I got the most delightful email from somebody I barely know this week. Apparently she found a magazine with one of my published articles in a “free bin” at the library, and when she opened it up to read it, she recognized my mug on the author bio page. She emailed me to tell me she liked the article and hoped I was still writing. FWIW, she said.
It’s worth a lot. Thank you for sending me that random inquiry. Having somebody find my work in the Free Bin at the public library brings tears to my eyes. Damn, I love the Free Bin! A kindred spirit, indeed. Honestly, it’s the only way I can tolerate reading right wing propaganda and various magazines I would never buy. Part of me knows I should leave the magazines for people who are less fortunate than me, but I’m a Free Bin hound. When I’m done with my reading, I return them on the sly.
But no, lovely emailer who found me in the Free Bin, I’m not doing that kind of writing anymore.
For about two years, I had a side freelance writing gig. I collaborated with the editors. Listened to the sage advice of fellow writers that I respect. Learned a lot about the publishing process. Got giddy when the magazine would hit the stands. Mailed copies to my parents. A few times random strangers would tell me they loved my article on So and So, and it was really cool to hear their stories when they told them to me. It was a cool way to network with people who liked to hike or ride bikes.
Then the magazine got sold and the new editor was not so thrilled with my work. I started to send my work to other magazines, and after about six months, I got a boat load of rejections. No this. Not that. Why this. Why that. Then one particularly mean-spirited vicious attack on my writing ability came into my mailbox. And so I hung it up. Said so-long. Let it go, I told myself. I watched my aspirations to be a writer float into the sky like a red balloon. Or all 99 of them.
I was a busy adjunct at the time trying to make ends meet while studying up to change my career. Not the best time to focus for a writer, really. It was maddening. I spent all day teaching people who hated to write yet I had no time to write myself. (High-five, Comp Teachers). When I did outdoorsy kinds of stuff, friends would say, “You should write about this.”
Meh. Change the subject.
Now I’m starting to rethink that outdoorsy-writer thing. I’m finally in a place where I can focus on some ideas that are really fun and exciting to me professionally, so maybe I can squeeze some time in for the personal writing. Some time.
A couple of weeks back, I spent some time emailing back and forth with a writer who is researching about adjunct labor and thought I might be able to help him. He’s a friend/colleague so I agreed. He offered to keep my quotes anonymous, but that makes me feel like a coward. Like I’m ashamed to critique the very system of exploitation that turns my stomach. Like I have anything to hide. What’s the point of telling the truth if you’re going to hide behind anonymity? You’re on the job market, he said, so you may not want to claim these ideas.
True. I suppose. Maybe I’ll regret being interviewed for that magazine someday. Maybe not. I can’t wait to read it, honestly. I read a couple of lines to my adjunct friends and they laughed, smiled, and said a couple “Fuck yeahs.” Even if those quotes aren’t published, I had a darn fine time sharing my ideas with my friends.
Maybe long after that magazine is published, somebody will eventually find it in a Free Bin at the library.
Our email exchange got me thinking about when I did the outdoorsy article writing. When I was an adjunct. Before I was a blogger. Before I tweeted. Before I did a lot of what I do today.
So guess what? And this is totally going to surprise you if you read this blog regularly. You guessed it. Yep. The federated wiki. So predictable, I know. But damn, it’s working for me. Or it feels like it’s working. Whatever. I can’t explain it. I’ll bumble through something intellectually stimulating in the fall at conferences. That is, if I don’t stun myself into a total panic that I am planning on presenting on these ideas at conferences. But that’s in the future. Holycats, I have some big projects to complete before the fall. Holyhotdamn I can’t believe what I’ve got myself into this autumn. Write a title and blurb. See what happens.
[I stared at the wall here for like 15 minutes. I’ll write about all that later, I thought. I stared at the wall some more.]
Where was I? The Free Bin and the Federated Wiki. Right.
So let’s see how an outdoorsy article writer works with the federated wiki. Two weeks or so ago, I started by writing a little something titled Stars & Evergreen Fire Lookout. My friends and I rented a fire lookout in the central North Cascades Mountains. A little mid-week vacation in a beautiful place and I volunteered to do some research. I gathered all I could find on the Internet. I checked out books from the library. I read. And read. Took some notes. And the next thing I know, I kind of really liked my page.
I can see how all of the little bits could become an article. How the history of fire lookouts mirror changes in technology. Changes in human behavior. Changes in priorities. Changes that I think I could write about. Maybe somebody else would fork it. Read it. Maybe not.
I read late into the night, and when I stumbled upon “star gazing” being listed as an activity at the lookout, I took that as a sign I wasn’t going to find anything better.
Gazing at stars as an activity. Yes. Then I found this beauty the next morning.
If you look closely, you can see Bob Norton and Mokie, the happiest dog ever. Mr. Norton, it turns out, was a “trail man” and his life sounds kind of dreamy to me. It sort of looks like he’s holding a flask. Hope it was whiskey.
This got me thinking about the people who did long distance trekking back before GPS, titanium light fancy-ass gear, and other modern recreational equipment. Look at Bob rocking the external frame pack. Old school. Bob stayed at our fire lookout back in the day. Helped build the trails to get there. What a guy, that Bob.
When I got to the lookout, there was a handout with directions on how to use the stove, and such. On the handout was a short story about two fire lookout employees who fell in love via walky talky. Networking by technological means, be still my heart.
I started to imagine what their conversations must have been like. Batteries were most likely scarce and necessary for their jobs. No long conversations. No letters. No phone. How did they fall in love? Maybe they did a quick flirt from afar by sending signals.
Here’s how I imagine an early conversation after the second date–which was like three months apart because they couldn’t leave their stations until they needed supplies. They had a job to do, man.
Him: Low on salt pork and peanut butter. You?
Her: I still have some jerky. Soup cans galore. (Pause) Light your lantern if you’ve thought about me more than once today.
Him: Lights lantern. Holds it up to the window. Sees her lantern light. Gives a mountain yowl he knows she can’t hear.
Her: Turn it off if you think you’ll dream about me.
Him: Stumbles, almost trips, almost breaks the lantern to turn if off as fast as possible. Darkness.
Her: Sweet dreams. Over and out. Darkness.
Totally silly, this imagination of mine, right? But they were married for thirty years after “courting” via the lookouts and walky talkies. Something totally hot happened that must have been exhilarating yet really lonely. I’ve sketched all kinds of ideas of where I could take this history lesson to possibly a hiking article or creative nonfiction.
I’ve got a start in the federated wiki which is a bit like that Free Bin at the library for me lately when I have time for it. This is a new idea I’ve been thinking about, and I haven’t quite tuned into the frequency on how to explain Federated Wiki as Free Bin idea.
Maybe it will come to me while I’m staring at a wall or at the stars. Until then, I’ll leave you with words of John Muir:
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.