Earlier this week, during lunch, I asked Stan, a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, what he considered to be the chief differences between the two. He was reading the New York Times book review and didn't have much for an answer. We were relaxing in the living room, me on the couch and he in his chair—Stan's chair is his chair; I sat in it once and felt a shiver of either punishment or death—when Stan said, "Regarding your question of the other day." He paused and then began to speak in the roundabout way that is his custom sometimes when approaching a story or an answer. "Uh, which question is this," I said. The question about the chief differences between fiction and non-fiction. "Right," I said. I'd forgotten I'd asked. With non-fiction there is a whole list of taboo subjects that one cannot write about: money, sex, opinions of people, etc, but with fiction you are free to write about anything because all is concealed beneath the gauzy veil of fiction itself. I commented that I could relate to the roadblock that these taboo subjects present, that in fact on this very blog romance especially is often written about, not directly, but through highly loaded and lyrical language. "Like really horny chamomile," I said. One can find ways around the constraints of any form, and I would be the last one to tell you that constraints are not productive, but still Stan's answer made me think that is about time to put this blog to bed and devote my energies to longer, more sustained pieces of writing, be they fiction or non-fiction, and I said as much to him a couple days later as we were leaving the house, walking over the bumpy stones that are the walkway from the front door. It is hard and productive to be a blogger, essentially a columnist, who lives with an author who has written and published numerous novels and full-length works of non-fiction. Somebody needs to step up and do it.
But this mood swing. What about the mood swing? I walked around for half an hour, taking pictures, and then I realized that it was not my chilies at all. My garden back home had nothing to do with how I was feeling. Early in the day, when I was still feeling chipper, I'd looked at my calendar and made a hard and fast decision about when I would say goodbye to Stan and Rose Mary, leave this farm, and drive back to Massachusetts. I'm not sure if I was looking at the water pump or at the fields empty of their pumpkins when it happened, but my aggravation swiftly turned into melancholy, sadness, when I realized that in one week I would say goodbye to this place with its overgrown lawns, its picking boxes wobbly and in need of repair, its dirt driveway that terminates in a loop around the maple tree, its burlap sacks thrown over the water pump, its vehicles parked under the corrugated roofs of its sheds, and its temperatures that are crisp and cold in the morning and at night but hot in the middle of the day. To the hills behind the house that frame everything, to weather-worn wooden pallets and work tables, to the fields and the orange Kubota tractor that pins them down like a lord of metal, I must say goodbye. And this is to say nothing of Stan and Rose Mary; it's to say nothing of their company, our banter, and nothing of the company of the dog. We keep a strict routines around here, and I lump my own routines upon those. Three nights a week I drive ten miles around the mountain and into Velarde, to Mike's Shamrock gas station to buy a six pack of beer. When I pulled up to the pump tonight, I had one of those two second man sobs. I could feel this fit of crying climbing up my spine all afternoon and through dinner. I choked it back and pumped my gas. A couple on a motorcycle pulled up to a nearby pump, and the woman on back eyed me. I was sure she could read my dry tears.
A perfect reminder not to dwell: the backdoor, just like the cottonwood trees, made its creaky noise: Stan on his nightly move from the living room in the house to his studio behind the house. He'll surely be checking his e-mail now. Of course, I could not see him, but I know it's him. I know the pattern of life here. I know the routines and rituals. The red van in the picture above has just been unpacked after market in Santa Fe. On Saturday when we return from market, we are too tired to unpack it. We leave it until Sunday afternoon. This afternoon. I put down my book with its essay about the exploration of the Ohio river and the Ohio river valley, and I unloaded the truck. All the produce that we did not sell went back into the sheds. The pumpkins went back to their spot beneath the tree. The pack rats that I hear every night are scampering in the roof above this porch on which I write. The sound of their tiny, muscular legs pounding upon tar paper lets me know that life is going on in its ordinary way, that life here is usual. But what about my life elsewhere? What about my life back in Massachusetts? Rose Mary tells me each day that I should have children, and each day I smirk and say, "I"m trying. I try as often as I can." Rose Mary, Stan, this beautiful place they set up and made their own; their children that have treated me so well and welcomed me; even the dogs that come and go; how should I say goodbye? The pack rats are living their miniscule lives in the roof. My hands are getting a touch too cold to type another word.
I suppose the best way to say goodbye is to say goodbye. I hate long goodbyes, and I live to move. It's best to do this now. My itinerary home is not yet decided, but that I'll be home by Halloween is sure. But home. What home? And where? Temporarily it's here, here in New Mexico, and soon it will be Massachusetts again. In the same collection of essays I was reading this afternoon, there is an essay that explores the difference between house and home. A house is a temporary shelter from the elements, and a home is a place where you feel sheltered from the elements of mind. I feel at home here in New Mexico, in Stan and Rose Mary's home, just as I do in Glen Ellyn, in my parents' home, and just as I do in my own apartment in Massachusetts. But there, there in Massachusetts, in my apartment and small bedroom that often feels too small, I sometimes wonder how it is that I've come to live in such a place. If only I had room to flourish, I think. And then I make my way from my bedroom to the bathroom, look in the mirror, floss my teeth and sleep.