Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Blogging Experiment: The State Writing Project

This all started with my buddy Brian.

Brian was the guy I student-taught with waaay back in 1998/99. Quite simply, a great man. Incredibly, we have begun a correspondence using the U.S. Postal Service. In this age of email, Facebook, and attachments, I can say without doubt and from experience that there is still something unmatchably satisfying about getting a real-live letter in the mail. The correspondence began in June when I sent him a Mariner ticket. I didn't want to just have the ticket in the envelope. Too impersonal. So I wrote him a letter--and he responded. We've gone back and forth with our letters since then...18 each way and counting.

Anyway, this blog project stems from a conversation we had at the ballpark before the game. I'm not sure how we got there. I think that Brian talked about something that had happened to him in Wyoming, paused, and said "That's my best Wyoming memory."

I thought. "Wow. I've never really thought of that. We could do a best memory in each state."

He challenged me. "Really. What's your best Wyoming memory?"

I paused, thought, and told him.

"That sounds like it was a great time."

"Yeah. But some of these can get difficult. For instance, what's your best Indiana memory?"

I knew Brian had grown up in Indiana, and had spent more time there than in any other state, so it'd be a challenge for him to zero in on one memory.

"I've got one."

"Okay. What is it?"

"'s sexual."

"Oh. I don't want to hear that." I paused and considered that my best memory in a good number of states would probably be sexual too. "What's your best non-sexual memory in Indiana?"

He paused, then gave me the story centered around a high school teacher he loved.

"What about you? What about Ohio?"

Ah! He's playing dirty. He knows that I have many great, treasured college memories. But my best memory from Ohio isn't from my Kenyon days, but from a ways after. It all started at a friend's house in Mount Vernon, when we were looking at a struggling singer's website...

"That sounds like it was hilarious!"

Since then, we've been sending a state memory back and forth with every letter. I'm going alphabetically, he's going reverse alphabetically.

In my friend's letters, I have a unique oral history...part travelogue, part diary, part sense-of-where-we've-been-and-what-we've-done. And I've taken to thinking a few states ahead, trying to pick between several Massachusetts contenders, for instance, or the very few things I have ever done in Maryland. I've learned that I value companionship. I've done a fair amount of traveling alone, mostly to ballparks...but very few solo moments make the cut. I guess I'm social after all. (Of course, because so much of my travel involves ballgames, a disproportionate number of my state memories involve ballparks. Consider that just a TRP quirk.)

I've even started asking people for their state memories, especially my dad. Dad chalked up his 50th state on an October jaunt to Hawaii, so he should have something cool in every state. He insists he has nothing to share, but then goes off on really awesome stories about a frat prank on spring break in Florida in 1959 or the feeling of African-American drivers pulling over to the shoulder to make way for his family on a Southern trip sometime around 1950. And then, in the next sentence, he'll say "But there's nothing interesting about any of this." Bullcrap, Dad. I'll set you up the blog if you write this. But do it! So few have been to all 50...give it a shot.

What I like a lot about this project is how much I'm learning from it...both about Brian and about me. I think that the memories that stay with us are the ones we most value. To be sure, there are big life moments included in these. But small-ones-that-are-sort-of-big or funny-stuff-of-family-lore tends to slip in as we travel. I've learned about how Brian felt about the first time he heard his dad cuss, on a family trip in Virginia. It made me realize that the first time I heard MY dad cuss was also on a family trip, at a Missouri gas station in 1979 as we were on our way to my grandfather's funeral. These sorts of things don't really belong in full-on memoirs, but are quite interesting and revealing about the writer.

And that last sentence is sort of what blogging is about, isn't it?

So, in 2009, I will blog one state memory per week. Every Sunday.

I've been to 48 states...all except for Maine and New Hampshire. I've spent somewhere between an hour and 21 years in each of them. And I will write about one important, vivid, or indelible memory from each. I will try to hold myself to the following rules:

1. No sex.
2. The memory can't be "a two-week trip I took with my family." The memory has to be shorter than that...I'll say no more than a few hours in length. Remembering "we took a trip through there" isn't really a memory. Remembering "Even though there was not a soul in the place, the guy at Stuckey's made us take a number. He then shouted out '49!!!! 49!!! 49!!!' repeatedly at nobody before calling 50, our number"...well, that's a memory. Vivid. Specific. Interesting. So it has to be an event. I'd say a 3-hour max, although I anticipate bending this rule.
3. I'm going to keep these short. They're vignettes. When I type them to Brian, I require they be limited to a page. I'll honor that limit on the blog as well.
4. I will include the American non-states of DC and Puerto Rico, with which I will close out the year.
5. When necessary, I'll change a name or two, but otherwise, I will be as true as possible to the memory. No poetic license or changing what happened for effect.

And now, the big invitation:

I really, really want you guys to do this too. And your friends. Anyone you know who writes.

One memory per state. One state per week. From Sunday to the end of 2009.

Seriously, give it a shot. It's a nice, fun way to sort of reflect on yourself and where you've been, both literally and metaphorically. If you just want to put your own memories in the comments of my entries, that's cool. But in a perfect world, all my friends would do this, and some of their friends too, and in the process we'd learn a bit about each other.

It's an invitation. Let me know if you have questions about it. And I'll be starting on Sunday with Alabama.


tommyspoon said...

Question #1: Is there any particular order you would like these arrayed in?

Question #2: What do you mean by "No sex"? No graphic depictions of sexual activity? Because I can write about sex without writing about sex, if you know what I mean.

Question #3: Some of us haven't been to all 50 states. Does this disqualify us from participation?

TeacherRefPoet said...

1. I'll be going alphabetical. Alabama is this Sunday. We'll go 50 weeks through to Wyoming. In the remaining two weeks of 2009, I'll do the District of Columbia and then Other US Territories and Possessions. In my case, Puerto Rico; in your case, maybe you had a great time in the Panama Canal Zone before we ceded it.

2. YOU GET TO MAKE YOUR OWN RULES, so you can write the Fifty States of Gettin' Busy if you'd like. But to me, the "No sex" rule means no real kiss-and-tell stuff. There will certainly be romance, starting with Alabama. I have a wonderful sexual memory in Alabama, but rest assured you don't want to hear me describe it. That's what I mean by that. But if you want to write about sex without writing about sex, go for it.

3. I haven't been to all 50 states either. Maine and New Hampshire...gotta get there, although Hedgehog will slow the process by a few years. I will honor those weeks by posting "I have never been to Maine" and letting people post their memories in the comments. NOBODY is disqualified from participation.

You need not follow my rules; feel free to set your own. I do hope you write a little something, either on your blog or on mine!