spontaneous combustion

Friday evening, I drove to Hermosa Beach to visit a friend from high school and saw an SUV on fire, languishing in the shoulder of the northbound 405. And when I say fire, I mean a billowing bonfire: crackling, leaping flames and ominous gray smoke pouring into the LA night sky. So, naturally, everyone on the southbound 405 slowed down to watch the spectacle (maybe even toast some marshmallows). My inclination, once I did my share of rubber-necking, was to speed away from the toasty fire as fast as possible, lest the car actually explode which, as I’ve learned in many an action film, most cars on fire tend to do. So, as I accelerated away in the family minivan, I saw a police car, perhaps 100 feet back from the flames, and behind him, four more police cars in a horizontal line, stopping traffic. And beyond those: miles of twinkling car lights in front of angry drivers who suddenly found themselves on a stopped freeway with no means of escape. And so I said a small thanks that the car did not spontaneously combust on the southbound and that it was not my car that spontaneously combusted.

Hermosa Beach is quite a fun lil’ beach town. It certainly is big compared to other beach towns I’ve recently enjoyed, but in the LA scheme of things, it’s quite diminutive. In fact, as I learned from a fellow in the bar, the whole town is only a square mile. (I haven’t actually verified this interesting fact, but I find it more fun not to know.)

I’ve been out several times now since my arrival back, and, as is apparently the norm in bars (who knew) people ask you questions. While I’m pretty good at answering questions such as ‘what’s your name’ and ‘where are you from’, the one that never fails to stump me is: ‘what do you do’. For so long, my identity has been wrapped around school and being a student. I’m a year out of college, which I think is the point past which it’s acceptable to say ‘I just graduated’. When I graduated from college, pre-departure, in the interim at Christmas, and when I first got back, my answer always revolved around Nicaragua. Some answer about living in Nicaragua, teaching, traveling, whatever. Now, almost two months out and unpacked, I feel a little silly (or perhaps lame) referring to something so far in the past; yet, I meander forward much influenced by this experience.

But, I am moving forward. Quite apart from all the pie and leafy streets in Iowa City, I realized a few crucial things about myself. In daily lectures about the craft of writing and owning your writing and your process, I realized all that really means is simply owning ‘being a writer’, giving in to it. And, everyone, even those ‘prestigious’ MFA graduees of the University of Iowa, are scared to be writers. So, I guess, own it. Be it. And therefore, my answer, which I shall focus on henceforth: I’m a writer. (This was a bit of a revelation to me, but when I shared it with my good girl friends, they all said: duh.)

Well, to be honest, at this point, my answer is more: I’m a writer? So probably (I guess) I’m going to do everything I can to get rid of that question mark.

Apparently I’m all about the quotes recently, so I’ll conclude with this one, which I saw on a mug at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I go there more than I’d like to admit… actually, I’ve stared calling it my office. I bought a 10 dollar briefcase in the Des Moines airport, which I put my notes for my writing project in, and therefore feel like a ‘professional’.

“There is no use in trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe in impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Lewis Carroll

And so I guess that’s what I’m doing: believing in the impossible, giving my answer. Practicing so it becomes easy.


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