Write What Hurts You & Western Novels

A song comes on that my Dad used to play when I was a kid and I’m socked in the gut. I inhale snowmobile fumes and my muscles ache remembering hours of work and play across the frozen Minnesota landscape. A new academic neighbor is unapproachable because I know I’ll end up madly debating his ideas with my reality.

When I was a high school junior I spent a year as a Rotary Exchange Student in India. I confided in a friend of my host family that my dream was to be a writer and her suggestion was that I certainly could be a writer, but I would have to live some first. Turns out living some and transforming lived experience into written work isn’t as easy as it seemed at 16. I didn’t ask for all kinds of crap to run though my life, though I probably invited some of it.

Sit down and write they say.

The world is turning with the same ferocity it has for the past million years and we’re all worked up about North Korea and DACA. It’s easier to open up the CNN homepage in the morning rather than sit down and write. It’s not more important. Time flies by even when nothing but the absolute most mundane happens. Does anything matter more than the swallowtails in my garden today?

Now that my insides and memories are cooked it’s easier to swallow them myself than present them to the world. In today’s climate does the lived experience of a little middle class Midwestern white women mean anything at all? I hope so; I like to think all of our lived experiences matter and that the art of the human condition is available to all.

When I’m not playing with my filly, cleaning the house, or trying to write, my husband and I are out at auctions, something we’ve been doing almost since our first year together. Last weekend we purchased about 1,000 books for about $10 and most of them are old Westerns, mixed in with Mary Higgins Clark, Readers’ Digest Condensed Books and raunchy plantation stories. Before there was Netflix there was cable TV, before there was cable TV there was network TV, and before network TV there was paperback books.

These books were consumed back then, because people need to share the drama on their insides. The writers might be familiar to you as well: Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Luke Short and others. These guys knew something about the American experience at the intersection of modernism with Old West mentality. They knew something was disappearing. Have you read one? I haven’t but I’m going to start one tonight.

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They were master storytellers and they were magnificent. Don’t we all yearn for the magnificent? It’s messed up in the tangles of our mundane lives.

The dreams of poets and storytellers seem so much further away than they did when I was 16. It was so pleasurable to share their dreams and experiences.

I’m more apprehensive to share the stories of these old Western writers. These are the guys who celebrate masculinity at it’s most violent, most abrasive and lewd. Right? These are the guys who might shed some insight on how and why the U.S. is in the weird political state that it’s in right now. These are the guys who created the heroic cowboy, right? These are the stories that moved the mass of the middle, right?

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