October 12, 1991 Island Falls, ME

I'm sitting in a cafe talking with some very nice Mainers about the Aroostook War, about which I'd never heard but which these people tell me is the reason Aroostook County is part of the US. It's raining continuously so I thought I'd stop in and have some coffee and write down what I've been thinking about. I tend to do my best thinking while driving and hiking and then have to remember it all to write down later. Many of the best phrases escape me, but others are fabricated by the embellishments of memory. So:

One of the most interesting things about travel is the ever-changing way in which I perceive what I'm doing. Some days it's pure drudgery: scouring the Rand McNally for a campsite, driving there with the intention of Doing a Hike only to find it ugly and/or raining. Sometimes I settle into a routine like this where I feel like the purpose of my trip is to seek out 15 mile hikes in state parks, and the routine gets boring. Then, all of a sudden (usually with coffee as a catalyst), I shift gears and realize that I don't need a goal and can just wander around til I see something nice and then stop, perhaps pulling off onto a dirt road for the night as I did in lower Michigan. Then there are times when a goal is all that keeps me going: Iowa City with its warmth, laundry, and vacuum -- I must get there! There are a hundred different ways of perceiving my journey: new ones are constantly being uncovered and previous ones reappear like old friends -- the myriad facets of a churning crystal. I remember feelings like this on my previous journey, yet can't remember specific emotions. These states of mind are like wisps of smoke, gone before they're defined, previous synapse paths that can no longer be traced, another time's forgotten space. These are not the sorts of things that lend themselves to memory. Realities are best experienced real-time, I suppose.

I remember, for instance, that I used to work at the refinery. I remember many details of my job there, sharp points emerging from a fuzzy ball that is my two years of employment. I can define the space in which my experience resides yet am incapable of viewing that space from the inside again.

One of the people I worked with at the Refinery was a man named Howard. Possibly because people often call me Howard, we got along well. Howard was at least 70 years old, a country boy in cowboy boots who wasn't afraid of washing his hands in benzene and had come out of retirement because it was too boring. He liked me because I had a similarly cavalier attitude towards chemicals and construction. I, in turn, admired Howard immensely for his tenacity and sense of humor. At my farewell donutfest I made some sort of smirking comment in answer to the often-asked question "Why?" about how I was going to write a book. Howard signed my card with the inscription "Write that book!"

Well, I know that I could never write a book merely because the purposeful act of sitting down to write it would ruin anything I produced. Besides, I wouldn't know what to write about. I still have my journal book from my round-the-world trip, and it stands as a perfect embodiment of my journey -- but not in words. The first three pages are indeed writing: day one I wrote in great gasping splurts about how wild it was to be in Bali and see all these weird things. Day two was a page, slightly less enthusiastic and less detailed. Day three, a bad travel day, was a short paragraph of single-word sentences in a distraught scrawl. I realized that a journal was a feeble way to record the enormity of experience that is a journey, and the rest of the book is filled with other, non-prose aspects of my trip in no particular order. There are the pages of Amsterdam hash drawings, the dates and times of important trains, various coffee stains, and pages after page of cribbage scores from our time in Italy. And then there are the Lists. At some point during the trip I became obsessed with what I was going to do when I got back, and I began making lists of movies I wanted to see, places I wanted to go, records I wanted to buy, and art projects I wanted to pursue. Needless to say, few of these ever came to fruition. Nevertheless, the journal, jumbled and non-linear as it is, is the perfect embodiment of the evolution of my mental states. It captures the spirit of my experience like no letter I ever wrote.

This is the kind of book I am capable of writing: multimedia, chaotic, simply the jetsam of my living. I know I'm doing a lot more actual writing this time, but these group mailings are only part of the picture. Along with the postcards, personal letters, drawings, and others objects that spin off from my truck as I whirl down the road, I hope to create a dispersed yet coherent record of my roiling journey through the disparate lands on both sides of my skull.

And now that I've stated formally such a pompous and purposeful answer to the question "Why?", my subconscious can work with all of its power against it.

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Chez Zeus: Writing: No Simple Highway: Island Falls, ME

Last modified: Wed Feb 18 21:14:36 1998
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