It’s a good thing I didn’t quit blogging this year. Because if I had quit blogging, when the Bee had asked me to help her write about her year in fourth grade, I would have actually had to remember something with my brain. Instead of just coming here and looking at the highlights.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I saw poetry everywhere in the world. No matter where I looked, I encountered phrases that were weird and beautiful. I wrote poetry often, finding inspiration in the mundane and the sacred.
That ability has slipped away from me over the years. I’m not sure if I became more prosaic, or if my brain rewired itself in some fundamentally un-artistic way, but I’m just not as open to word salad as I once was.
Earlier today, I was driving to Bland State Capital, and I seemed to have a brief reconnection with the poetry of my youth. A tractor trailer with nothing but two words written on it: “Junk Wood.”
I spent a fair amount of time wondering what, exactly, junk wood is. And how there could be so much of it to fill a whole tractor trailer. And whether or not I could burn junk wood in my fireplace, to beat the cost of natural gas this winter.
Junk Wood–it’s not just for kindling anymore.
When I was five, my family spent the whole summer driving across the country, from New Jersey to California, up to Oregon and back again. During that trip, we had a huge Rand McNally atlas of the United States in our van, the kind that had a different state on every page. When we got back, that atlas somehow became the property of the kids, and I remember spending hours looking at all of the maps, and dreaming about where we might go, remembering where we had already been.
I was reminded of that old map book this past week, as I’ve been on a road trip. Back in the day, I would have planned my road trip with a map, or barring that, with a TripTik from AAA. In college, I once planned a great road trip to Salem, MA with TripTik, just me and ten of my closest actor friends who were doing a production of The Crucible (“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie, and sign myself to lies!”). This time, I went with GoogleMaps, and I have to say, it made me realize that not everything in life is better with the internet.
In the days before I relied on internet-based directions, I got lost more. But I found more interesting things, too. I wandered. I roamed. I sought out bizarre gas stations and weird roadside attractions, and interesting pie. On this trip, because I didn’t have a map of the cities I was visiting, I found myself much more hesitant to explore, knowing that I might not be able to easily find my way back to the hotel.
Maps have been important in my worklife for many years. As a canvasser, and later a field campaigner, the ability to draw maps that were clear and easy to read was critical. In my current job, I spend most of every election year poring over district maps and precinct maps, trying to find the most efficient ways to communicate with voters. But I no longer have a car full of maps (although I do have a big book map of my home region.)
I did end up having to buy a map of one of the cities I was in, because the co-worker who joined me for one leg of my trip accidentally took home my printed-out directions for that place, and it made me much more confident to have that map. It’s the one place that I actually got out and drove around, knowing that I would be able to find my way home if need be. I guess if I had a GPS in my car, it would serve the same purpose, though perhaps not quite as effective at spurring the imagination.
I think I might have to go out this weekend, and find the updated version of the Rand McNally atlas of my childhood. (Hey, LD, there’s a Mother’s Day idea for you!) I’m planning on taking a road trip this summer with the kids, and I want to be prepared.
What kinds of maps have been important to you? Are you a good map-reader, or someone who’s lost trying to understand your north from your south? Do you like to wander, or are you a strictly Point-A-to-Point-B type?
Do you ever just get tired of all the paper in your house? Some days, I’d like to walk away from it all.
Landisdad and I finally bought a new car this weekend. After we made our deal, we came home to look for the title for the wagon that we were trading in, and I couldn’t find it in my filing cabinet. So we looked a couple more times in the same places. Then we looked through a bunch of boxes in the basement. Boxes that hold our combined history, plus the history of some other members of the family, too.
It made me wonder why we save so much paper, and who we’re saving it for? Will my kids actually ever read journal entries that I wrote during my freshman year of high school? Or notes from a class that landisdad took in grad school?
I realize that we have some legal obligation to keep our tax records going back seven years (or is it five?), but why am I hanging on to credit card statements that are that old? Needless to say, the shredder got a fair amount of use this weekend.
Our basement doesn’t just contain our ephemera–there are also the seven boxes of photographs from landisdad’s family that we’re supposed to be scanning, so they can be digitally preserved. Landisdad’s grandfather was an interesting, well-traveled guy–one of the pictures is of him and his wife with Yukio Mishima–and I can imagine that our kids and their kids would want to have that. But there’s a part of me that just wonders what we’re doing all this saving for.
For me, I know that part of the desire to save paper has to do with the dissolution of my childhood home. There are few things that were saved, when my mom and stepfather moved to a new house, and I moved in with my dad. For landisdad, the opposite is true–his childhood home was intact until the year that we moved East, and our house is full of furniture and books that came from that house.
