methow grist 2011-2014 archive


Disorganized Organization

If the way I write were to take maniacal form, I am certain it would resemble some contraption out of a Dr. Seuss book. You would look at it and wonder “how in the world would that work?”, and I would say “It works quite well thank you!” If asked, I would probably say I do not choose many of the subjects I write about; they choose me.

Once, while driving up I-5 on the way to Winthrop, the line Pleated Petals Fall came to me. I pulled out some paper and started jotting down what came to mind. After about a half a page I stopped and asked myself, “Are you going to write a poem about swash-buckling pirates?”. By the time we got to Winthrop I had most of the poem written and by the time we drove back home I had completed it. I believe it to be one of my best works.

That's the way it works for me. I call my technique of writing “Disorganized Organization”. A word plot or paragraph will catch my mind. I may start at the end of what I am writing or in the middle; I seldom start at the beginning. I may come up with a collection of paragraphs, all headed toward a coherent plot separated by sentences or just a single word that may end up in the overall writing or may never see the light of day. Then I start a new page and start stacking paragraphs like Legos. Welding them together like a metal smith with sparks of thoughts running through my mind, erasing, then adding or maybe re-adding what I had erased.

The whole process is exhilarating to the very end. When I'm finished I know what Neil Armstrong felt after walking on the moon and then arrived back to earth. You look up and you just want to go back! You want that feeling it gave you back!

That's what writing is for me.

Once I had a great line of a poem and the form I wanted it to take, I would revisit that single line many times over the next 10 years before I would come up with a poem worthy of that single line. I titled it “The Poet”, and it was worth the wait. In fact I have started to write a short play based on that poem. I have experimented with writing three or four poems and stories at the same time, and revisited them every day over a period of time. While not all of them ended up in my vault of collected writings, two of them did. One of them is titled “The Corner of Lost River Road and Moon Mountain Drive”. Lost River being up Mazama, just out of Winthrop, and Moon Mountain Drive being in the city where I currently live. I look back on my note page (inspiration page) of things I have written, and marveled at the fact that many of the notes hardly resembled the end product at all.

All those experiences, black and white movies, old friends, old loves and myself, end up like a trail of bread crumbs across the pages I write. Those I have known will just have to find themselves between the lines of what I have written just as I have found myself in writing it.

I do know when the final pen stroke is made, the final key is tapped, like the loss of one I have loved. I will sorely miss it.

Steve Craig Johnson was born and raised in the Methow Valley. He lives away now, but he clearly loves and misses the valley which holds generations of his family history. His great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Charles McLean (or Baldy McLean to some), was a sheriff of Okanogan County in the early 1900's. Johnson Lake, which sits above the mountain where the Old Wagner-Zellerbach saw mill stood it Twisp, was named after Steven Craig Johnson’s great grand-father on his dad's side, James Johnson.