The loving cup
Saturday, a week ago, was a day that included an hour’s drive to a five-hour flight to an hour’s drive. Sunday was a 15-minute train to a two-hour train to a 30-minute car ride to a 60-minute drive. Monday was five hours’ driving. Tuesday: half-hour car, two-hour train, 30-minute train, 30-minute shuttle, six-hour plane to a 90-minute taxi. Then Wednesday: a three-hour drive from Los Angeles to the desert, to a gleaming Airstream trailer parked in the sand. Where I crashed.
A busy work period is what I crave when I’m antsy. Multiple assignments, multiple cities, a wash of names and faces. Inspiration found on tray tables. Odd hotel rooms, odder habits. Why do I order spaghetti carbonara when I know it will be bad? Why, for all my lists, do I always leave something at home?
But I do my best thinking and writing while sitting still, ideally over weeks. To find an idea and hold it long enough to examine it, unfurl it, isn’t something I can do at a jog. If anything, constant motion creates an illusion that I’m getting somewhere and it’s not true.
Still, if I learn a thing along the way, see something new, the motion feels valuable – to see if, stretching from home to elsewhere, the mind grows a bit.
For example, for a story, last weekend saw me driving a very expensive truck around some very dense woods, over obstacles I’d never approach on four wheels, at least not in the driver’s seat. At one point, my off-roading guide asked if I wanted to do an especially tricky part. A gut feeling said to stay in the known, the comfort zone, for fear of injury, embarrassment, merely being liable for wrecking an extremely pricey thing. But fuck it – and then, despite the electricity in my stomach, I did something I’d never tried before and got through. I’ll explain in more detail when the story runs, I’m supposed to stay mum for now. Let’s just say to hear later that some other person, an expert in the skill, tried to do the same thing and didn’t quite make it, perhaps caused a little damage, was a nice little satisfaction.
We’re all winging it all the time. And there’s a lot that constant motion doesn’t allow for, especially concentrated thought. But concentrated action, throwing the mind and body at something, is a way to avoid mediocrity, I think.
I remember often something the actor Mandy Patinkin told me, about Jen Tullock, the writer-performer I shadowed for a year for Everything Now. “It’s not just about being talented or brilliant or beautiful; it’s about being hungry and alive for the few moments we’re here. And some people have that. They care about the time they have on this planet a little more intensely than other people do. And everybody wants to drink from that cup.”
I’m writing this in the Airstream, early Friday morning, fresh coffee. I feel a weird peace in my shoulders – not quite here, not quite there – and I’m thinking about the cup and how to drink from it. Sometimes it means jumping in and out of trains and planes. Sometimes it means sitting still. Intensity doesn’t have to be loud, maxxed out, and perhaps at its more intense it’s about purpose, not appearances. And stillness can be something found rather than received.
In tomorrow’s Sunday supplement: Some new favorite spy thrillers; my favorite new outdoors equipment that works well at home; a podcast for the season that’s getting a lot of fresh love.
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What the what
Meditations in an Emergency is a micro-essay published Saturdays by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin about things he finds beautiful, with a longer essay once a month for subscribers, written in the woods.
Also for subscribers: a Sunday supplement three weeks a month, with three-plus ideas of things to love, no paid placements 💀
Rosecrans is the bestselling author of Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, winner of a 2022 California Book Award. It’s now available in paperback from Bookshop, Amazon, and (preferably) your local store. Other books include The Last Kid Left and Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. His debut novel, You Lost Me There, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
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