Some of you have mentioned that you’re keeping a Curiosity Journal, as well. If you do, leave your link in the comments so that we can visit and enjoy your weekly review.
Well, I’m still reading the not-at-all Christmas-y book by Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put, in which he observes that “narrative threads, some weak and some tough, connect me to every place I have known” (149)
Story and place.
He cites specific examples to support his claim:
[T]he Mahoning River, long-since dammed, still runs in me, because, on a winter dawn while checking muskrat traps, I slipped into the chill current and nearly drowned. A field of wildflowers blooms in me because a woman who lived there alone in a cabin once filled my palm with seeds. In memory, a forest I have not seen for twenty years still murmurs with the voice of my father naming trees, a pasture gleams under the hooves of horses, a beach dimples under the footsteps of my wife. I am bound to the earth by a web of stories, just as I am bound to the creation by the very substance and rhythms of my flesh. By keeping the stories fresh, I keep the places themselves alive in my imagination. Living in me, borne in my mind, these places make up the landscape on which I stand with familiarity and pleasure, the landscape over which I walk even when my feet are still. (149-150)
Suddenly I’m pedaling to the creek on my banana-seat blue Schwinn, zooming around two curves and down a hill, right foot pressed backwards on the brake to avoid sliding out of control. I’m wading into the creek, because in the geography of my mind it’s summer and I’m plunging my hands into the water, working past the mossy rocks to dig through the silt and pull up handfuls of soft gray clay. When I pull it halfway up, the movement of creek water lifts and carries away silt and soil to leave the thick, heavy mound of clay in my hand. Soon, I’m pedaling home slowly—one hand wrapped tightly around the plastic handlebar grip and the other balancing the blob of clay. At home in the back yard, overlooking rows of corn lined up like an army behind the abandoned hen house, I’m rolling pieces of clay into long, worm-like strands and forming a coil pot. I’m setting it out on the picnic table to dry in the hot sun.
Just as Sanders is connected to the Mahoning River and a Midwestern forest from his childhood, I find that I am connected to the creek, to the back yard and the corn fields, to the hen house and the picnic bench. When that story involuntarily leaped to mind upon reading Sanders’ own recollections, I realized I want to explore it more, this “geography of mind,” as Sanders calls it, because I feel the tug of narrative threads that tie me to place and time, even to a specific season and hour of day.
I have been thinking about stories of place in an effort to understand how the geography of mind adheres to the geography of earth. Each of us carries an inward map on which are inscribed, as on Renaissance charts, the seas and continents known to us. On my own map, the regions where I have lived most attentively are crowded with detail, while regions I have only glimpsed from windows or imagined from hearsay are barely sketches, and out at the frontiers of my knowledge the lines dwindle away into blankness. (150)
My inward map is a wealth of stories, as is anyone’s; these regions where we’ve lived most attentively, the ones crowded with detail, are waiting to be explored and told.
I feel Sanders modeling the importance of sailing off now and then with anticipation and adventure as an explorer of self, of story, open to new discoveries. It’s the call of the memoirist, I suppose, and while I have no plans to publish something long and involved, perhaps I’ll continue to publish random installments on my blog, something like the clown piece on Monday, and this brief summer reflection on the making of coil pots.
Our neighbor has lots of bird baths and feeders installed outside her kitchen window. Her cats sit on the ledge and flick their tails, relishing the delicious view.
For years we tried to entice some of the birds to our house with some feeders dangling from maple tree branches, but got fewer visitors. Eventually we gave up, especially when we adopted our gigantic dog who, due to his alarming size, tends to scare off chipmunks, squirrels, neighbor kids, meter readers, and birds.
The dog is growing a bit older now, however, and lies lazily as birds hop from branch to branch. Even the squirrels will balance on low branches and waggle their tails at him, asking for trouble, and he just glances up, stares briefly, and then flops his head back down.
It seems like a good time to invite the birds again.
I rummaged around in the garage and unearthed a few feeders, picked up some seed from the supermarket, and filled them up.
