City of Destiny Featuring Eric Lipschitz, part 1

I continued with Monday’s exercise (“Fiction Building Blocks”): parts one and two had to do with conflict and setting. This part has to do with the texture of the main character’s day-to-day life, “a palpable, clearly definable present which exists in relation to a past and a (presumed) future,” writes Dan Chaon. So I ended up with two pages of notes about Eric Lipschitz, glassblower of Tacoma.

A story started to emerge, pulling from the sections I wrote on Monday and these new notes I was writing. Some themes started to emerge. A structure presented itself. Before I even looked at the next section’s instructions, I went ahead and wrote the following. I picture the story being couched in a diary (I’ve been reading Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, of which the first and third thirds are written as such, with great impact). I may need to go back through during the rewrite and incorporate details from the previous sections into this format. We’ll see…

Work was fine. Not quite tourist season yet, so things are a bit slow at the studio. Sold four of Holly’s stars though. I’m teaching a class on Tuesday. Letting Holly sit in again. Don’t know why she bothers — she’s already good enough to work on her own in the studio. I keep telling her I can give her studio time, or she can work with me. She keeps pretending like it’s no big deal though, like she’s just passing the time here. I swear I could kill her for that.

I’m ready to start forming the giant clam. I’ve got my sketches all worked out, and I know how I’m going to pull this off. The hinge is still giving me trouble, but I can work on that while the first shell is annealing. I’m feeling good about the whole thing: this is by far the biggest project I’ve undertaken, and I think it’s really good. Really good.

It was a month ago to the day, I remember, we met at the Swiss for lunch: me, Chris (Mayfield; he’s the one who co-owns the shop with me), Galen and Bethany (Galen works in the shop, Bethany emcees at the Museum of Glass). We sat there at the bar, eating our sandwiches: the Todays, the Yesterdays, the Fortnight. Dunno who comes up with those names, but they’re mighty tasty. Above our heads, on top of the back bar, we paused to consider Chihuly’s Venetians.

Okay, some background info, dear diary: The Swiss Pub is a Tacoma institution. It was Swiss social hall at some point, I think. A meeting place for the Swiss dairy farmers back in the day. It’s a cool restaurant, pub and nightclub now, all covered in local art and photos. I guess Chihuly used to frequent the place, so he donated like half a dozen of his Venetians—these big, tall, colorful vases, essentially, with cobalt blue noodly curlicues spilling down their sides and leaves and deranged spouts. There they are, precariously balanced on the top of this grimy bar, a few cheap spotlights on them but otherwise hard to notice among all the other paintings and photos and band posters.

Anyway, a month ago we were all there and Galen or me was saying how easy they looked, the Venetians. Real simple design, when it comes down to it. And once you can do the leaves and curlicues, it all comes together pretty easy. Not a difficult piece, as these things go. At least, not in retrospect. Maybe it seems simple to us now though, I argued. Maybe back then, in the seventies or whenever, it was groundbreaking. That’s why Chihuly is Chihuly. It doesn’t matter what so much as when: you just have to be the first.

Galen said something like “I could totally do that.” Meaning, pull off some new, original piece. Bethany and Chris and me started joking about Galen the Great. We were all pretending it was the future and that it was here, at this very place, at this very moment, that Galen the Great had his breakthrough. We bowed to him. Bethany said, “that’s all it takes, gentlemen. One Venetian to launch your ass right out of here.” But to where, Chris argued. “Why would you want to leave? This is the place the famous artists all go. We’re already there.” And we all laughed and said we’d made it and well, that was easy.

“Seriously though,” Galen said, “how hard would it be to do something like that and make a fortune?” Like, how hard could it be to do something that impresses the shit out of people and get you a ticket out of Tacoma?

“It’s not impressing tourists that counts,” I cracked. “Real art’s gotta be new, dude.” I had gotten on a soapbox, and knew Chris and Bethany were rolling their eyes and ready to leave, so I just sighed and decided to finish making my point. Real art’s got to be new, but it’s also got to have something off about it. Something unnatural that somehow feels natural. “But what the fuck do I know,” I said.

Anyway, it got me thinking. That night is when I decided to start working on the giant clam. I dunno, it felt new to me. Or at least I knew I could make it seem new. Without committing to anything publicly, I decided this could be my ticket out. I’d do it. Quietly, with minimal help from others. Then I’d do the big reveal, and this would be my own “aha” moment: kidding aside, this would be the moment that launched my career, and get my ass out of Tacoma.

Who knows where to. Who really cares? I’ve been here all my life. Would I take Libby with me? Sure, absolutely, if she wanted to come with me. Hell, she can do civil litigation just about anywhere, in any big city. And if I don’t know where I’m headed exactly, at least I know it’s a big city. Fuck Tacoma. City of Destiny my ass.

If Chris decides to finally go ahead and sell me the other half of the studio, I’ll just point at the giant clam tell him, “too little, too late…Sucka!”