During my winter/spring in Grand Junction, I planned to resume work on a novel set in Minnesota, but my time at the Day Center, plus immersion in the views and the culture of the valley, drew my imagination back to Colorado.
For awhile, I thought I'd do some non-fiction about homelessness in my home town, expanding on the experiences and people featured there and drawing in more about the local politics and other agencies dealing with homelessness. There's change occuring, some good and some that will be painful.
After a few interviews and other research, I decided I didn't have the passion for a factual approach. I didn't yet have hold of the narrative thread or personal connection that would pull it all together – something like Steve Lopez found in the story of Nathaniel Ayers.
Instead, I decided to start a novel that wove lives of some homeless people into a larger story, one left incomplete in my prior novel, which is making the rounds with a couple publishers. Ironically, I cut out a minor, homeless character from that book who will move to the fore in this story.
The decision came late in my stay and was complicated by my accident. I was unable to complete the in-depth interviews I'd planned to help me fill in some of the details about life in the rough that I couldn't get to through observation and Day Center conversations.
Just a few days before we were to leave, I made it down to the Day Center to say goodbye and perhaps interview one or two of the guys I'd befriended.
I got something so much better. Or so I hope.
Carl shares a few characteristics of my character and seemed like he'd be open to sharing more of his life, so I put him at the top of my list to interview.
I explained what I was doing, and he responded with interest and a sense of gratitude. The trouble was, he said, if we go somewhere now and you ask me a bunch of questions, it won't work. My answers won't be very good and there are things I won't think of.
Okay, I said, maybe I could write to you when I have a certain thing I want to know about. Do you get your mail here?
No, I don't get any mail, he said. I don't hear from family. I have a brother here in town, but he's not interested either, for whatever reason.
We stood, lost for a moment, on the street corner by the bike rack with the business loop traffic whizzing by.
I have an idea, he said. What if I kept a log every day and wrote down what I was doing and thinking? The highs, the lows, whatever was going on that day. I've been drifting, losing my focus. This would be a project that would help me get back on track.
That would be an amazing gift, I said. It's so much more than I could ask for.
The next day I bought a cheap composition book and left it for him at the Day Center with another note of thanks. Carl and I won't see each other for six months, but he'll hear from a friend if he ever checks his mail.