where the writers are
The Bald Country

Most of the trees here in Texas leech out their green bloom this time of the year in a noisy flock of brown leavings. Look there now at that leaf fast-crabbing across the parking lot in front of the Lowes where I write this during my lunch hour. It was once latched to a limb, the limb merging smoothly into a trunk, and the trunk flaring into the ground as a bunching of roots, like knuckles pushed up from the earth. In this way, that leaf, now lost into the hollow of the dry gorge running alongside the road has become disconnected. I suppose it's perspective that renders the shade of the scene. Some may view the leaf as free. I see it lost, pursued by wind, molting away its last days in the dust. That leaf is us; it is me. Who are we to blame for what we've become -- we, who live here in the bald country?

I say we, but perhaps that's mere wishing. Blame isn't what should occupy our thoughts either. It's possible that History has etched a line for you to follow, leveraged its vast and warring weight into the gouging of a rut from within which you are guided. But no, perhaps that will not be read correctly. The word rut, when not swelling into the fruit of estrus, generally connotes some measure of tired living or habitual movement. That is not what I mean, you rutted being you. To me it appears as if you know what you're doing, where you're going, where you've been. Those three aspects of your time here fully delineated. Look at me. Here I am fat with envy, scudding along in front of the breeze.

You see me and those like me all the time. Perhaps you shake your head or giggle into your fist as you watch us slide about our lives like hounds on ice. Purchase is an activity for credit cards, not a position we assume on the sheer face of our living. Wordsworth foresaw a degrading thirst for outrageous stimulation. Not only is it a thirst, but also a hunger that drives our consumption. We consume material goods, of course; we trample poor souls in our jihad for bargains, but this isn't what concerns me the most. What concerns me is our fictions and how often they now thumb their nose at meaning. Our fictions are a reflection of where we're at.

More of us need to die in a war, I think, be stricken with some disease, or suffer the slap of abject poverty. We only learn, as a species, through trial and death. History taught our Father's fathers how to live. History carved out a line that men could follow through their life. The line laid its strip through blood. What do we have? We have traffic and Styrofoam cups of Starbucks. Our bad day is when the New Yorker arrives with the front cover ripped. We have young men now that will return from a war -- a different kind of war, to be sure, but a war nonetheless -- and those men will likely have a desire to live on through their sons, having seen and faced death. A few lucky people my age were raised by Fathers and families with direction, but most were not, or the direction slithered from the vagaries of religion.

I'm talking larger than my mouth now. I don't really have the knowledge, the political prowess, the language to describe this situation. My tongue is small. I can resort to the disconnect, the subject of much modern fiction, but what good does it do to simply describe the conditions? The real question is how do we change them? How can fiction not only demonstrate to us how we fail in our living, but also show us how to elevate our ordinary lives from the tan swamps of teenage discontent? Because that is what it is, a juvenile bawling at our loss, Gardner's young Grendal howling and shaking the trees. How do we muster our balls and get over it, improve, write words that slice a way out of the paper sack?

The only way I can consider accomplishing that is to make sense and make that sense in a way that most people can understand. Sense of a viable and lasting nature doesn't come from the intellect. Nor does it swell from the heart, that trickster. Sense arrives bull-strong and hearty in the gut, as a gasp, a laugh, a panty-hose strut, words that strike a flame in our cold hearts, words that, yes, pull triggers and launch ships, words that unscissor legs and evoke the half-known, the hinted at, the bald truth of this flat country. Let us people this land with agents of change. Write words that matter. Who are we to blame? Blame ourselves. Or better yet. Forgo blame and move forward. Aim for the real and matter.

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