Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Telling Stories

My daughter wrote her first play yesterday: “Turkey Adventure.” It involves two turkeys on the run from an evil (hungry) farmer, a nefarious wolf, and some cartoonish “crazy” Indians who live in the deep woods. She even typed the play into the computer at a rate of two words per minute, refusing my transcribing skills, wanting this play (and the effort involved in its production) to be hers and hers alone.

“Momma,” she said, “I even got my friends to agree to be in it. Three of them are boys, too. Can you believe it? Even boys want to be in the play. Maybe my teacher will let us do it in front of the class right before Thanksgiving break!”

Her enthusiasm is infectious. She has been swept up in the excitement of creation and imagination. Last night, up too late as usual, she was highlighting the various roles and speaking parts in the twelve copies of the play she printed out. And organizing a rehearsal schedule. “Maybe I can give everyone a piece of candy at the end of each rehearsal. That way they’ll want to rehearse again.” That’s my girl—practical and savvy, too.

What a gift to be able to watch her brim with enthusiasm, to begin to understand the thrill of creation and production. To watch the words spill from her fingers. To get caught up in the power of story. She reminds me of, well, me. The me that believed anything was possible. The me that would spend hours composing poems and stories and plays. The me that tried to write (and type out with two fingers) a potboiler, Southern gothic romance novel at the age of nine—a story involving a swaggering Yankee and an impoverished lady. I remember my fingers trembling when I typed, “Her bosom heaved,” though I didn’t really know what that meant or implied. Certainly my bosom, at that age, did not heave (nor does it now).

Similarly, my son has recently been transformed into the mad author. He tapes bits and piece of paper together, draws a series of interconnected pictures and then rushes to find me to write the words, the ideas that are filling his five-year old head. “Momma, you write it for me because I can’t,” he wails desperately, until I stop unloading the dishwasher, stop folding laundry, put away whatever it is that I am doing to transcribe his vision for him. The pressure to tell his story, to allow the pleasure of invention to fill him up. He whips out sentences so fast I can’t keep up with him. Of course, this being the season of all things ghostly and scary, his little books have revolved around witches and werewolves and frightening walks through dark forests and graveyards.

After we finish our collaboration, he implores me to read his story back to him, again and again (ad infinitum). And yet, even though I find it repetitive, his does not—his face glows, his smile grows almost unbelievably large as he listens to this story of his own making. It is exactly the same self-satisfaction I feel after writing one of my own stories or essays: I spun this gold out of air! I’ve found a language, a narrative for my dreams! That line-up of little black letters spell out something that is mine, that is me!

Why do my two little authors hold me in such sway? Because I have been empty of words for so long because of IT. IT decimates imagination. IT reduces me to the mechanical automaton doing ITs bidding: starving or cutting or purging or giving in to the manic highs and lows. IT tells me I am empty of any other story but ITs story and IT has already come up with my ending: death. IT insists that is my only possible ending.

And yet, watching my children give birth to their own best imaginative selves on the page, watching them create stories that suggest they can imagine alternate worlds, I am inspired. My ending has not yet been written. IT may show me one possible end, but that narrative path can change course. It’s like one of those Choose Your Own Ending books I used to read as a kid—make some narrative decisions and you might end up on page 43, flummoxed and floundering. Go back and choose another set of possibilities and you end up on page 56, the hero of the story. I want to be the hero of my story—instead of IT destroying me, I must destroy IT. How do I do this? Imagine an alternate story for myself, one that ends in light and love and restoration. I am still that girl, two-finger typing, swept up by the power of What Might Be.