November 12, 1936.
Hailed as an engineering marvel (which it was), the Bay Bridge, like its younger, still-being-built counterpart, The Golden Gate Bridge, did something to link the imaginations and dreams of people to their sense of place and possibility.
On one side of the event there was a distinct celebration of technological prowess, a symbol of the ways a society could pull itself out from the catastrophe of an economic depression through modern science and the application of man-power to shape material reality. Where some parts of the country were currently plunged into battle with the forces of nature revealed in dust storms and drought, here was evidence that thirty years after a destructive earthquake, people could survive and flourish and accomplish great things.
They have builded magnificent bridges where the nation’s highways go;
O’er perilous mountain ridges and where great rivers flow.
Wherever a link was needed between the new and the known
They have left their marks of Progress, in iron and steel and stone.
There was never a land too distant nor ever a way too wide,
But some man’s mind, insistent, reached out to the other side.
They cleared the way, these heroes, for the march of future years.
The march of Civilization-and they were its Pioneers.
Poem by Evelyn Simms, read at the opening
There were touches of the mythic in the perception of what it meant to modify land in such powerful ways, to connect that which nature hadn’t connected, in short, to bridge distances that had once been taken for granted as being unbridgeable. These projects, undertaken for public welfare, inspired confidence in a time of uncertainty and gave rise to the celebratory in spite of the challenges faced by people in their daily lives.
That there was a nod to beauty, not just utility, was an important part of the construction process and the meaning made manifest by these bridges.
It’s this meaning and the ability people have to channel its energy into works of lasting importance, to be able to find forms that suit a place and a time but which have lasting relevance, that is of interest to me and is at the heart of the story I’m writing; not just as a theoretical exercise, but that my characters are coming to terms with this kind of meaning in their own lives, figuring out how they fit into the scheme of things and how their lives are being created out of forces invisible to the eye but archetypally present. My challenge is to turn something “sensed” in what these bridge projects conveyed – both on the human scale and beyond, to what is greater than individuals, greater than the realm of a particular time and place – into a fictional representation. Not exactly a counterpart, I wouldn’t go so far as the hubris that I’m writing the equivalent of the Bay or Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s a companion tribute and a creative endeavor with its own sense of “livingness.”
I’m trying to let the creative work develop its own fullness, let its light shine through. Ultimately, it’s not a novel about bridges or even bridge construction – but at heart it’s about the ways we build bridges to connect what has been kept distant and how the mythic and the creative intertwine.
SF Chronicle article on the SF Bay Bridge 75th anniversary.
Bay Bridge official site.
A new artistic vision for the Bay Bridge.
The idea for GOTS was conceived in 2010, on my second run through How to Think Sideways. The first attempt (called The Bird Story) ended with me realizing that though I loved the premise and though the characters were charming, I was not loving the idea of writing a kids’ chapter book. I enjoyed reading them with my kids, but was finding myself simultaneously bored and hemmed in by the restrictions of a young audience. So lightning struck with GOTS not long after making the decision to drop the project. Some time after I read the Grimm’s fairy tale, The Frog Prince, my Muse-mind said, “I like fairytale retellings, hint, hint,” and I listened. GOTS itself is VERY loosely based on the fairytale; the primary relationship is that the fairytale provided the seed of an idea and I ran in another direction. But my Muse was good with that.
Originally my main character was a young girl – she started out around five or six years old because of what I assumed to be the necessity that she not be too psychologically distant from the fairytale realm. I also located the story in the Central Valley of California. As I was planning, she kept getting older, wavering around ten or eleven. Likewise, I couldn’t get the setting to cooperate fully. After a hiatus where I found myself challenged again by my inability to inculcate good boundaries while my kids were on summer vacation, I revisited the idea and found that I had resistance to the story for some important reasons. I didn’t love the location one bit and my main character was not a young child even though I kept trying to make her so.
I didn’t give up at that point, though – something I might have done with an earlier attempt. Instead I started asking questions and to my surprise and joy answers arrived. “Remember,” said my Muse, “that I really like myths?” I nodded. “Well,” he said, kindly not calling me doofus, “what is your mythic city?” And I realized that one of the locations I’d love to write into a story is San Francisco.
This is important because place-ness and landscape intersect boldly with meaning making in my perception of the world and so story setting is one of the things I can’t ignore or gloss over. It remains to be seen if I can create dialogue and scenes with great conflict with the enthusiasm I hold for landscape symbolism. San Francisco, it turns out, is even the city I dream in.
Simply switching out Stockton for San Francisco, a five/six/ten year old for a sixteen/seventeen year old, and contemporary times for the 1930s has me reinvigorated about GOTS and has my Muse willing to talk to me.
If I can maintain that, I’m happy.