A Second Honeymoon and Other Travel Advice

traci and I have that old on-going marital competition. For the longest time, we kept secret tabs on who was more successful in life. One day, we just decided to make a list. My argument was that I had attained more in life than she had. And hers was, "Nah nah, nahnah, poopoo." At any rate, here's a sample of the list.

* traci had a full scholarship to play Division One basketball – I was a Division Three cheerleader for gym credit
* traci has a PhD. – I have an MFA (from the same university)
* she’s 6’1” – I’m 5’11” (with my boots on)
* she has a book published – I have a few short stories and an essay
* she is a tenure track professor – I teach part time

As you can imagine, the list went on for the first half of a seventy-page college ruled spiral notebook before traci, incredulously, asked me, “Well, then, how exactly are you more successful than I?”

“It’s simple,” I said. “I married up.”

traci’s choice of spouse aside, she really is pretty amazing. Recently, writer and madhatter Carol Novak asked traci to read along with herself, David Smith, and Carter Monroe at the MadHat's Poetry, Prose & Anything Goes. traci, of course, was honored, and it gave more credence to my argument that my spouse is superior to my spouse’s spouse in all ways. Chalk one up for this guy. I don’t see traci becoming as successful as me any time soon, unless she stops doing really awesome things and I start robbing banks. That might equalize the playing field.

Anyway, it was an awesome reading, and if you’ve never met the above four awesome writers, then I’m better than you. Or luckier, at least, and if you like reading, look into each of their works – some of the best stuff I’ve been exposed to for quite a while, and someday when I complete my PhD., I’ll have the ethos to explain why they’re awesome. For now, it’s enough to say, they are kind and strong people who celebrate art and good conversations.

Meanwhile, traci and I took advantage of the journey to have a romantic day alone. We started off the day by taking a circuitous route up around the panhandle to have a look at some used cast iron bathtubs in the hopes of finding a four footer to fit our guest bathroom. The place we drove to is close to the Tennessee border, and the guy who runs it sits there on the porch, with a fence made of bathtubs and a yard made of bathtubs and a garden made of bathtubs, and this guy can tell you the personal history of every one of the bathtubs and others like them.

We asked him how he kept track of the prices of all the tubs. He said, “Five footers are two hundred. Four foot and a halfers are three hundred. And I don’t have any four footers, but, if I did, it would run you about seven hundred.” At this point, I could only be thankful we didn’t need a three footer – we’d have to sell the bathroom to buy the tub.

So we continued on our way – tubless – to Ashville, following the directions we’d been given by the internet. It has always amazed myself and my family that when I moved to Utah to perform my MFA program, I got on Route 8 which runs past my house, drove to Barkeyville, turned left on I-80 and drove straight until I found a hotel in Salt Lake City. In order to get from Greensboro NC to Ashville NC, we had to print out three pages of directions, leading us through Tennessee along seventeen different routes and interstates, and dubious county roads. At one point, traci looked up from the map and said, “Are we in somebody’s backyard?”

Now, there’s only one place in the world, I’ve heard, where you can start at Point A, walk a mile south, walk a mile east, walk a mile north, and end up back at Point A. It’s a sort of a riddle slash logic problem. Don’t finish this sentence if you don’t want to know the answer is the North Pole. At any rate, there’s only one place in the world, I’ve heard, where you can make such a triangular journey, following straight lines.

I’m here today to say that I think we’ve found a second such place. One of the directions, and this is verbatim, asked us to “Turn left to continue straight North on East 74 West.” I’m not going to address the fact that the directions asked us to turn left to go straight. Nor am I concerned with the idea of heading West on 74 East. What concerns me here is that we were already heading west, so the left turn should have effectively had us driving south while heading North on East 74 West.

So while I recognize the complicated magnetic issues the North Pole offers the world, I am certain there isn’t a pole on this planet that can contend with Tennessee for confusing travelers. At one point, in fact, we came to an intersection of East 74 West and North 81 West and couldn’t decipher the map. So we drove straight for a mile, came back to the intersection, tried the two other roads – each time coming back to the intersection – and simply decided to backtrack on East 74 East for a few miles. Now, it turns out that was exactly what the directions wanted us to do, but what’s more interesting is that all three of the other roads would have taken us 22 miles to Boone, NC. I know all roads once lead to Rome, and that’s a nice metaphor, but the only thing I can figure is that whoever designed the roads in Tennessee had a strong practical grasp of mobius strips.

Still, though we didn’t end up with a tub, it was a beautiful drive. The Black Mountain College Museum was a great space for a wonderful reading. After which we ate the best Punjabi food I’ve eaten since Jaswinder let me sleep on his floor for three months. We ended the romantic evening by driving halfway back to Greensboro along I-40 and sleeping for a couple hours at a rest stop. Best second honeymoon we’ve had since we moved to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the whole lot of us are in Pennsylvania until Sunday, and for those of you travelling during the holiday season, I have two bits of advice. One drive safely: there’s lots of lousy drivers and even worse text messagers out there these days. And two, if you head through Tennessee, take a camera (it’s truly beautiful country), but leave the compass at home: it won’t do you any good anyway.


National Novel Writing Month and Me

What you’ve heard is true: November is national novel writing month. This is a tradition that is as old as time itself – eleven years. The official website (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) claims the first Nanowrimo was held in 1999. Yes, I thought time would be older as well. Who knew?

Still, this reminds me of the first time the kids ever came to Pennsylvania. Summer 2004. traci and I had been married for a few months, and we were driving down over the hill to visit Maga and Pappap. Zac was eleven, Sam was eight, and Naomi was four.

Sam said, “My friend had to have his index removed.”

I said, “His index?”

Sam said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Did it hurt?”

Sam said, “I didn’t feel a thing.”

Naomi said, “What’s an index?”

Zac said, “I think he means appendix.”

Sam said, “Yes, appendix.”

Naomi said, “What’s an appendix?”

Zac said, “Nobody knows.”

Naomi said, “Why do we have one if we don’t know what they are?”

Zac said, “Sometimes organs that were once useful lose their necessity as the body evolves in order to adapt to our environment.”

Sam said, “Basically, we grew out of it: like tonsils.”

Naomi said, “Yeah, but that was a long time ago. Like back in the nineties.”

This conversation is noteworthy to me, because it marks the first time I realized that my kids think of me not only as a different generation, but also as a primitive stage of the evolutionary cycle. All said, it’s not an awful feeling, and it does make me appreciate how difficult it was for my parents to adjust to losing their tails.

Meanwhile, back at National Novel Writing Month: traci and I have talked for years about taking part in this tradition. Each year, we’ve opted out. This year, we decided that since we’ve never been busier in our whole lives, we might as well try to crank out a 50,000 word work of fiction. (We are doing this unofficially.) That’s approximately 1,666 words a day.

In response to your first question: Is that a lot of words? Well, for instance, The Declaration of Independence has about 1,300 words. And that took fifty-six people like a month and a half to write. So, yes, I’d say 1,666 a day is a considerable amount.

In response to your second question: Will I be in your novel? No, you will not. Rather, I’m attempting a fantasy novel I’m tentatively calling The Epic Asskicking Saga of Princess Badass. It’s terrible. Perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever written. traci is writing an awesome novel, which she will tell you all about at a later date. You are not in that novel either.

But maybe you’ll be in the sequels. Meanwhile, we are both a little bit behind schedule, but optimistic. As neither of us teaches on Fridays, we have vowed to write our asses off on those days. I’ll leave you with that compelling image. Wish us luck.