The Dreaded First Person Present Tense

It’s Thursday night about 11:30.  I have writers block.  I’ve tried to tell a few stories:  ‘How to Get Out of Jury Duty’; ‘My Slumdog Memories’; ‘My Tattooed Journey through Women’s Studies.’  But they just don’t satisfy.  

I’m thirsty.  I need a glass of water.  I walk to the kitchen, find a glass, and pour cold water from the Brita pitcher.  I add a little ice and take a sip.  Thinking, thinking.  My eyes rove around the kitchen looking for inspiration.  The kitchen backsplash will be demolished Tuesday.  The builders had put in the wrong tile.  I tried to live with it but realized I shouldn’t have to live with it.  I need to clear off the counters and island.  Right now the island is covered in spring colored fabrics waiting to be cut and sewn into pillows for the dining room’s banquette seating.  I bite my lip.  Thinking, thinking.  

I wander into the sunroom, a small space at the back of the house.  I take another sip of water.  I look at the sunny yellow topped desk.  I look at the bookcase filled with my collection of language books from when I studied languages at the University.  A nowhere degree, but one I loved for the journey through French and Italian words that complimented my years of Latin in high school.  I look at the collection of old church cookbooks that had been sold at fundraisers and the books that survived my book purge before moving.  I look at the dining table that fits just perfectly in the space ready for my photo project and the boxes ready and waiting for me to open.

I have said that one of the things I intend to do is take all those old photos, scan them, and put them in a coffee table book.  You probably have a fleeting thought of what would be the purpose of me, an orphan with no children, making a coffee table book of old family photos.  Well, here’s my reason.  I have this vision that someday someone will find it in a used bookstore.  They will be intrigued by the cover or title and just have to look inside.  They will see a photo, have a Slumdog moment, and realize that those people are part of their family history.  How utterly cool is that? 

I need some noise.  I pull out my phone and turn on the stereo.  I scan selections on Spotify and choose “Your Time Capsule.”  A little Eagles, Boston, Skynyrd, Queen—that should turn my thoughts to memoir writing worthy words—perfect for this week’s assignment.

I admit I took the class with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure if I would like it.  I was afraid I would have to read my works out loud.  That was scary.  Definitely not something I would have done in my youth—not even my 20s, 30s, or 40s.  But oddly enough I am enjoying it.  I must be like an aging spirit in a old wooden cask.  I aged.  I evolved.  I refined.  And now my stories are poured into a glass to be sipped and savored.  At least by me.

I am a procrastinator and all these random thoughts are not helping.  I remember reading Lauren Graham’s book Talking As Fast As I Can where she talks about the Kitchen Timer Writing Method.  I think it’s time to employ it or at least a Susan version of it. 

I head back to the dining room where I have my laptop.  Once up and running, I pull up the requisite two documents—one for my writing assignment and one for random thoughts and musings.  I switch the music to “Instrumental Pop Covers” (no lyrics allowed) and set the timer for an hour.  I start writing in the random thought document.

I give the instructor and my classmates kudos for a safe and encouraging environment.  I am a little sad that some of the class will be missing on the last day.  But they won’t be forgotten.  I hope I have time to tell them how much I enjoyed listening to their stories. 

Just like an Oscar hopeful, I will write down what I would like to say given a chance.  

Lynne, I love your story of the desk.  You gave that desk such life and character.  I will forever wonder its fate.  But I think that is definitely part of the charm.  Although I still wonder if it would fit in the back of a Prius.  Knowing me I wouldn’t have been able to part with it.  Leave the kid, take the desk.  Just kidding.  I would have strapped it to the top or found a way to tow it.  It might have resembled the comedy of Lucy and her rock collection in The Long Long Trailer

Ben, your and Mags’ trips up and down the ALCAN had me on edge.  I knew you survived because you were sitting next to me, but still.  I made my trip on the MV Taku in 1982 from Juneau to Haines en route to Anchorage.  The first ferry journey was on the MV Malaspina from Prince Rupert to Juneau.  Definitely an experience—camping on a ship.  I don’t camp.

Lars, you are the master of gritty descriptions.  Y’all know I am a crier but you had me cringing at every sentence.  And I will forever credit you with tainting my memories of my version of a Korn Krib.  You’re an incredibly talented artist.  The notebook you shared last week along with a comment you made about quilts reminded me that telling your life’s story does not need to be confined to a book.  It can take incredible shapes throughout many different mediums.  And for me that even included a double sided postcard with six photos.

Rob, the man who showed up on Tuesday, but joined us the next Monday.  I am so glad you did.  As soon as you began reading your story and said Crosby, North Dakota, I had all kinds of “where have I heard that before” moments.  The Book so simple yet so powerful.  A great reminder that it is so much better to remember the positive rather than dwell on the negative.  

Louise, so brave.  Your first day with us touched me.  You had the courage to read your beautiful tribute of Larry.  I enjoyed your stories set in Alaska and when you mentioned The Milepost delightful memories came to mindMy family used one on our trek from Texas to Alaska.  Mom would read to us the points of interest mile marker by mile marker.  Let’s be realistic though only so much can happen a mile at a time.   Butt time in the boat and bears marking their territory—definitely things I will remember.

T.  What can I say.  George sums it up.  Although his driving abilities have me a little leery.  Make that a lot leery.  Maybe had you described it as ‘he drove like Dom in The Fast and The Furious weaving in and out between the cars, timing it just perfectly to catapult his vehicle across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and onto the container ship floating below ….”  Just sayin.

Rich, you wrote about your life and times so eloquently.  I love your handwritten memoirs.  It is what I would love to have from my family members.  (I know Sam would caution against it because cursive is a dying art but there will always be people to decipher it if necessary.)  Here’s my suggestion to you.  I would pick a heavy weighted stationary.  The kind that just evokes all things old and memorable maybe an aged yellow or soft gray.  I would choose a monogram and have the stationary engraved.  Something very tactile.  Write only on one side so that the imprint of those strokes can be felt as hands hold those pages.  Don’t worry about errors.  I think the cross outs or corrections are part of the eloquence.  I would put each ‘chapter’ inside a matching envelope with your name engraved in the upper left and addressed to the chapter’s title. (Maybe add a reproduction of one of your stamps.)  Then I would find a lovely wooden box, either plain or embellished, and tuck all the letters inside.  That’s how I would tell your story.  That’s how I would want to read your story. 

Marie, you deserve a high five for showing up at a strange man’s door with libations and a dog in tow.  What a wonderful beginning to a love story.

Patricia, I enjoyed your stories but we didn’t get enough of them.  I really do wish school had been a conversation and not a lecture.  I think I would have absorbed so much more.

And Sam, you have such a heartbreaking story.  I am definitely curious how your journey led you from an ashram to Sequim, Washington, teaching writing classes.  I will always think of you when I see a Twinkie in the store.  Moms really are the best.  I will say this though.  I will forever be the champion of cursive.  Just look at what it took for me to learn it! 

The music to play me off the stage has begun.  The timer alerts me that an hour is up.  I can’t say it was a productive hour in regard to the writing assignment but I enjoyed my recollection of my classmates who have such rich histories aching to be shared. 

As I reflect on my collection of writing assignments I realize I may have stories to share.  They may not cover a lifetime but maybe a child’s reverie of vacations at Grandma’s.  I have come to realize that when you're a child you live the moment.  As an adult you remember the moment and all the shadows come out to play.  I want to play with the shadows.