This morning I pulled out my old plastic bin of journals from our shed in the backyard. I’m beginning the daunting task of sorting them with the intention to write about the epic trip we took across the country in the summer of 1988. That trip. It almost needs no other title. It was the trip from hell but for me as a very young and naive sixteen-year-old with no expectations and only a sense of adventure, I don’t look at that trip with bad memories at all. It was an adventure of a lifetime. It was a coming-of-age story. I took it all in with wide open fearful eyes and it formed me to be who I am today.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to ever really truly capture what it was for me. Unfortunately, my memories of the important details are hazy and only the spikes of drama really come into clear crisp view and those stories I can’t always tell because I need to protect my loved ones who are involved. I can’t share their stories for them and I probably don’t even remember them properly if I could. I just remember what I remember. My memory is not like a movie. It’s like a collection of pictures and feelings and glimpses. It’s a mess.
Later in my twenties I interviewed a poet once when I was working as a student writer for the Alumni Association Newsletter at Cal State Hayward. Quick tangent: What a funny job that was. It was work/study but I think it was pretty much a charity job—meaning I was desperately poor and the school figured out a way to help me. Anyway, I hated interviewing people (I was a painfully shy introvert) and I was the worst when I had no deadline. I’d sit at my old clunker of a computer (green letters on a black screen, typing in word perfect) and bang out an article maybe once a month. They pretty much paid me to sit on my butt, answer phones and occasionally file things.
Anyway I interviewed a retired professor who had published a book of poems. That’s mostly what I did, I wrote feature puff pieces on interesting alumni. He was from the Philippines and I remember he had a thick accent. He said to me, “When you write, you don’t have to start at the beginning and go to the end in order. Think of writing as if you were hanging up pieces of scenery on a clothes line. You describe something you remember and hang it up. Then move onto the next memory and hang that one up. Then when you have a bunch of memories you can move those pieces of paper around until it makes a story.”
What great advice that was. So that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to hang up pieces of this trip and not worry too much about the order they are in. I’ll sort that later. The important thing is writing.