Tag Archives: stories

Truth Can Only Be Written by Including All of It

“This man, I think, wanted to enchant the reader, to set in words certain amorphous and important sensations he had experienced….

“He wanted to transcribe his own inchoate experience. He wanted it to become art. He felt, as many of us do, that he had a right to that. Perhaps he wanted to feel his suffering had been worthwhile, was dignified, for he did write about suffering; perhaps he wanted to feel less alone, to feel his life had been redeemed, and its true worth, the value so absent from his daily experience yet so necessary to his heart, was now realized on paper, the dross burnt off and the gold revealed.

“No delight in language motivated his pen. The world’s physical details were so much debris. His few scenes puddled toward ellipses, seemed uninterested in achieving “moment”–they gestured hastily toward something never glimpsed on the page, although each chapter concluded with triumphant relief, as if to say, “So there. Now that’s established.” It made you want to flip the page over to see if there was something you were missing. Yet he meant to write fiction; fiction was what he attempted every night. This man seemed to want the transcendent transformation that novels can achieve. He didn’t know how to achieve it, though, and he wanted a shortcut. Like all of us, he was in a hurry….

“You may convey terror or longing or regret or exhilaration only by giving us the color of somebody’s hair and exactly what she ate for lunch, and red high heels, and an attache case’s handle stained darker by the oils of a human hand, and a skinny buck-toothed girl singing “Yes, We Have No Bananas” on a black-and-white TV, and olives, and three o’clock, and the Scotch-taped hem of a Bergdorf Goodman dress, and venetian blinds, and a woman’s eyes fixed for many minutes on a scarred tabletop, and a tin spoon ringing against the side of a mug. There are no shortcuts….

“When the conditions are right, live things creep up. The author does not need to airlift them in. No need to insert your own opinion here, something symbolic over there. The most potent meaning arises indigenously. It looks like earth, like mud, like a log. The more your eyes discern the particulars of the physical world and its inhabitants, the more meaningful your work becomes. This is the meaning that, when it’s laid dormant in the mind long enough, strikes with devouring force.”

  • adapted from Writing Past Dark, by Bonnie Friedman

Love is a light

“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way…Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

hair

“What are we supposed to wear?”

She turns back to the closet before I can answer. We’ve heard the forecast. The air will be cold and microscopic droplets will hover, landing on chilly skin, being breathed in and out.

“Whatever we want,” I say, humming a Passenger song still stuck in my head. My brown corduroy jacket isn’t as formal as my black one but I don’t care. I don’t get enough opportunities to wear this.

In fact, maybe there’s a Halloween costume I can come up with for it.

In our early days I imagined teaching English, maybe at a private university or something. She’d make art and we’d be happy in our little house, gardening and reading to each other by candlelight. Didn’t happen, but maybe we don’t have to live up to an image of happy to be happy.

Why aren’t there any songs about that?

What is this story really about?

“I just don’t want to be uncomfortable,” she says.

Always the same thing. I try to bite my tongue, but I can’t stop it.

“You’re going to be uncomfortable; that’s inevitable,” I say. Then, softening, “It’s a wedding and we don’t know anyone. Wear what you want.”

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It’s a weekend, a day’s drive to Tahoe, then a quick flight back. But I can’t remember why we’re going. It’s mainly as a nice gesture to my cousin, and we needed to pick up the night guard for Sheri’s teeth anyway which the dentist calls an “appliance” that’s supposed to cure migraines. We shall see.

But do we make an effort to go now as a married couple because we’re supposed to or because we want to love people well? And even if it’s the latter, do we really love people well? Or are we still always too wrapped up in our own lives to really notice them?

Do we really know what this story is about?

Most of my life I’ve spent thinking about myself and the figure I cut in the world, the figure I want to cut, and then figuring out the tricks and what clothing will be required. And each passing year, I’ve wondered if I’m any closer.

Are we there yet? And are we happier here?

Now I just want her to be happy, healthy.

She puts on another dress and she’s beautiful. She is. She wants to know if she’s “okay.” She’s more than okay.

“Can you see through?” she asks, looking down. “I don’t think I have a half slip.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “I can’t see. Anyway, it’s going to be dark.”

But I can see. Not what she’s asking, but so much more.

“What’s left to see when our eyes won’t open?”

It’s a brilliant line from the Passenger song. I know that feeling. Fourteen years ago, my eyes wouldn’t open when she called me to say there was an ivory dress she loved and should she buy it. I guess I’d decided then and there on the phone. She had to buy the dress because she was the one, the one I wanted to help pick out her dresses.

