This weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association tradeshow in Portland. The last time I was at the PNBA tradeshow, I attended as a bookseller. I told the crowd how it had felt to shelve books in the bookstore before it opened, the heft and the covers. How there was magic in each one. I had expected that to be the best part — the books themselves. But the best part was confronting the unabashed enthusiasm of my coworkers and our customers. They would grab you and demand that you read this book. This one. This marvelous one that changed their lives.
“But that’s some kind of cheese-monkey topic that I’m just not into,” I’d protest.
“But it’s so HUMAN!” they’d say. “You’ll love it because it’s human and beautiful.”
This is what I love: when I worked in a bookstore, I learned to read books that I didn’t expect to love. Books that didn’t sound as though they’d appeal to me in the least. Books that I experienced reluctantly, at first, and then found myself worked over because the stories are human and beautiful.
I can count on stories to surprise me and tell me the truth. Often that truth is eviscerating. Because it is human. I loved you too much to form words and so you didn’t know. You didn’t recognize the shapes I’d have drawn for you. The pathway I’d have cobbled together. I meant to draw a room, a house, a planet, and we could live there. But then I was frightened.
I meant to tell you.
When I was a child I met pirates. I admired them. For a time.
On a planet without sunlight, I climbed from my hole and dreamed of orange.
At the door, she set her bag down and scooped up the small, frightened dog, murmuring assurances. Home. Home.
Once a girl read the story of a god and it broke her heart. In this story, there was no tenderness. Later, she had a child, and lifted that child high, higher. This grasping wail for more.
I smoothed the surface of the paper, the lines to guide me, and wrote you a letter. I promised things. None of that matters as much as what I meant to say. The pencil marks smudged by my left hand.
All I have to give you are stories. They are the way that I understand what is inside me. What is inside you. How we might set out for China. The way we sing at night, in the dark outside the house, as though to let the forest know that we live here, too.
The wild in us needs telling. Telling telling. The wild in us needs telling. A spell to make us free.