The country radio station is pushing out noise behind my head (Girl you better get your red head back in bed before the morning), old writing notebooks line the arm of the sofa, on the footrest the same set of markers that have inked my words for years (Hey mom, your daugher’s gone and there they go again. Hey-ehh!), the black dog who has been around long enough to be both my present and my past stretches off the sofa and onto the woven rug below my feet, a weekend in the brave company of an artist I have respected and admired for fifteen years, letters this week from friends I’ve known since childhood. I am looking backward in order to look forward.
A dear writing friend from Portland posed this question as part of her quest: What does it mean for a story to be true?
When I first faced this question earlier in the week, my quick response was “There is something really striking about The Moth tagline, something about ‘true as remembered by the storyteller’. There is something about absorbing your experience and retelling it that makes it real, and authentic, twice-over.”
Lucky me, I got a second nudge on the same question, with a letter from Peggy that arrived in my mailbox Friday afternoon (a glorious mail day, enough to last through the long weekend, and providing today’s quote too). A second opportunity to reflect on her prompt. On truth. On true stories. And after a weekend of full-ness, of recognizing that I am plodding the same route over and over, and meeting the same lessons on repeat, and moving in some weird uphill spiral that may be walking in circles, or growth or both…that maybe the truth is in the stories that stick. The stories that stay the same over time. The lessons we keep learning, in distinctly more detail each time around. Woven with the gold thread of our own selves that stays constant through years. That traces back in time to our roots, and routes back to the deepest cavities of our own heart.
In pulling Spilling Open off the shelf last night, I held in my hand a book that got me through the tumult of first heartaches and coming out. The book that showed me there is a place in this world for my type of creativity and thoughtfulness and words and questioning and solitude. That I belong. A book that I didn’t write, filled with pictures and words that are not mine, that somehow holds a weighty collection of my own memories. I’ve carried it with me from the east coast to the south to the west to the east and to land here, with me, in this place in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the country, the center of my heart.
Yesterday was a back dive into creative-presentness. Last night was a toe-dip into nostalgia and a tsunami of emotions welling up behind my ribcage. Today was an auspicious, serendipitous love-fest with a gallery of strangers becoming a room full of friends who generously handed me everything my heart was craving but I didn’t know I was missing. If I am still looking to understand grace, today it finally hit home. And it all flooded loose this afternoon, on the painted concrete floor of the gallery, amidst my scissors and a spread-out pile of scrap paper and words and ink. The rush of water, and tears, breaking loose stones and boulders and logs and everything jamming up the feeling that was still stuck. Not stuck anymore, sending forth the frayed edge of that sparkling gold thread for me to grasp, and thread back into the pin-point needle of now. Ready to stitch it back through the fabric of my life. Deeply.
That thread connected me to the hand-painted walls of my childhood bedroom, with Jack London quotes and floral patterns and collections of ephemera from the antique stores of South Pasadena. (I may have been the strangest, youngest customer in that stretch of stores. What must they have thought of me, perusing the pull-out drawers of letterpress typeset and wooden fruit crates and Beatles buttons?) I burst with memories of painting furniture by hand in the driveway, thinking I want to do this forever. I don’t want a real job. I don’t want to wear a suit. I don’t want to sit behind a desk. It knit me to the questioning and depth that came out through awkward high-school-age art. My scrawly cursive handwriting still the same, with undertones of quiet authority-questioning and insecurity and simultaneous bravery. How, even then, it felt like a safe way to express everything that couldn’t come out through my mouth. Or at least, looking back, I see the purpose it served. My words have caught up to me now. The collages of college. A crafty small business by hand. Making art as display for the man. The miles of words since then, like kite strings, set forth in notebooks and piles of letters. It’s been there all along, this creativity and this yearning.
It must be true if I can look back and see a trail stretched miles into the past. If this golden thread is thick enough to weave a life into place, into being, it must be true.
Life dreams are perpetual. They get me out of bed in the morning – they get me through my day. I still dream of the same things I did as a child, a quiet house by a river in Vermont, a quiet life, art, solace, water, wandering through days with fits and spurts of passion. Creating, tending. I still have that vision. And that’s all it’s ever been, as firm as an oil painting on the wall, one emotional glimpse of the way things should be. In the intervening twenty years the dream has grown to include a farm, chickens, a dog, writing. Sometimes a woman, once a family, but I usually settle in to a dream of myself, gazing alone into a snow-dusty sky, quiet solitude.
That is the dream I have not let go of. It may be the default image after pressing the reset button on life, it may be an idealized childhood emotion for peace and a still heart that I refuse to let go of. Or it just may be the way things are. There is always this disparity, this distance between the comfortable dream, the longing, that which our soul knows to be true
that of which we convince ourselves, with a tightening heart, pushed and pulled by the things around us that seem dream-like but don’t fall smoothly into the true vision we have for ourselves. And how easy it is to get off track, to stray from the dream.
This is the only dream I have not let go of. It may not be Vermont, there may be no river, no squawking chickens and only a tiny spot for growing heirloom tomatoes – but the peace of this dream I will not let go of.
In thinking through this idea of truth is the thing that persists, my memory fell upon the above response to a writing prompt from my time in Portland. When our creative-writing-through-food-class turned into a delicious-writing-group-of-dedicated-women. We met monthly for words and sharing – tasty morsels on the page and on the buffet table. It was the dark depths of winter, dormancy. And my heart was resting after a thorough thrashing, and my whole self was re-grouping for the proverbial spring ahead. We gathered in the second-floor apartment of M, before she set out on yet another adventure (as this woman defined adventure), before she left town for good. The evening’s theme: dreams. The kind we experience during sleep and the kind that we hold in our hearts with the hope they bloom in the future. I quickly scrawled out the words above to the prompt, “Life dreams. What do you dream of? What dreams have you not let go of?” The passage above could have come out of my pen in the last six months, verbatim. But instead was written seven years ago.
I thought of this all today, as my new friend T scrawled out for me “She went home to the farm, where love lived” without knowing the weight of those words, in a round of Exquisite Corpse. These are the words today that launched the freeing avalanche in my heart. That somehow spring-boarded me backward in time. I remembered so clearly how my words looked on the thin-set lines of that most favorite writing notebook seven years ago, and the very clear vision those words describe. A small room, me, solitude, wilderness outside, full-ness. I can picture it as clear as a painting, and now I can envision it as my life. And as my notebooks are dotted with these notions of solitude, creativity and (in the last ten years, farm) I now recognize they are all metaphors. Symbols for my self, my truth, the gold thread of creativity. The place that I long to come home to, the roof under which I yearn to live.
These are the things that are true. The stories that arrive on repeat. That are timeless within us because they are ours. Stories that have become part of our own narrative, vision, dream, and help us to return to our core, our best selves. The stories that we keep reliving, throughout different years, with hodge-podge people, at distant dots across the map – these are the truest stories of ourselves.
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This is a revised version of the #365Quote Project newsletter sent in the wee hours of last night. After two days at a Sabrina Ward Harrison workshop, I was cracked open and raw and moved and completely content.
Crackled.Sparkling.Ephemera was started to house my writings for Quest2015. It was a stop gap container engaged with no long term planning. Then the #365Quote Project happened. Then the associated daily newsletter happened. (I’m practicing just letting things happen, can you tell?) It’s wonderful to have a daily writing practice, with some sort of quiet agreement with newsletter readers that something will happen every day. But, it’s meant few things are translated beyond preliminary thoughts, and into this space. Maybe more to come, in the mean time you can find me here every day.