Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An unlikely friend

If you had told me a couple years ago I'd be sitting in Pike Place Bar and Grill with an Italian physicist named Andrea Chincarini, who's working on a gravitational wave detector in Eastern Washington, I would have laughed. Where would I have encountered such a person? And how is it that without ever meeting face-to-face, we could get along so well? The miraculous invention of the Internet, that's how.

A year and a half ago, I started visiting a beautiful blog, called The Dusty Lens. I found it through my coworker Lisa's sister's blog in New York City, and was immediately enthralled by the stunning photography and poems. The word were so deep, the photos abstract and beautiful, that I began reading the entries whenever they were posted. This mysterious Italian poet/physicist/photographer called "AC" started reading and commenting on my blog as well. We linked to each other's blogs. Thus, through the mist of the Internet, we became distant friends, who knew each other well through words and images.

This blogger hasn't been posting as much lately, and I wondered if I'd ever read his stuff again. A couple weeks ago on Facebook, I saw that he'd be in Seattle, so I invited him to grab a drink, or coffee, or food. We met for sushi at Umi's Sake House, and talked about physics, the little that I do know. I found him to be gentle, down to earth, and interesting. We went for a beer with David and brother-in-law Prasad after that, and spent hours talking about how physics and art collide, how the science brain is the artist brain, how physics and poets think the same way: they are in a quest for the unknown, to find beauty in slices of life nobody else sees.

I had a beer with Andrea Chincarini again on Wednesday night, and we spoke of more casual things: life in Italy, what he and his wife do for fun, that he has 30 bottles of Italian wine in his apartment, which is just steps from the Mediterranean sea. They have dinner parties every weekend, and eat tiny fish whole. They live in this tiny town of Chiavari, and both work as physicists. Andrea studied Tai Chi in China for a month, and visited Australia for a month to work on more gravitational waves there. This person is so fascinating, so deep, that I was sad to see him go. It's hard to meet a new friend, and then they fly home halfway around the globe.

I am thankful for the Internet, in that it can bring friends together. Everyone claims it keeps people apart, and we only interact through the impersonal, glowing white screen. But sometimes, you get lucky, and meet someone in person who you would have never had the chance to interact with. I'm thankful that David and I will now have someone to visit in Italy, who can show us the hidden spots, the truly authentic restaurants, the way of life on the Italian Riviera. And our house will always be open to him. The Internet is magic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing a Book is Harder than I thought

All weekend long, the inspiration didn't hit. I sat staring at my computer screen, willing the creativity to flow through my brain, allowing me to write long, stunning passages of prose. Instead, the words were forced and erratic, cumbersome and nonsensical. I thought the story was going one direction, but the characters wouldn't budge. MOVE, I shouted at Arturo and Isabelle, DO SOMETHING. Instead, they laughed in my face, and stayed in place on paper. Sometimes, when the characters refuse to do what you want, you have to take a step back, and analyze where the story is going. I was making them move too fast. Isabelle told me to slow the heck down, no way was she ready to meet Arturo's parents. So I rethought where I was taking the story. When you hear fiction authors being interviewed after they write a book, they will often say the characters guide the story, that their fingers are just the vessel to allow these characters to speak. And when I get into the mindframe of my book, it happens like magic. My fingers fly, struggling to keep up with what the characters are saying. The scenery becomes as vivid as the real world around me, and I write with passion and intensity. Unfortunately, this didn't happen this weekend.

So far, I've written 44,171 words, and that's just a couple hundred more than I had last weekend. I woke up this morning, completely ready to write the scene that was playing in my head last night. The problem? I had 5 minutes to write, then had to catch the ferry to participate in my daily life of work, eating, surfing the Internet, etc. When my mind opens to the creative process, it's like a beam of light that shines straight through me, illuminating the way. I know exactly where I want to take the story, and exactly the way to describe it. One thing about being a writer is that each writer has a unique worldview, and unique way of putting words on paper. I want to tap into that uniqueness, instead of forcing the words to come.

At 155 pages, I believe my book is a little more than halfway done. That will complete a short fiction novel. I don't mind if its short, I just want the story to be complete. I want Isabelle and Arturo to find their way. I want to know how they plan on achieving their goals, what they will say to each other, what experiences they will have. Right now, my two main characters are suspended in time, waiting for their creator to give them life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Last Friday, I saw Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton's family get out of a black SUV with tinted windows. I saw the family walk through a human gate of saluting law enforcement officers, a sea of blues and reds, into the empty hole of Key Arena. I saw Officer Brenton's son carrying the American flag, his daughter in a pretty dress, both tow-headed and solemn. I wondered if these two small children understood the gravity of their father's funeral, a man who died while serving the city of Seattle, a man executed while doing his job. Reporters around me struggled to hold in tears at Officer Brenton's memorial service, as the gigantic video display showed this man as a boy, as a married man, as a father. He was always smiling.

Last Friday the newsroom erupted in shouts, ringing phones and live interviews as police zeroed in on the suspect of this horrific crime. We went wall-to-wall with breaking news coverage, the excitement of it all a papable buzz. The man had turned his gun on detectives, and was shot in the head, rushed to Harborview. He's recovering now from his wounds, something the Officer he's accused of murdering will never do.

There's a Facebook page dedicated to Officer Timothy Brenton, and 20-thousand people are members. His wife, Lisa, posted pictures of that fatefall Halloween: the kids carving pumpkins, walking down a wooded trail. Underneath the photo is the caption: The Last Walk. I think of that family, loving each other, celebrating this Halloween day, and kissing their father and husband goodbye. None of them knew he'd go out on patrol, and get blasted with fire from an assault rifle, never to come home again.

Last night I dreamed of this woman, Lisa, this devastated wife. I went to her house for an interview, no recording devices allowed, and she told me how much she was hurting, how she was trying to rebuild her life. I think about her often and what she must be going through, a feeling I hope I never know.

Today I will attend a press conference at the King County Prosecutor's office, to find out what charges they will levy against this Christopher Monfort. He's accused of killing Officer Timothy Brenton, wounding Officer Britt Sweeney, and firebombing several police cars in downtown Seattle. The accused man's motives will never be understood for me, but hopefully through this charging, the family will find some peace.