Monday, March 15, 2010

in need of story

When I was in university, I had a best friend.

I think we noticed each other because no matter how busy school became, in between classes we would sit in the Aggie lounge and dig paperback novels out of the depths of our packs. Actually, we became friends before we knew this about one another, but once discovered, it was one more thing that bound us, this need for a story: someone else’s and eventually, our own. We had a sense of living within a story, and then, projecting where that story would go next. And by this, I don’t mean planning what we were going to do next summer or what courses we were taking next year: I mean, trying to see the trajectory our lives would take, once we’d finished school – the arc of the story.

We had separate stories -  lives and plans that did not include each other. But for that period of time, we were alternately teller and listener, and at times, Muse for one another. Even now, more than twenty-five years later, I sometimes feel I am telling episodes of my life to him. Sometimes I even remember to send them, as we did abundantly and often after we graduated and parted ways.

That period of university, and immediately after, was most fertile for me in drawing and writing. In between lab reports and assignments, late at night, I wrote bad, but cathartic poetry. After leaving home, I wrote stories about my new province, the people I met driving the far reaches of this dry, barren loneliness of prairie. I imagined their pasts and their futures, as well as my own.

Lately, story has played less of a role in my life. Certainly, I have read, told, drawn, and invented plenty for my children. But that sort of febrile, uncensored flow of imagination – no. I have not, in the last several years, seemed to have need of it.

Through both work and school, I’ve learned to write lab reports, methods, literature reviews, critiques, abstracts. The focus has been on keeping a firm reign on the flow of ideas; disciplined, logical, concise. This type of distillation and synthesis does, indeed, have a satisfaction of its own. And in its own way, it is a kind of storytelling. In its own tight, technical form, scientific writing is itself  a highly evolved art: the compilation of complex ideas, taut descriptions of lengthy processes, persuasive interpretation and conclusions. And right now, I am a mere apprentice to that art.

All the same, I am awakened to an old need – to write the way my friend and I once did: in letters, stories and poems, drenched in sun, memory, cloudbank and rainshadow. To write dreamfully and extravagantly, with a freedom of invention I have not felt in a very long time. To write, with or without purpose, simply to revel in what those words might eventually reveal. And to let those words lead onward, to whatever path lies waiting to be lived.

photo: 1983( or 4, or so) by David Nunuk

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