Where am I?
by Laura Munson
home now after two months on the road promoting my book, and every
morning, I wake up with a start: Where am I?
could be anywhere. I could be in a Hampton Inn in Dayton, Ohio. I
could be in a Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. I could even be
in my own bed. And itís an interesting experiment lying there,
daring the early morning birds, living into that not knowing.
known exactly where I am when I wake for many years. I am in my bed
in Montana, once again waking to the same cool celadon green of my
walls, the same mahogany antique desk that Iíve ruined with hot tea
mugs, the rings to prove it. There is a stack of books covering
those rings, and Iíve read too little of those words, and so
usually, I awake to guilt. Guilt in the rings and books and
inevitable dustóa dead fly or two on the window sill. I feel guilt,
but I feel comfort. I am the keeper of these inanimates.
Dinner with Andre, Andre has to climb mountains to know that he
exists. Wallace Shawn is happy to wake up to the cold cup of coffee
from the day before in his New York City apartment. In both cases,
these are proof that they are alive. I have been alive then in dead
bugs and low grade guilt. But Iíd like to have kinder proof, so
usually I try to think of a few nice things to say to myself.
Sometimes I think of people to whom I want to send loving kindness.
Either way, there is always this butterfly flicking around in my rib
cage: when do I get to write? That question is what quells it
all. And it is with that question that I get out of bed and enter
my day. It is in answering that question, that I know where I am.
a friend who spent a lot of time and money getting her masters in
creative writing. At the end of it she realized she wasnít a
writer. ďI dreaded every minute of it,Ē she said. ďReally?Ē I
said. ďI feel like a little girl getting away with something every
time I sit down to my writing desk.Ē It felt that way in 1988 when
I realized I was a writer and it feels that way in 2011, and if I
know anything about myself, it will feel that way as long as I live.
Iíve said before, writing is my practice and my prayer. My
meditation. My way of life and sometimes my way to life. It is the
holiest ground I know. And so, you might wonder what happens when
you wake up day after day on the road in a startle, wondering what
you will see when you open your eyes and really not knowing what the
answer is to the question, once you get around to it: when do I get
to write? Because the answer most likely is: this summer. And
summer is months away.
you feel sorry for yourself? Or worried for yourself like your
grandmother worries for you? Maybe a little. Your life, for as
much as your dreams are now realities, is dearly out of balance.
Writers have nervous breakdowns on book tours because of this
imbalance. Their personal lives suffer. Their children suffer.
Mothers without their children suffer, whether or not they are
writers. I have a writer friend who doesnít call her kids when
sheís on the road. ďIt upsets them,Ē she says, and sheís right.
Better to extract yourself and to leave them be. They donít need
the reminder. It doesnít feel good hearing your voice. It feels
sad. For both of you.
Itís true that I bring
my journal with me when I travel. But itís also true that I donít
write in it. I canít quite ask and answer my good questions. I
canít quite go into the woods of my heart and depict my wanderings
well or even at all. Itís too painful. Itís
what my friend with the MFA felt when she sat down to write. I
think that for me, itís because novels hatch in journal entries. Or
at least short stories and essays. And I canít afford that to
happen. Because I canít take their hand and breathe air into their
lungs. They will be like my children. Abandoned for now.
So I am out of practice on the road. I am disoriented. Where am
I? This is not just a question of toilet and nightstand and lamp
and toilet paper. This is deeply psychic. Where am I? What CAN
you take with you? Well here is my answer:
Every so often, like the Pilgrim in the Way of the Pilgrim who
travelled with his book and his knapsack, trying to learn what it is
to pray without ceasing, we need to find the wilderness that is us.
To give up our earthly possessions and even that cold cup of coffee
and those dead flies that remind us we are alive, and climb our
Everests like Andre or take to wandering with one single intention
like the Pilgrim. We need to forget what Monday is from Tuesday and
what Portland is from Jacksonville, and just be Somewhere. Itís
nice to become aware of a comfortable bed because of the
uncomfortable bed in which you slept the night before. Itís nice to
know the difference before you even know where you are longitudily
and latitudily speaking. A good pillow leaves you wanting to weep
in gratitude. The smile from a cab driver. A wink from the woman
at the train ticket box. The way the waitress calls you ďhon.Ē
At home, you donít notice these things quite the same way. You know
exactly where you are. You berate yourself for being forty-five
years old and still not having the wherewithal to keep a stock of
tampons in your medicine cabinet. You feel guilt over ruined
antiques and pressure from dead flies, and you forget sometimes that
they are reminders that yes, you are alive. You canít think about
being alive. You have so very much laundry to do.
And yes, you are home. You have a place to practice your prayer.
And the road reminds you: you have your room of your ownÖand you
are so grateful for it because you forgot: a long time ago, you
pined away for that room. You wrote in between shifts at the
restaurant and while the babies slept. You have your desk that
awaits you. You have your work. You have a life in balance, for
the most part. You know where the toilet is. The road has been a
great teacher: you need to be OUT of balance every so often, so
that you know what balance is in the first place. You need to learn
to be grateful for dead flies by climbing the mountain. There are
times to live and times to write and times to do both. And so to
the road, and to all those hotel rooms and that new question (Where
am I?) which for many weeks this last year have replaced my usual
question at waking (When do I get to write?)ÖThank you.
And now it is summer.
is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen
novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an
article that crashed the New York Timesís website. Forty-eight hours
later she had a publishing contract for her memoir, This Is Not The
Story You Think It Is. Her paperback will be published in April and
she will be touring the country doing events. For her schedule
please visit Events: