“Writers are indecent people. They live unfairly – saving the best part for paper.”– Charles Bukowski
I think most writers understand instinctively that they are meant to be writers, storytellers. I suspect that the stories are already there inside – like secret libraries in our souls, or hundreds of scrolls tucked into our hearts.
I suppose our earliest stories are those we tell ourselves as children – and they are called daydreams or pretending, and we are too often cautioned not to become caught up in such things.
In my own life, very early on, I remember imagining myself into paintings and drawings – complete with accompanying backstories, of course.
One such recurring excursion involved my becoming the woman in the golden gown. She was in a painting that hung in our family home over the fireplace. It was, in reality, a rather common 1940s print of two young ladies – both wearing long, flowing, satiny gowns and backswept hair, representative of a vague, earlier period in history. One of the women is dressed in green and seated at a harp. The other, in gold, is looking over her shoulder. I always imagined myself as the girl in gold, and my older sister was the one in green. I envied her. I preferred the green dress and longed to play a harp. But she looked older and more in charge, and the gold-dressed girl was standing back, observing. Perhaps composing her story for later. That was me. And no amount of imagination allowed me to ever switch or change the roles we each filled. I still rarely wear green.
Through “picture transportation” I remember, too, walking many times along a path in a sepia-toned “Woodland Idyll,” beside a small stream with several swans gracefully keeping pace. I knew it was a “Woodland Idyll” because the title on the vintage print said it was. I long believed such places truly existed – wonderfully compelling and mysterious – always sort of brownish in color, with tattered edges. I suspect it’s why I’m now so drawn to the woods, especially in fall, and especially to those trails where tatters of Spanish moss drape and swoon in faded breezes. Although dogs have now replaced the swans keeping me company.
Eventually, I found myself making up stories to tell to my much-younger sister as we sat side-by-side on the front porch. These were usually hilarious tales – at least she thought so. And I suddenly realized this was an amazing thing. I could take her along with me to all those places and alternate realities – with just my words.
In high school, I wrote a note confiding my dream for my future to my best friend, Elizabeth. Folded into a tiny square, so only she would read it, it said shyly but with great conviction: “I want to be a writter.” Since most writers are notoriously bad spellers, I suppose it confirmed the prediction. And, true to her good heart and our friendship, she didn’t laugh.
Eventually I began committing my stories to paper. First, in the guise of radio commercials and advertising in general, then to books with my name on the cover as well as newspaper and magazine columns carrying my byline. And all along the way I’ve tried to keep true to Wordsworth’s advice: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” That’s what keeps a writer authentic, I think, and in love with the language that creates and colors and gives texture to the place where the story will live.
Looking back, I find the entire experience has been exhilarating, frightening, defining, separating, actualizing and somehow inevitable. And I suspect that Bukowski was right – in the end, writers do save the best part of themselves for paper. Like the girl in the golden dress who simply observes, or the woodland idyll path devoid of human company. And yet, we writers wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t believe our readers would, either.
Over the summer, I will be searching out and saving up more stories to tell you on the pages of Bella and other places – and perhaps within another book or two. Perhaps I shall even wear green and learn to play the harp.
© Marti Healy 2018