The Observer has been a lover of books since before we can remember, a reader since our earliest memories and a writer shortly thereafter, when we came to the thunderclap realization that the stories in our Little Golden Books weren’t fetched up out of the river with a hook or grown on a bush, but thunk up and written down by a plain ol’ human being, just like Yours Truly.
There’s quite a bit of power in learning that lesson, though we’ve since learned a lot of people never do. Unfortunately for the vast majority of folks, the act of sitting down, pen in hand, to create full-fledged worlds and people to live within those worlds and emotions to live within those people is an idea as crazy as waving a magic wand and attempting to do the same in real life. It seems more than a little crazy. Maybe it is.
The Observer, by the way, tossed in that “unfortunately” there because we happen to believe the idea that telling stories is hard is one of the biggest misconceptions around. The truth is we are all born storytellers. Day to day, hour to hour, the stories of our own trials and travails roll off our tongues so quick and easy that most of us never realize we’re performing a miracle, spinning the soggy straw of our dull old lives into narrative gold, full of intrigue and remorse, comedy and tragedy, heroes and villains, dramatic rises and sickening falls, always with ourselves as the ultimate protagonist, striving ever after some distant mountaintop lost in the clouds. The next time you sit a friend down over beers or a coffee to dish on the latest and greatest crap going on at work or home, an argument with your mother or how you got that promotion, just listen to yourself. What you’ll hear is: beginning, middle, end. Introduction, instigating incident, escalation of tension, climax, resolution. Showing, not telling. It’s all in there, and we just do it, as natural as breathing.
The Observer, who taught creative writing out at the college for many a year, tried our damnedest to convince people that they could just write stories the same way they’d tell that story to a friend, in the same old voice they use to speak, without all the flowery horseshit people get up to when someone asks them to Create Art! The Observer has more than a few cockamamie theories upstairs, and one of them is a steadfast belief that half this planet could be cranking out work to rival the greats if they’d just let go of their fear, shut out the voice of whoever told them they couldn’t possibly do it, and put ass to chair for an hour a night with the scribbling utensil of their choice close at hand. But another heartfelt belief is dovetailed to that one: that it is not a lack of talent that keeps most people from becoming artists. It is a lack of courage. To reveal your true self is to risk being found wanting. And so, most of us would rather wait out the clock and regret on our deathbeds that our stories were never told.
The Observer has been thinking of all this recently because we’ve been revisiting a series of stories we wrote way back in college about a town called Blind River, which is situated roughly where England, Ark., is now. The Observer’s people on our father’s side were all from the England area, eventually washed out by the Great Flood of 1927 to seek their fortunes in Little Rock as roofers. Owing no small debt to the stories Yours Truly loved as a kid, in our version of that place, reality is a bit more threadbare than elsewhere, the town and surrounding woods full of ghostly dogs, phantom brides and mute Tarot card readers who can actually see the future.
It is a strange and wondrous thing to read those old stories these days, written by a 22-year-old version of the 45-year-old old fart The Observer is now. Yours Truly used to tell folks: The reason I can read the same novel 20 times or more is because the words in the book don’t change, but I do, and that changes the book. We find that the weird, topsy-turvy feeling of reading again anew is even more pronounced in rereading old work of one’s own, not unlike visiting a city you moved away from as a child. All of it is the same, but all of it is somehow changed, with the biggest changes of all inside of you.
The Observer isn’t sure yet what will become of those old stories, whether we’ll spiff ’em up and do something with them, or put them back in the box under the bed to stew another decade or two. There are problems galore, of course, but we hesitate to fix ’em. Right now, those stories are a mirror in which we can see our own, younger face, and we haven’t seen that fella in a while. Whatever the case, reading that kid’s words has triggered the itch to walk the streets of that town again, where we spent so much time in our 20s that we began visiting it in our dreams. The need to tell new stories of that place is in us now like a second heartbeat, growing stronger every day, which means it’s only a matter of time. You, by the way, have your own worlds inside you as well, and a voice. Promise. So tell us: What’s stopping you?