“Summer Writing in a Tourist Town”

All my life I’ve lived in tourist towns or cities. Perhaps that is a positive thing. Nobody wants to reside in a Third World “shithole” location. (According to trusted acquaintances, due to current management, America is now included under that rubric.) We all want to be proud of our place of residence, invite friends over, show off the town. Unfortunately, come June, everyone and their family wants to visit the place where we live.

Which way to Freedom Tower? Do they still sell weed in Washington Square Park? Is the Empire State Building nearby?

Our local companions desert us on their own vacations, schools are out, and the work routine noticeable much of the year appears to grind to a halt. Why even look forward to summer during the chill and darkness of short winter days and amid the cyclonic winds and allergic reactions of spring, if only to resent it when it arrives lumbering and short of breath?

A type of mass inertia besets the land over summer. A slowing of the mind and perhaps a death or—at best—a comatose state of brain cells. Suddenly, lying outdoors eating ice cream and reading a few pages of an unchallenging novel becomes the fabric of a decent day, if not altogether heroic.

Are we near Fisherman’s Wharf? Is the Aquarium there? No? Jesus, why not?

There is a rope, a strand leading many of us through each day from meals to work to naps to maybe an air-conditioned seat watching some superhero/blockbuster movie in a daze, occasionally buffeted from our torpor by deafening explosions and searing flashes of white light.

Creative work is imagined with great anticipation before summer enshrouds us. In June I will edit my novel, start a screenplay in July, then begin a new project by August, and really be ahead come September.

Once we recognize that June is not only surrounding us but already waning, a realization dawns of the concentrated struggle needed to wrest creative ideas from a logy brain out into daylight and toward any tangible form of expression.

Far easier to submit already finished projects of poems, stories, essays, photographs, paintings, and resumes into the deathless void of summer. We hope for a response but secretly fear a tomb-like silence until August finally sinks its massive, humid head into the soft shoulder of fall. Then, an autumnal breeze chills our brain back to optimum functioning temperature, and rouses us from an eternal childhood vacation stupor. Oh yeah, life is passing by quickly. I’m not going back to school, college, or graduate studies. Wake up and produce, man.

Having lived in Manhattan, in Monterey, in Big Sur, in Santa Fe, and Santa Barbara, each summer I’m struck with a creative paralysis during July and August—as I envy the arguing families staggering around like one awkward, multi-limbed beast from hotel to restaurant to tourist attraction. How simple their lives are. Is it time to eat? Should we go back to our room? Let’s see a movie. If we drive into the valley, how long until lunch?

I yearn to leave town myself, escape problems, flee from whoever it is that I am—as if that can be accomplished. Yet there is also guilt over long-imagined plans that I’m ready to cast aside to bask in the sluggish comfort of nothingness.

How do I get to Millennium Park? Is that close to Navy Pier?

The agenda seems clear: wander aimless as a mad heretic in the desert, kick back, take some “me” time, snorkel in Hawaii, buy a foreign language book to never open, and when you can longer eat any more, lie back and digest your meal like a sluggish python in the heat, play with new tech gadgets without pleasure, see a movie meant for fourteen-year-olds when you’re fifty.

Can’t I live like a tourist in my own town? Oh, to drive the wrong direction down one-way streets, devour buckets of fast food without remorse, spend wads of cash recklessly–because it’s a goddamn staycation after all.

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An SUV skids over to the side of the road in Southern California while traffic swerves and stutters around it, until a shadowed face within questions me: “Hey, guy. Which way to the old Spanish Mission? You’re from around here, right?”

What makes you think that?”

Because you look so relaxed, like you just got out of bed…”

Is there anything wrong with taking two months off of work? Of course not, but if you’re taking two months away from the creative life and you’re not twenty anymore, maybe there is.

How many miles to the Boardwalk? Is this the old Old Town or the new Old Town?

Making art, in whatever form, shouldn’t be labor. Chances are it doesn’t pay enough to sustain one, so it’s more a calling, a duty, a productive insanity. We are compelled to do it against all dictates of logic and economic sense.

I have fumbled about with writing, performing music, and painting for decades. When depression following the death of a parent caused my visual imagination to dry up, I put brushes and paints aside until inspiration struck. I went to sleep one night and woke up twelve years later thinking, I should really get back to art. Having stepped out of the stream for a moment, I lost my place in the flow, rendered almost too cowardly to plunge in again. Would it be a mess, had I anything left to say, could I improve? None of that mattered. Once restarted, I was back in the current within two paintings. Of course there was a process of remembering and relearning, but it was laziness and fear of failure or inflicting boredom on others that restrained me.

Why do we create at all? Perhaps to plunge into the depths of our minds like psychic pearl divers hoping to pluck raw jewels of thoughts from the dark murk of perception. Some attempt to locate rough beauty within the battleground of a consciousness distorted by drugs or alcohol, tamped down by the scolding conceits of family, maybe sullen and still holding onto slights from strangers and schoolmates, the random hatred meted out by bullies. And if successful in our attempt, this pulling-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick will teach us something about ourselves. Even better, it may inspire, educate, and infiltrate others. Illuminate a better world than the one handed to us. One that seems out of our control and out of balance at present.

When late July bleeds into early August, a disorientation occurs, a confusion of identity. Am I the angry local dude tailgating the meandering driver puttering along below the speed limit, or am I that lost tourist, slowing for no reason, perplexed by the most basic of main streets while trying to apply GPS reason to an unfamiliar grid? Maybe somehow I’ve merged into both identities, the dragon eating its own tail, simultaneously rushing and relaxing through summer, both exasperated and oblivious.

As writers, as artists, it is essential to create during the odd times when the clear outlines of work and school and deadlines blur into vagaries then disappear altogether. I’ll write tomorrow; it’s too hot, too nice, friends are visiting, perfect nap weather; I really need sandals, not a thing to eat in the fridge, house is too messy; did anyone like the cat cartoon I posted on Facebook? I should get to the beach one of these summers, wait, isn’t that stupid sequel to a prequel I avoided in the theaters streaming on Netflix now?

There are countless distractions, and how we surrender or surmount them will directly affect our mood and creative outlook come September.

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Max Talley

About Max Talley

Max Talley is the author of the novel, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, published in 2014. His fiction and essays have appeared in Del Sol Review,  The Opiate, Gravel, Hofstra University - Windmill, Bridge Eight, and Litro Magazine, among others. Talley was born in New York City and currently resides in Southern California. He teaches a writing workshop each summer at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. www.maxdevoetalley.com




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