Sunday, August 07, 2011

Marin | Seeing to write


Sausalito reminded me. There were always souvenir shops at the end of family vacations. From rows of trinkets, doodads and mysterious talismans my sister and I would each pluck one. We'd arrange them on the top of our dressers once we got home, hoping to mark what our kid eyes had seen. Most of my personal items were "my X from Y."

We encourage the same for Henry and Addie. You get to buy one thing to remember the trip, we say, and they agonize over the choice until we prod them toward the register. As a kid I stuffed years of vacation spot t-shirts into my dresser drawers. I'd wear them thin and dread the day I had to give them up, fearing I'd forget the trips themselves. From tiny stores in coastal towns Lis and I culled shells, their pink sides glossed with garish shellac that set us up for disappointment in the brown-grey muck of Northern California sand. I come across the most meaningful of childhood souvenirs about once a year, usually as I sort through bins from the attic for a garage sale.

Even the best of these looks like junk today. They remind me of what I thought was really cool, but the clutter nags. Words are my best collection. If I'm going to keep a memory, I have to write it. In this way I can relive it. Hopefully my kids can live it too, or know me better for it. A broken sand dollar at the bottom of a tub isn't evocative as a paragraph of precise images.

Seeing to write is a different beast, though. It's hungry seeing. Forgetting what you have to do when you get home. Recording, but not like a camera. Breaking rules about what goes with what. Inhaling the scent of a place and swirling it around the shape of the cliffs as you drive. Tasting the sunset in your beer. Sensing the interruption of sailboats in the bay like staccato punctuation. Drawing lines between conversations and expression, sketching what you feel about someone in the shape of how they stand in a place.

I was seeing to write in Marin. It's not that I'm formatting a mental Word document while I walk around. But I'm so happy for experience because I know how it will drive me to write. I am always bursting with words when I've really gotten out and done something. Marin county was beautiful; K is good, comfortable company. All of that makes for delicious writing.

Muir overlook


Fog curled at the margins of our vision just about everywhere we went: rolling, rising scrolls of mist. Though the sun shone full above us, it was a rarer sight than the thick grey which deepened the cleft of the cliffs and obscured the horizon above the water. Up and down the hills the highway wove, like the strand of a gentle braid through eucalyptus and thick green brush. I tried hard to see and to keep. To take it in and mix it together. To both enjoy and absorb.



Marin county is largely foreign to me even though it's pretty close to home. It's lucky that K went to college there and appreciates the escape of a day trip. It helps that places abound that evoke memories for her, too. I love to listen to her stories. The area is close to where we live but it's so different from what I know, and different even from other parts of itself. On one edge a row of weather-beaten mailboxes guard a narrow road through untamed seaside. Buildings rise like interlopers from behind thick vegetation. Charcoal logs ring toppling fire pits on an ash-strewn beach. But just over the hill, extravagant houses straddle the bay on rickety stilts, their facades lined up in gradated hues like tailored shirts at Macy's. Scarf-wrapped mothers step out of catalogs in Tory Burch flats to walk their North Face-swaddled young. Lavish boats come and go without apology. All of it, strange. All of it pretty.



What goes on my memory shelf from this trip? Matchstick fries. A methodical ride along the narrow road on the edge of the earth. The crunch of dried seaweed beneath my purple quilt, K doodling in the sand just like she does during a meeting. A flat tire, a mandatory pause in a fortuitous spot. A curtain of fog. Tiny beers. Old ladies jogging. The soft brush of waves. Too many jalapenos. Life experience.

Tiburon

photos that are not mine: here, here, here.

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