But the birds, it seems, need time to discover the new food source.
Over at the neighbor’s house, we can see dozens of birds swooping in to dine on sunflower seeds and peanuts and thistle, but here in our yard? Nothing.
Days passed with no customers.
Then, two days ago at lunch my teenage daughter pointed out the window, and with a mouth full of sandwich uttered only one word: “Birds!”
We looked out, and a downy woodpecker was tapping at the suet square hanging in a wire holder. Balanced on the 2-liter plastic bottle feeder, a male finch.
I set my spoon into the soup bowl and tiptoed slowly to get my camera, trying not to scare them, but before I got back, my son threw open the basement door and the big movement frightened the woodpecker. That bird flew away and hasn’t been spotted since.
But the finch had his back to us and may not have sensed the commotion in the house. I snapped this shot to mark the moment of our first visitor.
When I listened to this talk by Sarah Kay, I thought, “This is why I love memoir. And blogs.”
She starts by reciting a poem, and then at about 2:35, she explains that she didn’t realize as a child that she couldn’t do everything. She assumed she could live many lives and enjoy multiple professions in one lifetime.
As she grew up, she realized she would only get to see through one lens, her own, that of a teenage girl growing up in New York City. About that time, she became obsessed with stories. Telling stories. Sharing stories. Collecting stories.
When we write and read stories, we get to share and live more lives.
When we slow down and write, working and revising, and eventually sharing, we invite someone to live another life—to peek into our own life, to step into our shoes and mosey around.
And when we slow down to read, think and remember other stories, we peek into another’s life; we step into their shoes to run or skip or dance.
The stories, especially those tapped out for a blog post or an e-mail or related verbally in a conversation over coffee, may not be perfect. Even those we labor over for hours or days or months may not be quite right. We can revisit our stories, though, tweaking or adding a detail here and there. They are important and beautiful and need to be told.
To paraphrase Sarah Kay, when I share a story with you here or in some other form, know it represents where I am at that particular moment and what I’m trying to navigate.
Our little home-school co-op enjoyed a Christmas pitch-in lunch (homeschool parents do it all—we even fix our own food). Various kids played piano and sang and played violin, sharing their talents with the group. When it looked liked things were winding down, the lady organizing it asked if anyone wanted to spontaneously jump up and do anything.
One kid stood up and said, “I don’t sing by myself, but I love music and singing with others. What if we sang the 12 Days of Christmas together?” He started it. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree…”
Then he stopped. The group tried its best to continue, but then someone else stood up and started in boldly with the second day of Christmas, and then someone else joined for the third day, another, and so on, so that they created a mini flash mob right there in the church gym.
I felt the grin on my face stretched to the max, sensing the energy spreading throughout the room. We were truly surprised. And delighted.
The singers formed a row in front of us and sang the last line loud and clear with lots of energy, and we laughed and applauded and whooped our appreciation.
As they returned to their seats, the lady who organized the entertainment dismissed us to clean up and head to classes. My son popped up and ran over to me, looking like he’d just discovered a hundred dollar gift card had been handed to him.”
That. Was. Amazing!!” he exclaimed, arms outstretched, eyes about to pop out of his head.”
They surprised us, didn’t they?”
“I LOVED IT!”
“It’s like those flash mobs I’ve shown you. Haven’t you seen some of them, where people are dancing in the train station or mall?”
“Yes! But I’ve never been IN one before! That was the BEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!”
It’s one thing to see it on a 13-inch computer screen and quite another to be swept away by one.
Whew. This post, right here, was a lot of writing.
I’ve been thinking I should cancel my Curiosity Journal and publish the sections on several days throughout the week, to spread out the fun.
Would you miss the collection? Would you enjoy the same things on other days, or do you prefer these random, somewhat unrelated observations and stories grouped in one place?
Credits:Photos: Birdfeeder image by Ann Kroeker. All rights reserved.Sanders, Scott Russell. Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993. Print. (Amazon Associates Link)