The writing below is but a tiny sliver of the pie I’m tentatively titling Dungeness: subtitle subtitle subtitle. Yes, the last three words will be replaced with something pithy, tantalizing and marketable (winter on a crab fishing boat, women, love, etc.). I’m still too stuck in creative-mind to go into sales-mind with this project. But I love the way the word “Dungeness” rolls off the tongue and it’s as good a way as any, I think, to sum up the project.
In case you’re scratching your head, the project is a book-length memoir. And, as I have explained a few dozen times to various folks at this point, yes, I am old enough to write a memoir (Just turned 32! Not like there’s an age limit!).
Last night I had the pleasure of watching Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix. Don’t skip this one! It’s comedy and brilliant social commentary all rolled up into one electrifying performance. As it did for me, however watching this special may have the side-effect of “breaking” stand-up comedy for you. Gadsby carefully and brilliantly deconstructs the tension that makes the stand-up format work, and embraces the fullness of her life story that doesn’t end in a punchline.
Her vulnerability floored me, but it also made me fall in love with the genre of memoir all over again. Like David Sedaris’ books of essays, memoir can be side-splittingly funny. But something happens when you tell the whole story as well as he does, as well as Gadsby does. They go beyond the punchline. They see situations in their raw, hilarious, painful entirety, and they help you see it all, too.
In writing this book, I have made myself so angry I had to take a brisk walk around the horse pasture before I could re-enter my writing shed. I have brought myself crumbling to the floor in tears. I’ve made myself seasick — really, actually, nauseous. And I’ve made myself chuckle a few times.
As Hannah Gadsby says, humor really does make the thought-medicine go down, and it’s something I strive to convey in my writing. But it’s not everything, because not everything is funny. My hope is that readers of this book will not only endure with me the painful realities of being a woman in a misogynistic culture but also the struggle of coming of age in a time of uncontrollable vomiting and the thrill of falling in love. Enjoy this little sliver.
As we rattle down the harbor drive, the cold metal of the truck bed reaching me through my neoprene sheathe, I watch the sun peeking over the Coast Range to the east. Mist scoots playfully across Newport Bay, and the sleepy row of shops — more goddamn shops — along the road is just beginning to stir.
We drive up to one of the warehouses behind the shops on the bay side. A faded plywood sign above the door reads “Fish Buyer”, but other than that, the corrugated metal sides of the building give no clues about what goes on inside. Dave rings a doorbell near the entry.
Slowly, the rolling garage door to our left begins to slide open, and a man drives out on a forklift. He’s also wearing orange gear, though it’s worn and faded by the salt and sun. Still, the fact that he’s wearing it too makes me feel less silly and overdressed. Dave is still in his denim overalls.
“This your crew?” asks the man on the forklift, his goatee tightening but otherwise giving no hint of expression as he addresses Dave. The question says it all. At this point, I should be used to it, but I’m not. I’ll never get used to it.
“Yep,” says Dave, cracking a hint of a smile for the first time that day. But just a hint.
“What do you think, gals?” Dave calls out to me and Hannah, since we’ve already taken a position standing two feet behind him and off to the side. “Two sardines, two squid?”
I think it’s going to take a lot more than that to bait the hundreds of crab pots Dave says he has waiting offshore, but I don’t say it. It’s obviously a question that we’re meant to answer affirmatively, to keep up the charade that we know what we’re doing. There’s an awkward pause. Obviously, Hannah isn’t interested in playing.
“Sure,” I say. Dave nods at the man on the forklift. He descends off his solid-steel ride and walks back into the dark of the warehouse. We follow him into a walk-in freezer, a room that could easily swallow the boat itself. The walls are lined with 25-pound boxes, labeled with the variety of frozen sea life packed inside. Sardine, squid, octopus, shrimp, and so on.
“Aha,” I think. He was talking in numbers of boxes.
We select two of sardine, and two of squid, and carry them one at a time to the truck. Shedding particles of ice, they slide in easily. I slam the tailgate closed, then climb in over it. As we drive away, I watch the brightening sky, instead of the man with the goatee who is staring out after us. Let him stare, I think. I can do this job.
Maybe this would be a good time for a writing update. I’ve completed the first draft of my book and am now in the editing phase. It’s taking a while. My aim is to have a completed manuscript by August, but don’t hold your breath. (I can do this job… eventually.)