Coast Starlight on the Home Meridian

TL;DR: New essay! 


This past autumn, I had two gifts from the San Juan Islands-based Shark Reef Literary Magazine. Today I have a third.

The first was their enthusiastic acceptance of a piece I wrote while riding one of Amtrak’s multi-day routes. I loved the long retreat of the journey, through landscapes known and loved. Also I was inhabiting a familiar type of solitary, shapeless, longform longing, which I recognized instantly when I read Brene Brown describing “high lonesome.” I tend to turn those elements into writing.

Curling fog above the coastal hills in Central California

The second: an editor’s perceptive questions and suggestions, which pushed me to revise and polish the piece in ways I would not have accessed on my own.

It’s an unusual piece, for me, a form I wasn’t aiming for at all. I tried originally to write it as a poem. Its animating force is restraint, but just barely, and I wanted to convey that though sheer density of imagery. A poem seemed the best way to hold and highlight that.

But the rhythm of the writing insisted stubbornly on prose. What I sent to Shark Reef was an essay, of the flowing, wandering sort I usually write. The editor recognized was it was meant to be, and came back with both general and specific requests to shorten, tighten, truncate. This piece, they said, wants to be something like a long prose poem.

Once they said it, I realized I’d known it all along.

Of course I believed that what I originally submitted to Shark Reef was my best. It was editorial collaboration, though, that lent me clarity, and also helped Coast Starlight on the Home Meridian find its true identity. I remain something like shocked at how much an experienced critique, and permission to write off-genre, have changed this piece for the better. I’m so grateful to the editing team, and in particular to guest editor Noel Mariano, for their care.

Because of them, I’m doubly proud of the finished, published version, the third gift. You can read it here.

Mustard in full bloom lines a winding footpath in the hills above San Luis Obispo, California.

Read another piece that emerged from my love for
(and frustration with) California


6 thoughts on “Coast Starlight on the Home Meridian

  1. This is wonderful. So many memories. Quite the mixture of sadness, resistance to change, longing to stay where I was so happy (Pleasanton), the resignation of inevitability, the terror and unhappiness of moving to PA and making a new place a home for what I knew would be a temporary (again) place to be. Knowing the three of us had each other and knowing that was not always enough. Family.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You might be surprised how urban the habitat of the tumbleweed gets. In Lubbock, in March, they bounce across the highway… along with most of Oklahoma’s top soil… when the winds consistently stay at thirty mph…


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