The Things We Leave Behind

Pets, Writing

I’ve often wondered what people think about the things I leave behind. I wonder because I constantly make up stories about lost objects, scribbled writings, pieces of paper left behind in books.

Once, I found a plane ticket stuck in a paperback—a satisfying bookmark. I knew where he was going, but not why he was going. I get little clues about people from the things they leave behind, like the nip bottles and whole, undamaged croissants spilled in the alley, probably a tired Starbucks worker off shift.

In preparing to leave a home I have loved for the past four years, I find myself considering what I will leave behind. What other people will assume about my life here.

The house has a lot of history—it was built in the 1800s, and the number of people who have crossed the threshold, lived and loved within its walls is likely staggering. I do know that someone used to store ice in the little room that is now my pantry. I know that in the 70s, it looked just as it did now, only with more lava lamps. I know that someone picked out the godawful linoleum and painted the walls with almost intentional sloppiness. They are clean white now, but I remember the relics of the past.

When I walk out into the yard, I pull the weeds from around Pantalaimon’s little grave. It is marked simply, with a beautiful rock carved with “Pan <3”. I wonder if anyone will notice or wonder about the marker when I am gone.

The headstone is more than just a headstone if you know the whole story. It is a symbol of the life and love I have built here over the last four years. It reminds me of the friends who came together when my beloved pet died, even though most people wouldn’t care about a rat.

Its story is my friends digging the little grave for me, decorating a coffin, holding a service, and then keeping me company with pizza and a screening of Ratatouille. I think it might have been the biggest rat funeral in Cambridge, ever.

20160726_185505

The stone arrived a week or two later, totally unannounced. My roommate smiled slyly as I opened it—he’d been in cahoots with our friend to deliver it to me. My heart was full, and I said goodbye to my Pan with proper ceremony and love.

The things we leave behind are often more than they seem.

I may be leaving behind a place that I have loved, but it will not forget me. It will not forget the joys, sorrows, and challenges, because I will not forget them.

Whoever you are, I wish you joy in this house, the house that was my home.

Why I Don’t Keep a Travel Journal

Travel, Writing

I have a confession to make, dear diary.

Despite all my years of travelling to wonderful places, I have never once managed to keep a travel journal from beginning to end. I start off with a blank book and great intentions, then the entries fizzle off within days of leaving home.

My inability to journal (both daily journaling and travel journaling) has been a lifelong struggle–I love the catharsis of spilling my feelings onto the page, but once it feels like an obligation, I quit journaling with great haste.

I’ve kept a number of very sad, very incomplete journals since I started writing. My journal as an 8-year-old had probably 4 entries in it, one of which ended with “It was a grate day”. Exciting stuff. My dad is still amazed I learned to spell.

I think that entry from my childhood pretty much sums up why I don’t journal. I’m just not good at it. I try to remember all the details of my day, get bogged down and curt, and the result ends up being as exciting as corrugated cardboard. I’d like to get better at it–I’d like to be able to describe experiences as I go and draw on them later.

Experiences like swimming in a waterfall in Costa Rica. THAT WAS AWESOME. I have a picture to prove it (but no journal entry).

costa rica waterfall swimming

Maybe it’s time I change my journaling style. It’s not necessary to write down the chronology of one’s day, or anything else specific for that matter. To me, it would be an exercise in recording the events that might someday help me with creating my own pieces and remembering the places I’ve been.

For those of you who journal, what’s your style? Is it worth putting in the effort? How does it make you feel?

Violent Reactions to Literature

Literature, Writing

In my 400-level fiction seminar class, we are reading A.M. Homes’s The Safety of Objects. For some, this is not an easy book to read– all of Homes’s characters are dysfunctional, insane, depressed, etc. Out of curiosity, I decided to look it up on Amazon to see what others were saying about it. Many responded positively to the collection, as I did. However, there were others that were so offended that they literally threw the book out. One person who informally reviewed the book on Amazon called it “pornographic humor”.

This brings up the very common questions of  the distinction between literary taste and good literature; if it was the right time for a particular person to read the book; cultural readiness; believability, and reader interest. There are so many facets to the good literature vs. personal taste battle that it is, and will continue to be, argued about at great length.

People often get violently angry about literature they find offensive. I’m not the type to get offended by art, be it film, literature, visual art, or poetry, but I think that partially has to do with my world outlook and my status as a writer. I wonder how I might have looked at this book in a different cultural context: not as a student of fiction, but as a mother, or even a student in a different major. Would I have seen the value in this text then? I think the answer would still be yes, because of the person I am. I’m not saying that some of the stories did not make me uncomfortable: “A Real Doll”, though one of my favorite stories, was also very creepy. But to me, discomfort while being engrossed in a story is a sign of good literature. The ability to evoke such feelings in one’s audience is quite an accomplishment, one Homes should be proud of. Though cultural context is a very influential factor on one’s literary enjoyment and comfort level, I really think it depends on when the person was introduced to a certain type of literature, and how it was presented to them.

At least one person reviewing the book on Amazon stated how Homes was a sick person. That seems to me to be an interesting conclusion to jump to from reading fiction. That’s the key word here: fiction. In the past, I’ve heard advice from a lot of people running along the lines of “write what you know”. Now, this may be good advice for some, but to me, there are a lot more interesting things to write about out there than my own life. If I wanted to do that, I’d write a memoir. I may in fact do that one day, but the point is, I enjoy writing stories about characters who have very different lives than my own. I relive my days in memory, I don’t need to relive them on the page, under the guise of fiction. Then I am never thinking of new things to build on. I do use elements from my life at times, but my fiction does not typically reflect my life, and I don’t believe that Homes’s does either.

For those offended by the sexual situations and the flawed characters, I can’t really help you. I don’t know about everyone else, but I enjoy reading all kinds of fiction: both uplifting and creepy, exciting and sad. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s not interesting to read about someone that is. However, I do understand that for some, reading can be an escape from the stress of everyday life, and would prefer not to read such content. In that case, I’d move on.

That brings us back to personal taste. There have been many stories that I have scratched my head at because of my literary taste, but I still appreciate for their artistic qualities. Use of language is an example. I prefer a simple (not simplistic) prose, because I feel it does not clutter up the images of the story as flowery prose does. Some people who are more interested in poetry than I am may prefer that style. Outright condemnation of a book because it contains themes one finds inappropriate, or is in a literary style that does not appeal, is doing a disservice to a book that could open the world of fiction to another reader.