I have just spent the last 10 days in California. I type this from the airplane. I post this from a terminal in Phoenix. I’m about to hop on a red eye to Indianapolis. These are the things I cannot get out of my head:
From the garage sale:
- One of the biggest argument my mother and I got into was about whether or not to sell my sister’s bed. My sister did not want it. My mother did not want to let it go.
- The stuffed leopard we spent $20 trying to win at Reno’s Circus Circus? It sat on said bed for about ten years. It now belongs to a very destructive dog and, by now, has probably had its stuffing scattered around some woman’s home.
- In twenty years we had collected an enormous quantity of baseball caps, ranging from Golf tournaments to tourist caps to free caps given out at McDonalds in the mid-80s. At least thirty of these ball caps are now warming other people’s heads.
- My brother’s dog pissed into a box of my old VHS tapes. No one wanted them anyway (the DVDs were another story), but I still felt crushed they wouldn’t find a new home.
From my hometown in general:
Nothing is what it was anymore: the Blockbuster video is now a Wells Fargo bank. The high school painted its orange beams beige. My tennis backhand has no sense of timing. There are no video rental stores left in town.
- El Asadero, our favorite Mexican restaurant, is still El Asadero, and the hamburger painted on the wall still makes us reminisce about strawberry milk shakes and Bub’s burger. And that empty lot turned into an Albertson’s and now that is vacant again.
- In six years my grandmother went from still young and spry to an 89- year-old woman with a failing mind. When looking through some old photographs, she pointed at her ex-husband and asked, “Who’s that?” She, too, wants to know why I’m in Indiana. She asked me this question nearly 100 times.
- The kids are all new, but they look awfully familiar.
What has struck me about this trip in particular is the way the simplicity of ‘before and after’ has lengthened to the ‘before and after and after and after that.’ I find myself looking for people and landmarks that no one but my siblings seems to remember. The last time I drove into town, I got lost.
In 2010, I attended the AWP Conference in Denver. One of my favorite panels was a talk about place. One of the panelists, a writer whose name eludes me, discussed the way her understanding of place revolves around an intersection between one’s landscape and their mind-scape. This includes both the way a place can hold a memory/memories as well as the way our minds can remember and know the history of a place. Today, friends, if you are looking for some inspiration, why not mine your stories from your own encounters with home by playing with the conflicting images of the land that we hold within our minds. Here are three writing exercises to get you going.
#1: the garage sale search
Take a notebook and pen and filter through your garage or the thing that stands in for your garage… a hall closet, an attic, the top shelf of a closet. List the objects you find. Spend no more than fifteen minutes doing this. Then, return to your writing place and let these items appear in a scene or poem. Let yourself take tangents on why a particularly useless item might have value. You may also want to consider the way different people have different takes on the same objects. Maybe one of those people even suggests the other throw the thing away…Or, you may want to consider which of your items you would or would not be willing to sell.
#2: the mental map of your home/hometown
Draw your hometown in as much detail as possible. List the homes and businesses of places you used to go. If the places have changed names or ownership or colors, also list what the places are now. List back as far as possible. Now, use this mental map in a scene or a poem.
#3: the random encounter with a “stranger”
Write a scene or write about a time when you or one of your characters has a chance encounter with someone from your/his/her past. Where does this meeting take place? Who is the stranger? Who were you to this person? Who are you now?