July 05, 2009

A Desert Minute

Three weeks into my trip, it's getting to be about the time that I need to figure out how long I'm going to stay in Joshua Tree, and when I'm going home. Although Carrie has been so generous to offer her place for me to stay for as long as I want, I know that I can't stay forever. I also know that I'm not terribly anxious to return to NYC.

As contemplative as it is here, I'm not sure how much longer I want to stay. I've gotten a lot out of this trip so far - inspiration, perspiration, solitude and awe - but the longer I'm here, the more I feel like I'm not accomplishing what I should be while I'm here.

As The Desert Lily Artist in Residence, I guess I feel like I need to come out of this trip with something concrete: a book, an essay, a column in a local paper, something. I had a few leads coming into this trip, but one by one, they've all dissipated. After a missed deadline at Sunset magazine, a disastrous meeting with the American Free Journal, and unreturned emails from the local cultural arts council and every other local print publication, my only remaining hope is to get published in The Sun Runner's annual Desert Writers Issue. I've submitted three articles for consideration. We'll see if they pick one. It's small but it sure is something.

I guess I thought by now that I would have made a friend or two, someone to meet for a drink or coffee or bowling or watch the sunset with. I've met plenty of people, but our encounters are fleeting though friendly, and sometimes they don't remember me the second time they see me. I've given my number and email address to at least three locals who expressed interest in my writing, but haven't heard from them since.

I guess I also thought that I would have gone on a date or two by now. But I'm either too old for the 23-year-old military boys or too young for the old divorced hippies, too straight for the lesbians and too girlish for the gay boys. The two young boys who were romantically interested in me took my number and never used it.

I always said that I'd be married if I lived anywhere outside of NYC. Now I know that's not true.

So in some ways, my life here is remarkably similar to my life in New York. I spend a lot of time alone, and am consoled by a good meal and a good glass of wine. I'm desperately fighting the inclination to go hang out at the Joshua Tree Saloon to meet people. I don't want to replicate my NYC rut while I'm here. If I do that, I might as well go home right now. The big difference is, I have a car here that helps me escape, stirred by the open road and singing to the radio. The Eagles, The Doors, Kelly Clarkson, The Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Daughtry, Finger Eleven, The Hollies and Little Anthony and the Imperials have kept me company in the car and kept my voice strong and constant. When I'm feeling really low, I torture myself with Don Mclean, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Janis Ian, Chicago, Jefferson Starship, and Jim Croce.

A big part of me thinks I haven't given my life here a fair shake yet. Coming from the pace of a New York Minute, maybe I have to slow down to the Desert Minute, where a minute means a half hour and 15 minutes mean an hour. Maybe the people here don't have the same sense of urgency that I have, the same sense that I've had all my life: that my time is running out, and that I have to cram every last bit of life in as soon as possible before it's taken away from me. But something tells me I can't wait around for these Hi-Desert folks to catch up with me. My time here may be up soon.

Patience has never been one of my virtues.

Still, I've lived as best as I can as a local. I shop at the grocery stores and cook my own meals. I learned the back roads. I went to a baseball game. I get my nails done at the strip mall. I go to the movies and Del Taco and diners that no tourist would ever stop into. I watch the sun rise and set. And I live peacefully among the coyotes, cottontail, flies, lizards, doves and quail. I drink local wine and buy local produce and tip big wherever I go. And although I'm very attached to The Desert Lily itself, I'm still missing a connection with the rest of the town, the rest of the entire basin.

So what do I do now? Use my savings to buy an RV and keep travelling? With all the places I'd like to visit, will I ever find what I'm looking for? Will I ever stay long enough to really know?

And what is there waiting for me in New York? More solitude, air pollution, noise pollution, rude idiots with long acrylic nails at Duane Reade, guys who call me fat when I won't go out with them....? A life that's so fleeting, before I know it I'll be too old for anything?

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