Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Madre, can you spare a peso?*

Omar (on the left) and Manny (the other one) work at the trailer park.

Manny's worked at the park since before I got here. How Omar came on the scene, I'm not really sure. In the five years since I've been here, we've gone through a string of workers. Manny's dad worked here for years until he got pissed off and walked off the job. We had some kind of hot gangsta dude for a a very brief time. He took to lazing around rather quickly and was pretty useless. One guy's work schedule kept getting interrupted with stints in drug/alcohol rehab. Just before the gangsta dude we had Daniel and Martin but Martin got scared off when he accidentally tripped the neighbor's alarm. Daniel is delivering bottled water which is a pretty good job.

Suddenly last summer Omar showed up.

Poor Omar! He has got to be one of the shyest people I've ever met. Muy timido! He would ride around in the truck with Manny looking like a scared rabbit. Manny would yell "shut up Omar!" in english (callete! in espanol) and Omar would giggle. We discovered that Omar was married to a woman who had something like four kids from a previous relationship and she and Omar added three more to the bunch. Not too long after Omar started working at the park he and his wife split up and he moved in with Manny.

One day Omar came to my porch alone and sat in one of my camp chairs. I was at the computer and could see him through the window. I went outside and Omar rattled off a memorized script which I could barely understand except for two words "pagar" and "sabado." I've been hit up for loans many times so I figured that's what he wanted. "Cuanto?" I asked. "Dos cientos." I went inside and scrounged up 200 pesos and gave it to him. Again he repeated the script - he'll pay me on sabado (which is payday). Saturday rolled around and there was Omar with my 200 pesos.

We developed a routine. Mid week he would come over and sit in a camp chair. I'd go outside. That's when I would see his wife waiting for him on the side of the road. She'd come to Omar asking for money for the kids; he'd come to me asking for a loan. One time he only wanted 100 pesos. So after that I'd go outside and hold up one finger on one hand and two fingers on the other. One or two? Mostly it was two. I'd give him his money and every Saturday he'd pay me back. Manny had taught Omar that if you want to be helped by the americanos, you have got to pay them back or they will cut you off.

Now that I'm living outside the park, I haven't seen much of Omar and Manny. However the other morning they came by to hit up Banco Madre. Manny put the 5-gallon water bottle (garrafon) on the dispenser for me then Omar rattled off his script. Manny said he needed money too. I feigned shock. Tu tambien Manuel? Si, madre, si. So I went and got two 200 peso notes and handed them to the boys. Omar giggled the whole time.

I've seen a lot of changes in Manny over the past few years. He's grown into a responsible man who's looking for a good Christian woman. From what I understand, Omar tries as much as he can to help out his wife and kids and once a week goes to her place and spends the night there. (Hopefully just visiting and not making more babies!)

Manny and Omar - I couldn't have asked for nicer adopted sons.

*this is for Bill S.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How To Write

A month gap in blogging mostly due to settling into my 8-month house-sitting gig. But also transcription work picked up. And I've been writing a novel. I don't know how people can write more than one piece at a time. For instance, Cheryl Strayed wrote her book Wild while also penning various essays and doing the Dear Sugar advice column over at The Rumpus. Luis Alberto Urrea dusts off old pieces while working on new. I guess a lot of writers do that but that's hard for me. I started another book about life in a trailer park only this trailer park is in Mexico and not southern Arizona but there's this novel that's been nagging me to get on it so I dropped the trailer park book for that. And I kind of dropped blogging too.

There are a lot of books out there on how to write. I own a few: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream, Stephen King's On Writing, Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, some books on screenwriting like Your Screenplay Sucks by William Akers, and books specifically on memoir writing (Judith Barrington's Writing the Memoir). Each book offers at least one piece of advice I've latched onto. For instance Anne's shitty first draft and Ray's writing should be fun. Most writers advise writing every day. Stephen King goes even further and recommends 1,000 words a day. Maria Doria Russell (Doc) wrote on facebook that she'd only written something like 459 words that day but 6 of them were great (I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the exact post). If I remember correctly when I saw Luis in Tucson he said he went long periods without putting pen to paper but the words were percolating in his head so that when he did sit down to write, he wrote muy rapido, almost like transcribing the story as he saw it in his mind's eye.

One of the biggest impediments to writing is our internal critic. In the NY Times series Writers on Writing, Kent Haruf (Plainsong) says he writes in the coal room in the basement of their house.

It's the old notion of blinding yourself so you can see. So you can see differently, I mean. I remove my glasses, pull a stocking cap down over my eyes, and type the first draft single-spaced on the yellow paper in the actual and metaphorical darkness behind my closed eyes, trying to avoid being distracted by syntax or diction or punctuation or grammar or spelling or word choice or anything else that would block the immediate delivery of the story.

This is akin to Anne Lamott's shitty first draft - just write the damn thing and edit later. And Stephen King recommends that a) don't let anyone read your book while you're writing that first draft and b) after the first draft is finished, put it aside for a few months. When you begin the editing process you'll be seeing it with fresh eyes.

There's been a strange shift in the way I write from memoir to novel. With the memoir I wrote fast and furious, wanting to remember as much as possible - just get it down! - then hack away later (and I've probably hacked too much but that's another story). Every morning I got up and wrote. I was excited to be doing it. After all, I was writing about me! (two exclamation points in one paragraph is one too many, btw)

Now the a way it feels more like a chore. Kind of the way I feel about doing those saggy upper arm exercises when, really, they're not a lot of work and once I'm doing them, the time flies and I feel very virtuous afterward. However, there are ways in which the novel and the memoir are similar: I know the main character, I know how the story begins and how it ends. Unlike the memoir, it's all the stuff in the middle I'm not too sure about. But here's the weird part. When I sit down to write I may not know where the book is going next - does she have an affair with the nice man who's given her shelter? - but the book seems to know where it's going. I sit down and type out the next scene with no forethought. It just happens. A scene in this case is only a few pages long and I'm not really sure how many words that is. I don't care. I write a scene and usually stop there. But that book is always open on my laptop. Sometimes I'll go back and begin the next scene. Maybe just a sentence. Maybe a whole paragraph. It doesn't seem to matter because the flow is always there.

Another difference is the ease with which I'm writing dialogue. With the memoir, I sucked at dialogue so I pretty much left it out. Maybe because I was trying to write as close to the truth as possible and that's pretty darn near impossible when you're trying to remember conversations, most of which happened while you were drinking.

And one last thing: Even when I'm not physically writing the novel, I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about my main character. She is the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. She is always with me. I guess she's telling me how we get to the end.