Saturday, July 9, 2011

I remember when I only wrote about my dad.

For the past six weeks, I've been working with the Writers' Center of Indiana for their Memoir Project, going to two summer camps in Indy a couple days a week to help students write about their lives. We focus on strong memories, new or old, often using the famous "I remember" exercise to get thoughts stirring. As I often write alongside the students, I am becoming aware of my aesthetic's lack of narrative appreciation. In all genres of my writing, I tend to be distant from more traditional means of storytelling, instead relying on associative or discursion to move my piece along. I think this style comes from my tendency to get bored with narrative. To me, a narrative story/poem has to be really excellent to keep my interest while something that relies less on story and more imagination has a better chance of being interesting, even if I don't deem it as "good." So, I wouldn't want to inflict my possibly boring narrative on others. Of course, there are other reasons I write in my style, which is another post in itself. Anyways, point is, I still appreciate narrative as one of the core values of writing (and LIVING). Working with these students, who have written some awesome short pieces, has made me feel a little guilty. So in an effort to flex the narrative side of my writing brain, I'm gonna post narrative-driven pieces here throughout this month, ones more reflective of my actual experience as a tribute to thee kids and a record of my life.

I remember dad’s story of playing “pocketbook.” As a child, my dad was limited in play options, stuck out in the middle of the woods, the only house at the end of a dirt road. Left to his own imagination by less-than-concerned parents, he told stories of running through the narrow paths created by deer, diving into unknown rivers, and playing pranks on the passersby at the end of their road. There, him and a random assortment of siblings, cousins, and friends played with an old pocketbook with toy money and jewelry glued around the edge and tie the pocketbook to the a long piece of fishing line. Where their dirt road met a city street that led into town, they hid in the night behind a row of bushes and tossed the pocketbook into the middle of the closest lane. Some cars swerved, some ran it over, while others slammed on the brakes or pulled to the side. As the driver approached the pocket book, my dad and the others yanked the finishing line and ran down the unlit dirt road.

I remember my childhood best friend, Ryan, and I becoming fascinated with this story. My father told it again and again with equal nostalgic enthusiasm of his trickery each time. The trick seemed remarkable to us as seven year-olds: kids tricking adults, fooling those fancy people in their cars. Determined to be cool like my Dad, we set out to trick some of Elwood’s finest motorists. Except Mom wouldn’t let us borrow a pocketbook and the fishing line was locked in the shed while Dad was at work. And we lived in the middle of town, rows of houses and driveways on each side, four houses from the entry to my town’s hospital. And we only had a single tall oak tree in our front yard, the boundaries of which were our boundaries of play. Oh and Ryan had to go home before dark.

I remember Ryan and I carrying my Spiderman backpack with Monopoly money stapled to the top with my red and white striped jumprope tied trough the arm loops. We pressed our bodies against the bark of the oak tree and hurled the backpack into the road. At four in the afternoon, cars left the hospital and people returned home from work, and just like Dad had said, cars swerved around it or turned before they got to us or even stopped, muttering WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?, our signal to run into our screened-in porch. We snuck back out to our post as Dad drove up, smiling through the windshield of his pick-up truck. He said, I think it’s time for Ryan to go home. As we walked him home, Dad told us another story and Ryan and I made plans to try backflips off the swingset.


Shaylen Maxwell said...

Love that exercise.

Tyler Gobble said...

It's a good one for sure. With pretty much any age group.

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