Lunch with David Little, the Process of Writing and Life in the Woods
13 May 2015, Wednesday – 6:00 A.M.
Last night and this morning at camp, I had my usual fluctuating level of anxiety (excitement, fear) about doing something new: after many fits and false starts, launching this blog.
I had encountered a rattle snake the day before and was lucky its strike missed. Smallish and young it only rattled while slithering away into tall grass.
After regaining composure — rethinking what to do if bitten by a venomous snake — I saw the happenstance play out as a wilderness metaphor for the responsibility of writing: watch your footing.
“Breathing In, Breathing Out” was initially conceived in early 2014, a singularly tortuous public blog launch party was held on March 9, my 60th birthday at Has Bean’s downtown location and then I disappeared, failing any commitment I had made to David Little, the Enterprise-Record’s editor.
I have apologized.
In writing, in journalism there are specific stylistic rules on how to address individuals, but for the sake of this post, of how I know him, I’ll call David Little ‘David’. He is a professional friend, an editor I trust and plays no small part in my…getting better than how I was when I first arrived in Chico November 2012.
As I wrote in my current North State Voices column (May 14, 2015), it was a letter to the editor which prompted a series of brief emails between us beginning in November 2013. David invited me to lunch and though I had my suspicions, my biases of why a smallish town daily newspaper editor would want to meet me, he sealed the deal by offering to pay for lunch from Pinolero’s (which is a colloquial term for a Nicaraguan).
Once we had settled onto a green grassy area (now drought brown) at Tower Market across from Tacos El Pinolero’s taco truck on East Park Avenue, we were off talking semantics, words, writing, our backgrounds and it was an easy conversation. He is old-school polite, funny in an often clever, self-deprecating way which comes through sometimes in his columns and, considering his immense work load, a very good editor.
“You’ve never had these burritos before?” David asked.
“Dude, I’m a bum. I rarely eat out.”
“Why do you call yourself a ‘bum’?”
“To embrace a word that is often used with derision,” I responded. “And then there’s the whole romantic notion of roughing it in a Jack Kerouac sense, of the Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’.
He asks straight-forward questions seeking knowledge and I could not detect any disingenuousness in his character.
I had an uneven foray into the journalistic politics of Chico – first a great experience with then editor of the Chico News and Review, Robert Speer when he published a feature story of mine, “Searching for Snipes” (March, 21, 2013) with my mug on the cover, describing my adventure into homelessness.
The CN&R’s news editor, Tom Gascoyne befriended me and was encouraging about my continuing to submit articles, but then the current editor, Mellissa Daugherty came on to the scene.
She rejected a follow-up article I authored about the grittier aspects of bumdom critical of many of the non-profits who serve us, but Daugherty rejected it writing that she feels I am “…too close to homelessness…”.
Gascoyne unfriended me.
Hmmm? Instead, the CN&R continues to perpetuate the worst sort of stereotypes in articles written by people who are white, have never been homeless or go so far as to pretend to be homeless and compare treatment of us homeless in Chico to South African Apartheid.
The best thing I can say about her journalistic ethics and the CN&R’s slump into bourgeois entertainment (and a noticeable lack of diversity in color, as in people of color being represented), is that she’s relatively new at her job.
Not so, David Little. He told me in that first lunch that he was just a “middle class white guy” who had a “writer’s curiosity” and that I represented, through my writing and lifestyle, a diversity he was seeking for the E-R.
My five monthly North State Voices columns have been a test. Beginning in 2005, I stopped writing professionally beginning a 10 year period of darkness which lead me to the light at the end of the tunnel of Chico.
So the columns were to determine if I could generate 750 publishable words and how readers would react. To my surprise and delight, I’ve received a considerable amount of positive communication through email, letters to the editor, telephone calls and kind, supportive words from passersby on the street.
David had caught my attention in how he edits my submissions, never changing the content, but for clarity. Admittedly, my stuff is edgy, controversial and often emotionally raw, and it was important for me to come to trust David with my words.
And, I do.
A few weeks ago I asked him to meet for lunch again, over a year since our first meeting. Tacitly, he offered to pay. We met at La Cucina Economica, 905 Wall Street at 9th.
A sign taped to the cash register read “card machine still down”.
Taking out his wallet, David said, “Let me see if I have any money. My wife doesn’t let me keep cash.”
“No.” he chuckled in a way that cannot be faked.
He always using the word ‘we’ in an unassuming sense of his role at the newspaper.
When I point that out, he said “There are a lot of good people who work there. Thank you for noticing.”
Although he has excellent eye contact, his eyes occasionally wander to ether as if he’s picturing words on the page, as if he’s doing a good editor’s quick analysis as we talk.
I wanted to discuss the blog project, its launching and the aprehensions I had. He seemed surprised that writing doesn’t come easily to me. Not always.
But writing is like breathing for me, a skill that was born out of a childhood need to escape reality, to capture words on paper, to exorcise the darkness and feebly stop the pain and buffer what becomes of memory.
I became a writer. Writers write.
I still write mostly by hand, coming into town to transcribe the legal pads of notes into a computer. Writing, like camping in the woods, is a trial of endurance. Will I make it out of my own thoughts?
A journalist’s job is to bear witness, to analyze experiences and transform them into readable words, sentences and paragraphs.
I’ve called the blog ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out’ because it’s a common factor in all of our lives. Something we all do to survive, often unconsciously.
I am not cavalier about the criminality of my life, my being a trespasser with all the possible legal violations and attendant consequences. But my third season has begun and, thus far no one could convince me that the healing powers of nature, of solitude and contemplation, have kept me alive.
Future posts will include journal entries and expansions on life in the woods, observations of homeless subculture, straight-forward reporting and profiles of people whose lives matter.
All life matters is a philosophy I’ve come to embrace and with your kind readership, I will continue to explore the absurd realities of this thing we call life.
As I write, I am well-aware that there are, around the globe, writers right this moment being tortured and murdered for exactly what I am doing. It is a privilege I do not take for granted.