I’d like my children to have some kind of a happy medium, although I do worry that I’m going to leave them with a huge mass of paper that they have to sort out when I’m 90, and ready to go into a home. I hang on to all kinds of work-related papers that I think are interesting–but what am I going to do, donate them to a university? Or perhaps use them for the basis of my memoirs? It all seems so improbable–sure they’re interesting to me, but will anyone else ever actually want to read notes from a meeting that happened 50 years in the past?
As for the car title? It never did turn up. Thankfully, the fine folks at motor vehicles were able to print us a new one this morning. But that’s one piece of paper we be hanging on to for another ten years.
This month’s Blogging for Books topic is to write about your close, personal relationship with a song. Here’s my entry:
In January of 1992, I was a mess. I was 23 years old, and I was living in my best friend’s mom’s basement, working at an expensive grocery store in the floral department. In the prior six months, I had broken up with a crazy boyfriend after he tried to throw me into a street and then sexually assault me. I had quit my regular job because I was suffering a massive depression. I gave up on life and moved in with my dad and my stepmother, which lasted all of two months before we got into a fight and they put me out. I guess it might have been the lowest moment of my life—it was certainly one of the lowest. I was not acting rationally.
One night, I got a call from a friend who was in the process of getting transferred from a job in NJ to a job in Santa Barbara, CA. She and a co-worker (who was also being transferred) were planning to make the drive together. There was one problem—she had just found out that her co-worker had only recently gotten his license, and had never driven a stick shift before. And of course, her car was a stick. She was calling to ask me if I would be willing to help her drive across the country. Without really thinking too hard about it, I said yes.
I wrangled two weeks of unpaid leave from my job, and packed up a duffle bag full of clothes and books. She picked me up on a wintry afternoon, and then we drove into Philly to pick up the co-worker. It’s odd, but even through I spent a week with that guy, I couldn’t remember his name to save my life right now. We headed west at about 3 in the afternoon, planning to spend the night somewhere west of Pittsburgh. These were the days before Mapquest, before Internet access—to plan our trip, we had a Rand McNally map of the country and some Triple A hotel books. All three of us were close to broke—they were in slightly better shape then me, as they had some money from their company for relocation—but we planned to stay in the cheapest motels, sharing one room for the three of us, and to eat road food almost exclusively. We planned a northern route through the Midwest, passing through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and planned to turn south once we hit St. Louis. We decided that we would stop once a day to do something touristy, but not plan that too much in advance—we did, however, plan our route through Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon, which my friend had never seen before.
There were two songs that played on the radio as we drove out of Philly: Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” In early 1992, grunge was starting to spread through mainstream American culture for the first time, and those two songs were a wake-up call to me. I loved me some pop music as a teenager in the ‘80s, but the dance music of my adolescence didn’t speak to me in my young adulthood. I was depressed and angry, and I wanted a soundtrack for that anger, not a dancetrack.
So we drove through the Midwest, smoking cigarettes and telling each other our life stories. Looking back, it seems odd to think of myself as having a life story at 23—I hadn’t really done anything or been much of anywhere. But we had hours for talking, so talk we did—talk and listen to the radio, those were our only choices. And Pearl Jam and Nirvana followed us wherever we went. The third night, we got caught in a massive snowstorm, and had to pull off outside of East St. Louis to stay in a motel, far short of our planned stopping point. We stopped at all manner of truckstops and diners through Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. We briefly diverted from our planned route, so that we could drive on the old Route 66. We saw the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert too. We drove up the Rockies and down into Barstow, and it felt like really getting somewhere, like we were part of some vast Americana diaspora that had come West, young woman, over years and years. That last night as we drove into Santa Barbara I felt like I had never been so alive. And though I was sad that our trip was ending, that week of driving and smoking and talking and listening to “Alive” had given me a confidence that I’d lost over the last six months.
I stayed with an ex-boyfriend in LA for a few days, as he tried to convince me to move to LA to live with him, and then I got on the train to go home. It took me another three days to get there, and during that endless train ride, I decided to give California another shot. I didn’t end up moving to LA with my ex, but I did move to San Francisco in May of that year. And a lot of the good in my life right now resulted from that decision—my family, my husband, my job.
Today, whenever I hear “Alive” I am reminded of that trip, and am nostalgic for that time. It’s hard to believe that I could feel nostalgia for a time that in many ways was so awful. But I am nostalgic, not for the awfulness, but for the feeling of liberation when I finally broke free of it.