If the assignment was how and why I became an artist, I could have answered it easily. Hanging on my walls are brightly coloured acrylic paintings, soft chalk pastels and warmly patterned batiks I have created. Alas, this is not a visual artists’ group; it is a writers’ group and I must delve deeper.
Sifting through some yellowed folders, I came across a family trip to Florida I had documented as a teenager. I really got into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of this trip and recorded every little detail, from the cost of groceries to what time we did our laundry.
On March 21st, I wrote, “At 4:45 pm, we stopped at the Exxon gas station in Piqua, Ohio. We bought fifty-two gallons of gas which was worth thirty dollars. People spoke with an accent there. At 4:52 pm we stopped at a rest spot and everyone visited the washroom. We reached Dayton, Ohio at 5:23 pm. At 6:00 pm we stopped at a rest stop, just south of Cincinnati, so Mom could make hot dogs for dinner.”
It’s surprising I had time to do anything but record things, as I walked around with my little notepad and pen. Sometimes the things I recorded weren’t so pleasant, especially near the end of the road trip.
I noted on March 31st, “We went to Silver Springs and watched the alligator show, pet snake show and rattler show, which Mom did not like. Mom really wanted to stop and eat. Everyone was tired and grumpy. When we got back to the camper, Mom and Dad started fighting. We got back on the highway and I knew we were heading for home. Dad said he was going to drive straight home without stopping once!
After awhile we stopped at a snack bar and had another fight and than I went in with Dad to get our lunch. We bought three hamburgers for a dollar and two hot dogs and two milkshakes for another dollar. Mom was mad and wouldn’t eat anything we bought for her. I feel depressed now. Mom says us kids fight all the time and Dad says we’ll never go on another trip!I think a lot of Mom and Dad’s fights are over us kids fighting.
We stopped at Travellers Safari Camp and ate supper. No one is hardly talking to each other. Mom still won’t eat. We watched the Ten Commandments at night on our black-and-white TV. We think it’s better in colour.”
Reading ahead I’m relieved to see the next day everyone’s mood improved a bit and Mom was eating again (thank goodness!).
I’m not sure how young I was when I started recording things. One year I recorded local weather and the high and low temperatures every day. A small orange notebook recorded what I wore to school every day; I blush at that. I documented bird sightings with dates and locations, rated and summarized books that I had read, and charted how our gardens grew. With all this obsessive documenting, I didn’t know I could write creatively until a high school teacher encouraged me after reading some of my poems. A bit of flattery and my adjective-driven teenage brain took off.
For a while I combined my love of photography with poetry .
Years later, I realized I wanted to write a children’s book after reading many a child a bedtime story. My son’s fascination with snails became my obsession. I researched and wrote pages and pages on snails. I shot rolls of film of snails in slime trails. I painted water colour illustrations for the book. Sebastian the Snail was born. A true adventurer who would overcome any obstacle in his way. I rewrote it eight times and couldn’t stop editing it. Printing costs were expensive and not in our budget. Sebastian got stuck in his own trail.
With four small children under foot, there wasn’t free time for writing or painting. I began to find small parcels of time, ten minutes here and there. The more time I made, the more I craved and soon instead of turning in at ten o’clock exhausted, I was exhilarated when the kids went to bed.
Nowadays I find inspiration from my daily walks in the forest with our dog. The problem is by the time I get home, all my wonderful ideas have vanished and it’s been too cold for a pen and notepad. It recently occurred to me, I could record my thoughts on video with my iPod as I walk. Proudly I told my daughter of my technological discovery. My daughter informed me I don’t need to take a video and should instead use voice memo as it uses less memory. I am so excited, so many possibilities now I can record my ideas.
My friend Brenda motivated me to join the (Writers’ Ink) writers’ group and try writing again. I especially enjoyed the text and art assignments and would like to find other ways to incorporate the two. I realize I’ve learned a lot already from joining this group, and have a lot to learn. I hope to to write a short story and start writing regularly. I think I’m definitely over this obsessive documenting thing and more into the creative writing stage now . . . or am I?
by Melissa Livingston-Staples