Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homo Scriptor

There's a myth about writers - that they are made and not born.  I most certainly beg to differ. While there are writers published and unpublished (or unnoticed), we seem to be our own species of animal.  I had never been able to put my finger on it until today, when I read an homage to a mother, a struggling, unnoticed, and barely published writer.
We were not wealthy, but at my house, we had two newspapers every day and more books and magazines than anyone could read. My mother and my grandmother, who also lived with us, read Dickens to me. After supper, my mother read aloud a chapter of the King James Bible.
 Reminds me of my childhood.  I was raised in a rather bizarre religious faith where TVs were forbidden, movies were considered sinful, and the radio was only okay if it was tuned to news or a gospel station.  No, I wasn't raised in 1948 - the eighties were my teen years, so imagine missing out on Star Wars, Back to the Future, Michael Jackson, etc., until you were over eighteen.  Somehow, books were okay.  Books were my haven - I learned so much from them, about spirituality, about my sexuality, about everything I would need to know about the big giant world outside the blinders of my parent's faith. 

But, most of all, books were where I found refuge.  They taught me how to imagine - how to build a world in my head where I made the rules, and I did - spinning stories that will never be told about how I might grow up and conquer life.
She wrote a novel in 1957 but never published anything else, though she wrote all her life. It was in my mother’s presence I learned a central truth about writers — they live inside their own heads.

I can remember planting chrysanthemums beside her one September day, noticing she was quietly mumbling to herself as she worked.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. She smiled and looked as though I’d caught her making faces in the mirror.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. But I knew better. She was lost in thought, making up dialogue in an imaginary world, spinning a tale no one but she would ever see or appreciate.
 At some point, I pulled the stories out of my head - I needed them to be more tangible.  From cardboard cutouts, to a whole cast of characters made out of modelling clay, I created worlds, neighborhoods, family dramas that spanned generations.  As I matured, I began devouring books - some given to us by friends, some purchased at garage sales and church bazaars, and I let these stories take me places my own imagination had dared not take me.
One of the young lawyers who worked in her office told me about my mother years after her death.

“I remember Miss Frances used to bring her lunch to work every day, and when it wasn’t too hot, she’d retreat to her car for an hour at lunch — all by herself. She’d eat her lunch, speak to no one and get lost in her book. It was her world, and no one could share it.”

That’s how I think of her today — quiet, self-contained, brave. She was less grounded in the world around her than in the dreamland she invented. It must have been a marvelous place. 
 This was sort of a validation for me.  I do live inside of my head, just like Miss Frances.  Whether I'm trying to smooth out a plot in a story, or trying to figure out the drama that is my life ... for others, being around others and fleshing it out is best, but for me, the only way I can sort it all out is in my own little universe where everything is okay, where everything makes perfect sense.

This story (that I heavily borrowed from) was a way for one son to remember his mother on Mother's Day.  For me, it is a reminder that there is a certain material that we're made of, that makes us different from everyone who lives "outside."  We're not just introverts: we are creators, inventors, storytellers.  What goes on inside of our minds is far more interesting than what we see in the offices, the malls, the churches, or even our backyards.  Occasionally, we write about it.  Sometimes, others see that beauty and publish it, distribute it, read it, option it.  But, for all the stories that are "marketable," thousands more stay inside - amusing only those who've built that world, that reality, and perhaps a few in our inner circles we trust with our secrets.

Thank you Mr. Tillotson, for sharing your story.  Thank you, Miss Frances, for reminding us that writers aren't created the moment they appear on the NYTimes best-seller list ... they live among all of us ... just waiting to share!

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful, I totally agree, the stories in our head are mostly there to entertain us.
    "But, for all the stories that are "marketable," thousands more stay inside - amusing only those who've built that world, that reality, and perhaps a few in our inner circles we trust with our secrets."
    I was so afraid or maybe not trusting to let go of my stories, when I read a that a turtle sticks its head out just to make one step.
    Because I think we are all a little bit turtle"ish".
    Happy writing and good luck.

    Hey!I'm your first follower!