In a place like this, where family is everything, the start of school changes the environment. We went out to the lake the other night with a cooler full of beer and watermelon. A few weeks ago every turn-in and campsite held a truck and an RV. Families sat around fire pits on vinyl lawn chairs. Lord of the Flies-looking bands of kids marauded the beach carrying sticks. Jet skis and wakeboard boats skipped across the water.
But now we could park anywhere. The farmers had drained the lake over the summer and the beach expanded far past the tree line. We drove on the packed sand as far down as we wanted, then spread out an old quilt and, aside from a guy up in the trees listening to the Steve Miller band “Life’s been goooooood to me so faaaarrrr” from inside his camper, we were alone. Fish jumped in the still water. Clouds moved over us. The sun set.
A year in Nebraska really is the full cycle of life and the memento mori comparison fits. When you know the cold death of heavy winter waits it doesn’t take anyone much convincing to live while it’s still warm.
American Airlines sent me a letter informing me I didn’t have enough miles to buy a plane ticket anywhere, but I could subscribe to nearly a dozen magazines for free. I went for it. Harper’s, the Sun, Outside, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, TIME, and, for Nammin, Health and Elle. Gifts for your brain. In the summertime we can’t keep up.
If most of the time I feel like I haven’t matured enough, I can take comfort in the conversation I had with Nammin while we sat on that blanket. We were talking about plans and the future when I did something I’ve never done with any girlfriend or roommate or anyone really. A lot of the advice you hear when you start writing is tips from jerks. Guys like Faulkner who talked tough, who said things like a writer needs to be able to steal from his grandma. There’s lots of advice about closing doors, telling people not to bother you. Just stop being nice to the people in your life and get the work done. But I try my best to treat people well. I took the door off my office a long time ago. I asked Nammin on that blanket if she would mind if I made a hard push to get a book done by next year. A lot of lonely, solitary hours. Time she would spend alone in turn. She said “no, I don’t mind. I’ve been wanting to make some art, too.” I never knew that about her, and I never would have known if I hadn’t asked.