Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Stories

Flora likes to tell this story. So much so that her version of it has replaced my own memory of it.

For some context, know that Flora and I met on our first day at NYU in the fall of 1991. We've been BFFs ever since. For a year spanning 1995-96, we shared my apartment in the East Village, as happy roommates.

Some night in January 1996, she walked into my half of the apartment - a living room separated by a cinder block and 2x4 bookshelf, with attached folding doors. As she tells it, I was sitting on my bed, watching “Friends” and inhaling a huge bowl of air popped popcorn. (Although we were both tall and thin and leveraging young people's metabolism, we had become obsessed with fat-free eating and emboldened each other in that pursuit.)

“Dave, aren’t you interested in travel?” She was curious because she loved it. She even lived in Italy for six months after college.

“Nope. I like New York. Why do I need to leave it?”

A year later, in January of 1997, Christine from my temp agency called. Her voice was sweetly adenoidal: “How do you feel about international travel?"

Six month prior to that, my agency had pulled me out of a Word Processing pool to try me as a computer trainer. I was still a little green.

"[Major international lawfirm] needs trainers to go out to their foreign offices. They're migrating from DOS and Word Perfect to Windows and Word. You interested? How do you feel about international travel?"

I didn’t feel particularly anything about it. I didn’t even have a passport to leave the United States.

My first assignment started in Warsaw, Poland, on Valentine’s Day 1997. Over the next three years the Firm sent me to London, Singapore, Istanbul, Moscow, Almaty (Kazakstan), and Riyadh. As part of a “Phase II” for the software conversion/migration, I made return trips to Warsaw, Istanbul, and Almaty. I also took several side trips and vacations in between: Brussels, Paris, Bangkok, St. Petersburg, New Delhi, Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Penang, Bali, Krakow and Gdansk, Prague, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

Overlapping this trajectory - and preceding it by a few years - was my involvement with a group called "Queer Stories for Boys." The group had formed out of some workshops Tim Miller had done at P.S. 122. I joined Queer Stories after one of Tim's workshops in the fall of 1992. We met every other Saturday at the NY Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. I had just turned 22 years old. We would sit in a circle and tell stories, share our experiences. Some of the guys would take the material we generated organically at the workshops and put on a night of storytelling, usually at Dixon Place.

I watched those performances from the audience. I didn't feel like I had any stories worth standing up to tell a paying audience.

Amidst my travels I found some stories worth telling. I had this idea that I could write a story for each city I had visited. I had just returned from Almaty, Kazakstan. With that fresh in my mind, I wrote A Halloween of No Consequence.

My story frustrated some of the guys at Queer Stories: "Nothing happens!"

"Well, that's Almaty," I replied, "Nothing really happens there and you have to deal with that."

I broke with Queer Stories. They tended to fixate on tales of adolescent angst and unrequited-boy-crushes-on-their-gym-teacher. I didn't have any of those, so they didn't interest me much.

I went back out for another year and a half of work travel. Except for megabytes and maybe gigabytes of email, I didn't make any effort to further document my trips. In early 2000, I took a deep dive into a new position at the Firm. I even went into the office on 9/11 after the first plane hit the World Trade Center because I had a project meeting scheduled!?! I sat alone in the conference room for 15 minutes before I came to my senses and joined my co-workers huddled around the only television we could find.

In late 2002, the Firm fired everyone I worked with, including the smartest and most decent people I knew. Some of them had worked for the Firm for 15 years or more. Disillusioned and depressed I meandered through the next six months into the summer of 2003, when I realized it was time to create something besides work product. I signed up a course at NYU's School of Continuing Education, "Creative Nonfiction." (I also found another job, at another firm, but at least not that one anymore!)

Our closing assignment was labeled "witness to history." Our instructor Carol Bergman wanted us to write a narrative where we personally witnessed some event that was reported somewhere. Well that's easy. I had arrived in London the night before Princess Diana died. I witnessed all kinds of crazy as the reserved British public came unhinged with collective grief. I watch the procession as her casket moved to her funeral. I would write about that!

This story would become my personal rosetta stone as a writer. Carol was far more demanding than you would expect at an adult, elective education course. She poked and prodded and pulled a far better and more personal story out of my details. The resulting piece - Another Drop in the Ocean - juxtaposed that collective grief against my own lingering and persistent sadness. (You'll have to read the story to find out why!)

From that point forward, I took more classes and continued to write - slowly, with many gaps of not writing in between. I'm still writing those travel stories - one for each city visited, during those formative years. The table of contents exists, as an inventory of what's written or drafted or only thought of.

How would I answer if Flora or Christine asked again, "How do you feel about travel?"

I feel a lot of things about travel. Ten years later, I'm still working that out - one story at a time.

***To read what I've written and worthy of an audience go to "My Stories" on the side bar. ***

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