even though that was what my brain had processed.

Driving past Buck Bump last night reminded me of how magic it was when I was little. That will sound silly to people who do actual skiing on actual mountains (Buck Bump -- Buck Hill -- is a skiing place in the south Twin Cities area, clearly visible from the highway). It was pale and glowing in the winter nights, and the little black dots that slipped down it in wavering arcs looked amazing, not like anything down in Nebraska. The "almost home" spots on the trip started with Lutheran Church of Thank God We're In Minnesota and Albert Lea and the lake in the night, and there was always Northfield, where we could get Bridgeman's but generally did not on the way up. But Buck Bump and the snow and the skiers at night, all that was the beginning of the strange familiarity that was the Cities, the home I'd never lived in; it was the first landmark that was its own thing and not a name on a sign. Compared to everything in Nebraska, it shone and the lifts soared, and it was the beginning of the world that my mother was teaching me was my birthright.

It would probably be an exaggeration to say that the seeds of half my novels come from driving past Buck Bump on a winter night and the other half from walking around Lake of the Isles on an early fall afternoon. Yes. An exaggeration, I think. Almost certainly an exaggeration. Or perhaps a mistaken metaphor: those things aren't the seeds, they're the soil.

Even the story I have to write set in Las Vegas grows from all this. I think it would be a different story entirely if it was written by a Nevadan. What do floodlights on the snow have to do with Nevada, anyway? Well, nothing, really, except me. They have me to do with Nevada.

I have a feeling that this is one of those times when talking about things is making them less clear rather than more, and I should just go write the stories, and then you can see the shadows of Buck Bump in them or not, as you like. Have we got a deal, then?

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