Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Grand Theme

Too small to hold more than one of Daddy's fingers!
Today my niece was born. 

This has little to do with my life as a writer, besides the fact that it got me thinking.  You see, I have lots of stories tucked away in the back of my mind. 

Sometimes they fade away quietly back there, and I never hear from them again.  Sometimes they reemerge melded with another idea - all very much to my surprise, since my conscious mind would never have realized they went together.  Sometimes they pop up once every six months for four years and each time they reappear they’ve apparently been through a transmogrifier – to borrow a Calvin & Hobbes word which I’ve always wanted to use (thank you, Bill Waterson).

In any case, all these stories share some specific themes.  Apparently I can’t invent a story if it doesn’t involve a) art and/or b) passionate people and/or c) families. In fact, the giant folder in which I throw all of my stories has a small label on it which says: Lovers and Artists

I know perfectly well why I want to write about artists.  It’s because I myself hope to be one – perhaps already am one.  We should write about what we know, so I write about art.  Granted, I know next to nothing about rock music, or sculpture, or painting, but I at least know how an artist feels about their art.  That’s the chief ingredient; the rest can be covered by research and experimentation. 

Also, for why I want to write about passionate people – people who love things intensely – see above.  It follows basically the same reasoning as my theme of art. 

Here's a family I'd write about!
However, I’ve never been quite sure why each of my story ideas ends up being about some sort of family relationship - usually ones that are semi-ruined.  After all, my own home life is perfectly normal.  Both my parents  are present and loving.  Now that I’m an adult, besides occasional, inevitable frictions which are quickly forgiven and forgotten, we get along splendidly.  I'm also very close with my two brothers.  There are no skeletons in the family closet, no tragic history lurking behind my shadowed eyes.  Actually, my eyes aren’t shadowed at all. 

So why do I have this fascination which prompts me to write about a suicide’s daughter, a drunkard’s son, an autistic child’s parents, a rape-victim’s husband.  Why do my recent stories feature an orphaned girl, a single mother, a manipulative guardian, an unfaithful wife?  Somehow in every story, the plot touches back to what seems to be my universal theme:  the chance that art can redeem the pain of human experiences and relationships. 

My basic theme is hope. 

When my older brother texted me this morning to tell me that his daughter had just made her way into the world, I felt a great rush of happiness.  The feeling is inevitable after the birth of a new person, I think – and of course it’s all the greater when that person is your adorable niece (or sister, or brother, or, best of all, your daughter or son).

There is a sense after a moment of birth that anything could happen: a vast horizon opens before the child, in which he or she can fulfill all the heart's desires  I feel the same horizon when I think about art.  It frees the spirit and allows it to go wandering into infinite spaces of possibility.  Perhaps that is the connection in my plots between art and family. 

Family:  a lot of work, but always worth it!
Each parent, each lover, each child should feel the same awe before their children, their beloved, their parents, that we do when someone new is born into our family or circle of friends.   And yet, so many don’t feel it at all, due to disasters or tragedies or even simple human stupidity. 

Art, however, can awaken the sense of awe, and therefore it offers a chance to heal the breaches in our relationships.  An estranged son can learn to love his alcoholic father again, through telling his story through art.  That at least is my hope, and why I’ve chosen to make that sentence the starting point of a new story. 

I’m sure other writers and artists out there have had similar, overarching revelations about their art, thanks to important events in their lives - perhaps even the births of new people to love, just like my niece.  I’d love to hear what and how you all have learned from these unexpected moments!


  1. I'm not sure about unexpected moments...but more and more as I am the meat of the sandwich generation of my family - The elder almost 90 and the youngest about 2...I think about ends and beginnings.

    I try to enjoy those prompts which tickle my fancy. As I like to write short verse. And yet when those words get shuffled into the web of the internet...where do they do. Have I led them astray just to be fodder for spam. Or have they arrived safely to the loving arms of someone who just might enjoy, understand and perhaps be inspired by them?

    Best wishes to you and your brother and his family and especially to the newest little artist. Cheers, ~Jules

  2. That's supposed to be ...where do they go...
    I've spent a good portion of the afternoon shifting about 3/4's of a cord of wood. I think I'm soon off to create art in my dreams... ~J