A serial novel by Roy Lincoln Karp
March 5, 2026 later the same day
What is this notebook but a mirror I hold up to see myself, my inner self? In the reflection, I also see the world around me and all those little experiences that give our days texture, perhaps even meaning if we can just slow down enough to process them. My mind generates thoughts much faster than I can move my pen across the page, so writing by hand makes me pause on certain thoughts. Those little pauses, those hesitations, are the gifts of keeping a journal.
This is wholly different than writing on a computer, with its zeros and ones and predictive text, a computer trying to think for you. When I told my father about the giant computer they installed at the back of my elementary school classroom, he said, “Just remember, a computer cannot teach you how to think.” It is the most astute observation I’ve ever heard about computers. Four decades later, it has stood the test of time, only growing in importance the more reliant we become on these machines.
Since I last wrote, I’ve made a new friend. Even as I write those words, I can hear Esme saying, “Of course you did!” She likes to say I could mistakenly walk into the wrong wedding reception and still have just as much fun. For the most part, this is true, although I have my introverted side as well. This is one of those ways in which we are fundamentally different. Esme is disinclined to trust new people until they earn it, whereas I usually open up to people quickly and then feel let down if they breach my trust.
I am not proud to admit it, but I used to I believe that my approach was the superior one. But over time, I began to see there is no right or wrong way. It’s just who we are. I’ve come to appreciate the different ways in which Esme and I relate to the world were shaped by our very different experiences growing up. I have also learned from experience to become more guarded, but I can’t escape my trusting nature. I still like to meet new people, to have a real conversation with a stranger sitting next to me on a bus or a plane.
The stranger I met today is Gary Martin, the final passenger we picked up in Dorchester. He greeted everyone warmly as he made his way to the empty seat next to mine. Sometimes, people just give off a positive vibe. It reminded me of the way patients at my doctor’s office say “Buenos Dias!” to no one in particular as they enter the waiting room. It makes every other medical office seem cold and impersonal.
As we glided westward along the Pike, Gary opened the door to conversation by asking if I was enjoying my book, an early novel by Patrick Modiano. I said he was a cherished author, whose characters were always travelling back to a foggy past, trying to make meaning from fragments of memories. From there, the conversation flowed like a river, wending its way from literature and philosophy to history and politics, then back to literature once again.
It was one of those memorable conversations I have experienced several times in my life while travelling. Perhaps it is their transience that gives these dialogues special meaning. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time to present yourself, everything you share takes on extra weight and meaning. It is the opposite of small talk, which I have never enjoyed.
As it turns out, we have a fair amount in common. Gary is also a history teacher of sorts, known in the community as “Gary Griot,” a storyteller committed to preserving significant but neglected stories of Black achievement. I learned a little bit about griots when I was in college. I told Gary my understanding was that griots were chosen as children to study and memorize stories from their village’s past, becoming a kind of living library. Gary explained he is part of a growing movement to keep parts of this tradition alive by documenting stories from elders and passing them on to the next generation through music, dance, poetry, and other cultural events. In fact, he is heading to Great Barrington for an annual “Gathering of Griots.”
We were so immersed in our conversation that we didn’t notice the van exiting the Pike. We suddenly looked out the window as we made our way through the eerily quiet streets of Holyoke, with its hulking old buildings of red brick and stone. JD announced we were stopping at the Holyoke Cooperative Market, which had a small café where we could grab a quick bite to eat.
Unlike the quiet streets outside, the cafe was abuzz with people and lively conversation. As I entered, I realized it was the same place we once stopped for lunch on our way to vacation in the Berkshires. It hadn’t changed much, although the side wall had been opened up to connect it to the cooperative market next door. I can still remember chatting with the owner, who had been a highly paid and overworked attorney in Boston who moved to Holyoke to start his own café. At the time, I thought I could never make such a major change and admired his gumption.
After getting our food, Gary and I grabbed a table together. I told him about my last visit to the café and how it marked an important milestone for my family. It was the first major trip with Lulu after she got off Oxygen support and the furthest distance we had travelled from Children’s Hospital since she was born. “It’s like the novel your reading,” Gary said with a smile and I knew exactly what he meant. We are forever circling back to the past, trying to make meaning from our memories.