Write, they say. Write! You are clever! You are eloquent! Where is your book?
It’s nice to hear, and sometimes you blush simply to know that someone thinks you capable of such a lovely dream; but the idea itself is so overwhelming that you can’t seem to do much of anything except flail your arms like a scalded octopus and wail,
Because pith is easy. It takes almost nothing to squeeze an entertaining moment into your Facebook status box, dress it up with an adjective that might – you hope against hope! – make someone laugh and, if you’re truly lucky, contribute a second of joy to another person’s day in just 120 carefully organized characters. Anything longer than a birthday card or a shopping list, though, and that is creeping into dangerous territory. That’s approaching something which resembles Real Writing, and everyone knows it takes commitment to be a Real Writer.
Frankly, I blame public school for the loss of my stories. I know that sounds like a cop-out, which is actually because it is a cop-out, since I thought we already talking about avoidance and a lack of commitment — but in all seriousness, how many years can you spend telling a child to stop writing stories and drawing pictures and daydreaming because it’s time for multiplication tables or dodgeball (God, help me) without eventually smothering those inclinations all together? How long can a young and impressionable student bask in hard-won approval for exemplary writing assignments, then be all but forbidden to exercise those creative powers outside of the 50 minutes allotted by regimented core schedules without eventually coming to recognize that her talent is only praiseworthy when someone else has told her what and when to write?
So I chase my childhood desperately for a million strange and sad and terrible reasons, not the least of which is to reclaim my lost stories. I am little Haroun, setting out to discover who has poisoned the Sea of Stories and to restore his father’s reputation as the finest storyteller in the land. I am a small, quiet girl with so many tales of wonder and tragedy rolling around inside of her that there is barely space to contain them all. I am an awkward pseudo-adult in flannel pajamas, squinting peevishly at the blinking cursor and willing something of relative substance to spill from a sluggish and long dormant imagination.
If you are reading this, you probably know me. I have inhabited this blog space for five largely useless years, torn and driven to mild psychosis by the desire to write something and the accompanying fear that it would be too bland, too self-absorbed, and not nearly interesting enough to grace the retinal field of another sentient creature. I still feel that anxiety, but I strongly suspect that it never goes away; nor is it meant to.
So let’s catch up. Where am I now?
College served to confirm my knack for language and its teeniest, tiniest parts; but linguistics is a field reserved for the grad student, and for some stupid reason, universities expect you to study a wider range of subjects than just foreign languages. How rude. It was also another convenient opportunity for other people to make lists of what I should and shouldn’t write about; so despite owing a rather large sum of money to the government in exchange for no special piece of paper, I quit.
Minimum wage desk jobs for the woefully uneducated made a good pass at stealing my soul. I worked three of them at once, in addition to giving violin lessons, and still couldn’t afford to move out of my mother’s house. Have you ever heard the expression that someone or something is “dying on the vine”? Despite having only a slightly questionable pipe dream to fall back on, I quit those, too.
I drove all of my earthly possessions from Michigan to Virginia in a Chevy Aveo roughly the size of a rollerskate and started the next day at a woodshop run by my sort-of-boyfriend’s older brother. I work with a hairy old banjo maker, a couple of drama queens who’d give any teenage girl run for her money, and a wily, mumbling Irishman who smokes too much and sleeps not enough, among other colorful characters.
I’d been gone a month when that sort-of-boyfriend drove all night to drag me out in the rain and ask me to marry him. I laughed when he was fully expecting me to cry, but in fairness, that is an accurate qualification of our friendship.
So here I am. I will wake up tomorrow and stumble into my coveralls, and I will spend many long hours making things beautiful with my unforgivably dirty hands. I will sit down to a cold, fleeting lunch with the very joy of my heart, and I will marvel at how miraculously he is mine and I am his, like I have done every day before this. And my eyes will slide over the curmudgeon of a landlord, white-haired and bent like a rusty nail, bickering in an accent thick as biscuits and gravy — and I will wonder where he fits into my story. I will collect needled insults from my clever, exhausted, rough-edged boss and hoard them like dragon’s gold. I will write. I will take the music and color and laughter of this life I never imagined for myself, and in gratitude, I will turn them into words of wonder and thanksgiving.
I am here to find my stories.