There are so many moments when you think: what on earth is going on here? One of the reasons I write is to try to figure them out. For example:
Half a dinosaur at Amsterdam Central station? Or . . .
This trio in downtown Hanoi? Or . . .
This cat and chicken in Sliema, Malta?
I love these "what-the-heck?" moments. It's so easy to ask questions and be carried away by imagination. This can result in fanciful stories, but are they really so far from life? In any given day, we face so many moments when we don't know what's going on and we don't know what to make of it.
We human beings are meaning-makers. We will always try to make sense out of things. It's why we see patterns in stars, why we represent geography in maps, why we pore over baseball stats and election results, why we create celebrations and rituals - indeed, it's why we ask "why." We are trying to find meaning. We are trying to find a story.
In my stories, I'm drawn to quirky situations and characters. We use the word quirky to signify something that's strange or out of the ordinary; but the world is full of quirk. Quirky is everyday stuff for us human beings. Looking out my office window to the park opposite is testament to that. I do love the rough-looking guy who brings his cat for a little outing every day - in a duffle bag. He unzips it, the creature steps out, and that cat sits on top the duffle bag, looking around as if surveying its kingdom, the whole time the guy slowly sips coffee from a thermos. At the end of the hour, the cat steps daintily back into the bag to be zipped up and carried away.
The world is full of quirk and we are full of quirk. Often, we are complete mysteries to each other - and even to ourselves. Stories are one of the oldest and most foundational ways we try to make sense of it all. I write stories to explore human dilemmas. In Mendacities, I explored the damage we do to ourselves and others when we hold secrets and lies. In Possession, I wanted to undertand why we humans feel so strongly about owning things - and places and identities, and even other people! In Tim, I wanted to explore growing up issues around developing one's identity and trusting oneself.
And underneath it all is memento mori: remember, we die. The inevitability of death is always upon us; but we are alive and full of dreams, longings, experiences, memories, energy, joy . . .
This photo expresses it perfectly for me. These two pieces of street art are on separate buildings but are situated so that, when rounding the corner and coming down the stairs, they are at just the right angle to be seen together. During the short time I lived in Curaçao, I walked past them every day. Here is this dazzling little girl, radiating vitality, strong with life. And yet. The angel of death is there. Many years away, perhaps - we cannot know - but there. Memento mori. It's not macabre, it is part of life; and part of why we seek meaning. We must live our lives as fully as we can, though death is near.
Why do I write? Not just to tell stories, but to grasp onto life. To wrest meaning from its every moment.
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