by Cameron Brooks
My sister is a dancer and choreographer rooted in the arts. Often when I visit her, she leaves me with something curious that later becomes profoundly influential. During a visit a few years ago, she shared the work of Janisse Ray. I had recently returned from a cathartic year in Los Angeles, with the hope of reconnecting with simple things, and Ray's writings proved a timely arrival. She passionately magnifies beauty within the smallest aspects of life, while embedding broader themes such as community, ecology, and cultural preservation.
Wild Card Quilt, Ray's second memoir, recounts her return to the small rural town of Baxley, Georgia as she struggles to find her place within an estranged setting once so familiar.
"Not long ago I dreamed of actually cradling a place, as if something so amorphous and vague as a region, existing mostly in imagination and idea, suddenly took form. I held its shrunken relief in my arms, a baby smelted from a plastic topography map, and when I gazed down into its face, as my father had gazed into mine, I saw the pine flatwoods of my homeland."
Ray's memoirs remind me to slow down and consider the importance of relationships, both arboreal and personal, and how they influence the direction of my life. Reading about the lives of others deepens my reflection, as I consider the ways our lives are similar. Ray pinpoints the dangers of isolation and the fragmentation of communities: "Isolate people and we struggle in silence. Join us together and we reach out. Isolation from every aspect is a kind of poverty, and community a certain wealth."
As I read memoir, seemingly disparate events in my life become linked, in turn, increasing the likelihood that I will connect on a visceral level with readers. To use a line from Pablo Neruda's poem, "Ode to a Violin in California," memoir shows me "...how to befriend lost souls and sing songs to wandering strangers." As a writer, reading memoir helps me articulate my stories, as memoir offers from new vantage points perspectives on the themes we all live.