Slowly, I’m resurrecting a concept I’d somehow lost: Everything is fascinating.
I discovered I could write in high school, when my best friend Jane struggled to finish a story for the school newspaper. I wanted to get to the mall NOW, but Jane had the car. “Oh for heavens’ sake,” I grumbled impatiently, “just say this and that and move that paragraph up to the top and change the title to this and let’s GO.”
Violet Bedford, the journalism teacher, overheard us, grabbed me and made me write a story on the spot. It was easy, and next thing I knew I was switching classes and writing a column for the school newspaper.
Thank you, Mrs. Bedford.
Mrs. Bedford turned me into a roving reporter. “Just walk up to somebody and make friends,” she said, “LISTEN to them. You’ll find the story.” And she was right. I wrote about a racetrack tout who worked needlepoint in a rented room at night, Mexican illegals picking grapes and teaching themselves French, a cowhorse riding champion who kept ocelots in the backyard, and a shy girl in my chemistry class whose parents sold her older sister to escape the Marcos regime. (they didn’t print the last one–Mrs. Bedford felt it cut a bit too close to the bone)
I married a photographer while I was still in college, and my maunderings turned into photo essays, garnered from folks we met just walking around: Liberty Bell Morgan, the former Miss Morgenstern, who made a mean beef ragout and had a concentration camp tattoo that she didn’t want to talk about. Felicia, an old woman jaywalker we nearly hit with the car, who’d danced her way across the midwest trying (and failing) to bring back Vaudeville. Deborah Hovsepian, whose family died in the Armenian holocaust and who taught me to tat because she was afraid the craft would die with her.
About three years ago I uncovered a box of those old stories and realized that, somewhere in the process of becoming a professional writer, editor and marketeer, I’d lost the storyteller instinct, or maybe gave it away. I’d stopped asking people about them, and started asking about their products. I’d forsaken listening and noticing and all the little things that go into telling a good story. And that had narrowed my world.
Funnily enough, sculpture and glass are bringing it back. I learned I could sculpt about two years ago, and about nine months later, that the sculpture was much, much better if I knew something of the soul behind the face.
My glassist friend Gary broke the last barrier; he dropped in for a visit and we spent a merry day walking up to museum guards and asking them which piece of art they’d remove if the building caught fire. The answers were illuminating, the people flattered to be asked. They were thrilled that one of the masses that never saw them, saw them…and wanted their opinion.
And all of a sudden my mind clicked back to those early days of walking up to interesting faces and making friends. Every last damn one of them is fascinating, more real than I could ever invent, and every one of those stories needs to be told. If I continue to sculpt faces and stories from now until I die, I won’t finish even the ones I’ve found in the last year.
Thank you, Gary.
And so now there’s the Bee Guy, who taught me more about honey than I’ll probably ever want to know (I hate honey). Jashawn, who works in a storage facility and, with her husband, struggles to feed and house her little girls in these troubled times.
Patty, fighting the stereotypes that keep petite women from doing manly things. She’s got a plan, and by damn she’s gonna make it. Markus, spoofing the world and maybe not long for it. Rose on the MAX, who was terrified that I’d make her go “back,” but nonetheless needed to tell me of her life. (I’m trying to distance myself enough to write that one.)
There’s Mrs. Riesemeling, who still has a grandson who loves her. And May, who maybe doesn’t, and whose rigid hatred of her seeming imprisonment still haunts me. The tow truck driver, learning to cope with the big city and wishing he was back home in Alaska. Jazz musicians and gallery owners and FBI agents and hardware store managers and graphic designers who used to be landscape architects.
It ain’t anything I can make a living from, it ain’t much in the overall scheme of the world, but it’s brought me back to myself, opened up worlds and friends I’d never have known. If it gets a bit uncomfortable or irritating or embarrassing sometimes, it’s also some of the most rewarding writing I’ve ever done. I purely don’t care if anyone ever reads it; these are memorials to people who matter.
Thank you, all.