It seems I am alternating thinking and writing. This has become my process. Some nights I spend lying in bed, jotting handwritten notes or thumbing through books, thinking of how this will all unfold. Other nights are the nights I sit with my laptop and approach the page. I am enjoying this rhythm, but I need to create more of a set schedule. Starting at 11 at night isn’t working too well, for one.
I wish there was more time in the day. I wish I was privileged enough to have all the time I need and enough money to support myself while I work on this. I crave long walks in the afternoons, mornings in coffee shops, days spent in libraries working on research. I crave spontaneous road trips to eastern Washington, motel rooms in the Yakima Valley.
I have a regular job, though, and a fairly structured life, and I am fortunate for that, now more than ever, I think.
I am thinking a lot tonight about privilege. I worked with R this afternoon on her master’s thesis, which is largely about privilege. And we spoke a bit about Mattie and Joe’s privilege. They are white and are part of a minority in the migrant farm worker world. Yet they are privileged. Joe has chosen this lifestyle, for one, and he continues to live this life as though he chose it, as though it is the way things should be. He continues to believe that he could end his transience (and his family’s) at any time. But he chooses not to. Joe believes that he is in control, and in some ways he is.
I did a little research today, read some news articles about the effects of the recession on migrant workers. One quote I found really struck me:
“Domestic workers are going to be looking over their shoulders,” Nicholson said. “They are fully aware that if they start asserting their rights – for handwashing facilities, bathrooms facilities or heaven forbid, union representation – they can be more easily replaced by foreign workers” (Shannon Dinniny, AP News).
I have wondered lately, with all I am finding about migrant worker housing, if it is right for this story to begin in a bus without wheels, a temporary dwelling at an orchard. I know that this is a reality (or once was) because I came across it in some of my very early research about migrant workers. One orchard had several old school busses set up as housing for folks who came to work there. I never saw a picture of the place, but even so, the image is burned into my brain. I see it so clearly, and I see Mattie there.
I am rambling tonight, and that is because I am trying to get down many ideas before I go to bed. I am trying to draw some quick connections between the research paths I took today.
Here are things I need to consider:
Housing: there is a big push in Washington to create better housing for migrant workers, and the push has been successful so far. I have to remind myself, though, that I am only learning about the stuff that is making it to the newspapers and the internet. I am not learning about some of the realities.
Visit Yakima: I will be attending a writing centers conference in Ellensburg, about a half hour away from Yakima, in April. I’d love to get down to Yakima to poke around, take some pictures and try to find some of the realities that I imagine exist.
Suicide: I have read a great deal about suicide-both from clinical and personal perspectives. And while it is now easier to understand how individuals arrive at that place where there is no more hope, it is difficult for me to pen the path that Mattie takes, the way her life caves in on her. I am becoming more and more aware of that need to show my reader her ‘breaking point’ (though I still do not believe there is a definite ‘point’).
Continued Research: Issues of class and white privilege are important, as are issues of abuse and mental illness and transient lifestyles. I am very interested in the lives of children of migrant workers, and I have found some good resources. I think I should start a bibliography.
Personal Belongings: In the short story I wrote that Mattie’s family’s clothes were packed in garbage bags. This is not a minor detail. It’s a flaw. I need to be aware of things like this. I need to really think about these sorts of details. But I think it is this sort of thing that slows down my writing.
Scope of the book: This is going to be a very long book, I think. I didn’t realize it until I talked with A tonight. I have to cover Mattie’s last day, all the things that happen in that day and all the memories that come to her. Her memories of her mother and father, of meeting Joe and leaving the south and all that has brought her here. I have to cover Joe walking into the motel room, finding Mattie and deciding to leave. I have to watch the reality sink in, watch him realize that his life has forever changed in many ways. I have to follow Amy, and in talking with A tonight I realize that I should keep Dustin. This part of the project-following two motherless children-will be quite large, I think. In some ways I see it as another novel altogether.
Attend Readings: I need to attend more readings by novelists, especially those who have had to conduct a lot of research in order to make their books work. When I saw Ivan Doig last year I wanted to ask him about how he balances writing and research. But I didn’t, and I am regretting that now.
Create a set schedule: It is not enough for me to write sporadically anymore. Right now I feel as though I need to structure my days around my writing rather than around my work. This project is that important. I spend a great deal of my workday thinking about Mattie and wishing I could write instead of work. How to draw lines? How to have two lives?
Structure: Right now I am envisioning dividing the novel into three books, each book separated into chapters that change pov. Book 1, Mattie; Book 2, Joe; Book 3, Amy and Dustin. I know that the story is largely Mattie’s, so will it work to have this structure?
I see that this is no small undertaking and I am committed to this project. I am committed to my writing and research. I am committed to Mattie. I don’t think I need to remind myself of that. Unplanted is becoming a part of me.