Let’s start in Los Angeles, California, a place you may have heard of and perhaps even had the displeasure of visiting. Me and Los Angeles just can’t “get on the same page.” Los Angeles is like the taste in your mouth you get after you drink a soda from a fast food restaurant and then there is some ice left in the bottom and you leave the paper cup in the hot car and it starts to wilt and the ice melts and then you come back to your car and think “oh the ice melted, let me drink this delicious cold water right quick” and then you spit it all over your lap because it tastes like disgusting melted paper. That is what Los Angeles is like. The sunsets are lovely.
Here is the “Dream Catcher” you had in your room when you were 13. I found it.
We had a wonderful visit to the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix, where we led a writing workshop for Alzheimer’s afflicted folks and their families, and staff. Check it out!
I like to imagine that somewhere in the suburbs of Heaven my grandmother was reclining on a puffy cloud that she had lined with leather and then covered in plastic, watching the 6 o’clock news at 4 o’clock, the way only old people can do (even though she looks young in Heaven, the way she did when she used to wear white gloves and fancy dresses on the Atlantic City promenade in 1947) and she saw this clip and yelled: “Bill, Bill…Matthew is on the news!” You could go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and your grandparents would still introduce you as, “This is our grandson….he was on channel seven forty years ago.”
Loosely related, somewhat humorous tangent: The first time I was ever on the news – a live broadcast in Kansas City – I was wearing a blue V-neck t-shirt. The microphone that they clipped on the shirt tugged it down, and to this day my friends still make fun of me mercilessly, claiming that in high def they could actually see my chest hair coming out of their TV screen. And so I intentionally wore another V-neck this time to keep the joke going. This is the kind of inside info you come here for, I know. Back to the photos.
Using writing as a means of expressing and preserving memories is not easy. It forces you to really focus, organize details, and imagine a future audience. Here, Kristine works with her mother, Claire, to push past simple nostalgia and really “zoom in” on a specific memory. Claire ended up writing a beautiful memory about climbing a peach tree with her brother, and then decorating the handprint orange. I’m so glad they got to share this moment (and this memory) together.
(Springer, New Mexico)
And now, if you don’t mind, I would like to give you a brief tour of a small town, Mom n’ Pop grocery store. This town was so small that it didn’t even have a McDonald’s. (It did have a “drive thru” mailbox, however, which I believe was the only one in the town.) I arrived at about 2pm.
This picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but 50% of the overhead lights were burnt out and there were wires hanging from the ceiling.
Freezer section? How about an icebox.
Pinatas! $9.99!! Suck on that, Walmart!!!!!!!!!!
And then, on the way out of town (I bought a loaf of white bread and a jar of jelly for about .18cents)….officially the greatest sign of all time.
(Springer, New Mexico)
(Motel room, Somewhere)
My typical morning work station, where I follow up with all the contacts from the previous day, and, very occasionally, blog.
We drove over to Boulder on Sunday and found this awesome guy. His show began by him yelling “Look at me! Everybody look at me!” at the top of his lungs for about 12 straight minutes. And then he looked into his own butt like a telescope.
Further up the road we met Bill, who, given on the loosest of details about SBYF, composed this poem on his 1917 Corona typewriter.
Amazing, right? Well, file away this random encounter because it was part of a larger series of events that was still unfolding, though I couldn’t see it at the time.
Sadly, G had to go, and I was back on the road alone.
It begins like this: back in San Diego, my buddy Murph gave me this t-shirt when I arrived. He’d picked it up from a guy who sells t-shirts on the sidewalk. “Just had a random impulse to get it for you,” he said.
A week later we met Bill, the typing poet in Boulder. Now, the entire trip I’ve been grappling with a problem: sometimes in our workshops, at the end of the process, seniors are unable to fully write their memories because of bad eyesight or arthritic hands or other physical constraints. I’d gladly be their scribe, but my handwriting is terrible, and so, thinking like a Millenial, I found myself wishing I could just type on my laptop and print their memories for them. But I didn’t have a printer. And so some of these memories were getting lost, or at least not as fully rendered as the participant wanted.
When I saw Bill with his typewriter, it (excuse the pun) clicked, or clacked, you might say. What I needed was a typewriter! That way I could help to render memories on the spot, no wires or battery or flash drive needed. Plus it was the perfect metaphor for old meeting new.
But where to find a typewriter? They don’t sell them at Staples. And so I told myself I’d keep an eye out for pawn and consignment shops along the way, maybe I’d get lucky. Or I could just order one on Ebay when I got home. I couldn’t stop thinking about typewriters.
Two days later I was in an art center in Amarillo, Texas. The director there was wonderful. Her name was Spunky. She gave me a personal tour of the building, an old, crumbling, one-story mall that had been bought and renovated so that all the shops were now art galleries and studios.
We got to talking about our writing workshops, and I casually mentioned how I wished I had a typewriter, because I was still thinking about typewriters all day and working them into casual conversation.
Her eyes narrowed. “Follow me,” she said.
She led me around the corner. On top of a filing cabinet there was a typewriter.
“Do you want it?” she asked.
“Someone gave it to us as a still life object, for a painting class. We don’t know what to do with it.”
“Does it work?”
“Give it a try.”
I rolled some paper into it and…clack, clack, clack….it still worked!
“It’s yours,” Spunky said.
And that is how I came to possess this beautiful Royal typewriter….which, by the way, is THE EXACT MAKE AND MODEL OF THE TYPEWRITER ON THE SHIRT THAT MURPH GAVE ME. Best I can tell it was made in 1920.
I plan to make the most of this incredible gift. In Austin, I bought a fold out table and chair and printed up a giant sign that says: “Memory Station. Your Experiences Preserved for Future Generations While You Wait.” This is my new routine: for an hour or two every day, I find a local bus station and type up people’s memories while they wait for the bus.
It’s hard to express the joy this brings me. I’m like a giddy five year old dancing in circles around the Christmas Tree. And people are taking me up on it, too. In Austin I literally had a line formed, and one girl, Jessica, missed her bus on purpose to share her memory.
As an artist, it’s a thrill. I’m given a sliding constraint (the amount of time before the bus or train comes, which could be 5 seconds or 15 minutes), and in that time I have to interview a stranger, identify a memory – one single scene from their entire existence on this Earth – and churn up as much raw detail about that experience as I can. Before they get on the bus, they trace their handprint onto a blank postcard, and then it is up to me to use all my powers of narrative to bring that scene – that memory – to life.
Here’s an example from Heath, who I met in Austin.
(I don’t have a scanner, but here is the memory.)
That’s it, just a single, zoomed in snapshot of human experience. I’ve been amazed at how open people have been, sharing with me – a total stranger – their most intimate memories and feelings. This is just a ready-made version of the project as a whole, where strangers are taking the time to mail in memories on postcards from all across America. I feel so lucky and excited and energized…not what I expected to be feeling on Day 76. The task when I get home will be to create a platform where I can share all these memories and invite you all to be a part of our Remembering Club.
But it’s not done yet. Still 24 days to go. I’ve made it here to New Orleans and no, I’m not going to Boubon Street. I’ve got my postcards and stamps and typewriter and table and I’m going to set up at the bus station next to Walmart.