Wednesday, March 11, 2020

‘Directions to the Dumpster’ Chronicles Homeless Journey

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 11:05 AM


Edward Campagnola has a story to tell. Currently living as an unsheltered resident in Sonoma County, he spent the last five years writing his story, and last year he released his debut novel, Directions to the Dumpster.

Now available on, the book traces Campagnola’s journey in homelessness and his attempts to get out of it. It is also a story that aims to dispel preconceptions about homelessness and end the stigma associated with it through a campaign of awareness and compassion.

“I’ve been in a cave really for five years,” Campagnola says. “You’re lucky if you have a phone, you know what day it is. I would lose days if I didn’t have a phone, but having it is a security risk.”

This glimpse into Campagnola’s daily experience is one of the book’s many details that dissolves the reader’s veil of ignorance and exposes them to the reality of what unsheltered residents go through day to day.

The title of the book, Directions to the Dumpster, is a phrase Campagnola uses literally and figuratively. He argues that in a capitalist society, the homeless are seen as worthless, while they also are often given directions to the dumpster when they do reach out and ask for help.

“I originally titled the book Going to California, a la the Zep tune,” Campagnola says.

Originally from New Jersey, Campagnola traveled to New Orleans, Houston and Las Vegas after the death of his wife.

“I was soul-searching at the time,” he says.

At one point in his travels he suffered a violent, random attack on a California-bound Greyhound bus that left him with PTSD. When he arrived in Sonoma County, words began to pour out of him.

“It was unbelievable, and I don’t know if it was from the attack, but phrases just started flowing out of me,” Campagnola says.

Collecting those phrases in notebooks, Campagnola wrote his manuscript on a Sonoma County Library computer. He wrote the novel as a form of therapy, as a way to reconnect with his adult children and to give society a better understanding of homelessness in America.

Campagnola describes his book as a documentary-style narrative, detailing events as they occurred and letting the reader make their own personal connection.

“I did not bother to express what my feelings were,” he says. “Except for the moment when I talk about a handwritten letter from my wife that I lost—I was more distraught than any point in my life.”

Though Campagnola secured a publishing contract, the book is an entirely DIY experience, with Campagnola editing and promoting the book on his own. The road to publishing was a long one, but he’s ready to do it again.

“The book’s a cliffhanger,” Campagnola says. “I’ve already started writing the sequel. I decided the title will be Directions Home.”

‘Directions to the Dumpster’ is available online.
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Monday, June 10, 2013

Ten Things I Learned from Cheryl Strayed

Posted By on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Cheryl Strayed and Albert Flynn DeSilver
  • Cheryl Strayed and Albert Flynn DeSilver
On June 1, Cheryl Strayed taught a daylong writing and craft workshop in Petaluma. The author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, as well as the voice behind Dear Sugar, the popular advice column on The Rumpus, has a huge following, one that’s grown especially large after Wild was featured on Oprah’s Book Club. Organized by poet Albert Flynn DeSilver, Marin’s first poet laureate and the face behind The Owl Press, the event on a sunny Saturday brought together a few hundred Strayed fans to hear about her process and do a little writing themselves.

So without further adieu, here are:

Ten Things I Learned from Cheryl Strayed.

1. If you have small children (and the money), hotel rooms can be a good place to write. Strayed got Wild written by checking into hotel rooms for 48 hour stretches where she would “write like a motherfucker.” She doesn’t write everyday. She calls herself a “binge writer.” The most important thing is to find time to write, whether it’s everyday, one day a week or in weekend spurts. There’s hope for us Moms yet!

2. Memoir gets a bad rap as narcissistic, but Strayed says that successful memoir is the opposite of narcissism. “You’re transcending the difference between you and me,” she told us. We do this by using self, and the narrative tools of fiction, to create story.

3. How do you write your truth while protecting those you love? “I got to a place where I was genuinely writing about people on the other side of forgiveness,” Strayed said. But it took years of writing to get there, and even then, though her father was abusive, tyrannical and “not a good person,” she woke up “breathless with sorrow” when she thought about him reading what she’d written in Wild. The important idea to try to remember is that the entire picture is often broader and more complex then we realize when we begin writing.

4. People want to read a human story, with all the mistakes, bad choices, ugliness and triumph that comes for all of us at one point or another. Nobody wants to hear about somebody who never makes mistakes, who never shows a shadow self. “Use the places where you rubbed up against yourself,” she said.

5. “Trust however weird you are, a whole bunch of us are just as weird.”

6. Think about the question at the core of your work. For Strayed, whose mother’s death forms the spine of Wild, it grew from “How do I live without my mother?” to “How to bear the unbearable.”

7. Strayed believes in radical honesty, sparing no shadow. She said that most people fear condemnation when they speak their deepest truths, foibles, when they excavate their darkest matter, but rather than being condemned, when people write to the place that makes them uncomfortable, to the point of revelation, that’s when the bridge is crossed between the reader and the writer.

8. She’s all about “Trusting the heat.” “Do it so righteously that we can’t help but look,” she told us. “It’s up to you to make a place for yourself in this world.”

9. It was pretty damn wonderful to see 250 people writing together in one large room.


10. Write what haunts you. What are you obsessed by? What keeps you up at night? Remember, everyone starts out with some kind of handicap and without an audience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write like a motherfucker. Nobody can (or will) give you permission to do this but yourself.

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