I feared I’d choke if I didn’t spit it out. The unbearable thrill of it. And the sadness of what was my old solitary life, now behind me forever. I think that part doesn’t get mentioned much. But it’s a happy sad.

Love takes with undeniable force. And we can’t really be sad for what we must leave behind, but how can we not be? Life is so precious and gone so soon.

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“What’s left to say when all the words have been spoken? What’s left to give when the gifts are all opened?”

I’m so much more now than I was before her. But in many ways, I’m also a shadow of who I was before her. My ambition, my grand dreams, all my big plans for who I’d be and the image I’d project of confidence and simple mastery of my self-contained world, that’s all gone now.

And in its place, a stiller heart, a warmer man. And this stylin’ corduroy coat.

Life moves along the lines of love. The things we let go, they were never ours to begin with. And the things we keep, those things are truly ours.

She turns once and I imagine the light in her hair, the way it was that drizzly day in Seattle fourteen years ago. I whistle and she turns again.

“You’re just sexy, you know?”

She smiles. Is it the eyes of love talking? I don’t know. But my eyes see so much. And it only takes a little light…

 

The Stories That Come to Know You: Hunting with Dad

It isn't solely my truth to hand you, of course, but I believe a story is built of the same dynamic force as relationship. In relating, it expresses and exchanges the same basic electric magnetism, the attractive-repellant force between any two things.  

A boy learns about this force at an early age, though he'll never fully understand it, even if he felt it warm as daylight as a nine-year-old… 

forest in fog

My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I’ve slept, though I must have since I don’t remember him getting up.
 
“Time to go,” he says and I hope he isn’t serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots walking away toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
 
My arm’s wet from the condensation inside the warm tent. Are we going to eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to give away that I’m only trying to delay.
 
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’ll become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how time’s shrinking.
 
Strange, these things you come to know in the stories that come to know you. These well-worn weapons polished to amber….
 
The glow and crackle of barely-light, perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. The cheap thrill of watering any tree you like but working quickly to avoid blood-suckers. You learn to think ahead, to already be where the deer will show up when they’re hungry.
 
Sometimes hunters don’t tell you the why of things because they know the most important lessons are never spoken. They must be apprehended through observation.
 
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown many points with each winter survived. You walk against the wind so they won’t smell you coming. You look for cloven prints and droppings though you don’t actually taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, a mock native, a deer whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile, maybe noticed it growing more reluctant as the darkness waned sometime during our quiet steps through the undergrowth.
 
Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off I will encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with my own kids.
 
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it comes up through the canopy lining the sloping horizon of the ridgeline.
 
You find your protected spot and you begin to wait. And silent hours pass.
 
Expectancy is a wonder. You can wait so long you forget your legs and the tingling. You may even drift off only to realize in sudden shock that everything has changed. Or it hasn’t yet but it could. Because everything and always is buzzing with it.
 
But the longer that passes the less likely it seems anything will happen, even right up to the moment in the story that will be recounted often over the years, each time becoming somehow both rounder and more solid.
 
A foursome of deer, slow, watchful, not 100 yards off, parades into the clearing from the thicket. And a big buck leads them, carrying in on his large twin forks what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the shiny weapon rises quick, fluid, and I straighten my thin arm and plead a whisper.
 
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
 
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer continue their halting steps.
 
He doesn’t argue. Just lowers the gun.
 
Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his gun for his son. 

I’m so disparate, so wholly other, I should repel, but my father, compassion unfailing, his mercies are new every morning. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed by and may never come again and I've mangled it. I'm Fern crying over Wilbur the pig; I'm the ridiculous old woman in The Fox and the Hound.

I've become the wrong character in the stories–and he's surely sorry he's let me read them now. And I know what's in the Happy Meals.

But for that force he felt, a power held but not grasped, in appreciation of something else, something otherwise unrelated, I may not have learned this lesson until much later–the reverence due for that fragile charge between two things.

Life brings endless opportunities to trade relationships. The test of a true hunter is in how well he listens.

Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing “It’s love that makes the world go around.” I have seen this fearsome force and it is wholly mystery, pure and clear.
 
I know the power in a story. And I will work to write it on hearts all my life.
 
It’s easily forgotten, carrying your familiar stories with you every day, but it's an affective spark that could breathe new life into existence.

Because not everyone hears it, but we all sense it's there, the question–what is this attraction to what so repels? 

Is the answer in the question, there in that spark of recognition?

Is this why a story is always ultimately about hope?

Wait expectantly, dear hunter. Find your stories, these captured sparks arcing through all his created wonders.