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October 19, 2009

The Joy of Writing

I recently made a life-changing move. I’d lived in California for almost 25 years of my life, but my family all lived in Colorado. My father had a triple bypass a few years back and my mother had some health issues as well, and while none of it was immediately life-threatening, I started to get the nagging feeling that the time had come to live near my parents again. It was a deep-seated urge, an almost biological thing, and the intensity of it surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved my parents to death, but this… it was just so visceral. There was a wildness to it. So my wife and I made trips to Colorado to make sure we could actually live there, and then we bought a house and moved.

It was like running a marathon that wouldn’t end. Moving from a place you’ve lived in for so long is crazy! The minutiae are maddening. For example: the bank I used for 15 years in California doesn’t exist in Colorado. So I found one that does, set up the accounts, got the new visa check card. Then I made a list of every company, vendor or subscription that utilized the old bank’s card for billing purposes (recurring or otherwise) and contacted them all and changed that information. It took a day! Eight hours of mindless subservience to automated operators! Surely, Hell would be doing that for all eternity. Then there was health insurance, car registration, transporting two black labs 1100 miles through the mountains, and about a thousand other things you’d never normally have to think about. For example: I realized at one point that I didn’t have the gardener’s phone number. He’d show up with his crew every week and do his thing, and once a month, he’d slip a preaddressed envelope under the mat with a bill in it. I’d put a check in and a stamp on, and that was it. Other than the occasional nod, we had zero interaction. The only solution I could come up with was to stick my own envelope under the mat with a note explaining that we had moved and to please send our final bill to the new address. (I got the bill about three weeks after we arrived in Colorado. Who needs high tech?)

We also had the ‘official’ wedding ceremony to do. My wife’s family is from Korea and five of them, including her mother, were coming to visit for a month. To complicate things, there are no direct flights from Korea to Denver! So we flew to Los Angeles, met them at the airport, and then drove from there to Colorado because my wife (god love her) wanted to show them some of the good old US of A. None of them speak English, which made things interesting at times, and our new home was filled with seven adults and two dogs for a month, during which time we planned and executed the bilingual/bicultural wedding while also tying up all the loose ends from the move and introducing two sets of parents to each other. I worked as much as I could during this time, but it’s hard for me to ‘fit writing in’. I need to be able to sit down for long, stress-free, uninterrupted periods of time, and ‘stress free’ wasn’t really in the cards.

When everyone finally left, my wife and I looked at each other and said: ‘Ok, we’re done.’ Three months had gone by. The house was quiet. The dogs were sleeping. I went down to my new basement office, powered up the laptop, sat down in my easy chair to write - and fell into a long, sound, dreamless sleep. It continued like that for a few weeks (yes, I said weeks). I was a veritable Rip van Winkle. I was overwhelmed by a desire to do nothing, and while I can’t say I did nothing at all, there sure as hell was no writing going on.

I also started to notice this kind of let-down feeling, a general blueness, which baffled me. I’m just not prone to that, and besides - all that horrible hard work and marriage madness was behind me. What could I possibly have to be blue about?

It hit me out of nowhere, one day, for no reason at all. It was a light bulb above the head kind of thing: I was blue because all that work was done and everyone was gone! The more I thought about that, the more I wanted to slap myself for not seeing it before. Because here was the truth: those three months might have been stressful, even maddening at times, but they had also been packed with the unforgettable, the adventurous, and the beautiful.

We drove either to or from California four times. We saw the sun set and rise in the Rockies, and fought our way through thunderstorms and hail and having to replace all four tires on the rental van. I remember driving across Utah and watching for almost a full hour as a storm approached us, because you could see that far across the flatness. When it hit, it was as if someone had flicked a switch and turned off the sun. One time, while going over a rain-soaked Vail Pass at approximately 11,000 feet, my MDX hit a hidden pothole full of water and began sliding towards the side of the mountain. Much screaming and praying ensued. We swam in the mineral waters of Glenwood Springs, running for cover when it hailed like a fury, returning just ten minutes later because the skies had cleared to a flawless, cloudless blue. I learned a bajillion new Korean words and was accepted with open arms and warm hearts by a wonderful new family. Every morning I’d wake up a little later than everyone else and walk out to a chorus of ‘good mornings’ and happy smiles. More people flew in for the wedding and the home swelled for three days to over thirteen people (and the two dogs) and it seemed like the cooking and talking and laughing went on around the clock. One night I drank far too much at the urging of my new family. They joined in and we engaged in a kind of a mutually assured destruction involving alcohol, one that I was destined to lose. My mother-in-law sang a traditional Korean song for everyone as she teetered happily, a victim of that devilish Korean rice liquor. My new sister-in-law, generally happy but always composed, got tipsy and said ‘Hyon-bo, watch!’ (Hyon-bo is a phonetic spelling for the word that means ‘older sister’s husband’ - me, in this case. Koreans use titles like this among family far more than they use names.) She was in her sock feet and a traditional Korean dress (all the Korean women wore these dresses at the wedding) and she proceeded to run and then slide on our wood floor, giggling like a school girl, as I watched, face grinning and head spinning.

The wedding itself was chaotic and wonderful. We had neighbors, family, multiple cultures, multiple languages, multiple minor embarrassments and only one near disaster. Nothing caught fire, and no one was injured. Of all the brides that have ever been, mine was the most beautiful.

Those three months, which I’d viewed as work, had actually been joyful. They were full of strong memories and real moments and random wonders. They’ll shine on inside me until the day that I go dark.

I know, this is supposed to be about writing. So what’s the point, right? This is the point: I realized all this, and then I started writing again. It hooked me back into the truth behind what gets my fingers moving on the keys and makes the words come freely: writing isn’t about the work of writing. It’s about that golden high that comes from capturing, even a little (and if just for a moment), all the loving, hurting, triumphant and terrible moments that make up the living of life.

Writing is an excuse to tap into all the best and the worst that life has to offer, whether in the real world or in my imagination. It’s a reason to search for and re-experience moments of happiness and sorrow, to examine all the territory between innocence and evil. Mostly, it’s just a license to have one hell of a good time.

I love the people I love more than I’ll ever love the writing, but it has to be said and it’ll always be true: the writing sure doesn’t suck.

I realize this might all come off to some as melodramatic or airy-fairy, but cut me some slack: it’s been a dramatic few months. I also know I’m not and never will be the greatest writer who ever lived. But I’m writing again, and I hope I’ll be doing it till I die.

I’d like to be found slumped over my laptop at 90, having failed to finish the final paragraph that would have revealed to everyone who the REAL killer was…

Then they could write on my tombstone : Here lies Cody Mcfadyen, who proved that you can take it with you.

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