In college, a professor introduced me to a long eighteenth-century poem by James Thomson called The Seasons. Tremendously influential in its time, it is a lyrical and expansive description of the countryside. There is an entire language here that attends to and celebrates the natural world, and reading it, the salient feature is how rare that is. This is a loss, because it’s probably good for a person, to feel for wild places and to see them clearly. We treat this appreciation as something that comes naturally, but like anything else, you’ve got to learn it.
For much of the time I was writing My Absolute Darling, I lived on the fourth floor of a falling-down apartment building in downtown Salt Lake City. In the summer, with the heat rising from the apartments below us, it could get to be 106 degrees. We had no air-conditioning, and I’d work hunched on the floor, dripping sweat, slamming redbull, and loving the work. In the winter, if I left a glass on the windowsill, it would ice over. The radiators hissed and steamed and sometimes fountained water like you were in a submarine that had just been hit. I wrote whenever I could. I had no regular hours, no desk, no place save the living room floor, no meditative rituals, no artist’s lifestyle, no coffeehouses I frequented, nothing except the work itself. I wrote whenever I wasn’t in the backcountry and wasn’t at the restaurant. I tried to keep my hours at the restaurant down to thirty a week, and I tried to write for thirty or forty more, which meant getting up and getting straight to the keyboard and working hard throughout the day if I was to have any chance of getting out climbing that night.