Tuesday, July 29, 2014

If David Guterson Weren't a Writer...

In the 14th in a series of posts on 2014 books entered for The Story Prize, David Guterson, author of Problems with People (Alfred A. Knopf), explores the life he'd lead if he hadn't lead the life he's lead.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
This is hard to imagine. If it was possible to make a living at it, I would be a jack of all trades. By that I mean someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things but it is an expert on nothing, someone who solves problems in physical space not via expertise but via creativity and persistence. I would repair appliances, fix leaks, and address minor electrical problems. I’m sure this would not be particularly lucrative, so I would have to live simply.

I think I would live in a one room house. I would build it myself, using passive design principles so that no heat source would be needed. There would be nothing in the house to make noise—no refrigerator, for example. I would have a brief causeway to a second structure that would house two noisemaking appliances—a washing machine and a freezer. I would hang clothes to dry. I would wash dishes by hand. I would keep a vegetable garden and preserve what it produces. I would have one point of use hot water tank for the kitchen sink and one for the shower—as long as neither made noise. If they did then a hot water tank would have to go in the outbuilding with the washing machine and freezer. I would have a wattle fence to keep animals out of my garden.
How a passive house is constructed

Every morning before going off to my work as a jack of all trades I would read for at least an hour. I would not have a television, but I would like to be able to get on the Web. I would not travel very much, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to afford it but also because it can be such a headache. It’s nice to imagine that I would play a musical instrument, but that is wishful thinking. I would sing, though. I would watch YouTube musical performances and sing along. I would watch YouTube comedy skits, too. I would have no lights on in the house for long periods. There is a scene in one of the movies about Scrooge where he has every light off in his house and is sitting by a fire with a poker doing nothing but ruminating. We as viewers are supposed to find this depressing and fundamentally the wrong way to live, but to me it looks good. Sitting in a quiet, gently lit place while the rest of the world is dark appeals to me, as does listening to music closely.

In this imaginary world where I am not a writer and therefore doing other things I most certainly would be taking naps. But then there would be other times when I would be dancing to loud music—and I mean really getting into it as a dancer in an uninhibited way. Some of my time would be passed feeling guilty about the fact that I am not doing very much at all and certainly not doing very much to improve things other than fixing a leak or getting a lamp to work for someone down the road. I would probably be preoccupied with this kind of guilt. There would be periods during which I would attempt to be disciplined about cooking, but for the most part, I would fail in this regard and take short cuts instead.

With the professional writing out of the way I could do a better job remembering to write cards to people—birthdays, condolences, congratulations—assuming that so doing doesn’t defeat the letter or the spirit of the question. There would still be some writing even if I wasn’t a writer. Lists, for example. Lists of all the things I have to do and that I’m afraid I will forget to do if I don’t write them down. The things on this list would easily compensate for the writing that would now be absent from my life. My life would be composed of a thousand small tasks and errands placed end to end until I died. A great chain of necessary small things sufficient to fill my hours. Regarding refrigeration—I would have a freezer in my outbuilding in which I kept not only preserved food but also blocks of ice. I would have the job of bringing these blocks into my little domicile to cool an old-fashioned icebox. I would still be a beer drinker and an e-mailer. I like to think I would take a shower everyday but realistically, it would probably happen every other day. I want to live a long time in good health, so no matter how tired I was at night, I would at least try to floss before falling asleep. I would keep a dream journal—no, I couldn’t do that, could I, because then I would be a writer.