Chattanooga Thoughts

One of my stories got rejected while I was in Chattanooga. It’s stupid to be bummed about it because I knew it wasn’t quite right for the market and they knew it wasn’t quite right, but they still took a lot of time to consider it and wrote me a lovely personal rejection.

But still, tomorrow I turn thirty-eight and I am devoted to a life that circles around me having enough time to do something that I’m just not that good at. I’m good enough at it that I don’t feel like I can just quit. It’s like, you know, if you’re a pitcher and your opponents are routinely scoring eight runs on you, it’s time to give up your dreams of the Big Leagues. But say that your top speed is just two miles an hour slower than where the scouts would like to see you? How long do you spend pushing yourself in the back yard–and I’m not just talking about how long after dark, I mean, how many evenings with only the fireflies for company? How many months? How many years?

And yet, I just can’t stop. I can’t conceive of my days spent not writing. I’ve got nothing else to organize my life around. I don’t enjoy anything else as much.

I wanted to say something about the day in Chattanooga. I guess I still feel strangely disconnected from the battlefields, though I go to them. The dying in the hospital or the long trek from Bridgeport to Anderson’s Crossroads and down to Chattanooga feels more real to me. To be so far from home, in this beautiful place, not sure if you’re ever going to get safely where you’re supposed to be.

But the thing that really stuck with me were the lines of vaults at the National cemetery, the ones crowded side by side above ground waiting for the ground to be opened to them, and the ones already in the ground waiting for the dirt to cover them. I had thought they were in the dirt more. Like the dirt was a muffin tin, the vault the aluminum foil, and the war dead the cupcake batter. But there is no muffin tin. It’s more they dig out all the dirt to form a cake pan, place the vaults in the cake pan side by side, row upon row, and then frost the whole thing with dirt and grass, to give the appearance of a solid cake.

It looked very efficient. If you like order, then there’s something appealing about that. And even in the older part of the cemetery, David Ransom was so easy to find. Everything is so well-marked. Well-ordered.

Is that better than having your remains left under the Bridgeport football field?

I can’t say. The only people I know of who would still visit Ransom–us–went both places. The football field is in a lovely part of Bridgeport, up on a hill, surrounded by lovely trees. There’s frequently the sound of children.

The cemetery is enormous and very quiet and, from Ransom’s grave, the whole city seems so far away. And the cemetery keeps filling up, dead upon dead upon dead.

Oh, that reminds me, on our way down, we stopped to go to the bathroom at a gas station at the bottom of the mountain, the first exit after Monteagle. And there, next to the gas station, was a small cemetery with a crumbling stone cairn. In front of it was a marker and I can’t remember the dude’s name, but it said “He deathed this life” on such and such a date.

Isn’t that something? “He deathed this life.”

But that’s kind of how I felt about the national cemetery–that is a place for the process of deathing.

And the football field, obviously, is still used for living.

This is a hard birthday. I’m not sure why, but it is.

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5 thoughts on “Chattanooga Thoughts

  1. Why do you say you aren’t good at it, since you indicated it was a market fit issue not a quality issue?

    As I wrote in my responses to your “why does it take some people 10 years to write a book” post, fiction writing is hard, at least it is for me, you have to, ya know, create all that stuff like characters and settings and plot and then if you give a damn about what you’re doing you have to pay attention to the way you’re telling your story so as to have the most impact on your reader, so that the message resonates more than a newspaper story would.

    Focusing on story as well as storytelling exhausts me. It takes a helluva lot more energy than just taking the quotes from someone you interviewed and weaving it into a story. Or taking a current event and writing a blog post where you ruminate over the issue and tell what you think about it. Those things are easy to do because the meat is already there. You aren’t making it up.

    And then of course when it comes to stuff you aren’t good at, the only way to get better is to keep doing it. Practice, practice, practice….

  2. Here’s some food for thought – maybe it’s accurate, maybe it’s not. I once read/heard that Harrison Ford didn’t really get his acting mojo going (i.e. become “successful”) until he was over age 35. So, in other words, cut yourself some damn slack. :-)

  3. B–I’ll talk about writing somewhere else, but what struck me in this post was your feeling for the battlefield cemetery. I had a similar feeling at Arlington in March when we buried my nephew there. All those serried ranks of headstones, all those (mostly) men, dead. Whether starry-eyed, clear-eyed, pressed into service–it all came down, for each of them, to death. (I am thinking here of those who fell in battle, not those who lived out long lives after the wars). I kept thinking they’d have a place as long as there was/is a United States of America, fitting because they died in service to it. On the other hand, I kept thinking of all the grief occasioned by each loss, and how despite that grief we don’t seem to learn anything from it. Each section of Arlington houses the dead of yet one more war. And there are so many other military cemeteries elsewhere across the country. Why can’t we get it right?

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