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My Back Pages

I keep forgetting to mention my unique connection to Powell's — I started my writing career in Portland, back when Powell's was a very nice store but hardly the monument to the written word that it is today. That was also back when Portland was the town that time forgot — a land of bowling alleys and pancake diners and little things made out of wood. What a difference a few thousand years makes! I left in 1982, but I try to go back to Portland at least once a year — my sister and one of my best friends live there, and it's a wonderful place to tool around for a few days, regardless. And these days, going to Powell's is a book person's heart attack-maker. I mean, don't you just want everything? Some years back (I might be wrong, but I think this is true) the biggest bookstore in Cleveland (my hometown), went out of business, and all of its stock was boxed up and shipped out to Powell's. Just like me, I guess — although, for me, being boxed up and shipped from Cleveland to Portland was not a result of going out of business, but rather of going into business. Portland was a great place to start a writing career; big enough to be serious and competitive, but small enough to allow for a rookie to actually do something other than make coffee at the newspaper, and cheap enough to live on a starting writer's salary. I'm not sure if in its new incarnation — bigger, more polished, more cosmopolitan — it's still as good a place to scratch out the start of a writing life, but it's still one of the nicest cities I know, and my guess is it's still a pretty good place to get a foothold.

By the way, I'm still looking for opportunities to procrastinate on my pigeon story, and the fact that my Powells.com-blogging moment is drawing to an end (officially, anyway) fills me with sorrow and dread — sorrow because I'm really enjoying this conversation (all me, all the time) and dread because I will be losing a really good excuse not to be working on my story. Damn! Should I try to floss the dog's teeth for a few hours? Isn't that more urgent than finishing the lead of my story? And writing my next book (a biography of Rin Tin Tin, which is due... ummm... soon...!)

To answer a few of your questions and comments: Yes, I sometimes look at a word so long that it starts looking like it's either spelled wrong or maybe in a foreign language I don't understand. Yes, I think the word weasel ought to be used somehow in a piece of published writing — preferably in a story about weasels, but maybe in a story about personal injury lawyers or Republican lobbyists. No, I don't have any idea of how I stay current with music, since I honestly feel I don't have enough time to take a shower and brush my teeth most of the time, but I love music, and love listening to new, good music, so I just make it a priority. By the way, my first writing job was as a music critic, so I mean it when I say it's something I love. And one of my proudest moments as a writer was traveling with Bon Jovi on tour for two weeks, for a story I was writing for Rolling Stone. I still have at least one pair of panties that were thrown at the stage during one of the band's shows. I used to have the panties hanging from a bulletin board in my New Yorker office, right next to a little paper fan given out as an advertisement for a funeral home that I got when traveling with a gospel group in Mississippi, and a plastic resin bear nose I bought when writing about a taxidermy convention in Illinois. This is what a writer lives for — or at least what this writer lives for, the flotsam and jetsam of ordinary life, and sometimes the extraordinary moments therein.

Okay, time to go. Thanks for listening to me babble — and, hey, wish me luck on flossing the dog's teeth and teaching the baby Chinese and maybe even writing a few lines that someone out there enjoys???xxx

Books mentioned in this post

  1. My Kind of Place: Travel Stories... Used Trade Paper $8.00

Susan Orlean is the author of My Kind of Place : Travel Stories From a Woman Who's Been Everywhere (05 Edition)

2 Responses to "My Back Pages"

    k. December 3rd, 2005 at 1:29 am

    Susan, Portland adores you and it's been a treat to have a little peek into your life this week. Good luck with the Chinese lessons and, of course, the pigeon piece. I can't wait to read it!

    Anna Sibley February 22nd, 2006 at 9:39 am

    The "other", and I understand historically the original, Portland was privileged to host you recently at the Space Gallery on Congress Street. Although I agree with your assessment that Powell's and "your" Portland is one of the nicest cities you know, I feel I can say the same of "my" Portland and hope you enjoyed your visit here in Maine. But then, you seem to be at home anywhere you go. You are a dynamic and entertaining speaker with an authority all your own. You had no trouble filling the space that night!

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