“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Most weeks, this column comes to me like a bolt of lightning. Here’s what happens. I’ll be driving along, or standing in line in the grocery store, or having a conversation with someone or I’ll notice the way something just IS at that moment and suddenly, a story is there, clanging around in my head and screaming to be told. The words bang at the door of my mind and I have to let them in. Some weeks, they stumble in as a mess on Monday morning and I spend the rest of the week trying to get them to sober up and make sense. Other weeks, they show up all showered and shiny and all I have to do is tell them where to set their suitcase. It all depends on the words and the week.
I get twitchy if no words have arrived at the door by Sunday afternoon, my own personal deadline. My fingers are poised over keys, ready to type, but nothing comes out. My dear ones will tell you that I’m kind of lot of work to live with on those Sundays. They know not to ask me questions about what’s for dinner (or anything else) when the words are late. I frown and mutter and sweep the back room of my brain trying to shoo something, anything, onto the screen in front of me and get really crabby. I feel dull on those days. Duller, and dumber, than anyone who isn’t actually either of those things should ever feel.
I believe that most writers were once overly sensitive children who grew into overly sensitive adults. But, not in a good way. That’s probably why so many of the good ones end up as raging alcoholics or swinging from some rafter by their necks. But even on days when the words don’t show up, I’m still grateful that of all the gifts and challenges I could have received from the Benevolent Granter of Gifts and Challenges that words is what I got.
I’m currently teaching The Great Gatsby to students who have seen the movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but know next to nothing about Fitzgerald. We have been having some good discussions about how characters like Jay Gatsby live in our heads long after we’ve closed the book. They are surprised that they care about him, but I’m not. Fitzgerald’s words did that. Those words of his were magic, I tell them. Magic.
Last night, my son was dusting two fluffy, white kittens with a feather duster. In the dream, he was the dark-eyed, sturdy, singularly focused four year old I remember so well. The type of kid who would have totally tried to dust a cat. It was an odd, disjointed, dream laden with a lot of Freudian metaphors, no doubt. Why a feather duster and not, say, a hairbrush? Why white kitties and not black ones? Why my son, and not my daughter? Who knows? The mind of a mother does strange things.
But stranger still? The need, like breath, to try and make sense out of the miraculous and mundane through words on a page.
For me. Each week. In 600 words or less.