Thursday, September 18, 2008

Posting from Portland - Day 1

Day One - Getting Here was Half the Fun

Thursday, September 18, 2008 - 8:30 PM: I'm in Portland, Oregon. The 90-degree weather I was dreading has given way to my kinda temperatures - upper 60s and a hint of drizzle in the air. I think I was a banana slug in a past life. I'm here on a personal adventure. This weekend is the 60th annual meeting of the Garden Writers Association. I joined this past year at the recommendation of my friend, Nan Sterman, a dynamo of energy, garden wisdom and a hell of a writer. Nan thought that as long as I was putting my little piggie into the water, I might as well associate with the professionals.

When I received the GWA announcement a few months ago, I pored through the program, toyed with the idea of attending, and promptly tossed the flier in the recycling bin. I tend to dream, then raise a bunch of logical arguments to quash the spirit, then regret it later. Not this time.

With featured columns in two regional magazines and a website, I'm having fun while dealing with the challenge of not really knowing what I'm doing. I stumbled into this world, bartering my self-styled word-smithing in exchange for advertising for my consulting business. This arrangement seems to be working on both counts - business is picking up and folks are complimenting my writing. So although I can't envision a serious venture into garden writing, I'm curious to see if I can add a few tools to my belt, just to make the process a bit smoother and see if there are some techniques that would expand my reach.

I've been reading two writing books: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird - a book that's ostensibly about writing, but also handbook on how to live a generous life; and How To Write, by Alastair Fowler, a very direct but delightfully readable how-to manual by an Oxford professor of English (from England, no less!). So far I've picked up two immensely valuable tips - write “shitty first drafts” (Lamont - 41,800 hits for “SFDs” on Google!) and, take the time to build an outline with the number of topic paragraphs you intend to produce (Fowler), then build on the bones. I love Anne's idea - write as if no one but you will ever read it and just let it pour out.

I've been seeing this trip as a retreat - disconnect from my daily world (while already missing my wife, son, and Biff the Wonder Spaniel, seven hours after departure) and immersing myself in words. It's fortuitous that I have an end-of-the-month deadline for a Santa Barbara Homeowner piece and have completed most of my interviews.

So as soon as I got to the airport for my flight, I took out my interview notes, read through them again, and started underlining the choice bits that will likely find their way into the piece.

By the time the Horizon Air jet had lifted off into bright blue skies, I was busily connecting the dots, finding a few big ideas to form my outline and getting a big picture of what to keep and what to leave in my notes.

After hopping an amazingly efficient, speedy light rail line from the airport to my Marriot Residence Inn (great little studio apt. with a workable kitchen, free wireless internet and quiet) I grabbed a back issue of Garden Design magazine to analyze and dissect and went looking for a place to eat and work.

It's the first time I felt like I was looking behind the curtain, seeing not only what constitutes a nationally up-to-snuff article, but appreciating the structure that underlies it. Not unlike an English composition class, I'm hoping to find a few archetypes that will serve me in the future.

As an aside, I learned something important today. Last week, I wrote an article for (reposted at this blog) about the impact of cigarette butts on my fair burg of Santa Barbara. Though I did not in anyway state that Santa Barbara was the locus of all dead ciggy butts (and by implication a bad place populated by bad people) I have to admit that my ire was directed at the cretins who neolithically dispose of all manner of garbage on our streets.

The important lesson I learned while strolling the streets of my temporary home this afternoon, this mythical bastion of all things green and sustainable, I encountered pretty much the same evidence of primitive inhabitants as back home. Cigarette butts galore, an overturned half-melted cup of ice cream anointing a bus bench, papers and scraps of all shapes and sizes, and more sedimentary layers of chewing gum than I think I've ever seen.

Now, this is not meant to beat up on Portland in any way. The epiphany is that regardless of the GPS coordinates or the lauded wonders of any community, there are those who walk among us who just don't give a rat's ass. There ya go…my profound, set-myself-free moment.

Tomorrow is “get-oriented” day for newbies like me. I'm thrilled to be embarking on what I expect will be a step through a new door. Time will tell. Here are a few more shots of my trip so far. Tune in tomorrow.

The view from my seat if I break the back of my seat a lean back really far.

The luxury of coach class - a free Red Hook beer (actually, two) and some garlic & herb crackers!

No, it isn't. Go the the children's section of the library, find "Your Golden Book of Color" and look up plaid. You're not even close. If I were Scottish, I'd be tempted to bomb your store.


Claude said...

Anne Lamotts "Bird by Bird" is really excellent. When I worked at the magazine, I read about a bushel of Writers Writing About Writing books, (there comes a point when they're too redundan) and Anne's was really about one of the best. Good luck with your trip!

Frances said...

It's fun to ride along with you. Maybe we can get some insight about writing since you seem to be nice and long winded about this trip! ;->

Frances at Fairegarden

Garden Wise Guy said...

Frances - Long winded is very apt. One of my goals on this trip is to do a bit of nip/tuck on my writing style. Nuff said. (there, I did it. No, I just UNdid it. Mercy me.)