unearthing that which inspires
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,
Something good has all ready come out of going to town.May you inspire others..
I found this interesting … the juxtaposition of the tall tower and the meager existance of those in the black & white stills … according to Wikipedia: Random juxtaposition: two random objects moving in parallel, a technique intended to stimulate creativity.Hmmm … perhaps those photos in your cubicle are for inspiration, to remind you that you write for all … not just for the priviledged, but also for those who can’t afford the price of a newspaper. You do that so very well.
as i told my firstborn today, it just so happens that many of the ones whose stories i will never forget are ones who were homeless. and how ironic that i now write for a section all about the home. i will not broadcast that point, but hope it subtly seeps into the everyday…..juxtaposition, yes. probably not random…..
Bless you bam for your vow to keep the forgotton ones in our mind’s eye, in our heart’s eye. I have a hunch that those conversations are not forgotton either, by those privileged to tell their stories to a kind stranger, who receives each one as a sacred gift. The burning you talk about is what brought me to Rwanda (I’m an HIV nurse clinical mentor.) Here of course, the reality of extreme poverty is inescapable. I don’t know yet how, come Christmastime and my return to the land of more-than-enough, I’ll keep these stories alive. Pulling up to the table will surely help.Meantime, thanks for keeping the coffee on; it’s comfy to come for a cup when the internet opportunity arises!And PS, I think the clocks are more generous here.
do you chair people–each and every one of you, silent or spilling words–are the breath of life to me……mm, i just found this. and knowing that somehow–continents apart–we are drawn to the same burning light. and though our stories are so richly unique, they bind us all, those who listen and those who do not. some day we will all sit around a real live table and spill our stories. maybe press them onto pages. and with pictures or not, we will hold them up for what they are, the holy communion that makes this world go round…..bless your eyes, mm, that see so much. bless your lips, that heal with words and soothing sounds. bless your arms and hands that hold and will not let go. bless your heart and soul that took you to where you are, where you do the most sacred work. and bless you and thank you for pulling up here, where you humble me and grace me to no end…………we will always be here when the computer decides to click on, and the long long days give you a moment’s calm…..
as much as I wish for you to be in your buttery yellow room typing with the coffee pot and garden within reach, I hope you bring the value and spirit of storytelling to your cubicle and the whole gosh darn building. may a book be on your lap on the train and may stories find your ears and heart
Think of all those young-ins in the Tribune Tower, you will inspire when you are there, in your cubicle, and think of all those young-ins you will inspire when you are Not there, in your cubicle through the photos left on the walls , until you comeback the next week to inspire some more. YOU inspire me Barbara Mahany.
well, i think this is a fortunate thing for those in that tower. set out the welcome mat of those vivid photos and watch that little cube shine. you’ll be brilliant as always. xo