Not So Different At All
Patti Callahan Henry
Patti Callahan Henry
I have this odd habit – well not really habit, but addiction (is there a difference?): every morning I read Garrison Keller’s Writer’s Almanac poem-of-the-day and then I read the stories underneath each author’s birthday.
Some days I love the poem, other days not so much. But that’s not my addiction – my addiction is to the stories told about the author who is having a birthday on that day.
We often look at authors – the most famous of them – as someone different or ethereal, as someone separate and more-worthy, as if they were destined to be writers and were never anything or anyone else. But of course they were someone and something else before they were authors. They were children and lovers, they were teachers and carpenters, ship captains and lost souls. They failed and traveled and married and loved and lost. They lived their stories and then we read their stories.
This morning there was a small biography of a writer, a famous writer who grew up in a house with 365 rooms and 52 staircases (seriously). This writer was in love with another writer, and she wrote this love letter in the 1800s:
“I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way….I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal.”
And I am struck by this: no matter rich or poor, man or woman, writer or doctor; no matter the age or decade or social climate -- want is just want. Desire is desire.
It is the same throughout the ages, and yet when one feels that kind of relentless desire the emotion feels so individual, so specific, as if no one else has ever felt that way.
But of course they have.
It is common to man.
Not so different or special at all really.
Or is it?
It must be or why would we write so many books, sonnets, novels, short stories, poems and songs about love and desire?
And that, I think, is what makes stories worth reading – because it is only inside the story that the desire becomes something special, something different. It is inside the story that love becomes particular and worthy. It is inside the story that desire becomes noble and extraordinary. Without the story, desire is just desire; want is just want -- common to man.
So maybe story actually is magic – alchemy transforming the common into the uncommon, the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Patti Callahan Henry is the NYT Bestselling novelist of six novels: Losing the Moon; Where the River Runs; When Light Breaks; Between the Tides; The Art of Keeping Secrets and Driftwood Summer. Look for her Christmas novella -- The Perfect Love Song: A Holiday Story in October 2010.