Monday, 21 August 2017

The Story Behind the Story - Part 3

I climb up the stairs of what was once an old apartment in Northwest Portland. Each creaking step leads me closer to the intoxicating aroma that can only be found in a house fitted with an entire wall of tea. I breathe in the familiar smell, feeling as if the creative magic is already happening. Opening the door at the top of the stairs, the scent hits me full force. Sweet, inspiring, drinkable perfume! I think to myself. It's impossible for me to enter this space and not smile.

"Coconut maté latte?" The girl behind the counter at Tea Chai Té asks, smirking in her knowing-ness.
"How'd you know?" I say, facetiously. I hand her my stamp card.
"Last one," she says. "Looks like you get this one for free."
"Pot or mug?"
"Pot, I'll be here for awhile."
"Sitting outside?" She asks, though she already knows the answer. Of course I am sitting outside.

Outside on the balcony at a too-small table in a wobbly chair is where I find my writing zen. Northwest 23rd bustles with shoppers and dog-walkers who are interesting enough to provide an occasional moments rest away from the screen, but not so much that I get distracted. I put in my headphones and turn on Bon Iver -- the only music with lyrics that I can write too. Otherwise it's my film score station on Pandora. Both options seem to waft easily between background noise and muse-like inspiration. Sometimes, there are moments as I'm writing when I feel as if the music has been written for this exact moment in time, as if Bon Iver or Howard Shore have seen my sentences before even me, and have written the soundtrack for them.

Delusions of grandeur aside, I put my fingers to the keyboard, and the story begins unfolding. Choppy and stumbling at first, it soon begins to flow. The maté, the music, the wobbly chair, and I all work together to enter that state of freedom that can best be described as taking flight. Not in a plane, but as a winged creature set free from a cage.

This thought leads me to the next: What is my cage? What is your cage? What is keeping me, or you, from flying freely in a state of creative impulse and utter joy? I push that thought away for another time, and turn my attention back to the page.

I write and I write. The sun is low enough now that the buildings on the opposite side of the street are now silhouettes. I look at the clock. Tea Chai Té will be closing soon. My coconut maté latte has long-since transformed into a cold sludge of soggy leaves. The window of creative energy is closing, and my inner Artist is tired. The kind of tired one feels after a productive yet satisfying day.

It is time for this bird to land, for tomorrow I must face the proverbial cage.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Story Behind the Story - Part 2

It’s November 2014. My grandmother sends me a text. “I’ve found something for you… I sent it in the mail… You should get it in a few days… maybe you could do something with them?? Emoji emoji emoji. Grandma is impressively good at texting. For being a grandma, that is. Her texts make me smile. I’m always impressed by the sheer number of ellipses between each thought.
            Sure enough, a few days later, I receive a large manila envelope in the mail. I am shocked and delighted by what I find inside. Hand written, on yellow memo pad paper, are the original two stories of Mr. Schnoozle, accompanied by an ever-so-endearing coloured pencil drawing done by my aunt. Underneath the image, in her type-font-perfect penmanship, it says, “Is this the Mr. Schnoozle you know?”
            I call my grandmother, squealing with glee. “I can’t believe you found these! This is amazing! Where were they?”
            “Oh, Gretchen, you wouldn’t believe it!” Her voice bubbles over with giggles, as it often does when she is excited about something – one of my favourite sounds in the whole world. “Well, you know how Papa and I are trying to clean out our house to get ready for moving to Grants Pass.”
            “Mmm hmm,” I say, eager to hear how this story pans out.
            “You wouldn’t even believe the amount of stuff we have collected over the years. I mean, I just keep saying to Daddy, I mean Papa, “Where did all this stuff come from? Well, anyway, Papa had just taken this box full of who-knows-what out to the big garbage bin in the garage. He was about to walk away, and something made him stop. There was an envelope sitting on top of the pile, and he didn’t know what was in it – I have chills just thinking about this – "
            “Me too!” I interject.
“ – I mean, imagine his surprise when he found these stories in your Daddy’s handwriting! I heard him from the house saying, ‘Julie, Julie, you have to come look at this,’ and when I saw what he was holding, oh Gretchen, we both just started bawling!”
“Oh grandma, what an amazing story! I can’t tell you how happy this makes me to have these again!”
“I know how you love writing, and I thought maybe you could do something with them.”
“Yeah… maybe!” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “We’ll see!” Write children’s stories? The thought had never crossed my mind... until now.

