The Story of a Story
Once upon a time, in an earlier blog post, my challenge for myself, and for you the reader, was to identify stories and situations within whatever you are reading or retelling or writing as a means of understanding and lessening the “other”. Lydia Millet wrote, “We are always the main characters in our own stories; other stories may be interesting, but they tend to be most interesting when they cease to be the other and become our own.” Connecting to a story, a situation, or both help us to accept all stories as our stories.
And, this year during National Novel Writing Month, I am drawn to the idea of where and how situations and stories come together. We're not supposed to start at the back of a book, nor flip to the final pages. AND, I find that exploring the author's acknowledgments in the beginning or middle of the story provides a fascinating window into the strings coming together as 'fiction'.
In the original blog post mentioned, I cited Maria Popova. She quoted Gornick's work, “Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.”
In honor of this month, I am including an excerpt from my most recent novel in development. One strand of its message is how we live out our story. This scene asks how we start to bring stories into being.
I slowly opened my eyes. I could smell the shum lifting into the air around her. The woven cloth was draped across her lap like the invitation to a story. It reminded me of the way the sefarim would tilt the books towards where I had been standing, maybe washing dishes or pretending to brush Sol’s mane. They turned pages slowly for me to see the text and images while they practiced retelling. It was an invitation. “What’s your name?”
I nodded. “You understand this cloth? You weave? Like my mother?”
Ofi smiled. “Ken. I do. My mother left me. I grew up in hidden places. I never had the luxury of these kinds of threads. Especially not the golden ones. Those have not been used since the second break.” She pushed her dangling curls on both sides of her cheeks behind her ears and leaned forward across the cloth over her knees. She removed the cloth from around my mouth. “He’s making it too hard on you. Tell me, what has your travel companion told you?”
“That someone is looking for me. At first, I thought it was demons, but I guess not demons, something else. A type of militia. I don’t know. I don’t think he trusts me with the whole story.” I allowed my eyes to search the expanse of the cloth.
“Yes, that is the very problem. Not only the deserts and the people, but the stories were split apart. Riel was right, you can be easily found, despite hiding. Still, they are different, hiding and forgetting. We cannot find forgiveness if we are okay with the forgetting. Let’s hope they return easily and quickly. Are you hungry?”
“I’m always hungry these days, but I’d rather sleep. Everything feels heavy.”
“It’s the sadness in the stone. You shouldn’t touch it so much. Here, lean your head on my lap.”
I shifted my weight and lowered my head. Once I was still, I felt her fingers in my hair the way Ima used to call out to sleep for me. “Ofi.”
“How do you start weaving?”
“Like you start any story. You pluck one feeling, one phrase from your day and center on it. Everything starts from there.”
“But what if you make mistakes?”
“There are no mistakes. All is beautiful from a distance.”
In my mind, I saw Ima’s book pages hovering delicately, a fragile reflection of the breath of the storyteller. No mistakes. It seemed impossible. In the pads of my fingers, I remembered my own frantic rubbing as I tried again and again to retell Ima’s leaving. Ofi might understand. Her fingers soon transformed into the repetition of lapping water over the orange’s reflection in the cave. A soft coolness passed through my lips and down my throat. I inhaled and then exhaled. A corner of the cloth fluttered.
Make a list of books. Make a list of words. Snuggle into your warmest blanket. Light your imagination and a spark. Start a story. . .
A little situation. . . and a little story in the following list-
Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
Before Takeoff by Adi Alsaid
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger
Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson
The Turning Pointe by Vanessa Torres