Elizabeth here. Today, two passages from other writers pulled from the bookshelf. Steve has brought so many rich titles into our home over the years; I tell myself I will read them all eventually. Right. Sometimes, the titles alone are trigger enough for an afternoon of daydreaming.
For all the provocative titles there, we return repeatedly to a few old friends for grounding and direction as we strive to make sense, perhaps too often, through words. We are fueled by these certain passages that have distilled for us what we recognized as essential on the first reading. We can’t forget them, yet need to hear them again.
This morning over breakfast Steve and I talked about some of the recollections that fuel the stories we write and tell. Norman Maclean’s dialogue between father and son at the end of A River Runs Through It came to mind again, and we pulled and read from it. Predictably, we get choked up and feel humility that comes of not knowing exactly why. Great writing!
The narrator’s father (who is also a preacher) is talking with one son (the narrator) about the violent death of his other son. Neither knows exactly how he died, but they know some of how he lived.
Here are the parts that speak to us:
“Once my father came back with another question. “Do you think I could have helped him?” he asked. Even if I might have thought longer, I would have made the same answer. “Do you think I could have helped him?” I answered. We stood waiting in deference to each other. How can a question be answered that asks a lifetime of questions?”…
“Once my father asked me a series of quesitons that suddenly made me wonder whether I understood even my father whom I felt closer to than any man I have ever known. “You like to tell true stories, don’t you?” he asked, and I answered, “Yes, I like to tell storeis that are true.” Then he asked, “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people to go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why. It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”"
And this part, which we like a lot,
“Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
–From A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, by Norman Maclean, University of Chicago Press, 1976 (used without permission)
There is nothing in our own stories that humanity hasn’t wrestled with, and written about, from time immemorial. What Maclean does for us is question the level of what is called ‘true’ (in his case, his own family story). He raises it to the level of the felt sense of things through the route we call fiction. In doing so, he raises the level of fiction itself.
We also make up stories about the waters and characters that haunt us. That we imagine them as fiction makes them no less ‘true’. They help us begin to sense something of what is happening, what rivers we are caught in.
Lastly, here’s the poem I found in the book that called to me from the shelf this morning. I opened it to this piece on “story” which launched a nice indoor day as rain pelted the desert around us.
I love it when that happens.
The book: The Darkness Around Us Is Deep Selected Poems of William Stafford (1993, Robert Bly, Editor).
The poem: A Story That Could Be True.
Forecast for tomorrow calls for sunny and seventy degrees through the weekend.
Bye for now,
A Story That Could Be True
(by William Stafford)
If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.
He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by–
you wonder at their calm.
They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”–
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”