Back In The USA

Living in Paris was everything I’d expected it to be: exciting, indulgent, transcendent. I worked, I played, I ate. I lived my dream of living in Paris as a young man.

I’m spending the summer in Port Orchard, a smallish town on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state. Kitsap is a strange splotch of land that looks like New York State, Florida and Thailand has a bizarre love triangle and planted the child in the midst of the Puget Sound. We’re only about 12 miles from Seattle as the bird flies, as they say, but we’re a good 1:30 travel whether you go by boat or by car, and like other American spaces which lie outside of one hour’s travel to the nearest city, we’re pretty rural out here.

It’s been quite a change, moving from one of the most cosmopolitan spaces in the world to an mildly-economically-depressed small town. Culture shock. I look around and see a town full of people motivated by boredom and fear. The two create a deep ugliness, as they always do when they parade together. You don’t always see it, but you always sense it, just underneath the surface of every interaction.

But life in a small town isn’t all bad. It’s also beautiful here. Actually stunningly so. From our back porch you can see the Sinclair Inlet, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and the Manette Bridge, the carrier base, lines of clouds over the Hood Canal, and on clear days the eastern Olympic Range, the Brothers and Mt. Constance and the lesser ridges stretching all the way to Juan de Fuca. It’s paradisaical… and there are some good people here too, people who’ve escaped the traps that decaying rural cities lay and live in peace out here. They’re friendly. They wave when you drive by.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more about the Northwest cities I’m considering moving to, as well as what I’m doing during my work hours these days.

Thanks for everything,

Jon O

Why Interested?

We were having an ICE Meeting and, as an exercise, Bill Z asked us to describe ourselves in one word.

Straight off the top of my head, I thought ‘Interested’.

I took a few minutes to run through other ideas. None of them worked. Interested it was.

Why ‘interested’?

Maybe because I’d been reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity:

“The best way to begin enhancing your personal creativity is to cultivate interest and curiosity in the world that sur­rounds you”

“The cultivation of curiosity and interest… []… the allocation of attention to things for their own sake.”

– from Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Or maybe it was Henry Miller:

“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”

Or Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

Or was it the Old Testament?

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:29

Maybe it was a simple convergence. That magic thing that happens when everything you’re reading, doing and thinking about comes together.

Thinking about it now, five years later, it still parses. One word to describe me? Interested it is.

How I Got To Teach At Shakespeare & Co

Short version:

I asked.

Long version:

I was browsing in Shakespeare & Co when I recognized a flyer for a writing workshop as similar to what we did to advertise our Creative Cusp workshops. An email: Hi My Name Is Jon, I Teach Creative Writing, I’m Here In Paris, What Do You Think About Me Being A Guest Writer?

Lucky for me, Anna Pook , the woman leading the workshops, agreed to meet with me. Sometimes I think I’m a little slow. Or born without a certain bone in my brain. See, I rarely think in terms of someone considering me shady. It’s a weakness I know. So sometimes I come on with an idea and it really sounds like I’m scheming to sell something, but really I’m just eager. I want to be involved and help out in something and somewhere interesting.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting in Anna’s class. I’m running an exercise – actually Joe Kane’s exercise, great writers stealing and all that – Thanks Joe! – in front of 20 students at Shakespeare and Co. I’m talking writing with writers and doing something I love. In Paris.