The car whizzed past a motor-coach lot on the side of the highway.
Russ nodded towards the glistening coaches and said, “That could be us one day.”
I grunted disapprovingly.
“Seriously? Why not? Look, they have Airstreams, Jenn.”
He knows I like those retro Airstreams refitted…so maybe.
“But where would we put all the soap?”
Russ put his middle finger in my face.
I was referring to the 40 individually-boxed bars of Dove he brought home from the store last week. Russ had skipped through the doorway, bags in hand, and chirped, “This is the first time we’ve had to buy soap in a year!”
I asked, “Do we really need to buy soap a year at a time?”
Hence my concern with the limited capacity of an Airstream.
We stopped in Kingston, NC on our way to the beach. Stepping out of the car, the savory scent of the passing rain steamed from the asphalt. I looked around wondering, “How did Kingston ever get on the map to begin with?” The streets lined with old buildings tells a grand story of yesteryear. They now sit mostly empty. Vivian Howard’s presence must have revived what holds court now: a couple of fine dining establishments, a few microbreweries housed in red brick, and the latest trend to be found, not just in cities, but communities everywhere, an axe-throwing enterprise. The only other notable addition in town was the replica of the Confederate ship, The CSS Neuse, which sits on the corner across from The Chef and the Farmer. It was there I made the acquaintance of Beauregard Stuart Lee Jackson, a short little bulldog with a notable underbite, not unlike his cheerful owner’s.
The next morning, the birds woke us, ushering in the day long before the sun breached the horizon. I carried my cup of coffee out to the deck, but had to go back inside and grab a flannel shirt and a pair of Smartwool socks. I picked-up the throw from the couch and wrapped it around me. Curled up on a cold morning, sipping a hot cup of coffee while listening to the hum of the ocean as the birds conversed, it was easy to envision some of my favourite things in this world: the smell of rain on freshly clipped grass; hot coffee on cold mornings; the waves of the ocean slapping the beach; fresh berries and a jar of local honey from the roadside farmers’ market; open windows and doors in the springtime; cool sand, dry and slippery under my feet; the reflection of the sunrise across the canvas of the Atlantic; the dunes’ stalky grass as it sways in the breeze; morning skies striped cotton-candy pink and bright blue, rolled out like an entryway tapestry; a trio of pelicans muted brown windsurfing inches above the surf; delicate little sandpipers running along the edges of sea foam, their legs a blur, spinning like pinwheels; a yellow Lab napping with his owner on a beach towel below the afternoon sun; and hot caramel ice cream sundaes after a round of putt putt at night. Visiting the beach was a wonderful reminder how much I still crave the outdoors, the way some crave sugar or alcohol.
I submitted my first writing assignment for class this week. Students critiqued each other’s work before the instructor did. I learned a few unexpected lessons with this exercise. I remembered, once again, perceptions are nothing more than the result of preconceived notions. It’s the story we tell to ourselves, trying to bring sense to that which we do not fully understand. I began this “unintentional” class (I didn’t realise I had registered for) believing I would be far behind the other students’ skills and expertise, as it was clear this type of writing, speculative fiction, was what the other students truly loved and aspired to author themselves. Without a doubt, their sentences were much more colourful and creative than my own. However, I came away understanding a good sentence is built like a Rolex timepiece, no matter the genre or individual style of the work. One can chip away the diamonds and peel back the gold, but the time is still measured precisely, as the hands round the face of the clock. Anything beyond that is costume, hanging on the bones that bring it to life.
As bedecked as the pieces were, I struggled to read more than the first three sentences. They were packed with words, fictional names and places strung together, fat charms weighting the thin chain bracelet clasped around a child’s wrist. My eyes stumbled over each impregnated word like a car traversing a cobblestoned street. I had to look away from the page. It was like watching a herd of choppy, paddling horses trot past, who look to be assembled by committee. Sometimes even a passerby has to avert their eyes, in order not be seasick standing next to the paddock fence. From this I garnered another lesson: less is more. Just because one can step into their closet and wear every article of clothing they own at once, adding every accessory in their jewellery box to the getup, doesn’t mean one should. This brought to light another epiphany: Copying another artist’s style, while the sincerest form of flattery, often lands as cheap mimicry. While experimenting along the lines of the greats, it is important not to ostracize our selves in our own writing.
Applauding my simple sentences (never good), I thought about one of my favourites: Kurt Vonnegut’s “So it goes” in Slaughterhouse-Five. I cringe remembering what became my adolescent mantra after reading the greatest book of my young life, a satire centred around its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who became a prisoner of war, lived on the planet Tralfamadore, travelled in time, and read the science fiction of Kilgore Trout, which uncannily resembled Billy’s own unique life experiences. It turns out I’ve loved speculative fiction all along. My first love is one of its masterpieces.