The First Journey

Here is an example of the type of writing we critique at Diamonds or Dust.  Usually these posts are password protected.  Comments are for members only.  If you are interested in joining click the links on the side.

Back when I was a young and impressionable seventeen year-old, I took a train from my home town in West Yorkshire to Oban. Oban is a small city on the west coast of Scotland, and the gateway to the Hebrides. This was the first real time I’d travelled alone. My destination was a tiny 9 x 3 mile island named the Isle of Coll. You may be wondering what business a lone teenager had in the Outer Hebrides; I was going there for a selection course in the hope I would be accepted as a volunteer for Project Trust, a charity that sends volunteers abroad to teach in developing countries (A gap yah, in other words!).
As the train pulled away from the station I remember clearly the feeling of nervous excitement that you only get from going on an adventure. My heart beat fast as the blurred scenery shot by. As darkness gave way to the warm orange of dawn, the familiar sight of rolling fields was replaced by the ghostly desolation of moor land. Opposite me a middle aged man sat looking out on the same view.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said, looking over with a friendly smile.
“Sure is” I replied.
We introduced ourselves and I asked him why he was going up the west coast of Scotland. It turned out he was going to stay with family up in Fort William, a town of about ten thousand way out in the Highlands.
“What do you do?” I decided to ask him.
“I do what I like to do, I suppose.” He said.
Seeing that I was a little confused by his statement he clarified. “I keep a list on me wherever I go. And on that list, I have written down every dream or ambition that I want to achieve.”
He paused to take a sip of his coffee, “I don’t take to it aggressively, but my opinion is that by knowing what you want to do, and being willing to do it, things just fall into place.
“Each thing written on the list is like… a bubble rising from the ocean floor. Eventually it reaches the surface, as it has always been destined to, and just like that,” he clicked his fingers, ”your desire changes from ambition to reality. This is how I’ve lived my whole life, and it’s always worked for me!
“Got a pen?” he asked.
“Umm, yeah, I’ve got one right here.” I replied.
“Good. Take it out and write your own list, right now.”
“What am I supposed to write about?”
“Write down anything and everything you want to do in life. You’ll achieve what’s on your list if you really want to.”
I finished writing the list. It was full of angst and teenage pipe dreams, but at the time it was profound to me. I made to show it to him, but he just said “That’s your list, you don’t need to show it to anybody, you just need to know that it’s there, and that it’s achievable.”
As the train pulled into the station, we shook hands and said our goodbyes.
I never saw Kirk again.
Even though his life was lived out of a suitcase, and I’m sure this must have brought about a fair share of troubles, he emanated a sense of contentment and freedom that I remember being in awe of. I like to think that wherever he is now he’s still carrying that same list and waiting for the perfect moments to execute each of his plans.
What could have just been a standard train journey was instead turned into a lesson that has stayed with me for seven years, and will continue to stay with me for as long as I live.
The lesson I learned was that even if you need to make sacrifices or you need to wait, there will come a time when what you want is achievable.
Some plans on my list have long since been crossed out, and others are yet to be achieved. I’m not anxious though, with enough time and patience every bubble has the chance to make its way to the surface.
*  *  *
This is a post I did a while back, which I was pretty happy with, but it’s always good to throw yourself to the lions and see what happens!
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14 responses to “The First Journey

  1. I thought it was good. It explained the lists in a well written way. Kirk could have been described a bit more, but that’s just me. I like to ‘see’ the characters, real or imagined.

    • Yeah, that is something I could work on. Though to be honest I’d probably have to make some of his characteristics up, as this happened almost 8 years ago! Thanks for the input.

  2. I liked it. I thought the dialogue was very natural, and I especially liked the bubble metaphor.

    I have a few nit-picks about some of the word choices:

    I know what a gap year is, but I’ve never heard of a “gap yah”. I wasn’t sure whether this was slang, dialect, or a typo.

    In “he emanated a sense of contentment”, I’m not sure “emanated” is the best word. I was going to say that you were confusing “radiate” and “emanate” (a fire radiates heat; heat emanates from a fire), but then I looked it up, and the dictionary says your version is also acceptable. Still, it feels a little off to me.

