All of these things are right

Most of the last 10,000 words I wrote somewhere between Portland and the Bay while Lex drove. Lex is from Croatia and from craigslist and as a European or human being was excited about America and free refills and the state line. This is probably a good thing to spend some hours with sometime. It doesn’t mean we are best friends or will fall in love and get married but means that for a few hours he asked me to read his text messages to him out loud and that we ate at a Pizza Hut with the nicest waitress that exists in the world.

Portland is the most livable city I’ve ever been to. Troubling a little, but all of the things you could need seem within such short distances there it felt easier to keep your priorities straight. Lex moved to the states from Germany where he’s in school and didn’t understand what suburbs were, ending up in the suburban neighborhoods outside of Palo Alto and bored to death. (His mother didn’t understand because she’d seen Desperate Housewives and that’s what American suburbia is.) Portland somehow takes the parts about the suburbs I miss (houses, yards, trees) and puts them in a context that doesn’t mean staying inside would be preferable.

So I didn’t write much while I was there, because I was busy and happy and fairly sure I could catch up. Whatever kind of asceticism I thought the whole thing would’ve taken was completely mistaken; it served mainly as a reminder that I am a regular person with a normal job and no children and a lot of free time, and most days I could live normally and still write 1,500 words by the end of the night. Sometimes I said no to things. Mostly I didn’t.

But I’m glad to have done it, mostly to know that I’m not lazy, and have some semblance of discipline. It’s good to do one thing for some time. It’s also good to know that a sense of story is possible without outlines or any real idea of a plot, that years of story consumption will make something emerge however mightily it may rely on clichés to get there. Better, though, was being a part of the amount of work that went on to make the event run, and watching others do it and hearing stories much more interesting than mine, and knowing how much was happening that would not have otherwise been happening.

Picture 9

This is maybe the one thing I feel as excited for as Lex was about the California state checkpoint.


Tomorrow I start moving to San Francisco. Three days after I wrote this post everything changed again to prove there’s no point in planning for anything. I’m going to miss living in Oakland a lot.

Picture 5

This is a picture of my home in The New York Times

Before I left for Portland– when I told my mother I was getting in the car with a stranger for ten hours– all she said was that I only have good people in my life, and she doesn’t expect that to change. It is a weird thing to have someone else tell you: when it is true completely but you’ve somehow failed to realize, and how then I felt I owed something to someone or everyone for whatever luck or circumstance means that my whole life is made up of people who are fundamentally good, and fundamentally good to me.

But so for whatever reason I still place a lot of weight in location, being in a place for a time and the right one, when everything I know says that it is mostly beside the point. In one of the best things I read this year the author asks to imagine if there were a boat upon which you could put only four people, and then everyone else would cease to exist:

Who would you put on that boat? It would be painful, but how quickly you would decide: You and you and you and you, get in. The rest of you, goodbye.

and it is horrible, but how quickly. And this is the point, if it is four people or ten there is no boat but they are here. Here, as a life; not here as a place. Everyday we expect to live out the door and to the end of the block and up the elevator and back home again, and expect that somewhere those people we love to do the same, without thinking or checking while the world keeps moving. They’re there. Someday this isn’t true, and it is its own special kind of narcissism the way I worry that I’ve not said enough to those four people. To anyone.

Someday I would like to build a house and fill it with nothing. There would be rooms and closets but each of them would be empty. In winter I would keep it warm and in summer I would keep the windows open. For months I would search out everyone I’ve every known and invite them to the empty house and many wouldn’t come, but those that could would fill up every wall and corner until it makes sense to own nothing else but everyone in those rooms.


This year when so many things stopped working the conversation seemed to turn– more than I ever remember being the case– to seclusion and labor and building a life that exists tangibly in the way you spent your time and the food you put on the table. When being too far divorced from the effects of our actions finally made a lot of rich people poorer and a lot poor people even poorer it seemed maybe nicer to live a little more immediately. But to do it immediately? I’m still making the money I can, buying the things I can. There’s been so little change.

Leah came with us too on the drive to Oregon. She was going home to Eugene for a month before she left for Japan to join a monastery.

Picture 10

So this was how I saw it: I’d sign a lease and go to my job each morning and take all of these good people in all of the time in what ways I could, and somewhere Leah would take a vow of silence, and we could maybe build a balance back in. But it only works if I find a better way to balance growing up and learning how little I matter with mattering more to those people I don’t deserve. In Oakland or here or Portland or on a farm or in Japan or Croatia.

Picture 11

The point of the novel I wrote was meant to be that we don’t own anything, except if we’re lucky someone else or others, and after fifty thousand words I should’ve found a way to mean it.