Stories: An Introduction*

More than fifteen thousand years ago, late Stone Age man fashioned hollow tubes from wood, bone, and plants. Using these tubes, they blew pulverized pigments against the vast cave walls now known as Lascaux.  Others dug and gouged the walls to engrave them.  Before there was language, before there was writing, man told stories.         

            Every story serves a purpose, even if it is to simply relay a message.  Without stories, there would be no history, we would not learn from mistakes, nor would we honor past heroes.  We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.

            For sixty-four years, stories have swirled within me.  They circled around in my head, and when they had taken enough shape inside of me, I wrote them down. 

            There have been no stories inside of me since the Sickness.  They have stopped.

            I move from room to room in my new home.  I sit in different chairs, at different desks and tables. I try out both the east view and the west.  I end up on the couch — the one I brought from my home of the previous five years – in the room that possesses the most effortless blend of Gino and me.  The room is comfortable and embracing and breathtaking, all at once.

            I sit on the couch resolved to not move until a story – a skeleton of a story, the outline of a character who may later tell a story, any kernel whatsoever – gathers itself from the swirling mists of gray nothingness and gives me the barest hint that something will take shape.

            I have been a writer all my life. 

            I sit on the couch.  I scratch at tiny particles of dried food on the upholstery.  I switch from the velvet pillow to the chenille one, giving it a number of sturdy punches to fluff the filling.  I sit for so long – perfectly still — that I wonder if I no longer have the ability to make any part of my body move.  This seems possible to me.  It seems like an explanation for my paralysis.

*I am actively working on my fifth book, a novel with the tentative title The Reading.  The book opens with an older author named Esme reading her work to an audience. An unexpected — and unrecognized — visitor attends her reading and brings events of forty years past squarely into her present.   The foreground story of Esme reflecting on a year of her life is loosely based — in theme and in structure — on the J.D. Salinger short story for which the character is named (“For Esme — with Love and Squalor”).  Running in the background is the idea that the author bore witness to things in that one year of her past that she believes foretold the awful mess we are in today (Trump, divisions and their resulting strife, inequity, the handling of Covid-19, etc.). Hence, the title The Reading also implies an experience that divines the future.  The J.D. Salinger short story and The Reading are ultimately tales of hope and recovery, though set against a background of loneliness, alienation, and trauma.

The excerpt above is from the Introduction section of The Reading.

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