Carpet of Sand

two pairs of feet on sand

My whole life is about writing stories. Everything I see or do or think is a part of my work. "Carpet of Sand" came to me one morning when I woke up in our small trailer. We had been living there for six months or so, and, as with any home in Tucson, everything was covered with a thick layer of dust. I could see it in the air, particles floating on currents as I breathed, when I moved. I was overcome momentarily with a feeling of helplessness against the elements, and wanted to transfer this feeling to the page.

My objective in "Carpet of Sand" was to present the idea of becoming one with the desert. I wanted to explore the feelings of being in a foreign place over a period of time, and of finally giving in to the demands of time and the land.

Over the course of the project, this theme of alienation has become stronger because I moved far from home. I consider myself a southwestern writer, and this story in particular emphasizes my own bonds with, and struggles against, my homeland. Moving to State College has taught me that many people have never seen the desert. I hope this story captures some of the magnificence of the desert, and adds to an understanding of the west in general.

I began work on this piece two summers ago. Living in the desert, I spent time looking and remembering, trying to capture the landscape in my mind and transcribe it. This act of research continues as I attempt to recall more details through memory and photographs.

"Carpet of Sand" is my attempt to blend my own life with an imagined experience. Many of the details are real, from the description of the barbed wire fence, to getting stuck on top of the waterfall (except it was my father who threatened to leave me there, and I was only 12). My approach to fiction is very much a mixture of life and imagination. For me, the line between fiction and non-fiction is thin, if not non-existent. In The Art of Fiction, Henry James describes this blend, this crossing over of imagination and reality, as follows:

The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life, in general, so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it—this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience… . If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience.

"Carpet of Sand" has been rewritten three times. The original version began with Jolene waking up (the most stereotypical way to begin a story). I had to search for Jolene's history and motivations, in other words I needed to answer the question, "Why today? Why does Jolene lose it today?" The time scale was also off for her walk; it seemed as if she only walked for an hour but she was gone all day. And finally, some of my language was sentimental. Sentiment is good. Sentimental is not.

Stories are never really finished. I can always find a better word, a new way of looking at it. Characters change and grow as I write, sometimes outgrowing the beginnings of their stories. This story represents a stylistic change in my writing. It is the first story I wrote that emphasized setting. I tend to skip over descriptions when I read, hungry for action. This is evident in some of my earlier work, where I had to go back and add a landscape. In "Carpet of Sand," however, the landscape functions as a character, demanding more attention. I feel it is one of my stronger pieces, and that it accomplishes my goal of representing desert life. I am one step closer to finding my voice as an author, that elusive piece of story that is mine alone.

Kat Kleman Davis is an M.F.A. student in English, College of the Liberal Arts. Her advisers are Bill Cobb (814-863-9583; wjc7@psu.edu) and Charlotte Holmes (865-9126; cxh18@psu.edu), both associate professors of English, 116 Burrowes Bldg., University Park PA 16802. This essay is excerpted from her poster presentation at the 2001 Graduate Exhibition.

SIDEBAR

An Excerpt from "A Carpet of Sand"

Last Updated January 01, 2002