We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
McPhee is near the top of my favorite non-fiction author list, so it's a treat to see him explain how he does it. One quote:
Showing in class the structural diagrams of “Travels in Georgia,” I used to recite, more or less, “It’s the story of a journey, and hence it represents a form of chronological structure, following that journey as it was made through space and time. There are structural alternatives, but for the story of a journey they can be unpromising and confusing when compared with a structure that is chronologically controlled.” Et cetera. Et cetera, in an annual mantra about what I thought to be axiomatic: journeys demand chronological structures. That was before 2002, when I went from a truck stop in Georgia to a product delivery elsewhere in Georgia to an interior wash in South Carolina to a hazmat manufacturer in North Carolina and on across the country to the state of Washington in a sixty-five-foot chemical tanker owned and driven by a guy named Don Ainsworth.
Think about it. Think how it appeared to the writer when it was still a mass of notes. The story goes from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States. Has any other writer ever done that? Has any other writer ever not done that? Even I had done something like it in discussing North American geology in “Annals of the Former World.” You don’t need to remember much past Meriwether Lewis, George R. Stewart, John Steinbeck, Bernard DeVoto, Wallace Stegner, and William Least Heat-Moon in order to discern a beaten path. If you are starting a westbound piece in, say, Savannah, can you get past Biloxi without caffeinating the prose? If Baltimore—who is going to care if you get through Cumberland Gap? New York? The Hackensack River. If you start in Boston, turn around. In a structural sense, I turned around—once again reversing a prejudice. In telling this story, the chronology of the trip would not only be awkward but would also be a liability.
Ainsworth and I started in Bankhead, Georgia, where I joined him, and, as it happened, met him, after five years of correspondence. He had read my “Looking for a Ship,” and had written to me saying that if I was going to go out on the ocean with people like that I should go out on the road with people like him...