Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Things We Carry

Pioneer Square

The prompt for today is “I carry.” I haven’t been keeping up with my usual photo memes and writing sites because a commitment to writing 2000 words a day on a novel seemed to be enough for me but I find I am missing the community, readers and commenters (hint, hint). In other words, I am feeling lonely and neglected. I guess this is a normal woe for aspiring writers.

Whining and humor aside, lately I feel like I am carrying a lot of stories inside of me. Writing intensively has made me more aware of myself as a repository of stories. Yesterday I dredged up a childhood story while looking for something I could use in my novel. (The words “my novel” made me do a double take just now. I feel like an impostor!) The story itself seems to have no application to what I am writing but it is worth the telling, I think. So here is the story I carry today:

Back when I was around 10 years old I lived in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island. Mercer Island is an island in Lake Washington. I’m not sure how big it is but I could bike around it in a day. It was a lovely place to live as a child and I had many adventures there. I had a lot more freedom than my children do. I’m not sure how much of that is a related to changes in our society, to a kinder, gentler location or to different parenting styles. Back then we seemed to feel safer letting our kids roam the streets all day but this story proves that not all perceptions equal reality.

One of my favorite things to do was to explore the woods near my house. They were located in a deep ravine with a small stream at the bottom. I would play in a half finished tree house I found, climb in the ruins of an abandoned power plant and lose myself in the miniature wilderness I had there. Even then I knew that safety was relative. The old power plant had some deep pits in it and I knew that if I fell it might be a long time before anyone would find me.

One day I was in the woods with a slightly younger friend, Jessica. I was the leader and she the willing or unwilling follower. We were running around the woods and encountered a man. He seemed young to me even then so I’m guessing he was a young adult. It was odd to see anyone else in the woods and we were scared out of our wits when we saw he had a knife. In my memory, I believed that he was showing us the knife to tease us but it wasn’t an assumption I was willing to test.

I have plenty of pointless anxiety but I don’t get incapacitated by fear. This has served me well as a parent and as a doctor. So I knew what to do when confronted by a man with a knife. I grabbed my friend and we ran. I found us a hole under a fallen log and we crawled in and hid. My friend was more scared than I was and I had to work to keep her still and quiet. I seem to remember thinking that we could hear the man looking for us so we stayed under our log for a long time until all was clear. Then we ran home.

With the wisdom of a child, I swore my friend to secrecy and never told my mother either. I knew the woods would be forbidden to me if anyone knew what had happened. Fortunately the luck of children held and we never encountered anyone in the woods again.

Now I wonder about the truth of my childhood perception. I know there was a man but did he have a knife? I had no doubts then but now I wonder.

We all carry such stories in us, true or untrue. They stitch us together in a narrative fabric that makes us who were are. Just writing this prompts my memory of a wonderful literary example of this: Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried.


Kathe said...

Great post, S! (And I'm not just saying that so you can have a comment and feel less lonely and neglected.) :^)

Betty C. said...

Good luck on your novel work. I've been wondering if I might not have one in me...but where is the time to push it out?

I grew up in Olympia WA BTW, and am an occasional Sunday Scribbler.

j.white said...

Yes, indeed, feeling lonely and rejected is completely normal, and you are not nuts.

W are the summary of our stories, aren't we.

Those stories are the subjective memories of our experiences, and those experiences form who we are... and when you write one thing down, things begin inter-relating...

Well hey, there's more than a comment here, so I'm dropping it.

the individual voice said...

The first chapter of that book was one of the most moving things I ever read, The Things They Carried. My first visit to your blog and I really like it. Fellow NaNo! Only 90,000 of us in the whole universe.

Literary Feline said...

That was a lovely story. I have memories like that too and sometimes wonder at what was in fact real versus a child's perception of the time. It also reminds me a bit of Ian McEwan's Atonement as well. Thanks for sharing.

Larry said...

Interesting childhood memory.I do think that our perceptions as children may be distorted but then again maybe not. Made for a nice post anyway.

Chris in Oxford said...

I love that book - great to hear of your experience.

By the way, is that photo from Pioneer Square in Seattle? It looks vaguely familiar. I lived in a converted warehouse space down there for a year or so in the 90's.

All the best.

sarala said...

Chris, the photo is of pioneer square. I've been trying to learn more about the totem poles but no luck so far.

sarala said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Wow... what wonderful insight.

I think about things like that from time to time and wonder just what is and isn't real... makes me a little unsure; for what may be real to me in my reality might not be in someone else's...

so then what?

what happens when we lose the relative connection?

Thanks for the story and the brain trails.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

nancy said...

ahh, I love the meme and I love your story. I especially love the "with the wisdom of a child I didn't tell my mother." It rings so true.

Also, Tim O'Brien's book is wonderful. Difficult, of course, but I thought the way he wrote it was genius.