Backstory: Behind The Journey

Gabrielle Idlet (

Motion, creation can drive needed change

BACKSTORY with Gabrielle Idlet

When I was 22, Greyhound was running a special: travel across the country with as many stops as you like for $100.
I was achingly in love with the first of several men who would not love me in return. After a summer of our pre-dawn prowls through ancient, crumbling Hollywood mansions and explorations of the desolate nighttime heart of downtown LA, he fell in love with someone else, and I had to do something. I bought the ticket.
I had a friend in New York, so that’s where I headed. I didn’t know anyone along the way, and I had $300 to last me until I found a job wherever I wound up, so I wouldn’t be taking Greyhound up on its “many stops” opportunity. It didn’t matter.
I sat in the back, away from the screeching families, and listened to the cursing and boasting of the men who congregated there. I didn’t mind the tiny space for my knees or the icy air coming from the vents or even the chemical-fecal stench of the bathroom. They were part of the journey, and I needed the journey.
A group of fresh ex-cons who’d joined the bus in Reno shared their smuggled Jim Beam with me. In Nebraska the bus broke down. We slept in our seats overnight, and it was weirdly frigid in August. In Cleveland I had a four-hour layover, put my bag in a locker and walked in wider and wider circles around the bus station, watching the late afternoon sun give the decrepit buildings increasingly elegant shadows.
I slept the rest of the way, on and off, and emerged from Penn Station to a sensory chaos of fast walkers and self-talkers, honking horns and hot dog smoke.
I was, more or less, cured.
Sometimes nothing but true physical motion can erect the change you need. But sometimes creating can conjure the needed journey. When you absorb yourself fully in an act of creation — drawing the bark of a tree, molding a woman’s form out of clay, dancing, however clumsily, to unfamiliar music, writing — you move from this world to another. You travel. And when you return, you are, maybe just a bit, changed.
This piece, “Paonia” by Martin Jardon, came from the following simple prompt: Write about someone setting out on an adventure.

"We drove west in silence, bound for the trains in Arkansas, and I wondered about the strength of this person sitting beside me ... Why did I want her to be "Mike," the dyslexic New York kid with whom I went to college?" From "Paonia" by Martin Jardon



My friend Paonia. Before that, she was called Chicken, and before that he went by Mike. Five-feet-two and weighing perhaps 110 pounds. The bearded lady, she called herself. I trusted her to guide me down a thousand miles of freight track and then another thousand miles of hitching roads. We started in Boston, where I stood frozen with fear before a baby bat in her attic shower.  She gathered up a bed sheet in silence, folded it gently around the mammal’s body, slid open a window and watched it take flight into the gray morning.
“Wow,” I said. “How’d you do that?”
“It’s just a bat,” she shrugged.
From then on I introduced her as Paonia, the person she believed herself to be rather than “Mike,” the person I thought she should be. The last time I had committed the introduction crime, she turned to me, hurt, and said softly, “You know, I haven’t used that name in over 15 years.”
“But who would understand that name you made up?” I protested.
“I was hoping you would,” she said.
We drove west in silence, bound for the trains in Arkansas, and I wondered about the strength of this person sitting beside me who could barely make out the road signs through her half-inch thick glasses, who would throw her head to the side uncontrollably every couple of minutes, and who spoke in both a whisper and a shout, often in the same sentence. Why did I want her to be “Mike,” the dyslexic New York kid with whom I went to college?
These thoughts faded as the adventure ahead began to take shape. Maybe we would meet a kindly engineer who would let us ride with him in the cab all the way to New Mexico, share his private fridge full of organic produce, and entertain us with tales of the rails. And dumpsters, Paonia said, were the bread of life of the road: fresh doughnuts to be dug in the morning and treasure troves of the deli in the evening. I could almost see the sharp cheddar sparkle at me from below the gigantic plastic lid.*


Take the reader on a journey somewhere in Northwest Arkansas, and reveal the essence of the place in your story. Send your story to

*No reproduction of any part of “Paonia” by Martin Jardon without permission from the author.

▲ Gabrielle is a former Writer-in-Residence at the Sundance Institute. She has crisscrossed the country from Los Angeles to New York more times than she can count and is proud to call Fayetteville her kinder, gentler home.

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