In my twentieth year I packed a large cardboard box with belongings and headed east by train to begin my artistic life in Massachusetts, 3,000 miles from California, where I'd been born and raised. I wanted to live near Walden Pond and commune daily, in nearby Concord, with the wise ghosts of Thoreau and Emerson. The closest I could get was the city of Lowell, birthplace of the American industrial revolution—a ramshackle town cluttered with eerie decommissioned factories and mills. But from Lowell I could get to Concord by train as often as I liked.
I set up my new life in a 300 square-foot studio apartment fourteen miles from Walden Pond as the crow flies. My sole furnishings were an inflatable mattress, a plastic patio chair, a small lamp, a pile of books, and a radio/cassette player. In the cardboard box, I had packed the essential kitchen wares: a can opener, a spatula, two plates, two cups, two forks, two knives, two spoons, and a frying pan. More importantly, I had packed a word processor and a ream of paper.
I was determined to begin my writerly life in the spirit of Thoreau's proclamation in Walden: “Give me that poverty that knows true wealth.”<