Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Incandescent Clouds in a quiet sky

"Desperado" by the Eagles has been running through my head all morning, and from that haunting horror of a melody comes the memory of recording it in a YOU CAN SING booth at Six Flags Over Texas in 1992. I was on a Youth Trip with a rather awful group of kids from the First Baptist Church of Birmingham. I was a farm-fed Yankee thrown in with a bunch of Mountain Brook/Homewood...I don't even know how to explain them, I'd never seen a group of kids like them before. Polished, preened, and progressive. Designer clothes, perfect hair, lots of gadgets to travel with. I was in faded snowboarding t-shirt, a hand-me-down flannel, and ripped up jeans. I had a walkman and two mix tapes and a few books. They had game systems, high tech music players, and (I kid you not) one girl even had a pocket translator (English vs Spanish). "What's that for?" I asked pointing to it. The svelte southern belle held it two inches in front of my nose and looked at me like I was a complete idiot, "Like, when we stop, so, like, I can order food at the restaurant, or whatever."

I wanted to explain to her that New Mexico (our final destination) was not actually part of Mexico and that when we stopped at McDonalds for lunch the staff would most probably understand her just fine...but I kept my mouth shut. I kept to myself the majority of that trip, my head leaning against the bus window, staring out into the ever-changing landscape. It changed, just as my feelings changed about this journey I was on. This opportunity had been accepted with a song of adventure, a dream of cross-country discovery. Not quite the same as a chartered bus with television and vcr to while away the endless hours on the road. But it kept my companions busy and gave me time to reflect on the predicament that I was in.

When we finally got to the camp in New Mexico, I made friends with a bunch of kids from Reno, Nevada, most of them forced there by their parents. You could pick the lot of us out a mile away, mostly in black and really uncomfortable with all of the hand-holding, song-singing, jesus-ness going on around us. I guess for the most part, it was that feeling of overwhelming "agape" that threw us off because we all knew that once we left the auditorium filled with frenzied kids belting along to cheesy, emotive music while reading reptitive texts from a state of the art slide-projector it would be just like high school again. We were the outsiders in this setting, lonely, tired, bored, somewhat scared, although now as I look back on that creeping, endless least we had each other.

I had an intense crush on William Cotran, a tall, graceful boy with dark eyes and chin-length black hair who would often, between Bible Study and supper, sit on a hill over-looking the Glorietta campus and scribble things into a small black book. I would walk past him, behind him, in front of him, dreaming, dying for some sign of notice. I had decided that he was a great artist, because up to that point it seemed to me that all somber and mysterious men were artists of some sort and at that point in was the visual arts that fascinated me the most. When I finally got up the nerve to go speak to him, he told me that in fact it was not a tree that he was sketching, but the forest beyond the horizon that he was describing. Poetry. At this moment, I decided that poetry was for me. I went to the camp gift shop and bought a journal and sat there for an hour or so, thinking of words, words, words to describe the grass, the trees, the sky, my shoe, my arm, my pencil....I would use words that I had heard, words that I didn't understand, but that sounded absolutely fantastic. Incandescent. Erroneously. Eradicate.

From that moment until the day we finally arrived home, I never despaired outwardly again. I become a pleasant, quite docile young woman. Quiet. Always scribbling away. I dreamed and despaired (in an incredibly dramatic style) on a white lined page and that was enough.

Recently while packing for the move to Cincinnati, I found this journal and all of the editions that followed. I was amazed at the sadness contained within it's pages. I was taken in by violent declarations of joy and love from such a young and silly girl. Who was than girl? Surely not me. I see within these pages, so peppered by moments that I have now forgotten, vital turning points, new discoveries of music, friendship, young love. Now I am transported. All by these silly, sad words.

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

Your story makes so much sense to me - I was a consummate journal keeper from 12 to 23 and, though I'm glad that those journals exist, it can be so painful to read how hard life seemed to me sometimes or how deeply hurt or spiteful I was at times.

But I'm so glad to have them, especially working in youth development. Today and in the future, if I'm ever a parent, having those records of my ups and downs reminds me of how very difficult adolescence is. It's so easy for people to forget and to not care, but childhood through early adulthood is such a serious, challenging journey.