Lost in the Woods with Research
The essay, by its very nature, is a strange, rambly, unpredictable sort of thing. Often times, you start off going in one direction and by the middle of page two, you look up only to find you’ve made two left turns, one right, and now you’re no longer anywhere near the place were you began. It’s similar to taking a walk in the woods, promising yourself, “This time, I won’t stray too far from the path,” only to turn around hours later to find that exact promise has been broken. So, you spend the next few hours searching for a break in the foliage, or even a clearing for you to sit down and rest, all the while cursing yourself for being so daft but also marveling at the new sights all around you. It’s almost as if your feet disregarded common sense in favor of discovering something new. The essay has a tendency to be like that, as well. Often, the story you set out to tell seems to have set out to tell its own story, as well, leaving you with the difficult task of trying to figure out a way to make the both of you happy. Actually, maybe essays are more like getting lost inside a maze where the walls are constantly shifting, providing new discoveries at every turn, and for me at least, the research process is a lot like that as well.
The research for These Orbits, Crossing has been going on for quite some time. It started back when I was an undergrad just beginning to delve into the history of the Japanese internment camps. I traveled to Manzanar when I was twenty-one to stand on the same soil my grandfather stood on almost seventy years earlier, and I tried to figure out what that meant, and to some extent, am still trying to figure out. Since that summer, I have spent countless hours researching Manzanar and the internment. I have followed interesting pieces of information down numerous different trails until, eventually, I have found myself reading articles that have absolutely nothing and absolutely everything to do with the camps. Through my research, I’ve realized that everything is all impossibly connected to the point where we can go from one single man’s story about life spent in an internment camp, all the way to talking about the universe.
It’s possible this all started when I was a little girl sitting at the long row of mismatched tables in my grandparents’ basement, listening to my family exchange stories about their childhood while I sat quietly eating apple pie and listening. I heard about the hydrogen balloons, the model airplanes, the cornfields and the hands held in the air as a reminder, and I never forgot.
One could even say this began the day I went through my grandmother’s bookshelves and found my grandfather’s copy of Model Glider Design with his name scribbled inside the front cover. I snuck it into my purse without asking, and took it home to read. I read about wing design and lift and gravity and I thought about my grandfather, years ago, doing the exact same thing for very different reasons. I studied those pages for links into my grandfather’s past and I took notes and made diagrams and followed my research wherever it led me. The walls of the maze were continually shifting, and I shifted along with them until, eventually, I sat down and began to write.
My point, I suppose, is that the research for this piece has been constantly ongoing. I have been following it and trying to wrangle it for a very long time, and even though this piece is finished, I am still following it looking for more directions, more discoveries, more connections to be made. I have no process other than to follow the research, the ideas, the essays until eventually, I come to a clearing where all of us can rest and converse together.
— Miya Pleines