As I’ve fumbled and stumbled to find those places—and read and write those pages—my dad was spot on. I did find high heights and see great sights. I also learned about lurches and prickle-ly perches.
Welcome to my blog “Oh, the Pages You’ll Go!” I will do all I can to notice the pages and the places. I will think and write about what I notice . . . here we go.
I recently read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City which was the selection for our Eau Claire, Wisconsin “One Book One Community.” A Harvard sociologist, Desmond used ethnography as a research approach to study housing in Milwaukee, our state’s largest city. The book is essentially a research report but it reads like a novel—characters, action, details, plot. It disturbs and it is intimate.
Desmond described ethnography as a “way of seeing.” He said it’s “not something we go and do—it’s a basic way of being in the world. It’s a sensibility.”
Is this way of seeing an essential skill in fiction writing? To be observant, to notice, to be in the world basically? Perhaps fiction writing is like being an ethnographic researcher . . . to “remain alert to the heat of life at play right in front of you?”
I’ve recently had a few “heat of life” moments in front of me. At the candlelight ski at Lake Wissota State Park in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin last night, I saw a man with his head bent down, checking his phone and texting as he snowshoed through the pine trees stretching far into the silent sky and past the candles flickering in white paper bags. I tried to understand, not to judge.
Sometimes those heat-of-life moments are too funny. An article in the local paper described a semi-truck driver who was weaving through traffic and finally went off the road. The driver tried running away after he was pulled over but the police quickly caught him and arrested him for drunken driving. The driver was hauling a 40-foot trailer filled with wine.
In that same paper, I read about a 76-year old man stopped for drunken driving in central Wisconsin, his 10th OWI. The police officer told the driver he could smell beer on his breath. In the most convincing tone possible, the driver replied, “I just had some beer-battered fried fish at the Bear Cat up the road.” The gavel declared seven years in prison.
These incidents are funny at first glance, perhaps, but extremely troubling. They may find their way into my fiction writing. I’m rehearsing my way of seeing, of staying alert. I’m thinking more about the connections between ethnography and fiction writing. What connections do you see?