Daydreaming as Drafting

Daydreaming was my first practice at drafting and revision. I remember car rides to the grocery store, sitting in the backseat of the station wagon. I remember my daydreams: waking up one morning with curly hair like the girl in the magazine ad for Tide; hunching over the handlebars of a skinny-wheeled ten-speed bike, racing downhill; creating a new wardrobe of primary colors and white Keds. Behind the wheel in the front seat, my mom might have been daydreaming too, the back roads familiar enough to let her mind wander.

We have sweet spaces of time built for daydreaming and thinking. In college I began running longer and longer distances, mapping twenty-mile routes through the middle of nowhere. I ran with a tape deck once because my CD player wouldn’t fit in my Camelbak. Yes. A dubbed tape. But aside from that anomaly, my long runs were open to whatever thought flitted through my mind. I counted to a thousand, and then back down. When I started using the time to think about pieces I had in workshop, running and writing became more tangibly connected.

We often return to the same daydreams or thoughts, just as in our notebooks. In the back seat, the underbrush or open fields flying by, I could start over: change small parts of my fantasy, reconstruct dialogue.

But give yourself those sweet spaces. I made a list of times or places where I can let my mind wander. Do the same. Unplug for five or ten minutes of waiting in a line, turn off the radio on your drive home or keep the TV off for an evening. Let quiet and boredom invade. Make a practice of this. Find a question or an answer. Write a story in your head and take it to the page. Pray.

A while ago, I read “In Defense of Boredom” by Carolyn Y. Johnson in The Week, first published in The Boston Globe as “The Joy of Boredom.” I read it with a kind of AmenPreachIt response. Take a moment to read the piece.

Essay Revision: Practiced Avoidance

I need to practice revising personal pieces.

But a few are so personal:
Contentment (as in: my plea for complete)

Some pieces read like first thoughts. When I read them, I feel where I was. And then I wonder where I am. I read some pieces and sense refinement bringing me a breath closer to holy. A year ago I wrote a piece called “To an Affair I Haven’t Had.” I read it now, to rework it, and know I was spared. I didn’t fuck up my marriage. I only wanted to.

I only wanted to. That is why returning to a few of these pieces is tough.

The other day I showed Justin my sunglasses, the inside lenses speckled with tiny tear drops. My car cries, I call them, when I turn the radio off on my commute home and wrestle through whatever lump is in my heart. Some of these pieces I want to revise might have been written last week, rather than a year ago, or two. I drive fast and cry about wanting what is wrong. I drive fast and pray to want what is right. To really want it.

I am not returning to these pieces to tidy my story. I write confessional pieces to remain confessional. I remember writing about lust and thinking, I am not the only person who has felt this. But I named it on a page. I see no reason to hide my sin. And I see no reason to hide my desperate faith. I have no shame in its desperation. If I lived in a cave, I might have a meditative faith, but I live in the middle of full days and my faith is worked out on car cries and in my pages.

When I return to some of those pages this month, I pray I go with compassion and honesty.

In the Backseat 3

Excerpt from my third WP on the topic, as is.

I was in a minivan once, with another American friend, going from Medellín to Cali, Colombia. We’d just run the Medellín half marathon and the next bus to Cali would take nine or ten hours; a minibus service promised six or seven.

Whenever I took a bus in Colombia, the doors would be taped shut at the terminal. The drivers weren’t supposed to pick up additional passengers, but they all did, stopping at cafés in small towns to let out one and let on another. I was new to Colombia. This made me nervous. What made me more nervous was the driver speeding up the mountains, passing on curves.

I closed my eyes, made my body limp. If we crashed, a relaxed body might fare better than a tense, anxious one.

My stomach was a nightmare. Behind me a woman sat with her teenage daughter who, an hour into the trip, began throwing up. It was the calmest vomiting I’d seen ? I passed back my pack of gum. I kept chewing, bile (?) flooding my own mouth. If I’d had to throw up I’d want a ditch somewhere. This driver didn’t slow for anything.

We stopped at a roadside café. I ate a beet salad. I sipped cor carbonated water. Soda water.

