Letting Go On The Journey

Backstory: May 13

Roles reverse when the leader becomes lost

Sometimes in workshop we just do writing that’s fun. Most of the time we work on craft — structure, characterization, etc. — but sometimes we take a break and have a good time without thinking too hard about the ways stories are constructed.

This past week we wrote about road trips. I asked participants to unfurl their stories in a cinematic way, imagining their written scenes as movie scenes. We talked about road trip movies: “Easy Rider,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Badlands,” “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Sideways,” others. In all of these stories there is a sense of freedom that can only come from being in a car (or on a bike), speeding down a highway, passing fields and towns and stands of trees, maybe having run-ins with the law.

The pieces that emerged from the prompt were highly varied — some gleeful, some emotionally complicated, some not so cheerful. We got rid of the story arc, the upward diagonal plotting that begins with a character’s need or desire and increases in intensity until a climax takes place. The road trip stories possessed the archetype of the journey, the longitudinal motion in which obstacles are encountered and strange occurrences show up suddenly.

Last year around this time, my niece and I took a road trip and saw a rain-sheathed tornado close up, an abandoned Dodge City, a frothing river with sage erupting from boulders, a hidden mountain town called Salida, which seemed like what Taos must have been before tourists discovered it, and the real tourist Mecca, the Grand Canyon, which was so dense with people you had to shove yourself between shoulders to look down at the mammoth vermilion cliffs. What we thought would be the highlight was not, and what we imagined would simply be the “getting there” turned out to be the heart of the journey.

This piece about getting there — and arriving — by Tanya Knudsen, came from this past week’s prompt.

By Tanya Knudsen

The blue lights flipped on and her sister yelled “Oh my God, Julene,” in her New York drawl. This had been quite a trip with just a few miles left to return to home and finally to bed. The adventure was on again with the introduction of this tall, Southern hunk of a law man approaching the car.
“What were you thinking pulling over before he even turned on the lights?!”
“We all knew he was coming after me.”
Julene was the sweet one, the true Southern lady of this rowdy bunch of girlfriends. That’s why she was behind the wheel. Katie offered to show some skin to help get out of the ticket, and that’s all they needed to be off and running with their comfortable comedy they had perfected between them. They all knew the laughter, raunchy remarks and quick wit were there to serve as a balm for what this trip was really about. So, the entertainment began of watching Julene use her Southern charms on their new roadside companion.
The officer didn’t seem as enchanted with the stack of expired insurance cards that poured from the glove box as the passengers were. Julene was polite, but they all knew of the ace she might play. And then it came. “Sir, we have been traveling 10 hours today to be with our friend who is dying of cancer.” Roxy sat in the back seat, and the sting of the words pierced her chest. Could this man possibly imagine the events that had occurred that day? The car had served as a small chapel for this band of sisters. They were losing one of their own.
Melanie had come out to greet them earlier in the day with such effort to be just herself. She wasn’t herself. What was the gap that rested between them, impossible to fully cross? The gap was visible through the hollow look in Melanie’s eyes. She invited the rowdy bunch to sit on her patio. Gifts and compliments were exchanged at a hearty pace. While she sat, still holding the travel watercolor case they gave her to take to chemo, she declared “You know, you guys, I’m not going to die.”
So the gap became a little wider and the loss of words a little greater. The friends would be nothing but supportive and chimed in like a lovely chorus of how they knew she would beat this thing. Their minds silently raced, knowing what stage 4 metastatic cancer meant. Melanie was their leader and had introduced each to the other. She was the one who had taught each of them about the adventure of life! To see life itself leak slowly out of her was not their greatest pain. Where was their leader at the moment they needed her to show them the way? She was lost herself, and the roles were being reversed. Their fearless leader was looking back at them with fear-filled eyes, looking for someone to assure her they knew the way.

*No part of Tanya Knudsen’s piece may be used without written permission from the author.

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