Kroeker & Craig’s “On Being a Writer,” chapter 4

Chapter 4: Notice

The dump was more than just garbage in my life. The first time I drove to the house we lived in a while once married was when I was still dating him. “You turn left at the dump,” he’d told me. How will I recognize it? I had wondered, not realizing the gargantuan pile was impossible to miss. I smelled it before I saw it, and then encountering its size, knew unmistakably this was the spot. I steered left past the dump, toward my future.

Isn’t that last sentence marvelous? You need the whole paragraph, though, to appreciate it.

Not that long ago, although I can’t pinpoint the date as well as Charity, I feel like I turned left at the dump, toward my future. For a long time I thought the grass growing over the trash was a sign that I should camp out in the stink. If the grass could live, couldn’t I?

No. I couldn’t.

The word for this chapter is “notice.” It’s a Mary Oliver word. I do notice—perhaps too much. I’m always gathering material for a column or a post or a poem. Sometimes I wish I didn’t notice so much.

If I remember the past in greater detail and stay receptive to the present, I’m never without material. The things I notice become part of my story; my work becomes more memorable, more textured, more real.

I become one of those people on whom nothing is lost.

I really like that last sentence, too! But I’m also perplexed because there are large chunks of my story I don’t know what to do with. The details are not written down anywhere. On purpose.

In the author’s note of “Brown Girl Dreaming,” Jacqueline Woodson says she dove back into memories of Greenville, South Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio, both with the aid of family members who are still alive and drawing from her own memories. The time wasn’t write—oops, right—until it was right. “And that’s what this book is—My past, my people, my memories, my story,” Woodson writes. I’m trusting that will be true for me as well.

Comments

  1. Someone wise and thoughtful–someone I trust and love–told me not long ago, when I expressed concern that I didn’t have time to write down the details of an involved and stressful story that had been unfolding in the fall, “You’ll remember what you need to.”

    I’m trusting that will be true for me as well.

  2. I have large chunks too… that’s where I struggle most. What to keep. What to share. What to toss. How to decide without guilt. Or shame.

    (until i read this, i wasn’t able to pinpoint this as one of my major writerly (memoir) hurdles – thanks, megan)

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