I don’t remember when it was or where I was when I started to write. All I know is that when I finished reading the stories she had sent me, I wanted to know what happened next to Mr. Schnoozle. I wanted to know what other adventures he would go on, who else he would meet, whom he would befriend. I imagined what my dad would’ve written if he’d had the chance. Would I finally have made it into his tales? The little girl in me wondered. In an effort to answer these questions, I began to write. 

Two years, and a million revisions, later, The Adventures of Mr. Schnoozle was born.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Story Behind the Story - Part 1

“But how come I’m not in the story?” I hollered. My father had just finished reading to my brother and me the story of a little green creature named Mr. Schnoozle who lived in Eric’s backyard and was best friends with a crow. 
Eric’s backyard. Why must it be his backyard? Why not mine? At the very least both of ours. We both live in this house after all.
“I haven’t written one with you in it yet,” my father replied, in a tone that one might use to approach a growling tigress. I glared at him. I mean, what was I? Chopped liver?
“But it’s not fair!” I was indignant. Arms crossed and brow furrowed, it’s a wonder there wasn’t smoke coming out of my ears. I mean, he had plenty of time to include me in a story. Four years to be exact. It’s just because Eric was two years older than me. That thought helped a little. I guess that makes sense, I thought to myself. He did come first after all.
“Do you want to hear the second story, or not?” my father asked.
I plopped down in my bed, slamming my head into the pillow, and turned to face the wall. Of course I wanted to hear the second one, but I didn’t want to tell him that. I took a few deep, angry breaths, scowling with all my might.
            “Come on, Sis!” Eric said. I could almost hear him rolling his eyes.
            My curiosity won out over my anger. “Fine,” I mumbled.
            “Does that mean yes?” my father asked.
            “Yes,” I said, barely above a whisper. I felt a strange combination of dejected for having been excluded from the story, and excitement to hear what happens next to Mr. Schnoozle.
            He began. I knew now not to expect to hear my name, so I focused instead on the actual story. The cadence of his voice calmed my fiery spirit. I liked imagining I was as big as Mr. Schnoozle, only 5 inches tall, visiting him in his mushroom house, and exploring the backyard with him.

            It was 1991, and had I known that we would have only one more year with my father, perhaps I wouldn’t have thrown a fit. Perhaps I would’ve been happy simply to be with him and hear his voice, and appreciate the fact that he took the time to create art, and to create it for us. I like to think I would’ve soaked up every moment with him, memorized the words he said, and the shape of his mouth as he formed them. I wish I would’ve branded the memory of him on my brain, and thanked the heavens for each breath he took.

            But I didn’t know that then. He was in remission, and to me that meant he was all better. As it turned out, the lymphoma took him before he could write another Schnoozle story. Five days after Christmas, 1992, I lost my father, and as far as any of us were concerned, his stories died with him.

            After a brief phase of refusing to grieve, the pendulum swung and I couldn’t get enough of his photos, his journals, his memorabilia. I cannot count the hours I have spent, sitting on my bedroom floor, looking through my music box that jingled “Somewhere over the rainbow” while I pored over his military uniform badges, his driver’s license, his emergency medical bracelet. It often surprised me how cold that metal bracelet was to the touch. I traced my fingers over the engraving of the snake wrapped around the staff. He wore this, I would tell myself over and over again, trying to feel closer to him. I would hold the pen that has his name etched in the side, and feel the rubber grip, holding it as I imagined he did. He wrote with this, I would tell myself over and over again. He wrote stories, for Eric and I. 

What happened to those stories, anyway?...