The Gift of Story

Child development professionals agree that reading and telling stories to children builds motivation, curiosity and memory. It also helps children cope during times of stress or anxiety, and creates a relationship with books and fosters a sense of being loved and nurtured. As a small child, stories and books were a slim bridge between me and my father. After I became an adult, they were a life-line. He could be an eloquent speaker if he was engaged in a discussion about the interpretation of some bit of Bible scripture, but he was not a conversationalist with his children about everyday events. Most evenings after supper, he withdrew into the Encyclopedia Britannica until it was time for me and my brothers to go to bed. Then, at our bedside, he magically became an animated storyteller of tales by Thornton Burgess, along with Bible stories. I don’t remember that he held a book but it was dark. As I pulled the covers up to my chin in the blackness of our tiny room with barely enough space for our three small beds, he would start with a dose of biblical lore, perhaps Daniel in the lion’s den or Jesus with the moneylenders, and then launch into the adventures of Sammy Jay, Blackie Crow, or Mr. Toad. The details were colorful and precise. I could see the forest creatures in their hats and vests as Dad spoke, and I imagined them cavorting in the woods outside our window. The next day my brothers and I combed the backyard for evidence that Uncle Billy Possum or Bobby Coon had been there as Dad had described. My older brother might spot a […]

Sparking the Writer’s Imagination

Let’s agree on one thing: the writer’s imagination is impossible to describe. But, for some of us, life without writing is also impossible. Is there a secret behind the sparking of imagination? Except for making ourselves sit down and start writing, it’s difficult to say what makes those words jump onto the page. It helps to believe that our writing matters, especially to us. Anne Lamott described in Bird by Bird that writing matters because of the spirit. “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed our soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” It’s important to write. Storytelling is important – in words or paintings. Expressing the imagination on the page (or on canvas) restores our soul. But, there is also the mystery of why we stop ourselves from self-expression and how to get the process rolling again and pour yourself into the work. If you are in the area of Mystic, CT on September 25 or October 7, 2017, join me at the Mystic Museum of Art for […]

If you want to write – a book! Part I

“Wanted: someone willing to sit for hours in front of a blank page and come up with words and sentences which will hopefully become riveting fiction, compelling memoir or beautiful poetry. Financial compensation: potentially zero. Benefits: an excuse to avoid working, housecleaning, laundry, and exercise. “ During a recent promotional event for the People of Yellowstone book at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, many visitors asked me if I knew when Old Faithful would erupt, but some stopped by our display table to peruse the book and ask questions about writing. Several said that they would like to write a book, too. Some imagined they would write fiction, but most wanted to write about their own life. “How do you begin a memoir?” they asked. “What’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?” Why do people think they want to write a book? I asked myself. I’m not sure if I can answer this for others, but I do know that writing is a wonderful and mysterious heroic journey during which it’s possible to make amazing discoveries about our self and the world. “Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves,” says Carol Pearson, author of The Hero Within. I think we can say the same thing about initiating a writing project. It’s a heroic feat. But how does it begin? Most of us wouldn’t consider entering into hand-to-hand combat or a tennis tournament without some training, but to accomplish a piece of writing – a short story, essay, or even a book – it is possible to hone your skills on the job. The first requirement is to put words […]

Reading, Writing: The Natural Life of a Reader

I read for pleasure, information, adventure, enlightenment and inspiration. I read other writers who are writing in the same genre as myself, usually the personal essay, to keep up my energy and try to understand what I’m doing. Reading is an unending source of nutrients. When someone recommends a book – and I like it – it’s the best present I could receive. A friend recently suggested Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories, and now I’m ready to read everything written by Steven Millhauser. I enjoyed the same feast years ago when I discovered Robertson Davies and Carol Shields. I could read The Stone Diaries again and again except that now, waiting for me, there are new discoveries: Out Stealing Horses, The Library at Night, Travels with Herodotus, and on and on. Barbara Holland says in Endangered Pleasures, “ move permanently into one’s head and construct their own space there, a kind of walled garden full of tame dragons that we can walk around in whenever we want.” Love of books and stories bubbled up through my family. I remember my father reading the Encyclopedia Britannica throughout my childhood; he was never put off by an obscure or dry subject. As we sat in the living room together in the evening, whatever we were doing separately was punctuated by enthusiastic yelps from dad, like, “Listen to this! You’ve got to hear this,” and he would read aloud about an explanation of mitosis or yet another lost tribe. At bedtime, he would spin a new rendition of Brer Rabbit and Reddy Fox as my brothers and I […]