i hung them one by one.
once, a long time ago in my old, old apartment, they hung on the wall above the place where i sometimes typed late at night. i collected them, one by one, on a long slow criss-crossing of the city and the country, stopping always at all the poor spots. (and by that i mean poor as in: farmer’s wife boiled up a pot of potato skins and called it supper; babies carrying babies down the dirt-pocked lane, no shirts on their backs against the noonday sun; old man hunkered down beside his garbage can, burning trash for so-called heat on a cold winter’s night on the streets below the city.)
all my grown-up years, and long before that, i’ve been drawn to stories and people and places that might not otherwise make it to the map. except i couldn’t keep away. time and again, i went looking, in soup kitchens and out to reservations. in tenements where the halls were pitch black and, excuse me, smelled like pee. in rooms so loosely laced together the wind blew through, flickered a candle’s flame. to the maw of a cardboard box that, night after night, was home to a fellow who went by the name of dirtman.
each time i stopped, stayed long enough to soak up the story, i carried home, always, a black-and-white, an image in my mind, but one on glossy paper, too.
they were, each 8-by-11, or 11-by-14, the raw stuff of why i did what i did. why i boarded planes, all alone. why i drove to corners of the city where a smart girl–a safe girl–would not go alone.
back then, i burned the flame and believed with all my heart. it was a holy calling, i was certain, to tell the tales in words that wouldn’t dim. not inside my head, for certain, and maybe not even in the newspaper that one day would yellow, some day would surely flake.
it was my inspiration wall, the hodge-podge of pictures whispering to me, every time i passed: this is why you do what you do.
do not let them be forgotten. do not let their stories fade away. do not turn your back. do not, do not.
every time i moved, i packed them up, and found another wall. i need no prize. no medal or honor.
i have my wall, that’s all i need.
in this old house, they’d not found a wall. even though i tried. instead of hanging them, one by one, they lay dusty on a shelf downstairs.
turns out, i think i found a wall.
you see, the place i work, well, they called me back to the big tall tower. told me just the other week that my 15 years at home is over now. since my firstborn was a baby, i’ve worked right here, where i could hear my boys, no matter what i typed, no matter who i talked to on the telephone. there were times it got messy. babies cried and fussed, no matter who was on the line. dinner burned while i typed one last sentence. it got to be, that’s just the way it was. i only knew how to be a mother who worked right from the nest. i forgot how to be a writer in a room of so-called grownups.
but now, not only home will be my writer’s roost. at least one day of my three-day work week, i now need to take a train. a spare cubicle now sits, my name pasted onto paper, hung on the half-wall that now is mine.
in case you’re not here in town, you might not know, but the newspaper where i’ve worked for the last 26 years, it’s not the same. it’s, um, bright and bold. some say it makes them dizzy. all i can say is, well, please don’t give up.
and since i’m now tucked away in the little square far away from where i’d rather be, and since i’m rather at a loss over the lack of room these days for storytelling, it dawned on me quite suddenly that, more than ever, my wall needs to rise again.
i was down in the basement just this morning, dusting off the stacks of pictures, each one tucked in a clear plastic frame. it’s nothing fancy, nor should it be.
but it speaks volumes to me, and it might just whisper to someone who wanders by. it reminds me, and maybe a passerby, that there’s only one good reason to get out of bed with a notebook and a pen in hand:
there are stories to be told, and places on the map that mustn’t be overlooked. do not forget the forgotten. do not turn away from the ones with nowhere else to turn.
it is inspiration i unearthed. and a holy flame i won’t blow out.
the darkness threatens, but my black-and-whites will light my way.
so help me, God.
how do you pin up inspiration in your house, or in your life? what is it that stokes your flame, and reminds you, day after day, just why it is you’re here on earth?
p.s. sorry this meander is rather late today. along with a new place to type, there’s a whole lot more typing jammed in every day. and while i’m struggling to adjust, my whole world feels topsy-turvy,