Your essay is quite lyrical in its imagery, while densely packed with engaging moments and instances. Can you talk a little about your style, the shape of this piece?
In "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel," I got interested in two formal features. One was narrative. In particular, the piece gradually became driven by the need to answer the questions: What happened to that postcard? What was on it? Why did I throw it away? Thus, the piece, in my subjective experience of writing it, took on, for me, elements of a mystery, the threads of which reached into different strata, so to speak, of memory. The postcard became sort of a focal point for autobiographical and family-historical story lines.
A second feature that became operative was more poetic. I wanted to order the piece in a way that allowed for a lot of nonlinear, almost free associative leaps. Put a different way, I wanted to hold back the forward progress of the narrative as much as possible, while keeping the energy alive, and the language interesting. Concretely, I began to conceive of each paragraph as an entity unto itself, loosely coupled to the paragraphs ahead and behind, yet with all of them rattling in the same general direction, like train cars. This is especially evident in the final section, the concluding paragraph, which I wrote in an effort to create a caboose for the essay. In the old days at least, the caboose was a completely other kind of car attached to the end of a freight train, a little house on wheels for the brakemen to inhabit. I wanted a caboose paragraph like that for this essay, that flew along at the end, with an almost completely different music in its wheels.
Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you?
Some poets I keep near at almost all times, and I suspect that their tone, or approach to the world, is part of my sensibility as a writer. Some writers who I happen to be reading at the time become proximate influences. I happened to be reading The Dharma Bums again while working on this essay, and Kerouac's attention to sentences and sound in his prose was on my mind. At a deeper level I typically harbor the suspicion of being unfit for the style of today (see Kerouac reference, above). Creative nonfiction is a burgeoning genre in American writing, and memoir and personal narratives are ubiquitous. Much of it is gorgeous and crafted to an impeccable standard. Everything is explained, expertly! On the airwaves, such narrative writing shines, scaffolded by musical interludes, and voiceover narration. Which is all great. But I hunger, I am ravenous, for writing that throws itself around. I want to write and to read writing that plays, that deals more loosely with its audience's imagined need for coherence, unity, and clarity of idea, that flirts with disaster, risking something even better in return. I'm interested in—aspire toward—the strains of creative nonfiction that make maximum use of sound, association, leaping, imagery, and feeling more than ratiocination.
Read Ted's essay "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel."