Thursday, January 27, 2011

Off the Page

If I gave you a sheet of 8.5”x 11” paper and told you to fill it with a drawing you, would most likely be able to do it.  But I imagine you would only ever go up to the edge of the page and never draw off of it.  The edge of the page would be a very strong border holding you in.  Plus, why draw off the page anyway?  You filled the page just fine by drawing up to the edge and not off it.  And you’re right.  What’s the point?
But writers on the other hand must write off the page if they want to create a world in which their story is set.  Otherwise the story is an isolated string of events that happen in a very contained environment.
Of course words shouldn’t flow off the page and get cut off.  There should be margins and the text should be legible.  Writing off the page is creating the content that never makes it into the story, but is still there. 
What does it mean to write off of the page? It means making connections to something larger than the story being told.  It is creating the world in which the story happens.  Why?  Because it makes the story more credible and more interesting. 
Take J.R.R. Tolkien for example.  In his story, Lord of the Rings, there are fragments of hundreds of other stories that pass through his but are never told.  Why does that happen?  Because he has created a whole world and it naturally seeps in.  A story is not a straight line that moves from one point to another, its more like a rope made of hundreds of threads that are tangled and weaved with many loose frayed ends.  It wraps around and maneuvers a landscape, never in a straight line. 
Or, it’s like a picture that runs off a page.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God's Tree

There is a tree in the old city of Jerusalem.  It stands in near an ancient road near an old city wall.  The bright yellow sun shines down on it and makes it grow.

The tree is proud and stands tall and happy.  It makes shade and on hot days people come and sit under its shade on a bench that sits near its trunk.

A man comes and sits under the tree.  He is hot and tired.  Sweat shows on his forehead. He is dressed in a thawb and wears a Taqiyah on his head.  He is Muslim.

Another weary man walks by and sits.  He is also tired and hot.  He doesn’t notice the first man until he is sitting.  His appearance is very different.  He is wearing a large black hat and has a beard.  Long curls hang over his ears.  He has a black coat and trousers over a white shirt.  From under his shirt hang tassels.  He is Jewish.

Both remained quiet, their religions are very different and they are not friends.  But neither wants to leave the shade. And so both remain as a third man shows up.  He doesn’t look like either of the others.  He is wearing a pair of jeans and a button up shirt.  He takes the last seat on the bench in the shade and lets out a sigh of relief.

“Oh, what a blessing the shade is.”  The man eyes the old olive tree, “This must be a Christian tree.”

Both the other men eye him.  He continues, “Yes, it is an olive tree and that symbolizes life, Christ was resurrected here.  It must be a Christian tree.”

The Muslim shakes his head.  “Not so.  This tree is here where it can see the Dome of the Rock.  It is here to provide shade to the seed of Abraham and his Muslim posterity.  You can see that is leans toward Mecca in the south.  This is a Muslim tree whose shade we enjoy.

The man with the hat countered both with his own explanation.  “It is an ancient tree, that can be seen.  Before there was Islam and before there was Christianity there was a chosen people.  This tree is Jewish. Look you can even see its seven branches that look like a menorah.  It is a reminder that God looks out for his chosen people.”

Each of the three men had given their explanation and in turn listened while the others had given theirs.  None of them agreed and the silence showed that.  They were sitting again in silence when the Muslim spoke.  “Well what ever the tree is I am glad that God has blessed us with the shade.”

“Yes,” the other two agreed.  They sat in silence until each in turn left, leaving the tree alone.

This story came as a result of a trip to Israel at the end of the summer.  In Jerusalem there is much conflict, misunderstanding and hate.  I wanted to write something of hope and unity.  This was the idea that I had.  It is a simple story but it focuses on finding common ground instead of differences.  The world, no doubt, would be a better place if we all could all just appreciate the shade and not be so concerned with the tree.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Most Impressive Library

          He raised his hand and knocked on the door. He heard the sound as it echoed around inside the large interior. It bounced off of walls, pushed down corridors and through doors. The sound diminished as it penetrated the mansion home and was absorbed by it.
          He thought back to the first time he realized what a library was. The change came in understanding. Before he understood what books were, a library was just an empty room with walls that were decorated differently. But when he learned what books were that all changed. The walls weren’t decorated differently, they were actually very different in nature. They were alive with wisdom, learning, and stories. One volume alone could represent the distilled and refined knowledge of a man’s whole life; a whole soul could be contained in a few hundred dusty pages trapped in a leather bound cover. When he realized what the books meant the walls changed. They were no longer vertical but seemed to lean inward as if stretching out for attention, longing to be read. Leaning so far they looked ready to cave in and crush any unwary entrant. Libraries scared him for a long time.
          Inside the house he heard a sound, or many sounds all from one source. The sounds of approach. It wouldn’t be long till he was admitted and was shown to the library. Instead of being scared he was excited. Not a frivolous excitement that accompanies silly things; excited as the sensation of vibrations deep within the body that indicate the coming of something great—something life changing. From ignorance to fear his feeling toward libraries matured into love and respect. In libraries he felt comfortable. And happy. And content. But this library was different.
          There was a clank, then a subtle grinding sound, then a thump—all from within the solid wood of the door. Slowly it swung open.
          "Welcome Sir. We are pleased for your visit." The woman was old and grayed but her eyes showed that she was not frail, she was tough as steel. "Your coat?" she said extending her hand. He stepped in, set down his satchel, removed his coat and handed it to her. She hung it and turned, motioned for him to follow, and headed down a corridor. "This way."

          Of course the woman had expected him, he had been in correspondence with the manor’s representative for quite some time. He had been long waiting this visit. And not just the months he had been arranging the visit. It was as if his whole life was leading up to it. There was something sobering about visiting the most impressive library in the world. Again, that feeling deep within, the rumbling of a soul in anticipation of something great.
          She stopped in front of a door. She turned to him and spoke, "Take as long as you like. If you need anything, just ring the bell." She opened the door and motioned him in, closing the door behind him.
          The woman was careful on her part to do only as much as required. It seemed that it always worked best that way, when she was not part of the process any more than a guide. When she opened the door she made sure to stand back to let him enter while she remained without. She waited until he was inside before reaching in to pull the door closed, only letting her arm enter. Now her part was done. She would wait, let the thing unfold and lead the man out when the time came. She would listen to his comments, but not direct them. The responses from visitors were varied, as was the experience they referenced. She wondered what was in store for this particular gentleman.

          He was first struck by the shear size of the room. It was massive and rose to three full stories. But that alone was not sufficient to warrant the title The Most Impressive Library in the World. He had seen many large rooms filled with unimpressive collections. Others that were much smaller had more interesting and valuable collections. But his recognition of size was quickly replaced by another recognition.
          What was more astonishing than the rooms size were the shelves that ran along the walls and that jutted out into the room creating nooks and alcoves. The shelves looked sturdy and well suited to bear the load of many thousands of books. Yet they were not. The shelves were all empty. With a quick sweeping glance and a quick survey, there appeared to be not a single book in the whole library. What a strange place, he thought as he took two steps forward into the open expanse.
He stepped to his left with outstretched arm. He rested his hand on one of the empty shelves, feeling it to be certain it was real. He turned to look at the closed door through which he had entered. He half expected the woman to be there to offer an explanation. There was no woman, and no explanation.
He began to wander the room. His legs moved beneath him propelling him around, though he didn’t connect with the feeling. As if in a trance he floated around the room. Around corners, past shelves, and up stairs. He glided, looking for the one thing that the library should have, and in mass. And yet there were no books. The shelves were as dust-free as they were book-free.
          Was it all a joke? The most impressive library in the world to have no books. Some play of words. Most impressive indeed. It had made an impression to be sure. Such an unexpected contradiction was sure to make a mark in one’s mind. But what was the point? Why all the work and to what end? The questions floated into his mind and then out of it—drifting, much in the same way he moved about aimlessly.
          He stopped. He realized that he was on the third floor. He tuned to overlook the expanse below. Leaning on the railing he gazed. And then it caught his eye. With a start he straightened and dashed to his right, running to the stairs. He descended in an instant and in a flash was standing—panting—in front of a shelf.
          The shelf, unlike all the others, held a book. It stood upright, at eye level at the center of the open space. The only book in the library. It was a leather-bound volume that looked tremendously old in style but very new in condition. There was no writing on the spine. He reached out to touch it. He wanted to know it was real, not some mirage his mind was creating amidst the barrenness of the place.

