Writer as Camera

Going Green

Writers are pretty good at the whole re-cycling thing.  Memories of people, places, things, of smells and touch, impressions and observations made over the years are used again and again in the stories we create and the characters we "invent". Nothing is wasted.  Our whole lives feed our work. Our way of being in this world, I think, is different than people who don't write.  Of course, that's just my theory, a theory that has been tested on anecdotes and observations I have accumulated these many years. Kind of a self proving theory, but never the less, there it is. I'm pretty darn sure musicians and visual artists approach and absorb life in similar ways, molding and shaping bits and pieces of history and flashes of cinema that run through our heads, whether awake or asleep.  I have my own laboratory for developing this theory.  Each one of my children is an artist of some kind;  they draw, paint, write and perform music, craft inert material into something beautiful and make movies.  I have learned so much from them over the years on how to "do" this writing thing.  They are wonderful converters of the energy that has been expended on life experiences.  They recall, re-use, recycle.

When I was young--- about 8 or 9 years old--- I loved spending a few days in the summer with my Grandmother and Aunt Jule.  Everything in their house was old.  Everything was neat and orderly.  And delicate.  Or so it seemed.  Most of the furniture dated to the late teens to the early thirties (that is from World War I through the Depression).  Each chair, table, china cabinet, all the silverware, the chipped kitchen plates and the lovely china in the glass cabinet in the dining room, seemed to me to be full of stories.  These two elderly sisters lived with no clutter, no waste.  They carefully put away linens and mended all the ancient items they owned.  They had little use for the new while the old still had use and life.  Aunt Jule would make the little girls of the family summer dresses, or 'shifts', on the black enamel Singer sewing machine that she used for making clothes for my mother when she was a girl.

Because the houses were so close together-- two attached houses with an alley between the next set-- the house always was in shadow. This added to the allure of stories to be uncovered and listened for in my young imagination.  I would play on the little stairs of the side door of the alley just outside the alcove that once upon a time housed the "icebox".  The ice man would come around on a regular basis in his truck, park at the curb and heave a block of ice through the alley doors to the alcoves of the identical houses.  For some reason this bit of domestic life of the 1920's seemed so romantic, so other.

I would listen as my Grandmother and Aunt spoke to each other.  I was hungry for names and events of times past, of people who died before I was born, but who were part of who I am.  I was hungry for history.  Hungry for story.  When my grandmother's Alzheimer's progressed she would often ask for people from her childhood.  I would not correct her and try to focus her in on the here  --- her here and now was better spent in reminiscence.  She would speak of the house where she was raised, speak of my great-grandparents and assorted aunt and uncles whose faces I would look at in old sepia photos, looking for some traits, some characterictics that maybe I inherited or that I recognized in one of my brothers or sisters.  These stories made me part of that history, giving me roots in a world of the immediate. I still gather the threads of all that came before me--- all that is within the grasp of  my imagination that is--- to re-tell old tales or take those threads and weave something new.  My own recycling program.  Now if I could just remember to put the plastic bottles in the blue bin.......

Present Tense

I've had a house full of film makers for more than a week now.  My youngest son John, who turned 19 yesterday, announced when he was 4 years old that he is  a director.  Not going to be a director someday in the far off future, but that at that moment he is a director.  Returning home from Independence Day he asked for the telephone book.  Why? we asked.  So I can look up Jeff Goldblum and ask him to be in my next movie, was the reply.  Duh. I said a prayer, and I proclaimed to my young son, I hope you always have that confidence, that self-assurance.   He was not waiting for anyone to place a mantle around his neck that declared him movie director, or wait for a school to hand him a piece of paper with such a claim--- no, he knew and knows himself enough and has since he was a little boy.

So this current project, the filming of a script which John wrote, has grown into quite a community effort.  He is the director and an actor in the movie.  He has attracted assistant directors (who came complete with fabulous professional equipment) make-up artists, gaffers, special effect makeup artists and what seems like an endless parade of young people coming in and out of every door in the house with their own talent and excitement for the project.  My little dog Frankie is almost overwhelmed with all the stimuli.

One of my favorite theories is that young children will let you know who they are before they ever enter a classroom.  You just have to pay attention and let them show you.  If you don't pay attention when they are really young  you may miss the revelation.  Too often school wears out the natural talent of a child before they have a chance to develop.  That's something I have noticed with my four kids and I bet I can extrapolate that my kids are not so unique, but that every child has a talent or a mission or a way of being in the world that was whispered in his or her ear before they showed up in this life.

Most of us, I think, spend the rest of our lives trying to remember what that whisper told us.