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Fleeing a failed marriage and haunted by ghosts of his past, Luis Alberto Urrea jumped into his car several years ago and headed west. Driving cross-country with a cat named Rest Stop, Urrea wandered the West from one year’s Spring through the next. Hiking into aspen forests where leaves “shiver and tinkle like bells” and poking alongside creeks in the Rockies, he sought solace and wisdom. In the forested mountains he learned not only the names of trees—he learned how to live. As nature opened Urrea’s eyes, writing opened his heart. In journal entries that sparkle with discovery, Urrea ruminates on music, poetry, and the landscape. With wonder and spontaneity, he relates tales of marmots, geese, bears, and fellow travelers. He makes readers feel mountain air “so crisp you feel you could crunch it in your mouth” and reminds us all to experience the magic and healing of small gestures, ordinary people, and common creatures. Urrea has been heralded as one of the most talented writers of his generation. In poems, novels, and nonfiction, he has explored issues of family, race, language, and poverty with candor, compassion, and often astonishing power. Wandering Time offers his most intimate work to date, a luminous account of his own search for healing and redemption.
About Wandering Time
Good luck finding this. No, I mean it: good luck! For this little quiet underground volume is my favorite of all my books. People ask me all the time, and I tell them it’s this shy one. This one that looks like some kind of haiku book published in Arizona. This obscure one right here.
Let me tell you why.
I had done a whole bunch of books; I had done a really tall pile of reporting; I had done many many many poems. I had loved and lost—way too much. I had systematically become more and more alienated from family, what was left of it. From friends, from hope. I had been driven from the haunted Tucson digs into a burning hot 400 foot adobe on Vine St. In Search of Snow had…what’s the word? Let me see. Oh, yes! It had BOMBED. Big-time. Cratered. Bounced me right out of HarperCollins, thank you very much. I used up my By the Lake advance to but the entire press run. I still don’t quite know why—I just didn’t want it remaindered. Book dealers were alleging they were going to buy the boxes from me.
So I ended up in this sad white house with no furniture. My furniture was made out of the boxes of my failed book. Can you imagine a more “literary” scenario? My bed was a futon placed on boxes of my book. I slept on my own failure. And I went down to the bricks—I went down all the way till I couldn’t afford to eat. Classic writer’s tale, but kind of sad for a guy with four books published.
I’d scrape up my change and enjoy one daily 99 cent Whopper. And I had a box of Minute Rice. Fortunately, it was a big box. And I had a bottle of Tabasco Sauce. So on non-Whopper days, I ate a bowl of rice. I do not recommend the Urrea I Suck Diet.
I had a cat I rescued from a rest area in Utah named Rest Stop. It pained me to buy her cat food—but it was down to looking like Rest Stop would eat and I wouldn’t. Fortunately, some writer pals like Brian Andrew Laird invited me out to coffee on many days. That gently became “Hey I feel like a sandwich!” I was like Wimpy—I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Gila Monster meatloaf sandwich today.
Yeah, it’s funny now.
Things happened, and I went down deeper than I thought I could. Don’t need to recount the horrors of June, 1996.
Two things happened. 1) U of A’s Caminos del Sol series asked me for a book—they thought it would be helpful to the Latino/Chican@ community to have me on their roster. They didn’t know I was living on handouts and rice! I said I wanted to finish the Tijuana trilogy, and that’s how Nobody’s Son happened. As part of the deal, I argued for Wandering Time. U of A was gracious and agreed, even to my bizarre stipulations. They didn’t know that I was now convinced that it was all over. Career, hope, life. I wasn’t at all sure I would be alive much longer. (Do you know that song by The Mission UK where they say, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me”?) I wanted the book to be pretty, and I wanted it to be cheap, and I wanted it to be utterly without hype. No big promo, no push—I wanted it to be found by accident. Great career move, right?
Sometimes, dear friends, you have to make a soul move.
This is the other thing that happened. 2) I met Cinderella. She was a reporter in the local paper. And she saw me dying. She knew it—she was a mom. Moms know a sick boy on sight. She would stop by my place on her way to work in the mornings and bring me a bag of bagels and a large coffee. She was probably checking to see if I still had a pulse. Cinderella was keeping me alive.
I wanted to make her a little book of all the things I could find in my scattered notebooks that I loved. Before I died. It was my farewell letter to the world.
But guess what…I lived.
People write to me about this odd little book all the time, and it means the world to me. Hikers, beats, hippies, grieving widows, kids, heart-broken lovers, eco-terrorists, poets. I especially love the couple who read from it to each other at bed-time. As Kate Bush says: Mmmmm, yes.
So good luck finding it.