Last night I went to a reading. My friend Maile Meloy read from her new novel, A Family Daughter. It's her third book published in six years. She has been taking the NY literary world by storm. Which is unbelievably fantastic.
Maile and I met at a writing conference eight years ago. We were in the same group workshop. And that year I met and connected with two of my favorite people: Maile and Honduro. I've remained close with both. Honduro had caught my attention at the conference because his story was told in the perspective of a college girl who gets drunk on spring break and ends up sloppily -- sans purse and dignity -- on a beach in Mexico. It was funny and real and sad. And I noticed Maile because she had wild red hair surrounding a conservative, shy face. She was generous and intelligent. And every time she spoke, I listened.
While Honduro and I are like two sibling-like goofballs that can ramble about everything from important matters to the nonsensical, Maile and I are very different, in backgrounds and interests. We don't always talk a lot but we have an underlying connection that I don't think either of us could explain. It's like we are two hooks traveling in opposite directions that have linked together while passing each other; we like being hooked together in this way even if we don't understand the bond. She makes efforts to come to birthday parties. She visited me days after Mina was born with farmers market goodies. And she has always been a huge supporter of my fiction, which humbles me to near discomfort. I offer my teeny tiny support for her. I'll drive far to hear her read. I'll buy all her books, new and hardcovered. I'll wait in long lines to get them signed, and when I get to the front of the line, I hold it up because as we try to catch up in small minutes. And because I had brought her a slice of vegan cheesecake because, y'know, that's how I say congratulations for writing a NY Times praised novel.
She reads her work beautifully. Confidently with a slight Montana accent though I didn't know there was such a thing before I met her. I don't have another friend from Montana to verify this, but let's just pretend there is such an accent. Her writing work ethic is phenomenally focused and her style and voice are classic and timeless.
Last night, I listened to Maile read words from the new novel in a crowded and famous old bookstore where the lighting is institutional yellow and where you can still actually smell the scent of books, and I tried with all my might to breathe in some inspiration to get more focused about my own writing. I breathed in and out. I lost grasp of her words a couple times, selfishly, because I was reconnecting myself to thought, to pen, to paper. I tried to draw a jolt of drive from her. And she gave it to me, unselfishly, because that's what kind of friendship we have.
I walked back to my car after the reading and the air smelled like night-blooming jasmine. It was an exact smell of when I was a kid walking in spring-time nights in Santa Monica, and it caused my breath to pitch high in my throat. I would've walked the few miles to the beach on a trail of the jasmine if I didn't have such a long drive back. That is something I do -- I suppose many people do -- in fits of inspiration; just walk or drive. So, on the drive back, I played no radio and I tried to sort it all out in mind. I know I can make this all work somehow, the job, the family, the this, the that, the writing. I know if I just concentrate, focus, I can get it all done. And I sorted and I thought. Forty five minutes later I had the first three lines of a new story that I had started a few days ago. I just kept repeating the three lines over and over because I didn't want to write them on scrapes of paper while driving on the freeway late at night. Not like I haven't done that before or read stories in moderately slow moving traffic, but I decided to play it safe and just repeat the words. When home, I typed out the three lines. The initial thrill had passed because I realized, glaringly, that it took me an inspired hour to come up with just three lines. I considered jumping back in my car for a jaunt down to Costa Rica to possibly eek out a full page or two.
I want to drop kick the I Can Do It All notion off of my second-story balcony. But it's the best option I got right now. I need it all: the job, the family, the writing, the this and the that. Tomorrow I'll try to focus again and come up with lines four and five. Maybe six even.