In one town, the driver got out and palmed a small white packet. Is that how you say it? Two feet from me, he took a small white packet with a handshake; pesos swiftly tucked away. Dogs and children ran around. I was – it might have been the first time I felt how new the country was to me. I’d just left a city with military police posted on corners, was flying through mountains and small towns lined with plastic cafe chairs, returning to a city whose population was half what my state’s was.

I remember thinking if I died on this winding route from Medellín to Cali. The relief was: over a mountain or slammed into an oncomming bus, at least it wasn’t a pickup truck in Wisconsin, killing me on a curve.

What I’d like to do now is write more about that weekend: dead cockroaches in the hotel bathroom’s clear plastic ceiling; all the visible uniforms and guns; running at an elevation; seeing a motorcycle accident in the dark; the heat of Cali after the cool of Medellin. That weekend was a month or two into my time in Colombia. I knew nothing about being an expat. It was still only adventure.  


In the Backseat 2

Another fifteen minutes of this prompt. I’ll write on it a few more times. I’d like to find something from the practice. What I need to do is give myself an hour to write about riding in the backseat. This is as in my notebook:

When I was in fifth or sixth grade we got this giant blue station wagon. and My brother got the way back; my sister and I shared the middle seat. Everyone had enough room, even on vacation.

I got carsick and sometimes scooted to the middle so I could look forward, through the windshield. It calmed my belly to see what was coming. Especially on hills and curves.

We were driving through mountains (Blue Ridge?) and the wagon just died going up the inclines; Mom leaned forward and patted the dash, gave the car a pep talk. She said it just had to get us home. You could hear the engine, Dad urging it on, more gas, downshifting.

In the backseat we had notebooks and pens but I couldn’t look anywhere but ahead at the road, drop offs on one side and green ferns and fallening rock signs on the other. Every town we went through had a baseball diamond and church. Plain churches. White, big crosses. My The game I play when traveling – if I lived here… – it couldn’t wasn’t bigger? louder? than my stomach.

I was gulping air, staring through the windshield, willing my stomach down, wanting the mountains to end.

In the Backseat

This WP prompt is from Judy Reeve’s A Writer’s Book of Days. I wrote for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Here is my first writing:

I remember camping trips and all our gear packed into the trunk of of our Chevy Malibu and at our feet in the backseat: sleeping bags and duffels. We sat cramped and cross-legged tent poles on on the floor. No room for pillows. If we wanted pillows we had to sit on them. or fold them over Sleeping bags where our feet should be wasn’t so bad. Sometimes there was a cooler at our feet. No give. Our legs would be imprinted by the hard plastic design, by stitching. We’d get hot and sweaty. I don’t remember Dad running the ac often. He’d crank the windows down and air roared through, tangling my hair.

It was best to sleep in the backseat.

Or stare out the window daydreaming. I imagined I had curly hair. Tight ringlets. I imagined my adult life. I thought I would wear bright primary and secondary track suits and my husband would match me; we’d drive a giant pickup truck and have a yellow lab and a chocolate lab because it seemed adult to have dogs, even though I didn’t even like dogs. Having a dog leash and taking the dog for walks seemed adult.

I daydreamed whole other lives.

And I still do, sometimes.

In the backseat we’d fall asleep against each other like dominoes. We’d sleep against the car door.

I remember looking at the handle and wondering if I could do it, just open the door while Dan Dad flew up a hill.

We’d shrug each other off with bony shoulders and pushes. Mom passed treats snacks to the backseat: g Goldfish crackers, apples, Kudos bars. On long rides we played travel size board games: checkers, Chinese checkers. We played war, endless games of two decks war. On long trips when we got a treat from the gas station, like soda or Yoohoo, the three of us had to share. One sip one sip one sip. Once my sister guzzled her one sip of soda until her eyes watered and she threw up.

I remember making M&Ms last; even when it was hot and the shell broke against the roof of your mouth, you could still eat them one at a time.

I remember tickle was wars, quiet contest, pinching fights. I remember taking sides when there wasn’t room to take sides. I remember Mom making puppet shows or reading aloud from a book. I remember w feeling queasy and glad to be where we were going.

I will write more about car rides and my backseat life. For a long time, my siblings and I inexplicably fought over the middle seat. We played games and fought and talked, but mostly I remember car rides as a time to let my mind wander. What a rich time!