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Preliminary, Late-night, First-stab at a Prologue for my ‘Memoir Writing’ final.

July 14, 2008


The Mark of the Migratory


There is something inherently gothic and romantic in the American South.  I grew up on flat red clay stretched into coastal plains under which untold numbers of marred soldiers, stripped slaves, and pocked indians leaked into the soil.  The land, the region, is at once idyllic and incriminated, quaint but threaded with guilt.  For generations my mother and father’s family had been born into this enigmatic and conflicted place.

The Romantic and the Gothic, like most mystic ideas, are more easily borne from afar.  I could see the tinderbox in which I lived from the time I was a child, and knew both the intimate beauty of my home, and the inevitable misunderstandings and stereotypes that surrounded it.  My love for the American South is something I was born into, without choice, and have defensively guarded and fiercely protected, like one would a sometimes-unsavory family member.


One in every generation feels that this place is too much to bear, and has to leave.  My uncle, Daddy’s older brother, grew his hair long, sailed for a year, married a Jewish woman, became an AIDS nurse and moved to Boston.  He is the fiercest preserver of family history, the most knowledgeable, the most consumed by reverence for the ideal of home, among his siblings.  From my first childhood memories, I knew I would leave.

We listened to country music radio with my cousins everywhere we went in the van or station wagon.  Every lapse between songs brought out the story of yet another singer who had risen to fame from a heretofore unknown Southern town.  I didn’t necessarily want to sing, but I did glean from those slick radio voices that it was possible to put a place on the map by leaving it, by sacrificing it for someplace bigger.  And I wanted to achieve that desperately.  

I needed the land, and lifestyle I had been born into to become otherworldly, a kind of supreme fiction for my own life.  Enough miles would make it holy, worthy of the kind of extraordinary reverence I already felt.  I could be differentiated, and with differentiation would come exoneration, and a platform for correcting egregious misunderstandings.


Around the age of eight, I gained awareness of my own dialect, and coached myself into shedding it when beneficial.  At eighteen, I engaged in a northing, moving four hundred miles to the northwest, within arms reach of a major city and the mountains, for college.  Virginia was exotic to my eyes; within weeks I was witnessing the most brilliant full trajectory of fall I had ever seen.  Nearly all of the trees, rather than just a few, paraded the reds and oranges they seem to accrue overnight.  Once the leaves fell, the trees stood in barren, exquisite beauty.  They engaged in fractilinear line value beyond what any graphite and paper could produce, looking as if they had upended themselves, so their roots might meet the sky for a few months.

It was not that I had never been anywhere.  I’d travelled the country, as well as left it for South America and Europe.  But I found the experience of living within my new environment breathtaking; it was the ability to chronicle its changes daily that entranced me.  By the opulence of spring, I’d found a new hand to hold down the rain-wet, lamp-lit streets.  Before long, my toxic naivete and utter obsession with The Boy from New England would nearly devour me; when he turned loose of me, the following fall, I was a gnawed, hollowed, weeping mess, a shadow of my younger self.

I mourned and found company with a painter as bereaved for lost-love as I.  I spent weekends talking philosophy with his roommates, sitting on a downtown roof, smoking hookah.  My grief was still so raw, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror in the painter’s bathroom.  By spring, I made the acquaintance of a beautiful man (a musician), but held him at bay from my chaotic life until summer, when he gave me no choice, driving down to my beloved coast.  We went to the beach every day and talked about Buddhism at length, and within days, I was standing in his hotel room, choosing a grey tie for him to wear out downtown.  Over the years, I slowly traded him my doubts and fears for the simple joy of his company.  I found in him a man kind and gentle, creative, stable, and loving.


My life is like that of many birds.  Whiffing the change of season, the faltering sunlight or strengthening wind, I take off, going seaward, or north, leaving family or friends or country in pursuit of better climate.  From every break the past becomes writable: distant, but not severed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2008 3:57 pm

    “Thank God it’s fatal” – hell of a first-stab. Oh how I love honest(ea)y, I thought my last reaction was maybe a bit of a fluke (sensitive side of the bed? right). Looking forward to the rest. Thank you.

  2. July 16, 2008 4:58 pm

    Your blog came up on my morning google alert for folks interested in memoir writing, and I thought you might be interested in First Person Arts’ Impressions competitions running through August 15th. It includes a competition for short documentary films (under 5 minutes) and documentary photo essays (5 images or fewer), but the memoir competition calls for 1500 words. Check out the competition website here: and find out more about First Person Arts a Philly non-profit dedicated to memoir and documentary art at

    We’ve got some excellent judges, and the winning entries will get some very nice exposure, not to mention a little cash. It would be great if you could post about this on your blog and/or pass it around to your friends or writers groups. If you send me an e-mail I can attach a flyer for you. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks,


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