The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to Going Down Swinging No. 35. This reflection comes from Amaryllis Gacioppo on her piece ‘Interstate 15’.
It was Whisky Pete who waved us out of Nevada, a goofy cartoon cowboy reclining between two castle turrets atop his gambling palace. Iris had smirked as she read the billboard, Whisky Pete reckons we could be the next millionaires.
I sure hope so.
— excerpt from ‘Interstate 15’
‘Interstate 15’ was born after a drive my friend and I took through the Mojave Desert from Vegas to San Francisco in 2011. Through the narrative I didn’t want to recreate the trip so much as I wanted to recreate what struck me about it: the vast emptiness of the landscape; the overwhelming somatic reaction it catalysed; the alien incongruity of human markers like KFC and Burger King outlets, hyper-coloured casinos, petrol stations. As I saw it, this was no place for civilisation. Here the landscape took over, was unconquerable. I was reminded of a trip I took to visit family in the United States at nine, and how it seemed the entire population of Phoenix was united in a battle against the geography: lives lived as a negation of heat inside air-conditioned houses, cars and shopping malls.
I noticed when driving how, at each stop in the desert, the sun changed: its colour, its size, the light it cast. Memories of the drive wash over one another like photographic negatives. All I recall is the bare bones of it: the yellow wildflowers blanketing rock formations; the lights of Bakersfield glowing like a canopy over the city; the identical Best Western signs that littered the roadside.
I suppose I wrote as a way to breathe life into those images: to crystallise them.
The beginnings of ‘Interstate 15’ came two years ago as one of those adrenalin-rushed bouts of writing where the words seem to flow through you. However, last year I still felt something wasn’t quite ‘ready’ about it. Working with GDS deputy editor Katia Pase gave me the opportunity to see the story really lock into place. Time had given me the distance I needed to separate myself from the narrator. Making this distinction released me from the hold of memory and allowed the work to reveal itself.
By the end of the finished story, what remains is what’s important: the feeling of being in the desert. There was a moment during the drive when we parked along the roadside and stepped out of the car. The cracks in the soil seemed to widen; flat surfaces stood on end. Sounds were more pronounced – my breathing rang tremendous in my ears and my surroundings seemed to hum. I felt unconnected to my own body. Months later I was reading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and was thrilled when he encapsulated this sensation perfectly as a moment where “the exterior spectacle helps intimate grandeur unfold”.
The desert is huge, but I didn’t feel small in comparison. I felt infinite.
Photos © Amaryllis Gacioppo