The Touring Machine

Personal Digital Assistance on the Business Trip to Enlightenment

Copyright 1998 by Wil McCarthy, all rights reserved.



Any resemblance between the foregoing account and any actual persons, living or dead, can be explained by the fact that it's all true. I suppose I've modified little details here and there to make the story flow better, and of course I've left almost everything out: the way my usually cast-iron stomach went sour a week before the trip, and gave me serious trouble off and on throughout. The temporary tattoos I had printed, 2000 of them, which I was giving away like business cards. (I just wanted something different and attention getting; everyone is doing cards and badges and bookmarks these days). The way my driver's tan got deeper and deeper, until the skin of my left arm started flaking off in giant sheets. The way "you know it's blackberry time when the birds start crapping purple." But then, that's what writers do. Not crapping purple, I mean, but smoothing over reality. That's our job -- to selectively oversimplify until the real world fits the ideas we're trying to convey. Dishonest? Maybe a little. But if you don't like it, hey, it's still a free country, and anyway I'm nearly finished.

My return to Colorado was marked by illnesses and accidents, family troubles and snow, and of course my thirtieth birthday, barely noticed in the shuffle.

Was the trip a success? The question reveals itself to be a naive one. I sure didn't sign enough books to earn enough royalties to pay for the whole trip, and I didn't make the top ten Locus Bestseller list as per my evil plan, either. But MURDER IN THE SOLID STATE did make the "runner-up" slot at number eleven, which earned me another brief mention in the magazine. More importantly, I left a string of contacts all across the country, people who will remember my name and work, and perhaps share them with others. And most importantly of all, I settled my own conscience. There's a nagging feeling you can get sometimes, when things haven't worked out well but you know you didn't do your best, and you just can't help wondering what would have happened if only you had. Well, I did my best. Given the time and money and knowledge I had to work with, I made the very best efforts on my own behalf. Whatever happens, I won't have that awful doubt to live with.

In that sense, I think I really have become a better person, a person more capable of facing the future with equanimity. Which is good, because the tummy trouble turned out to be a stomach valve defect called a hiatal hernia, which eventually required surgery and a lifetime regimen of medication to treat. And a few months after my return, Cathy found out she was pregnant in spite of precautions, which put all our plans into disarray, because if taking care of your children is not your top priority, there is definitely something very wrong with your life.

Is my writing career taking off like a rocket? Well, maybe more like a leaky blimp. But I am working part-time at Lockheed Martin now, and the books are still getting written and the bills are still getting paid, and whether or not the trip helped matters along, when I look back now at the summer of 1996 it's as the end of a long era, the final chapter of my struggles as a young man and a beginning writer. Whatever happens from here on out, I'll face as a veteran, a parent, a man who's been chased to his car by coyotes and lived to tell the tale.

I'd say more, but I must have some new and wonderful adventure ahead of me -- my Brain just started beeping again. See ya.


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