Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Dan--

Birthday greetings from your devoted but too-freaking-busy friend. So busy, in fact, that I still haven’t answered your letter that came in April. That is absurd.

May I say first that I love that you wrote said letter on a finished writing tablet—something that nobody else I know would even thinking of doing? (And that your letter begins: “Things are tough in America spring, 2009. Who ever thought the end papers of cheap stationery would ever be so useful and valuable?”)

I love that you still write letters, rather than take the easy route of e-mails, Facebook, or—God forbid—Twitter to keep in touch with people you care about. (Or, uh, blogs.) Bravo for holding the line, being one of the last true men of letters. I have a fantasy of someone coming across a cache of your letters far, far in the future and assuming that everyone living at the hinge of the centuries was like Dan Patterson. How cool would that be?

Better yet, if everyone living at the hinge of the centuries really was like you. It would be a better world, for sure.

Thank you for telling me that Alan remembers that I’m the one who gave him the Colts cap—and that when he turned three, he claimed to be thirty-three. I think that is hilarious.

I loved hearing about Kate’s attempts at sounding out words, though I’ll bet—by now—she’s reading like a champ.

Reading about them made remember visiting you guys in Portland last year and what fun I had. Plus, I like being able to imagine My People in their places, so it was lovely to see you in your cozy house, full of books, and to eat pancakes that you and Kate had made for dinner.

And, of course, I always love your “Important New Theories of Life.”

As in, “If your whole house, so to speak, is in good order, that’s a bad sign.

"But if there’s something completely awry, you’re on the right track. For instance, your gums won’t stop bleeding from lack of flossing, or there’s a hole in your roof where the water pours in. Or your library books are two years overdue. If means you’re doing something right.

"Because if everything is in good order, you’re not focused. You’re committing the sin of dabbling. Sure, everyone is healthy and well-fed, but what are you getting done?”

Brilliant! Spot on!

Or maybe I just like to think it's spot on that because my life is pretty much utter chaos at the moment, and I really need to believe that I am not completely insane. The thing is, I love every single thing I do—and would do more, more, more--if only there were time.

Writing, of course. I love living inside my own worlds, constantly astonished by how they evolve. I finished a draft of Looking for Kerouac and am back at it again, trying to make it more real. It’s set in a steel mill town in 1964. When things get too complicated in his life, the main character takes off with his friend to look for Jack Kerouac. But the Kerouac they find—a sad drunk living with his mother in St. Petersburg, Florida—is not the Kerouac they thought they’d find. It’s been fun—and disconcerting sometimes—to be back in that time and that place all these years later.

I really want to write a creative writing book for high school kids, too. And I’ve got this Piero della Francesca novel mixing it up in my head. Among about a million other ideas.

I love being the director of the Writers’ Center, too—though I never in a million years thought I would (or should?) be the director of anything. But it’s a kick making things happen, connecting people—and ideas. I like the idea that I started as a writer there (What would I have done if the Writers’ Center hadn’t been there?) and that, helping to keep it alive, I’m making writing possible for someone out there who needs it as much as I did.

I love my fabulous family—and being with them, too. And my amazing friends. Every single one of them.

I love traveling. The Assisi workshop was wonderful this year: painting, teaching, walking the beautiful countryside…gelato. Afterwards I met Jenny and we spent ten days together seeing Venice, Florence and Rome. Also wonderful.

How lucky I am! I shouldn’t complain that there’s not enough time, but:

THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME!

I mean, really. What is wrong with people who sit on their couches watching television? All. The. Time.

They need to tape Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day” on their refrigerators, the one that ends:

"Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"

Uh-oh. I feel a rant coming on.

So I’ll stop here—but not before saying that I cherish our long friendship that began when you were in my first creative writing class at Broad Ripple. I still use your story “Yard Wars” as an example of good student writing—and it still makes me smile. I remember the time you guys gave me the surprise 35th birthday party at the cemetery, complete with gray-iced tombstone cake and my own personal epitaph written by the inimitable John Smith that read: Here she lies/Cold as ice/Barbara Shoup/She was nice/She wrote many a book/with many a plot/And now she has one in which to rot.

What ever happened to John Smith, anyway?

I remember, too, reading your journals—even into your twenties. Those little blue spiral notebooks you bought first (I think) at the long-gone stationery store in Broad Ripple. I always felt so honored that you would share them with me.

I’m so glad that Jen was out there waiting for you—and that you found her and, together, made the kind of life you imagined when you were in high school. I’m glad you’re teaching again, too. I can’t imagine any person in the world better suited to shape the lives of little children.

Have a happy, happy birthday, Dan.

I’ll write you a real letter soon. I promise.

Love,
Barb

1 comment:

Nick said...

We were all lucky to share that time.