Last night Casey said, wistfully, our bird is flying free tonight.
And he may have been waxing just a tad poetic, and I may have shushed him as we were trying to watch one of those movies where you need to hear every word to understand what is happening. (I’m reasonably sure he’d stopped trying to hear every word and lost interest in the movie some time before that).
Today the Bird is tired and teary, full of stories about playing Sardines and running blindly down the dusky downstairs halls at church as the “wolf” stalked her. Today she still has her makeup on from the Halloween costume she wore yesterday, and she clasps her hands and tells me of a woman at the nursing home they visited last night who told her she was doing good work and who blessed her.
I like to think that experiences like that, running pell mell down a dark hallway and screaming and shrieking and telling ghost stories, making her own pizza in the kitchen, that those experiences will make her see that this building is her own and her home and a place she can always come back to. But I also hope it will make her see, over time, over many lock ins and soup kitchen services and church services (which are somehow the same), I hope she will begin to see that a building is only a building, and that she is the church.
I was jumpy last night, and it wasn’t just the movie. I always get jumpy on the night before Halloween, as the veil that separates the living from the dead begins to thin. I make sure our pumpkins are inside to protect them from being smashed in the street, I corral and wrestle the cats in too, woe betide anyone who lets the cats out on Devils Night. Though I doubt anyone could actually catch either one of them. And I realize as I write this that I am not afraid of a veil that becomes thin, it is the evil that populates our world that is terrifying.
There is a lot of homework for me to do which I have hardly started on. I’m finding that I have reverted to my old habits, working best when under a real and true THIS MINUTE deadline. And I don’t like working that way, but I’m tired of talking about Old Testament prophets too, and so find myself putting it off.
I tried to work on an older writing project instead, and then started a new one I’d scribbled down last night. Ideas for me are like minnows, you can see them if you look right at them at just the right time, glinting in the sun in the shallow water, and you think you can just reach right down and pick up a handful of silvery shadow fish. But then you move and they disperse so quickly its like they were never there. I try to write ideas down when they come to me, and sometimes they turn into something, and sometimes I go back and look at what I’d scribbled on a receipt in the car at a red light and have no idea what I was thinking of.
One of those ideas is about three paragraphs now, and already I am disappointed and overwhelmed at the same time. Such a GOOD idea, surely a Pulitzer Prize winning story! And I just can’t seem to make it go, to get it off the ground, to make the dialogue feel authentic instead of wooden and typed on a keyboard in my little office. Casey says a story like that needs to be mapped out, that I must take notes. I said, but I’m not good at writing that way! He said, I know, but maybe you can learn to be?
Why does every story I ever tell seem like my own? Like an autobiography? Why do my characters look like people I know and talk like people I know? Maybe I am lacking in imagination, or maybe the story needs more time to unfold. Maybe I really should be taking notes and mapping it out instead of thinking I can just spew a new story out in an hour flat (in my defense it has happened before).
The rain is gusting down the street and the house is warm and cozy. The storm windows aren’t up yet and the curtains keep leaping away from the windows as if to say, BOO! The dog is sleeping and has been sleeping, he doesn’t eat much any more, jumping off the deck or trotting cockily a few steps are about the only things left of the puppy who chewed on table legs and books and would chase a ball all day; who would leap with abandon into any body of water just for a chance to spread his webbed toes and swim.
Maybe every story I have is, in some way, my own. Maybe every character I can dream up will resemble someone I once knew, someone I know still. Maybe some stories don’t get easier as you tell them over and over again, but maybe you keep trying.
Maybe this is ok.
In the meantime I am taking notes.
I am drawing a map that will resemble the time line of a life, and I am doing it here. I am taking notes on Old Testament prophets and how a deacon sets the altar, I am taking notes on squeezing music out of myself like a tube of toothpaste, on girls who have grown up without my seeing it; and a dog who is, just maybe, straddling that open doorway between what is now and what is to come.
Casey went for a bike ride last night between rain showers and when he came back was spooked. Seems there were lit lanterns scattered about the graves in the cemetery down the road, which felt all too close last night. He said there weren’t any people around that he could see, but suddenly there was this small light, and as he slowed to look he saw others; little lamps keeping vigil.
There is a new altar at church, and it is an altar for the dead. There are brightly colored papers and flowers, there are photos too of those who are gone from the now. Maybe the lamps in the graveyard are more than a vigil, maybe they can light the way back, even if it is only us, travelling down the roads of memory, a road through a graveyard illuminated by lanterns flickering in the wind, remembering those we have loved. I don’t have any photos of those I would like to add to the altar, so I think I will do what I sometimes do best and write. I will write down their names and that they are loved and missed, and I will hope that small offering is enough.
Why is it that the only story we can tell is our own?