Boy, have I been traveling. The frequent flyer miles are piling up like mad, somewhere out there in the stratosphere. For weeks now I’ve been flying, not in space but in time. I’ve been traveling back into my past, writing about my life so far.
Every morning, standing at the kitchen counter waiting for the water to boil, I stare vacantly at the butternut squashes leaning against each other, or at the dirty dishes piled high and precariously in the sink, or at the blue tea pot with tea bag strings hanging down the side. The scene is static, I’m stock-still. No-one could guess the whirring speed of movement going on inside my head. Like those flip cartoon books, I’m racing back through all the years that I’ve lived, it’s zooming by me in a blur. And then the flipping comes to a halt, and I find myself in the middle of a place or an event or a group of people from some moment somewhere in the past. Why did it stop at that particular place? I can’t answer that, but that’s what I’ll write about for that day.
During my months of wild travels in the mountains this summer I was completely outer-directed, a tiny sense organ bouncing through the vast wondrous landscape, absorbing everything I possibly could through every orifice, making my way across thousands of miles of Sierras, Tetons, Rockies and all the Great American West land in between. Now I sit at the table with my computer, day after day, every now and then pacing around the room, unaware that I’ve stood up, my mind far away. I’m once again a tiny sense organ bouncing through a wondrous vast landscape, but all the action is internal.
When I go out to take my daily walk it’s more to activate my brain than to exercise my body. I take the same route every time, so I rarely notice anything around me. I carry a small pad and pencil in my pocket, in case I have a thought or a sentence that I want to remember when I get back to the computer. At the end of a day I sometimes can’t remember whether or not I took a walk.
I’ve told the same stories about my growing up to my daughters and friends for so many years that I’m sick of them. They’ve congealed into granite, like gravestones over my buried past. The stories themselves have become my memories, etched in stone. What I’m trying to do now by writing it all down is topple those gravestones and clear the land that’s left, so that I can cultivate it, encourage new vibrant memories to grow. And it’s working! I’m remembering new things, and I’m seeing everything in a very different light. I’m no longer center stage in my story, and I’m no longer filled with hurt or anger or shame. I’m looking at each scene with the curiosity and objectivity of a journalist. Suddenly it’s all in bright technicolor, not in black and white.
For so long the story of my childhood has been about the strangeness and the extremes of it, the strange family I had and the extreme neglect I suffered. My parents and the few adults who played parts in my life as I grew up – alone on the farm with my aunt and all the retarded children she took care of – seemed almost like aliens, they seemed so different from me. But now I’m seeing that there’s a much bigger story here. It’s a story that I want badly to put into words, to describe accurately. Whether I can or not remains to be seen, but luckily it doesn’t really matter, at least as of today. It’s the process of writing it that fascinates me. My story gives me a fine hook to hang words onto, and I very much like working on the words.