Art, at its best, is a kind of uncontrolled yet disciplined Yelp, made by one of us who, because of the brain he was born with and the experiences he has had and the training he has received, is able to emit a Yelp that contains all of the joys, miseries, and contradictions of life as it is actually lived. That Yelp, which is not a logical sound, does good for all of us.
-George Saunders, “The United States of Huck”
Done with my final papers, done with the last draft of my novel, done with funding applications and travel plans – done with, it seemed, life, at least until I was to touch the tarmac at the Buffalo Niagara Airport – I sat propped up in my bed Saturday night, swilling the last of a £10 bottle of juniper, and letting Henry Adams lull me into an uneasy sleep with his musings on American life at the close of the nineteenth century. There was nothing profound in the realization that I had to brave the cold, throw myself back out into the city and squeeze what I could from it in my last five days here – or else grow quietly mad (and fat) in my flat. One Edinburgh “attraction” stood out on my list of yet-to-dos: the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
I made my debut in the mile high (writers) club this month, with a “Dispatch” in the airline mag Hemispheres. “Dispatches” is a travel section, a collection of brief wacky vignettes from around the world. I first made contact with the editor, Chris Wright, pitching a completely different project, a longer “Three Perfect Days” piece on St. Annaberg, Poland. During our scattered but always interesting correspondence over the month of August, which took place on Polish hilltops, in autobahn fast food parking lots, in Dortmunder wintergardens, and in Krakow liquor-and-coffee shops where I could get wifi, Chris Wright and I discussed saints and relics, KFC, Ireland, and theatre companies while circling the idea of a different piece. The breakthrough came during my monthlong stay with the wonderful Spruch family in Dortmund, when I caught word of the Dortmund Opernhaus’ annual costume auction.
The result: “Dress Cents,” my first “Dispatch” for Hemispheres. If you’re flying United Airlines this holiday season, look for the December issue in your seatback. If not, you can read the article here or check out the e-magazine, where you can get an even better look at the accompanying illustration from Luci Gutiérrez.