(Note: I recently wrote this for a blog called Fragments of Life, but I thought I’d also share it with you here.)
A few months ago, I went to visit my parents at the house where I grew up in Texas. My mom, in her mom way, likes to make use of my presence to clean out closets.
“Can we throw out these softball trophies?”
“What about these old dance recital costumes?”
“You’re never going to wear these shoes again, are you?”
And on it goes. If Mom and I fill up a garbage bag to take to goodwill, the day has been a success. This last trip, she was going through my old dresser, tossing things into the trash with reckless abandon—until we came across an old sketchbook buried in the recesses of a drawer.
“What is that?” my mom asked, when I leapt up to save the sketchbook from its date with the trashcan. I recognized it immediately. I’d filled it up on a road trip my family took to Colorado in the summer of 1994. The binding was split and a few of the pages were loose, but otherwise, it was still in good shape. Once glance at its rough maroon cover brought back a flood of memories.
It was the summer between seventh and eighth grade. My family rolled in a dark green Ford Aerostar minivan back then. Baby-tees and colored jean shorts were all any one I knew was wearing. I remember I had this one baby-tee with a bar code across the chest. (Why??) That whole trip I could not be separated from my discman, which would have been blasting either Ace of Base and or the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat soundtrack. We drove fourteen hours from Dallas to Boulder with my brother throwing things at me from the back bench of the minivan.
And I wrote it all down.
I’d documented everything we ate on our vacation. Every restaurant name, every dish that every member of my family ordered, every meal of every day. I wrote down everything we wore (yes, the baby-tee with the bar code made a few appearances). I wrote down the weather and what the stars looked like each night and jokes my brother told. I drew floor plans of the little cabin we rented. I drew the escape route we took when we filled the cabin with smoke using the wrong kind of wood to make a fire. I had a page for funny bumper-stickers I saw on cars we passed along the highway. I made notes of what each of my friends were doing the two weeks I was out of town.
It was a time capsule of that summer—but it was more than that.
People ask me all the time when I first knew I was going to be a writer. I don’t think I knew it then. A lot of kids keep diaries. But flipping open this book fifteen years after I’d filled it, I could see it. My attention to detail was pretty intense. I guess I was either going to be a novelist or a detective.
People also ask me if I have any advice for aspiring writers. I don’t think that being a writer means you have to fill a sketchbook with every meal every person in your family ever eats, but I do think there’s value in taking note of the things that are happening around you. There’s value in finding something interesting in even the most mundane details of life. Because somewhere, there’s a story in them. Someday, maybe you’ll lose the sketchbook, but the sense of curiosity will be rooted deep inside you. More than anything else, curiosity is what keeps me writing today.