The seed of my novel-in-progress was just one word. I was in the shower one morning, and the word popped inside my head, like a soap bubble: monogram. It’s a stretch, I know, to imagine a whole story growing from just one word. But that’s how it was. From that one word came two sisters, twins, whose lives never really follow parallel lines, instead crossing and diverging at many points and yet never moving very far from one another. One has a daughter, and the other lives a life free of any real responsibility. They are tied together by a house and the loss of their mother when they were very young. The daughter of one of these women, when she is a grown woman herself, finds some items in a trunk, and they are monogrammed with initials she does not recognize within the context of her family. Or does she? Within a few hours, this was what I had for my story, and it came from almost nothing. Eight letters.
This has never happened to me at any other time, ever. Maybe that’s all I will ever receive, this one bit of creative grace. (Turns out, the idea is the easy part. Backing up that idea with 90,000 or so words is a little harder and, apparently, my work process takes a few years. Sigh.)
I wish all of life were that easy, though, with one thought or maybe two pointing the way toward a point I should be trying to reach. There, go there. You can’t miss it.
Over time, the story began to hinge less and less on the idea of a literal monogram, but I still use the idea of things–memories–that are embroidered inside us. A monogram, or a tapestry. A quilt, maybe. I feel it as something almost tangible, with texture, that feels either smooth or rough when I run my hand over it, depending on which part I focus my attention.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been sorting through a whole mess of memories, in the last year or so. Before that, it was a here-and-there endeavor, but because of two significant and very different losses within my family, and the interactions among family members, an array of memories has muddied the waters a bit. I have found myself wanting, after all this time, an accounting from a few people in my family. Why now, when it can matter so little? Why now, when time has sanded away at the edges of things? Maybe it’s my own sense of time passing and knowing that there may be a time, not so far off, when that reckoning (such a weighty word) becomes impossible. People pass on. People forget, or pretend to, or offer up an enormous Shush, it doesn’t matter any more.
More than anything I don’t want to think about any of it. I want it not to matter. I want to put these thoughts and memories into a boat and push it away from shore. Away from me.
Yes, all of these memories are inside me, tiny stitches holding each of them in place. But, indelible as they are, can I not pull at these threads and unravel the memories a bit, make the patterns smaller? Or, at the very least, hide them, the way a hostess turns over a sofa pillow to hide a stain? Why do they have to be the thing I look at? Can I not stitch over them with new patterns until the old ones are less clear? The old stitches giving body and weight to the new memories, yet staying beneath them, like a pillowcase folded and yellowing at the bottom of a chest, holding up all the others.