Our Reading Lives

I Flew South To Read By The Sea

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

Your Native Land Your Life Adrienne Rich coverStill high on my January reading vacation, the creative productivity ushered me through another busy season. In a few months, this word girl clocked another five days of overtime in a number-crunching office. Work settled in May. Coincidentally, my partner scheduled a work trip to L.A. He only had to say the magic word—“ocean”—and I splurged for a ticket. For $153.96, I could hermit in his hotel room with my manuscript, editing pen, notebook, and three titles (Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and Your Native Land, Your Life by Adrienne Rich).

Sometimes being a writer outside academia feels alienating. From 9 to 5, I am cubicle-Connie, which limits my free time to early mornings, nights, and weekends. Those moments aren’t my preferred, peak creative times, but I persist with consistent progress: three pages every weekday morning in addition to sporadic lunch-hour sessions, after-dinner minutes, and marathon-chunks on Saturdays. With the obstacle of time, I refuse to spend it applying to writing residencies, but one thing I never sacrifice is reading. Often, I crawl into bed early to turn as many pages as I can before dreams take over. So far this year, I’ve finished 34 books. I believe that’s currently my all-time high.

A former freelancer, I know the pains of no vacation well. For almost five years, I scrimped for an unpaid week here and there: always for and with family and friends. Suddenly with benefits, I promised myself I would spend a chunk of vacation on myself. Even though my love and I shared two Saturdays, one Sunday, and dinners Monday through Thursday near the Pacific, this was mostly for me. A reprieve from my typical slow and steady work. (Again, I am ever-thankful for my privilege of health, a supportive and childless partnership, and benefits.)

On my second reading vacation, I read 429 pages, edited 80 manuscript pages, wrote 13 pages longhand, and ran 15.05 miles. This trip wasn’t as productive as the first for my manuscript. Maybe because a different kind of editing busied me. In Salt Lake City, I read the manuscript aloud, only stopping to fix things that troubled my ear so much I couldn’t move past them. In Redondo Beach, I read slowly, editing lines, bending them, rearranging them, waiting for better words, meditating on images, researching wind patterns and sea things.

An American Marriage Tayari Jones coverEven though I’m a word girl, I obviously cling to numbers. Compared with my previous reading vacation, I read 174 more pages, edited 176 fewer manuscript pages, wrote four more pages longhand, and ran almost three more miles. Instead of submitting to lit mags at night, I entered edits electronically. Two things affected my numbers. The hotel room didn’t have a fridge, so I ventured outside for a humongous meal: sometimes breakfast, sometimes brunch. Usually the American breakfast with ham, scrambled eggs, buttered toast, hash browns, and sautéed spinach while I read An American Marriage, tickled by matching my meal and book. If I were a regular hotel room writer like Dr. Maya Angelou, who requested everything be removed from the walls, I would request a fridge to help me stay inside. My second distraction: I opened An American Marriage. I read it in two days, crying on the balcony, feeling like my heart had been scooped out of my chest, tweeting amazing lines into the night. Because I cared so much for Celestial, Roy, and Andre, I took the novel to the treadmill, clocking more miles. Inspired, I wrote more.

The Portofino's Living Room Bar Area in Redondo Beach

I don’t regret indulging in the bestseller for a millisecond. I ignore a lot of writing advice, but one wisdom I cling to is, as Carmen Maria Machado urges all writers, “Read. Read read read read read. You cannot enter into the literary conversation unless you know what the conversation is.” And I took that blue and gold hardcover with the tree and sparkling sentences to the lounge with its blues and green plants and glinting chandeliers. The big windows always thrown open, inviting in the sound of sea lions barking, sailboats sailing, birds chirping, splash, splash.

Pages Bookstore in Manhattan Beach

Her Body and Other Parties Carmen Maria Machado coverOther than reorienting myself with wide-open days and the comforting sound of waves, I needed the restoration of roaming. Walking toward our hotel, we found a bookstore, where I bought Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, my Pages souvenir, and a noodle shop, where I ate rice-noodle ramen in candlelight. Magically, the two things I seek every time I visit new and old places.

On the precipice of another busy season, it’s a little bittersweet writing this. I think of Rich’s words from “Sources” in Your Native Land, Your Life:

I refuse to become a seeker for cures. / Everything that has ever / helped me has come through what already / lay stored in me.

Knowing this, I will return to the page, mine and others, morning after morning, night after night, and weekend after weekend for as long as I must.