For years as I plodded back and forth on busses and subways to school or work I would become lost with the movement and begin a story in my head. During this time I created an imaginary character to whom I gave my own middle name.
Once, I spent three years, on the Sea Beach Express, doing a soap opera in which she was the heroine who ended up in a coma, got kidnapped by dastardly villains, was shipwrecked on a deserted island with a handsome sailor, made ravenous love to countless men, married four times and recovered from an endless chain of deceases and injuries.
I collect the stories in my head, like a child collects wild flowers in an open field. Soon, the child is joined by another or on the way back home she meets a stranger.
Frequently faces are called forward by the sound of music playing in the back of a room, the song on the radio on the way to work, or the album covers collecting dust in my closet. Each day as I walked along the streets, the back of a head, the scent of an after shave or perfume, the sound of someone laughing on the other side of a restaurant; each night shadows of images appear in a half dream.
We all do it.
We collect their images in photographs, save tattered cards or letters that remind us of one of them. We touch and stroke an old doll, a battered fire engine or the lovely vase they left behind. We dare not empty the trunk in the attic, the box wrapped with worn twine in the basement, the bags stuffed in the back of a closet.
Planning a plot or sub-plot, at least for me, doesn’t work well. My stories usually begin with a line, an image or a sound, either remembered from a time in my life, or “stolen” from other sounds and images. You know the ones?
These are a few choice phrases from my parent’s generation …
“A nickel is a nickel,” they would say,and they said it every chance they got. “A penny earned is a penny saved,” “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and the grandfather of them all, “Waste not, want not.”
They didn’t waste anything, turned lights off because we were not “Married to Con Edison,” used old bread for bread crumbs or for toast dunked in the morning coffee.
Every left over was consumed, made into creative omelets, or turned up in a lunch bag. In a kitchen draw they stuffed rubber bands, neat squares of washed wax paper or foil to be used again. And paper, especially brown paper bags of every size, were used to wrap packages going to “the other side,” to cover school books or to drain fried foods.
Everything was used again, and then again. They were the great-grandparents of recycling!
When you least expect it, do you hear them in your head?