No book signing planned
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
Admittedly, the question caught me off guard. And I have been turning it over in my head for weeks now. It started at an intermission, when a man I have known for years, but not well, came walking toward me with the playbill in his hand.
He said, “What you wrote in here is very personal to this show and this dance company. I didn’t expect that. Your writing.”
The next intermission his wife came over and said something like, “I didn’t know you wrote like that. Are you a writer?”
I mumbled that I wrote a column in the paper most weeks and she nodded. She said, “Are you a writer? Have you written a book? Maybe you should write a book?”
It is the question we who write, in any fashion, get from time to time. Real writers are published in a form that lives on a shelf or least with a “scanable” number on Amazon.
I have been writing all my life: Poems when I was younger, because poems seem so much more important to the young and later to the old. That tough (done right) form of storytelling in very few words can evoke many moods or places or issues. Poems are the basis of all good music lyrics. Mine were mostly about nature when I was a pre-teen. Then I stopped writing because, oh, I don’t know. In my teenage years, they were about boys and proms, and toward the end, about the Vietnam War and the summer of love and so many things that others were writing so so much about — I just absorbed it.
I married young, at 19. It was a dark place and I started writing again. Journals I hid. They were filled with such sadness. I burned them years later. When I ran away to Park City to restart my life, I worked in a ski shop at first and I wrote a silly column, Strike a Vein, under an assumed name (Jamie Olsen) about the coming and goings in town.
A few years later, a reporter who left television and came back to print at our paper, decided without my permission, to reveal my real name in print one day. And it turned out my cover had been the worst kept secret in a small town. I started writing with my own name and maybe with a bit more gravitas.
And in 1979 when I moved here, I also started writing for newspapers and magazines in this state and others. Never fiction, always fact, sometimes first person, unless I was covering murder trials or drug investigations. Or inquiries about the sausage-making machine of local government. Some stories went on for months and required so much homework they became my life, day and night.
I would meet with undercover FBI agents in the drug busting days of the ‘80s and early ‘90s and with drug dealers. I would meet in jail with accused men who were part of the web of drugs and money and murder that defined all ski resorts in those years. I was on the visitor list at the prison for a man who murdered his wife in front of the grocery store here during ski season. And during that same period, I wrote sermons and filled in at a church here when the minster went on vacation.
There were so many stories to write.
And then, just like that, I needed to leave it all. The burden of those stories — investigating them, hearing them, writing about them — was just too much and I needed to find a lighter, brighter place out of there. So I quit as editor of this paper and started doing freelance work with marketing and PR and helped raise money for some charities.
I walked away from both a book deal and movie deal for a story about domestic violence that ended in a murder. All the while I kept writing my column. By now, the name had changed to Sunday in the Park, which really was meant to be a play on words about the Sondheim musical that was based on the painting by George Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
It was all rather complex and multi-layered, a bit pretentious and just obtuse enough. Most folks now just think the title is about Park City…And that’s okay, too.
Over the years, people would ask if I planned on writing a book and it bunched me up. A history of Park City, but only in the ‘80s and 90s until now, would certainly be entertaining and also the fodder for endless lawsuits. Making it a work of fiction doesn’t really fix that. Writing about my current job with entertainers for the past 20 years would be great fun and there are spectacular, behind the stage stories but, well, see the lawsuit issue above.
I was lamenting this lack of a body of work to a friend a few months ago and he laughed and said “ what is it you tell people you first meet and they ask what you do?”
And I smiled. I say, “I am a writer.” Because whether I was paid for it or not, I have written all my life. All the other jobs and lives have been fit in and around the writing.
So to make me feel better, my friend said, “In the number of words you have written —that have been published — there is the equivalent of several books. So would you just get over that written-a-book-thing?”
And I try. It does seem like real writers have written real books, but maybe it is enough to have told stories in this small space for 38 years this week. Small stories mostly about a small town and the very real characters in it. And about the need for reflection some Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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In Teri Orr’s decades of traveling to Boulder, Utah, she does “what comes naturally — I listen to the conversations about what matters most to the folks who live there.”