Friday, October 13, 2006

what's her story?

Sometimes writing just makes my stomach hurt.

Writing is something I need to do to sort out my thoughts. Even when I'm not writing, I'm writing: most of the things I see and hear I'm silently, mentally translating into script. This is an old habit: sitting in the classroom -- six, seven years old -- I entertained myself by visualizing the teacher's words as text.

I learned to read when I was four. Kindergarten and first grade were more of a social exercise for me than anything else. I already knew how to read and write, and add and subtract. Once I read the story assigned me I waited -- not patiently -- in the lagging, awful interim while everyone else caught up.

So I invented more stories to "read" in my head: the teacher's lecture, the conversation between the janitor and the gym teacher, out in the hallway.

I'd rather watch people and listen to their conversations than actually talk to them, even now. I know that sounds awful.

When I'm really distressed (even now) I detach and see everything from the third-person point of view: everything around me is just another book I'm "reading". (Her mouth seemed to disappear in a thin white line. The birds refused, stubbornly, to stop singing.)

I can't remember when I started writing my stories down. I always felt dissatisfied with my handwriting: it didn't resemble the text in my head. It only looked sufficiently real, therefore, if typed, because I thought in typewritten font (on cream-colored paper, naturally).

My first investment was in a manual typewriter my uncle sold me for ten dollars. I relished in the thrill of making the thoughts, my inner, private text and personal entertainment, real.

Then is the moment of truth: when one realizes one's thoughts, if transcribed, must be offered up for public consumption. One feels horribly vulnerable, exposed, even betrayed somehow. (These thoughts were mine. Others will only trample them.)

Which, of course, happens.

I sat inside a restaurant this morning, looking out the window and watching, dreamily, the fluffy white clouds skate past: no one, I thought, ever really notices clouds, do they? (Other than weathermen, I mean.) How big the sky is, how delicately the wind carries the clouds along -- what else is this big? The ocean. When you're landlocked, like I am, the sky becomes your ocean. The wind is the tide, pulling and dragging everything on the surface along with it. I know I read that, somewhere. I just can't remember where.

Across the room, a businessman, obviously a traveler (with his crisp blue oxford shirt, overlarge duffel, cell phone strapped like a holster to his hip), flipped his cell phone open importantly and launched into an overloud conversation, seemingly only with himself. "Hey. How's it going? Awesome. Yeah, going to Boston next." Pause. "Always on the go. It sucks."

Rude of me to eavesdrop, but how can you not? When one, it's sort of habit. And two, when he's making it pretty difficult not to.

That is a disconnected person, I thought, still watching the clouds skim past. He's got that weird feeling you get sometimes when you travel, when you feel absent even from yourself, as if all that motion has subtracted more from you than sleep. Maybe it's from not being recognized; you're familiar to no one and the invisibility starts to get to you. You can't even get through a meal in a restaurant without calling someone on your cell phone, just to reassure yourself that you're still there.

Then I heard him say, "So you met her in Chicago....? So what's she do for a living? What's her story?"


As if anyone can be summed up with a handful of sentences! A person who asks such a question is a person who has barely lived. The absurdity of such a question! Suppose this question was thrust upon anybody, anybody at all?

(What do you know about this Sharon? What's she do for a living? What's her story?)

I don't have one. Or, I don't have just one story. No one does. I have a lot of stories; none of which have anything to do with what I do for a living. It's the same for everybody.

People are always wanting to know what your story is, though, if you've got one, (and they only want one) and then, if it's any good.

Who's to say if it is, or it is not? Does that matter? There are stories I want to tell and then there are stories I want to keep to myself, to savor and turn over and over like a polished gemstone, in an admiring, appreciative way. There are more that I want to keep than tell, actually.

Because anymore when I write down my stories I feel cramped and almost...wounded, somehow, like I'm about to give away more than I ever intended to.

I don't know that I was meant to be a writer. Sometimes I think, when my stomach hurts like this, that my writing is something I only invented to keep myself company, a long, long time ago. It was a private occupation, meant only for me. Share it and mixed blessings follow. I go to sleep nights wondering if it's worth it. Wake up again deciding -- maybe.