I wrote a thesis.
I don't talk about it much.
It was a collection of short stories told from the alternating points of view of two women living in a town in Central Washington called Wenatchee.
I've never been to Wenatchee, never even been to Central Washington, but growing up in Oregon I spent a fair amount of time in both the Central and Eastern regions there and I loved it, I still do.
So when I happened to read about the place, a city surrounded by mountains on all sides and by things called "sagebrush steppes" and where there are blue skies 300 days a year but where it is still fertile enough to grow apples, to be rolling in them, to be called "the Apple Capital of the World"
it captured me, totally.
And it became this otherworldly place to me, but I knew there must be people living there who had lives and histories and it fascinated me to think of those people, to wonder if they themselves thought their town was extraordinary or if it was just the place where they lived.
And obviously then I came to realize that Wenatchee must mean different things to all of them and so the town slowly populated itself with women, mostley smart and mostly lonely and all with distinct patterns of movement to their lives,
but when I brought these stories in week after week to Warren Hecht, my writing teacher (who had the necessary quirks and the necessary charisma to be essentially a prophet in my eyes), what he said to me was
(Warren Hecht is a New York orthodox Jew-turned-hippie-turned-Catholic deacon, LL Bean turtleneck enthusiast, and watercolor artist who once when I asked him what he had done that weekend said i just went up to my cabin up north, man, and I just cooled out, painted a lot of watercolors, yknow I'm really interested in grey right now, man, like SHADES of GREY)
what he said was, what you're doing right now is writing a lot of stories, man, but what you need to be doing right now, right, is you need to be writing a thesis. so you just leave my office and come back when you have a thesis and then we'll talk about it.
So I left his office and then I went into hibernation and I wrote a thesis.
Of all the many fortunate things that have happened to me in my life, the fact that I knew Warren Hecht is probably my favorite. He was the best writing teacher I could ever have possibly had -- because he didn't teach me anything other than to read my stories out loud and edit the parts that sounded weird, because he didn't pretend there WAS anything to teach about how to write other than to try to live in a way that can give you something to reminisce about later.
I was in his introductory writing class when I wrote the very first story I was truly proud of, and I wrote it because in that session of his introductory writing class Warren Hecht did nothing but read a story very solemnly out loud. It was a story about peach trees. He had a gravelly voice. And then when he finished he said "a lot of people think that for something to be a good story, something has to happen, right, like something really exciting. but a story can just be a sentimental reminiscence, you know, somebody telling you about something that just, you know, happened to them".
That first story I was proud of was called "Roll On, Columbia" and my thesis is called Northwest Passage.
I say these things right now not because they have anything to do with the song I am about to show you, but because I am beginning to have this feeling I need to get used to telling people things.
The song: The Stone Poneys, "Different Drum"; 1967
If you want to know what I think good writing is, I think this song is good writing. I wish I could quote every line and also I wish I could figure out how to write down the feeling Linda Ronstadt puts into that first "whooooooa".