    At the end, I wasn’t sure whether you’d crossed items out because you’d done them, because you’d decided not to, or for a combination of reasons. For me, crossing an item off a to-do list just means that I no longer intend to do it; checking an item off means that I’ve done it.

    I liked the tone of this piece a lot. I thought it felt very honest and real.

    • Thanks Laura!
      ‘Gap Yah’ was a reference to this video that became popular in the UK satirising the kind of people who took gap years, so it was an intentional misspelling.
      Now that you say it, that “emanate contentment” sentence does look a little clunky. I might rephrase it in a way that flows a little better.
      Nice point on the crossing/checking off thing, it’s not something I’d considered.

  3. This piece is bright and hopeful. And the setting? Scotland is a magical place, so I was captured right away.

    I also like the idea of this list which seems different to me than a bucket list. This is a list of accomplishments for life, rather than a stap that someone has been there, done that. So perhaps I might expand on that just a little bit. Also, I think you can develop the reader’s sense of what you thought of this man more. I would add some of what you as a teenager thought of the man. Obviously he captured your imagination, but I’m guessing that that happened a little more gradually. I would place this expansion before “Got a Pen.”

    Laura said she had nit-picky things. I have the nit-pickiest of all.

    Paragraphing. Separate your paragraphs with an extra space (like I did there). It is hard to follow dialog without the breaks that indicate a different speaker.

    And when it is not dialog, just prose, separate thoughts into separate paragraphs. Otherwise they run together and get lost.

  4. Thanks, Elyse.

    Yeah, it was definitely different to a bucket list, it was more about achieving long term ambitions than ticking boxes, and it much more personal – maybe something you wouldn’t even show to anybody else.

    Both you and Jackie seem to think I should put some more description of Kirk in, so I’ll take a look and see what I can do – though details are a tad on the hazy side, so artistic license may have to come in to play.

    As for the paragraph spacing – on the actual post I do have it spaced out, but I always seem to have trouble with spacing on WordPress. I normally use a ‘.’ on a separate line and just make it white so you can’t see it. It is certainly harder to follow and less clean when it’s all squished up like this.

    Cheers for the input!

  5. I think Laura and Elyse covered most of my comments. I like the conversational style of the piece but got a bit lost in places because of the spacing and some of the word choices. Another nit-picky thing, and could just be my personal preference, is I’d bring up “Kirk’s” name when you first introduce yourselves rather than later. Using his name only that one time threw me for a bit. I’d also be tempted to clean up the beginning of the post…the specifics of your destination aren’t all that relevant to your tale, and for those of us who aren’t as well versed in the layout of Scotland were a bit confusing. Sometimes, actually, being less descriptive can make the story flow better. Again, that could just be a personal preference. And, we all know I can get a bit wordy with the descriptions, so I’ll be looking forward to someone throwing that back at me next time I have a piece up.
    Otherwise, liked the idea of the list, liked the lesson learned, and definitely think it is a story worth telling. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. To be honest, I don’t know why I didn’t keep the original spacing when I put it up on D or D!
    You also said some of the word choices confused you a little – could you be more specific?
    I sometimes find it confusing where to put in detail and where not to, as you pointed out I’ve been quite thorough in saying where the tale took place, but I’ve not mentioned much about Kirk or included an introductions section into the piece. Something to perhaps revisit.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the piece though, and thanks for the feedback.

  7. I like this story of a young man on his first trip away from home. That he meets an interesting character along the way, who teaches him something is awesome.
    Not to repeat other comments, I wonder about one detail though. If the young man has scratched items off his list in the seven years since, why say, in the last sentence, third last paragraph, ” I like to think that wherever he is now he’s still carrying that same list and waiting for the perfect moments to execute each of his plans.”
    I tend to think KIRK’s list is no longer the same one either, just as the young man’s isn’t since he’s struck off items on his list. Just a bit of a tweak. Sorry if I’m too too.

    An inspiring story for a young reader around the same age. 🙂

    • You make a good point! I guess I never really thought about that. I never saw the list he’d written, though in my mind it was a tattered scrap of paper with things crossed out and scribbled in the gaps so that the page was almost black with ink. But then, most people conjure a different image when they picture something, I guess.
      Thank you though, I’m glad you like it. It was quite a moment for me when it happened, which is what inspired me to write about it all this time later.

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