Saturday, February 4, 2012
For longer than I can remember I have loved stories. My mother says, as a child, I would sit on the floor in a corner of the room with a pile of magazines and amuse myself by making up stories about the pictures in them.
What I first remember is sitting on the scratchy gray sofa of our front room waiting for my turn to be shown how to tie my scuff-toed, hand-me-down shoes. I sat quietly with a picture book in my hands. The pictures were of elephants in sailor suits and traveling clothes, walking on two legs and carrying umbrellas and suitcases. For all their charm, it wasn't the pictures that had captured my attention; it was the smooth, black scribbles looping and swirling in long, curving lines at the bottom of the page that mesmerized me. Even then, I knew those scribbles held the magic of stories locked inside them like a treasure waiting to be opened. I thought that if I only looked long enough and hard enough I could break the spell that kept the stories from me.
Then I learned to read. I slogged through stories of Dick and Jane that were tedious and uninteresting, but were necessary if I was ever to read the really good ones about Jane Moffat who was also a middle child and sometimes looked at life from upside-down, and Ellen Tebbits who was jealous, as I was, of her best friend's beautiful dresses with the crisply tied bows, and of the funny little girl named Pippi Longstocking who had red hair like mine, and an imagination like mine, and a kind of courage and independence that existed for me only in books.
My own family were not great readers, so I was dubbed "Bookworm"; exactly so for the only thing I enjoyed as much as reading stories was writing them or pretending to be walking around inside of them. I was shy with people and sometimes lonely in a house filled with children, but I found companionship in books. Reading and writing remain my chief pleasures, but as I grew older I discovered stories in other places as well.
While in college, I went to see my first ballet–Swan Lake. I remember sitting in the close dark of the theater in a plush red seat up near the rooftop. I remember the sudden hush as the music began, weaving its own kind of magic. The curtain rose, and the dancers began to loop and swirl across the stage like writing on a page. Soon, I was straining to hear the voice of another kind of story.
Many years have passed, and I have continued to discover stories in unexpected places. Sometimes they come in the familiar shape of a book, or play, or picture show, while at other times I find them in museums and art galleries, in the conversations of friends and family, or even in the scratching and scribbling of my own pen. I have only been given my one, small life, but I have lived countless others through stories.