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Notes from a Writer’s Journal By Elroy Bode El Paso It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Deborah had just got up from her nap. Her mother had helped her dress had brushed her hair, washed her face, and put on her white sweater and as I drove up to the curb she was seated on her red tricycle, riding very slowly down the sloping sidewalk toward her friend who lived two houses away. I sat in the car and looked at her at the neat blond hair with the clasp on top, at her slowly moving legs, at her snug white sweater. She was a pleasing, compact figure caught in the soft glints of the western sun. I did not call to her; I did not want to disturb that secure little back, those firmly clasping hands. For it was a good destiny that my girl was headed toward at five in the afternoon: her daily rendezvous with Teresa, who also had a tricycle and who would also be taking her constitutionals In a few moments they would meet there in the middle of the sidewalk between strips of pleasant greenery and would swap words with the same casual eagerness that neighbors everywhere have delighted in for milleniums. Cars would thunder up and down Idalia Street, jets could roar in the distance across the desert, yet these ancient two ages two and a half and three would bg oblivious. So I remained there at the curb and waited for Deborah and Teresa as sensible and satisfying a pair of human beings as I had known anywhere to greet one another, laugh, pass the time of day beneath the elms. Writing? It is pleasurable, it is private, it is one’s kingdom by the sea. It seems that everyone who fools with words, at one time or another, climbed to the top of a hill overlooking his home town and gazed down on the scene below. Standing there, he becomes aware not only of the love he once felt for his boyhood surroundings but also of the loneliness and perspective that the hill affords. I need fields and fences, corner posts and cedar stakes; white-faced rocks lying on bare, rain-wet winter ground. I need oaks standing about in groves, somber as committees, and barns at a distance on a rise of ground. I need hot tin roofs shining at a turn in a country road, with streaks of rust making a casual rural elegance. Who knows: maybe I am the only one who cares about what I care about. If I do not write, say, about the hill country, perhaps no one will. Perhaps it will be lost all those tones and moods and days that people of the hill country know and value and live through daily but never record never immortalize. “The hill country”: it will be left forever in the hands of amateur painters of bluebonnets. Some day I would like to write a small book as sweetly done as satisfying, as Cannery Row. I would like to write it and have someone, on a pleasant afternoon, say to himself, “I think I’ll put Bode’s book in my pocket and take a walk. . . . Maybe I’ll stop at a bench somewhere or a deserted porch and read a while in this book that I have come to love.” I wish that would happen because I have done that very thing with Steinbeck have taken his book and started out somewhere with it in my back pocket and have stopped for a while and read in it for the sixth or seventh time. It is a friend of mine, and as we have sat there under a tree, on a rock wall I have read and then looked up at the nearby buildings, or at people walking by, and have felt that I was in a very fine place. The book had made me feel that way: it was a link connecting Steinbeck and me and the world. We had a pleasant kinship, one that made me feel at ease with myself, that made me smile. I have a devastating sense of transience, of unreality, of being next to other worlds and other realities, of being able if I could only see acutely enough to take one step to the side of this immensely familiar thing we call human living and watch it change its form, disappear. I have been straining all my adult life to look more clearly through that crack between realities to see what really is. * * Once you have tasted the godly wine of trying to transform life into words, you are never quite satisfied with just “living” any more; you want to make life more real by stopping it, framing it, personalizing it with your words. * * * Huge white Leghorn chickens, heads raised in alarm, standing together under young legustrum bushes in a field. They are like outlaws reined up in a grove: alert, saddled, hatted, ready to ride. * * In the riverbottom at Vanderpool: Birds moving slowly about among the huge cedars, not singing, flapping their wings heavily like women popping laundry. Cardinals, woodpeckers, robins down south for the winter. There is no Wind. Sunlight filters through the top branches, there is the clean smell of the cedars, the Sabinal,River is running nearby. There is a deep quiet, a sense of isolation and grandeur. Rural, smalltown men aren’t given to exaggeration. Had one of them seen the Great Flood of the Bible, he would have reported to his buddy at the coffee shop the next morning: “. . . Purty good shower over to Noah’s place yesterday e’nen.” * * I have lain with certain young women in Juarez and have risen from their bed full. of tenderness and ease, moving slowly as I dressed, smiling once again at the miracle of flesh . . . These young women were not whores, you see not at the moment of our touching. They had been waiting, without even knowing it, I think, for the likes of me an occasional unexploiter –and when I came to them and we touched one another, it was human need joined for the moment to human need in order to bring about human satisfaction. For the briefest space of time it was genuine mutual release. \(. . . I have wondered what it is like to be there at the bar for hire, night after night: a whore, by definition, yet beneath the whore-ness a human being nevertheless and then occasionally meet a person just wanting pleasant human contact, a nice touching and joining of bodies: to be there and to take his money, yes, and to have him unsnap the brassiere and slide down the hose, but then to present warm brown arms and legs and breasts and have them received the way lovers always accept the physiI have been there, and dressed, and after touching my young companion’s face goodbye have gone outside into the hard-seamed Juarez streets-and-night and it is as though I have been worshipping somewhere, as though I have been to the altar of intimate living, and presented myself nakedly, and been 22 MAY 7, 1982