Last night I had a dream about Ceaer Chavez. I cannot remember what the dream was about, only that I was looking for him, searching everywhere I could think of. I remember seeing him, I remember his red button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up to show his dark, sinewy forearms.I remember knowing that I needed to talk to him.
This tells me I am becoming closer to Unplanted. It has entered my dreams now and it is becoming a part of me, as it has been at several times over the past ten years.
I have been thinking a lot lately of my project. I have been turning it over and over in my mind, sketching out plot lines and character building. I have asked a good friend to draw my protagonists so that I can see them as I write. For some reason, I cannot see them in my mind’s eye. Instead, I feel them.
Next month it will be ten years since I began this project. It started as a short story, written hastily as a final assignment for a gothic literature class, one of the first classes I took at UW Bothell. It has been a part of me ever since.
I have struggled many times with Unplanted. At first it was conceived to show the plight of migrant farm workers. I was very interested in transient lifestyles then, but more than anything I thought of George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men. I wondered what it is about that lifestyle, that constant moving without knowing, might drive someone to depression. I wondered what kept them going, and I knew then, as I know now, that they kept one another going, moving toward that place they dreamed of owning. And that is what I thought of when I first encountered Mattie. I knew then, as I know now, that she needs a place of her own, that she needs stability and safety. Mattie has been moving for so long, with no particular direction other than what Joe dictates. In the story, and in the early drafts of the novel, this is what drives her to a major depression, and a resulting suicide attempt.
When I began the story, I wanted to explore notions of transience. I wanted to show its promises, too. I knew Mattie and Joe as white. I knew that they had once been privileged enough to choose this lifestyle.
I wanted to show the injustices migrant farm workers face. The project was conceived after I completed some research on the plight of migrant workers in the Yakima Valley. I was taking an introduction to interdisciplinary studies class and the theme was ‘work.’ I can’t remember what prompted me to choose this population as my research focus. What I do remember is a very strong attachment to what I learned about, even here was little recent research. Much of what I read had been written in the seventies. I remember wanting to do something, to move to Yakima temporarily and perform some primary research that would lead to greater public awareness of what migrant workers’ lives are like, and how most of our food is touched by their hands.
But when I finished writing the story, my focus shifted. I learned that I could write, that I loved it and, according to my peers’ feedback and my instructor’s comments, I was pretty good at it. My instructor told me I had the sense and soul of a writer and, in time, I came to believe her.
I took a couple more classes with her, and continued writing under her direction. I continued writing stories. I had no idea what I was doing, only that I enjoyed it. I still cannot fully articulate what it is that I get out of writing stories. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
Maybe what matters is what I do with my stories.
Maybe what matters comes in the sharing of stories.
What matters with Unplanted is certainly the sharing. It has been in my head too long. It is time I fully pen the story, no matter what it is about. I need to share Mattie and Joe with you. I have chosen this site as the place I will freewrite, draft and track my research.
And perhaps, one day, my story of Mattie and Joe will be complete.