Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Friends, Wolves, and Storytelling

     Today, I'm lucky to share a book birthday with my friend, Francisco Stork, whose amazing YA novel, DISAPPEARED, debuts alongside my MG one, THE WOLF HOUR. To celebrate, if you share this post about storytelling, wolves, and our friendship, and tag both of us, I will enter your name in a drawing for a hardcover copy of BOTH of our books. (I've got yours covered, Francisco!) Please comment, too, on your own path to finding your voice and your story---I'd love to hear it! (And buy/read/share Francisco's beautiful book---he is a wonder.)

     The Wolf Hour, in legend, is the hour between darkness and dawn; it’s the hour more people are said to be born into this world and more people leave it than any other —-and, if you are like me, you are often awake then, wondering if you are getting your Story right.

     Not long ago, in a nearly empty D.C. deli, I tried to bluff my way through my doubts as I shared a greasy cheesesteak sandwich with my dear friend, Francisco Stork. We were talking, as we usually do, of our families, and of the books we were working on, and of how to find courage and joy in our work. We were also talking about mental illness, and how to combat the forces that would hold us back. I told Francisco (somewhat blithely) that when I was unhappy with my life, with the way it was unfolding, with the choices I was making, I knew, underneath the angst and despair, that I could always tell myself a new Story. He looked at me then, smiled over the last of his shaved beef and gooey cheese sub, and said, kindly: and that is the definition of mental health.

     Yes. Yes, he was right. Maybe that’s why the task of telling myself that new Story seemed impossibly hard lately--- so difficult, in fact, that I felt stuck in that very Wolf Hour—-lost between dreaming and waking, and doing no good for anyone at all. When we feel that way, does Story really help? And what is Story made of, anyway?

     When I was a child, I discovered the Lang collection of fairy tales. Beneath their innocuous color names (The Green Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book) were stories of iron shoes that tortured their owners, of mothers who sprouted noses an “ell” long, and of children who were loved less than coin shine and left to die. Certainly, there were no life instructions here, for casual cruelty and stunning beauty lived side by side. Animals and people fought and slept and morphed from one form to the other. Nothing made sense, and everything did. And I wanted to know why.

     Which, of course, we all do.

     Still—those tales at least confirmed that all was not rosy in the secret world of adults, and that I’d better learn fast if I wanted to grow up and survive. So I did. In fact, you could say that such books (along with lighter stories) raised me. I always looked to them first for answers, and foolishly thought that people who made mistakes…who strayed from life’s paths…had obviously not read the RIGHT BOOKS. And then one day, a fairy tale came looking for me.

     On that day, when I sat down to write, a wolf stole into the forest of words crowding my head. This wolf was educated and yet naive, bold and yet terrified. This wolf was filled with human-gathered facts, and yet he had no intimate experience of humans at all. In fact, like me, he had largely been raised by books. And like me, he didn’t know the dark role he was rumored to play in the world. (What? You think writers don’t have a dark role to play? We write about everything the world wishes to keep hidden.)

     Luckily for this wolf (and for me!) there was also a girl who lived nearby. She, too, battled rumor, secrets, and lies. She, too, rejected the role the world said she should play. And she believed her hunger for more made her alone.

     Which, of course, we all believe.

What then if the two of them—the wolf and the girl—met, smack in the middle of a REAL fairy tale? A tale with strong ideas about how each of them would fit, and what each would do, and how each would look at the other? Why, then…they would have to fight the story the world wanted to tell about them. They would have to make and re-make their tale until it rang true. They would have to grow up and into their own Story.

     Which, of course, we all must.

     I’m sure this is why Francisco didn’t laugh at me in that deli when I claimed to know how to slay the beast. He even paid for my sandwich. And sent me an encouraging email the next week.

     I still have questions about Story. About why on some days everything seems to make sense, and then the next day, nothing does. And I’m never quite sure what to do with my hunger to be more than what I am. But I do know this: That if life’s dangers are real, so are the true friends. The ones who will eat cheesesteaks with you, and tell you a Story of their own. For the best weapon against the darkness has always been not just Story—but Story told to— and with—-and for the love of— our fellow tellers.

     May we never cease the telling.

(Crossposted to Facebook: 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry Friday: Wishes Cannot be Broken

Can it be September? It can.

Thank goodness there's poetry to mark the occasion.

This month, the Poetry Sisters wrote to this photo, which I took while working at the Highlights Retreat Center in Honesdale, PA:

The first thing that came to mind was:

Promises can be broken, but wishes cannot.

And then, the second thought followed:

What if I repeated the visual breaking of the word WISH in my poem?  Just to see if my first thought was true.  (It was.)

When nothing will groW, I SHall lay a foundation
When all is askeW, I SHall straighten the way
When promises are laid loW, I SHall hold fast
When hopes are feW, I SHall break chains.

For this is no flaW: I SHall be
 thought mistboW; I SHall be, yet— rock.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

**If you're curious, a mistbow is a white arch that appears in mist, rather like a ghost rainbow.

How are wishes like rock to you?  Tell me in the comments.

And...more importantly...please visit my Poetry Sisters to see what intricate and beautiful poems they created from this image:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kathyrn Apel.