Have you ever thought about what era your life is in or was in?
I was asked to consider this in a memoir writing class I am taking this quarter. The instructor promised this would lead us to a story or two even… There was one caveat, the era had to be linked with an obsession.
Beginning when I was about 13 years old, I was obsessed with moving to California from my hometown of Chicago. I wanted to go to high school there, I wanted to go to college then graduate school there, I wanted to live there more than anywhere else in the world. Why?
Was it the salty ocean air while walking along Ocean beach? The fog rolling over Twin Peaks bringing cool ocean air inland, on a hot summer afternoon? Was it the sour dough bread? Or was it the cable cars? The natural and man-made beauty that makes San Francisco so special makes everyone fall in love with her, but there was more.
I was attached to my grandmother. She moved to San Francisco, from Chicago, when I was 8 or 9. She was the woman I aspired to be. Beautiful, confident, fiercely independent and unassumingly intelligent.
She was also an amazing cook. On one visit, she taught me how to shop for ingredients at different stores in her neighborhood of the Mission district. We would walk to the produce market on the corner of Mission and 24th, selecting not too soft avocados and fresh green cilantro for her famous guacamole. We would stop at the butcher that was within a mall off of Mission between 21st and 22nd, to buy a quartered chicken for her famous arroz con pollo. And on special occasions she would buy freshly made ravioli from the Italian market, on 22nd and Valencia, only a block from her apartment, and cook them up with a sauce she would make from scratch with fresh Roma tomatoes, oregano, rosemary and other fresh herbs. I had never experienced a culinary world like that in Chicago. Shopping was at a grocery store and dinner was made from ingredients that were from a can or a box.
Life in San Francisco was a rainbow of colors and smells that I had not found in Chicago. My entire being glowed when I was in San Francisco, only to fizzle when I went back to Chicago.
The era of obsessing over moving to California lasted almost 10 years. To an adult 10 years may not sound like a long time. So let me put it into the perspective of a teenager.
It was FOREVER!
I graduated from elementary school, high school and college before I finally moved to San Francisco.
And this is where my instructors directions became unclear. I didn’t know what to do with the eras within this larger era or my obsessions within the bigger obsession. Obsessions don’t happen consecutively in my life.
There was the era of obsessing over the older brother of one of my classmates. For two years I suffered with a major infatuation for a tall, olive skinned, guy with black curly hair and eyes that were blue like the Caribbean sea. By the time he noticed me, I was on to my next obsession. I was obsessed with bicycle riding along lake Michigan from the north side of the city, where I lived, south 12 miles to Soldier’s Field or north 6 miles to Baha’i temple in the northern suburb of Wilmette. I was obsessed with the 1985 Bears! “Da Bears!” I was obsessed with becoming a Marine Biologist, and so on, and so on…
My instructor had us think of a scene at the beginning, middle and end of the era. She said, that is the backbone of a story.
A story?! Easier said than done!
I must have a gazillion stories I can tell. But that is a good thing. And I hope you can find them in yours too.
For now, I have some work to do… I need to sift through all of those obsessions, within those eras, or those eras within those obsessions and tease out focused stories.
This is not going to be a piece of cake.
But it will be fun!