In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
August 1, 2014: Ron Carlson
It seems wrong, somehow, that I first met Ron Carlson in Italy, as if he should never be separated from the western United States where his writing takes place—the skies over a construction project in the Rocky Mountains in Five Skies; the mountains of Wyoming during a hiking trip in The Signal; and in Return to Oakpine, a small Wyoming town.
But Ron is not just place; he’s also language. The Signal, a brilliant example of story arising out of character, with the main character’s choices driving the plot forward, is full of sentences like this one:
This was his life, riding out two hours from a ranch that itself was an hour from town and still knowing there were unknown hours ahead.
Return to Oakpine, Ron’s most recent novel published in July of last year, is a story about a friendship that began in high school between Jimmy, Frank, Craig, and Mason, but it’s also about the choices we make. And it’s about facing who we were, or thought we were or thought we wanted to be, as we finished high school and left, or did not leave, and who we are thirty years later. “All these years had passed, but it seemed simply impossible,” Ron writes.
“Last week,” Jimmy said. “That must be what thirty years is.”
In Ron’s novels, the men and women are equal but the men are, after all, the men. And against the will of these strong men who don’t talk, the bull’s heart leaks out, a heart you could crack “with a whisper.” Frank’s ex-wife says:
The modern woman wants exactly what the modern man wants. She wants to put out the fire and rescue everybody, and then when it’s safe, she wants to go back in and wait to be rescued.
In her New York Times review of Return to Oakpine, Deb Olin Unferth quotes a passage in the book where Craig’s wife, counting up all the good things in her life, thinks to herself, “It was so close to being enough.”
Unferth, speaking about the new novel, describes what I love about Ron’s writing:
The men and their tender, disgruntled families get almost enough to sustain them, but not quite enough to calm the inner cry. These characters will stay with you because this is how we are too… What we do with the inevitable residual longing—is our story.
Ron was born, and grew up, in Utah, and he’s currently the director of the writing program at the University of California at Irvine. He’s an award-winning writer whose work has been published for over thirty years—five novels, five collections of stories, one YA novel, one book of craft (excellent if you don’t know it: Ron Carlson Writes a Story), and Room Service, a book of “poems, meditations, outcries & remarks.”
“Thirty years,” Mason said. “What is that?”
“Minutes,” Jimmy said.
Come back on AUGUST 1st to read how RON CARLSON spends his days.