“but a book is only the heart’s portrait- every page a pulse.” – Emily Dickinson

For as long as I can remember, I have loved stories.   Listening to them, reading them, watching them, and, sometimes, telling them myself.

I think about being a girl in my old bedroom on the third floor of my family’s white victorian house.  I remember reading books late at night as wind shook the windows and cold air seeped around the edges of the frames.  My parents slept beneath me on the second floor, my little sister in the baby’s room down the hall from them.  I was thrilled and afraid to have the third floor to myself.  Ours was a large house and an old one, the kind that seems to breathe on its own after a certain hour.  I would huddle deep beneath the covers of my twin bed, the blankets almost to my nose.  I kept my eyes firmly trained on the pages of my book, attempting to drown out the house, and my nagging suspicion that if I accidentally looked toward the window I might see a ghost in the reflection.  I sensed the story would keep me safe.  I could lose myself in someone else’s tale.

In college I studied English, and it seemed stunning and miraculous that my school “work” was to sit and discuss books.  My classmates and I tried to puzzle out the authors’ intentions.  We spoke with authority about a book’s characters, what motivated them, why even when they acted unpredictably it all made sense in the larger scheme of the story.  We could talk about them this way because we knew them.   After college I moved to California and enrolled in a Creative Writing MFA.  I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a writer.  I only knew that I loved stories and I wanted to be near them.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it is I find so enthralling about stories.  Why I can listen for hours to my aunt and uncle tell the story of how they met, a story I know by heart, and can hear them tell aloud in my head before they utter the words. Why these moments exist in my memory with such a purity of experience, a reverent quality something like awe.

I think it has something to do with the possibility of the extraordinary surfacing within life’s daily pattern.  That’s the magical thing about a story.  A “something” about to happen that will separate life into the before this moment and the after.  A “normal” person who is transformed, an ordinary life about to be lived out on a grand and dramatic scale.  At the beginning, there is always a potent fullness.  It beckons with promise and a little danger.  You take a deep breath in and surrender yourself to something that feels bigger, sharper, clearer than your own life.  You are sometimes filled with immense gratitude for the life you can return to, and sometimes you are left wondering when it will be your turn and the story will come to seize you.

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