          Memories are strange things. There are parts that are so clear that they can be pulled to the surface and examined at a moment and in great detail while other parts are lost entirely. He had one memory that stood out as being so complete that it was almost unnatural. He was sitting in his father’s lap. They were in the overstuffed chair in the den. There was a fire in the hearth. Sandwiched between the heat of the flames and the warms of his father he felt totally safe. Eyes closed, he had his head resting against his dad’s chest. Father was reading to him. The words drifted down to his ears and made their way into his mind, there sprouting into moving scenes of color and detail that are only possible in the fertile soil of a vibrant imagination. He could also feel the words. One ear against his father’s chest he could feel the vibrations of the words as well as the rise and fall of breathing.
          The stories were not new. He had been hearing them for as long as he could remember. And to a child as young as he was it felt like forever. But even forever old and often repeated and retold, they still captivated. He loved the stories and the characters. He liked the story of Trindle and the forgotten inheritance. Another was the story of the man with the stone heart. But his all time favorite was the one about the story-telling peddler who was always around when something important happened. They were lovely stories and rightfully they were all held in a wonderful book. Old and warn the leather book was a chest full of treasure. He always called it The Book as if that were all the title it needed. There were lots of books but this was The Book, the most important of books. It was his book.
          When his dad stopped reading he waited. When the silence dragged on he opened his eyes and tilted his head up to look and dad. When the book slid from his dad’s hand and fell with a thud to the ground he sat up straight. Dad? He asked at first. Then louder and louder he repeated it until he was shouting. At some point his mother rushed in, pulled by the urgency in her son’s voice. He remembered the expression on his mother’s face as she took in the situation. What followed was a flurry of noise and action. It wasn’t long before sirens could be heard and his father was rushed off. Later that day when he ventured back to the den and looked for the book he could not find it. In all the years since then he had not been able to figure out what happened to it. Nor had he been able to find another copy of the book. It was a book that did not exist, at least not outside of his mind.

          So when he reached out to touch a book that alone populated a whole library, he did it to be certain that it was real. Not the invention of a crazed mind. How easily his mind could have deceived him to imagine a book that for so long he had fruitlessly sought.
          He touched the book. He could feel the leather’s texture. He lifted it gingerly and drew it from the shelf toward his body. With a hand on the front and the other on the back he slowly open the book letting the pages fall past each other. He scanned words and illustrations. This was The Book.
The pages seemed to turn of their own accord. First only a few, then many and ultimately the bulk of the pages flopped back, showing him the inside of the front cover where there was an inscription.
          The ink was clear, the writing sharp. The handwriting was unmistakable. It was the flowing letters of his father’s hand. Utterly impossible but completely true. Not only was his father long dead but this library was remote and unknown to his father. Then there was the book itself. A book that never really existed except in his childhood and now in a library that only had one book.
          There was no date and no names to indicate who it was from or to. And yet he knew that the book was for him and from whom it came.
          "Stories to intrigue and amaze. These are my gift to you. Real stories are true across space and time. May you always find comfort in these."
          He let out a long sigh of relief that turned into a sob. His body shook in nearly silent crying. A weight seemed to be lifted from his shoulders. But with the removal of doubt of the book’s existence his repressed pain was also unstoppered. A deep and fermented sadness washed over him. He felt in a moment all the pain of loss and loneliness of years lived without a father. Tears rolled down his face and fell from the bottom of his chin, falling to the ground.

          He pulled himself together after a moment and wiped his tears with his sleeve. He held the book to his chest with both arms and headed to the door of the library.
          He opened the door and stepped into the hall only to realize he didn’t know where his hostess was, nor how to find her. Stepping back into the library he rang the bell and turned back to the open door. He gave a start and recoiled backwards because there was now a figure standing just outside the door, the woman from before. She motioned with her head for him to follow her. He did so, the two walking in silence. At some point he looked over at her and held out the book. She smiled in response and said, "Well, if that’s what you found I imagine it’s for you." Seeing his confused expression she continued, "It’s yours. Take it." He put in back to his chest and nodded.
          In no time they were again at he entrance of the manor, (rather the exit since he is leaving).
          "If I come back here—" he started but she cut him off.
          "You won’t be back. You’ve been here once. And that is all you get." With that she shut the door between them, leaving him in the dim light of dusk.