In the Beginning:
To this day, it is one of my larger paychecks, and even without factoring in inflation, on a per-word basis, it far exceeds the advance for my new book. This is just to say, I blame my father for all the disappointment, all the glory that has followed.
“Shize? I should shee! Macool, Macool, orra whyi did ye diie? of a trying thirstay mournfn? Sobs they sighed at Fillagain’s chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation.” — James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake.
Eight years old and flush with commercial success, I move on to the third grade, headstrong and confident, where I am forced to learn grammar and spelling. Sadly, Mrs. Moore fails to realize I’m channeling the great Irish novelist (my name is Finn, after all), and when it comes time for class, I purposefully tune out. Life is hard, but I prevail. I am a paid professional, an artist, an artiste! I don’t need no steekeen rewlz.
I have paid the price ever since.
A Vague Memory:
High school, sitting at the kitchen table, homework and book reports spread out across it, my mother showing how to link one thought to another, how to tie one paragraph to the next.
I Emerge from my Shell:
1985, my sister, Mary, buys me a Eurail Pass to use after my semester abroad in London. My eyes are finally opened. There is a world out there and I am curious. I begin to write it down.
On the Shoulders of Giants:
In 1990, trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, I pass an outdoor table of used books and pick up a copy of The Snow Leopard. I am walking on the top of the world, and it feels like the top of my head has blown off. A year later, browsing in the public library in Kaslo, British Columbia, Canada, I hook a finger over the spine of something called Teaching a Stone to Talk. I’ve never heard of it, but I like the title. By that afternoon my world has changed. A year after that, working at an independent book store, the owner hands me a copy of American Primitive, saying “I think you might like this.” I stand in the center of the store and read the first three poems, whispering to myself, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
Peter, we have never met, but thank you. Annie, the same, I am much indebted. Mary, thank you, and bless you.
There have been many, many others. Too many to name. I am shades of all of them. I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Friends Come to Visit:
For 10 years I live in B.C., by the end of which I am living in a 12’ x 7’ gypsy wagon with no running water or electricity. I must walk through the woods to use a friend’s computer to send submissions by email. Elk, mountain lions, otters, birds and flying squirrels are my neighbors. A mother bear and two cubs break into my cabin, wreck the place, eat my butter and jam. Squirrels store mushrooms in my boots. On a warm afternoon, I come inside from chopping wood and a red-shafted flicker flaps at the window. My journal is a bestiary, and I have an idea for a book.
I move to Missoula, Montana and house-sit for a man who is dating Gretel Ehrlich. She visits and we become friends. I look up into the night sky. I can feel the stars aligning.
That winter, I build a cabin and start a business building others. I call it A Room of One’s Own. I pare down my belongings to next to nothing. I read Walden over and over again. “Simplify, simplify.” My world is shrinking, but I am growing by leaps and bounds. I live in a micro-home and am writing micro-essays. It cannot be coincidental.
Behind every great artist is his or her spouse. At a mutual friend’s house party in Missoula, I meet my future wife. We marry, six months later, on Valentine’s day. I vow, “Until death do us part.”
Spring 2010, I have lunch with the editor of High Desert Journal, Elizabeth Quinn. The previous year she published a pair of my wildlife micro-essays. Over tuna melts at the Pine Tavern in Bend, Oregon, she asks me if I’d like to join the journal, help her out. “You could be the editor,” she says. It is a normal day. A tree grows in the center of the restaurant. I signal the waiter I need something stronger than beer and don’t tell Elizabeth about the third grade.
Two Days Ago:
Two days ago, I have breakfast with Terry Tempest Williams. She tells me what I already know: write what is in your heart.
I go home and begin, as I always do, all over again.
Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal and author of the newly released Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters (OSU Press). His essays and poetry have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals, anthologies, newspapers and consumer magazines, including The Sun, Northern Lights, Wild Earth, Silk Road, Open Spaces, High Country News, Writers on the Range, Big Sky Journal, Montana Quarterly and Montana Magazine. Before joining the High Desert Journal, Finn taught English as a foreign language for three years in Hiroshima, Japan; hid out in the woods of British Columbia, Canada, for ten; spent five years in Montana, much of it living in a 8 x 12 cabin of his own making with no running water or electricity; and wrote. A self-taught woodworker and proponent of “living little,” he began A Room of One’s Own, building “microhomes,” one-room wood cabins constructed entirely out of reclaimed lumber and materials he salvaged from taking down old barns and buildings. Originally from Vermont, he moved from Missoula to Bend, OR in 2008, but has recently relocated to Elizabeth, New Jersey where he lives with his wife, Joyce Mphande, and their two cats, Pushkin and Lutsa.
Finn will read at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, MT May 2 at 7 pm and at Powell’s Books’ Hawthorne store with Kim Stafford and Paulann Peterson May 14 at 7:30 pm. For a full schedule of his events, go here.