African in Greenland

10 Mar

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A bunch of us convened in Carpenteria to form a caravan to travel down into Baja Mexico to camp on the shore of Bahia de Los Angeles. My writing partner Michael and I were beginning to break down the beat sheet for African in Greenland, a book we had optioned. We were making those initial decisions about combining characters, trimming the number of towns Tete-Michel visits, and pumping up the drama while remaining true to the theme of the book.

In Bahia de Los Angeles, we were basically sleeping rough under the shelter of open-sided palapa structures. Michael and I would be the first ones up each morning. In the gray light of pre-dawn we’d grab two beach chairs and walk a hundred feet to the water’s edge. Each of us balanced our notebooks on our knees, talking back and forth, making notes. We worked first in the slightly chill air, which quickly warmed as the sun poked over the horizon. We’d give the Greenland towns New Jersey names to keep them straight in our minds. “All right, Kakortoq is Jersey City and Uppernavik is Newark.” An hour into our session sweat would pour off our foreheads, splashing the page, as the temperature began its daily rise to 110 plus degrees.

There was something very honest about those mornings; our working in Baja before the others awoke. Our partnership was sealed in this odd mingling of the cerebral creative process and the dripping of sweat – as though we were Bakersfield day laborers hoeing peas, with Penguin Classics paperbacks in our pockets: Oblomov by Goncharov; and the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse.

(2002)

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