How I dropped out without tuning in and turning on:
The fact is, in 1983, a year before I left my four-year stint in New York City, I realized I wasn’t getting what I wanted there and I wasn’t willing to wait and claw my way towards it. The first “it” was a job in publishing — which then became a job as a copywriter in an ad agency. Neither seemed to be worth giving so much of what I really did not have that much of to give. Whose dream was I dreaming, anyway? The girl in the apartment next door’s? They guy in the office next door’s? Factor in loneliness, stunted relationships, and an expired gift membership to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I was out. Out, who knew where, but out. My brother Gael gave me $500 for the bus fare and mover for the few pieces of furniture I owned, and I booked.
I went camping with my sister and her two kids and thought about stuff — I wouldn’t say deeply as much as racingly — picked up my parents’ ’66 Cutlass Supreme giveaway at our Seattle family home while they were off in Europe to visit my mother’s family, and, without the 40,000 or so words I’d need to tell you the details of that story, ended up in southwestern Colorado where I have been ever since.
I will admit that the ratio of men to women at the time was about 4 to 1. They were basically waiting for you as you rolled into town.
In the early years in Telluride, as a girl, really, a liberal artsy girl reinventing herself as a skier, I simultaneously hurt my back and inherited a boxy looking beige computer my father had purchased not long before he got sick and died. I’d been an English major. I’d worked in publishing and advertising. Who said I wasn’t supposed to be writing a novel? What else was I going to do all day? I was writing features for the local paper and waiting tables at night. I couldn’t ski and I couldn’t ride my bike. I was living with a man who would later become my husband, a skier who was trained as a journalist and dreamed of being a novelist.
Years later, after I got an agent who helped me find publishers, based in part on the characters in this book you are reading now, and the characters in my then half-finished subsequent book, I got lucky and had two novels picked up by mainstream publishers. I wasn’t smart enough to keep cranking things out the way they told me this kind of market required: they wanted a book every 18 months and that’s about how often I had a character knock on my door.
So after that, I worked on a screenplay for a documentary with a talented friend, spent a number of years trying to work my first novel into a screenplay (20,000 words here, which includes how one of my co-writers signed her own name to it and successfully submitted it to the Cape Cod Screenwriters Workshop), then started writing essays for the local newspaper, something I did bi-weekly for seven years.
Meanwhile another 80,000 words happened, or double that, probably, and life got so big I thought I’d write about that, only it was so big I couldn’t. I’d written snippets of the death of my first husband in my essays. I’d thought about all I still had to say. But I never wrote it down. Meanwhile I met someone I actually already knew and fell in love, my daughter graduated from college, I sold my house, got married, and we built another house down the road 40 miles. 200,000 words would be needed here to even begin to do it justice, and that includes four of his children, one of them nine years old.
One day, however, while organizing the painting studio that had finally materialized in my life, I bumped into the stack of typewritten pages of this first novel, title page gone, old fashioned binding pulled clean away, and started flipping through it, getting reacquainted with an earlier version of myself. I had to sit down for a spell and regain my “composure,” or whatever you’d call my version of that. The main character, Mimi, had been gone from my consciousness for a long, long time, but here she was standing before me again, waiting for her cheeks to be flush with color, for her lungs to fill with air.
Honestly, what I’m probably doing is allowing years of happiness, pining, head-scratching and pain to resurface so that I can tell you what really happened and how I perceive it. Because every life is big, so big it barely fits in the small amount of space we provide for it. The bigness I’m talking about isn’t about how much you’ve done, or how much you have, or make, or what your qualifications are, or who you know, or what you have to show for it all. It’s not about how many words pass through the pasta maker of your mind every day. It’s about the bigness of our beating and breaking hearts here on Earth. The reality of a tiny orb spinning in magnificent and godly space with those of us here below in Whoville doing the best we can.
Because we’re humans and need shelter, we run for the small spaces where we find reasons to hem ourselves in, tighter and tighter. How can we shed this habit? How can we go forward into bigger and bigger rooms, flinging open windows and racing out doors and into the wide open spaces we read about and sense are really here, right here in front of our faces to feel and perceive?
So for every chapter of Mimi and Max, I’ll add some backstory to accompany it. You can read either one, or both, or neither. If nothing else, it’s all here for my daughter, Celine, who misses her dad, and lunges at every opportunity to hear a little bit more about our history together and how I got from then to now.