Remember the Story

Christmas, 2010 / No. 25
Art by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

Remember the story about the girl who’s sitting in her room and a headless chicken bursts through the door and runs around and around, bumping into walls and overturning a floor lamp? I wrote that story.

Remember when that guy climbed to the top of a building, right up onto the roof, convinced he could fly, and then he lit a cigarette and thought for a while, and then he came walking back down the long narrow stairwell to the ground floor, convinced he was actually flying, even though he was just walking? My story. Every word.

And then the one about the guy who— He does something that involves looking up ten random people in a telephone book, and there’s a woman named Maggie, and— The story is called “Ten Perfect Strangers.” I don’t remember anything more than that, but I wrote it, a very long time ago. It’s in a box somewhere.

Amazing how I do this, how I just sit down and these ideas come flowing into my head like my head is the inside of a four-door car that has gone off the road and into a small body of water, and the water begins to gush into the car, which is my head.

My friends come over to my place at all hours and they are amazed. They see my stories lying around on the coffee table, where I just happen to sometimes leave them. Many of my friends ask me where I get all my ideas, which is a fantastic question. I bring them cold beers and pretzels and we sit around and talk about me and my whole creative thing. Because when we were in school, none of us had a creative bone in our body. Our bodies. Somehow, though, I just got this gift. I didn’t learn it. You can’t learn it. You have to wait for it to just appear in your body one day, out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning. Also, because this gift of creativity, as I call it, is in your body, taking up room, you lose weight because you can’t fit as much food inside you.

It’s not that my friends don’t also do remarkable things. For example, Andrew can fix a car like nobody’s business. Thomas, whom we call Tom or Tomboy, is in charge of distribution and promotion of a new type of embalming fluid that’s better than the old kind. And Pete, he can pick up a pencil, or borrow one from a waitress, and in about two minutes he can draw a picture that looks exactly like you on a serviette or a coaster. He’s got a Web site that has everything on it.

When you are a writer, the whole world is at your door. That’s what I’ve found. Or if not the whole world, then at least your friends. Every writer has his Andrew, Tom, and Pete. Or if it’s a woman writer, her Andrea, Tamara, and Petra. (Isn’t it amazing how many girls’ names have an “a” at the end?) This is what we in the writing trade like to call our “audience,” or our “market.” It is they who consume or experience our art.

However, the life of a scribe is not one without bumps in the road, to use another metaphor. Or maybe it’s the first metaphor. I can’t remember if I already used one, but if I take the time to look back over what I’ve written, that would be time wasted when I could be putting down new words, giving my view of how the world is, straight from my heart. Although no young writer has ever come to me for advice—not yet anyway—if one did, that’s what I would tell them or her: If you write straight from the heart, if you are true to yourself and true to your vision, and you include an S.A.S.E., you can’t go wrong. What you wind up writing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no one could say that you pulled the wool over their eyes.

So you are probably wondering where I do get my ideas for my stories. I always say you have to have “a nose for a story.” You get so you can just sniff one out when you need to write something. I notice that many girls have cold noses, and I don’t just mean women who I’ve dated. I mean any girl whose nose I’ve ever held, either formally or casually.

But there is an exception to this idea that girls have cold noses. Several years ago, when I was on the subway, going downtown to bring a manuscript to a publisher with whom I didn’t have an appointment, I saw a lady sitting across from me. At first I thought she had just a bland, ordinary face. But when I leaned forward a bit, I saw that she didn’t have a nose. Not even like Betty or Veronica from Archie comics, who at least have a little arrow point for a nose. There was no nose on the lady’s face, although there was a kind of barren plain between her eyes and her mouth where a nose might have inhabited.

I found myself staring at her, which is what a writer must do to gather details. Everyone else on the subway car was doing their best not to look at her, or perhaps they just hadn’t noticed her. I remembered a story by a Russian writer (was it Google?) about a man whose nose falls off. My suspicion is that this woman just never had a nose in the first place. Wondering how she breathed without nasal apparatus, I stood up and moved closer to her, pretending to look at the ad just above her head. I saw now that she had two small perforations where her nostrils would be if she had had a nose. Therefore she had the capacity to breathe, which was a relief. To cover for the fact that I was looking at her while pretending to read the ad, I said aloud, as if to myself, “‘Earn a college degree at home!’ Why, I’m going to look into that.” The noseless woman disembarked at the next station.

And that brings me to speak now of my own disembarkance. Because a writer must always strive for clarity, I don’t want to overload you with my insights. My achievement here has been modest, but not in vain. Go about your day. I have improved you.