On the drive to Chicago by myself, I encountered something I wanted to write down, but never did. The only image I can extract is that of a puddle on the side of the road that reminded me of a glacial cut or geode. It was right at that y-shape corner leading to an exit’s landing. Something sliced, shaped like deli meat, from the earth, a shimmering mirror around the matte road.
Getting into the city, I had to pee so bad, and I was surrounded by the Lake, laughing, thinking about how all musicians from that city always have to write a lyric about the Lake. I guess when you look around your landscape, your mind takes a picture of what you see in the background, the mirror. It’s like a curtain of life’s room that always appears.
I reach for it, too: the fuzzy puppet stage of trash, streetlights, houses, and old objects for sale. I’m trying to remember more of what was on the side of the road, the backdrop to focus on while listening to the phone. What you write about, unconsciously, is what you want to see yourself through.
Streaks of blood where a deer was struck, dragged out. The snow dusts in random flakes, melts as soon as my vision hits. I remember driving home on the highway another time, and watching, in horror, as flecks of light lifted from the back of my car through my rear view mirror. It was just rubble flying, iridescent in the sun on a morning. Looked like fire, though. I was not going to explode, maybe.
Prewriting – Exploring your Creative Non-Fiction Story.
Select one event or moment to write about for your creative non-fiction piece.
Helping my grandma clear out her condo before she moves.
What is the key event or high point of your story?
Between just me and her
she shows me the memoir pamphlet about our family history written by a closeted gay uncle.
What is the most important point you want others to know about your story? What is the takeaway?
Collections of whole lives.
How and where do they strain through the grates of years
and obstacles that fall into the laps of younger
generations or another dark pit to never be remembered again.
Try to list five emotion words that you felt during your story. Be especially specific about the key event or high point of your story.
“I found this”
her words label the world
Try to pair or compare those words to an object or sound.
The objects were keyholes and I held them like the holes they are.
Who are the people, animals, or objects that are important to your story?
My grandma is slow and still on this earth. I know now how she laughs, she laughs away the incoming future. She collected at one point in her life:
glass baby bottles, doll heads and bodices for pin cushions, medical devices for feeding
List the characteristics of the environment where your story takes place (furniture, nature, sounds, smells, taste, touch).
The basement is a storage hole.
The closet is a storage hole.
Lined with shelves and folders. Now lined with holes.
Crusty bugs fall out.
List any dialogue of importance that occurred during the story.
“What did you use this for, grandma?” about a large scissor.
“We used it to cut very large things.”
Describe your story from the point-of-view of someone else.
A woman sifts through the objects of an old woman still alive and an old man long dead. These are her relatives, and therefore, the objects become their lives. The old man collected brass keyholes, with no keys, just holes. The woman looks at these things, a mysterious stench comes out of another frame that she cannot understand. The woman enters the basement every other weekend for months, each time taking home boxes of this stuff to her small apartment. She shoves them in her own closet, tucked away out of daily view. In a cream-colored trashcan, in a milky plastic sherbet container.
On the Mississippi River, a barge slowly storms by. The moon is hiding behind a cut of clouds. I squint at the light-up area in the center of the barge – it looks like a waiting room area for people, with primary colored chairs, lounges. This image can’t be true, but I won’t give it up to memory’s eraser. Boats of memory waft down the linear path and towards some other end of the round world.
Fanny Howe’s friend Innokenty said: “You want to go to the movies because there, before the screen, you are given time to recognize what living is like for others: almost identical symptoms of synesthesia and submersion occur as those you have in extreme weakness.”
~Driving home from the art camp where I taught kids how to write about memories in the sculpture park, I texted D about my day: “memory camp was amazing.” On the winding drive up the hill, past the buildings on the side, I see a white banner lettered “Memory Camp”. How strange that they made a whole banner for one theme of the children’s one-week camp. The buildings unblur into stacked multiples of residential and facility-like housing. “Memory Care”, the letters appear accurately now.
~Sometimes you don’t remember things the way they were, or see only what your brain can make in a quick connection, or assumption, in the moment. But maybe that’s reality, too.
~Driving down the road further home on 44. The arch is threaded in the distance like a paper clip. I’m listening to Elliott Smith and turn the volume up. Every time I am being my favorite, only body.
~The kids sit on the floor hunched over sketchbooks passed out by their counselors, under a pavilion shaped like a leaf. Did you know that three-year-olds can’t remember a year ago? Their memory does not yet have the capacity to transcribe. Still, we encourage them to remember anything from the past, yesterday and before. Already I know this is a nice camp for nice white kids. I think about the black kids at Marquette Rec Center, where I teach art twice a week for a summer youth program. There, the counselor blew a whistle at them when they rolled on the floor laughing at our blind contour portraits. I think about the raised beds outside the glass windows where I taught them to write about their dreams for one hour – wooden slots of graying wood, holding weeds of wisped away seeds. Where I dumped bottlecaps and sequins and popsicle sticks, with paper plates dolloped with white glue, to attach to a memory box. Some boys put the sequins inside their boxes, to keep. Do I have any impact on their growing, I’ll never know. I cower as the counselor yells, gives them a time out, and threatens to take away swimming time with more art class, as punishment for their voices.
~Driving home from the rec center only takes two minutes. The city is doing construction on the openings of each sidewalk stretch, accessible wide ramp-like entrances for wheelchairs. This is valuable – many people float down the neighborhood in power chairs. Often there are large mounds of dirt on the side of the road in construction areas. They are also making flower beds, partially in the road to slow traffic because people in the city zoom around like they are racing someone. The construction is blocked with a concrete blockade with the word “slow” spray-painted in orange. Other orange plastic structures line the area, like “wet floor” signs to avoid. Sometimes urban planners attach flower gardens to “beautify” an area of poverty. I drove down by Marquette Park and saw two girls sitting on top of the mound of dirt, before it became a garden, their thighs and calves hidden under, their version of burying themselves at the beach but there is no beach.
~I want to take my time this summer. I only have time to write this during my own nonfiction class. I try to tell a person in the room: thinking makes you an artist, too.