As I drove home last night after my second writing class ended, I felt as if I were floating in a sea of stories - memories from childhood, college, last week and eight years ago, experiences, snippets and brief flashes of time that all seemed to be bubbling up at once as I swooped along Sunset Boulevard in the darkness. Even the act of driving in a car by myself at night evoked memories from high school, a time during which I often dropped off my friends after a movie or a party and drove all over town listening to music. Even back then I wanted time alone to process what I was experiencing; perhaps those quiet drives planted the seeds for my life as a writer today.
All these stories began to feel overwhelming last night as I made my way home. Instead of feeling them gently brush past my feet just beneath the surface of a crystal blue body of water, I imagined a swath of ocean filled with debris – tables, chairs, a dollhouse, a bright yellow globe-shaped clock radio…ballet slippers, a German Shepherd, and a silver VW bug, all crowding around me, threatening to send me drowning. It was a struggle to stay afloat amongst all these stories floating and bobbing and bursting up from the depths.
In Plant Dreaming Deep, May Sarton speaks of "experience [as] the fuel." She elaborates by saying, "I would live my life burning it up as I go along, so that at the end nothing is left unused, so that every piece of it has been consumed in the work." My writing has been fed by my own experiences, memories and interpretations of them from the beginning. I have always been far too fascinated by the truth of my own stories - and those of everyone I know - to think about trying to create new ones. When I re-read that sentence, it sounds terribly narcissistic, but it isn't about being so fascinated with ME as much as it is having a compulsion to dissect all my own points of resistance, my fears, quirks, blocks, beliefs and habits. It isn't about looking adoringly in the mirror, but about stepping outside of myself and observing my own behavior, attitudes and reactions.
This writing class, more than anything else, is helping me do what I most need to do - write every single day about chapters from my life and what they have meant to me. Each moment is a thread in the quilt, and my work as a writer is to follow these trails and see where they take me. The afternoon when I rode horses on a beach in Australia in 1994 can be traced directly back to my 8th grade English class in the fall of 1981 when my best friend brought in photos from her family's European vacation. Seeing those pictures lit a fire in my heart that evolved into an intense passion for travel, and I remember as if it were yesterday the decision I made then and there to see the world. Did anyone else at school that day have a personal awakening, a revolution in their heart? Can anyone else point to that classroom as the setting for a moment in time when a significant part of who they are today burst through the soil and began to blossom?
It might feel a tad daunting at the moment to think about wading through all the detritus filling my peripheral vision right now, but as with anything else, the best course of action is to simply begin. To pick one object, one story, out of a sea of thousands and write about it, and on the next day, write about another one. On and on the process will continue, and in the spilling out of words on a page, certain patterns will emerge. As I wrote in my notebook last night during class, my work now is to pluck one petal at a time and explore all the details in each, letting them flutter gently down to the ground when I am finished, where they will nourish the soil beneath and help new stories grow.