Reading Alice Munro

I’ve been reading Alice Munro’s short stories, and I’ve been crying.

I don’t know why I picked up Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You – if I’m going to be honest, I choose the books I read because of the colours on the cover. They must not be startling, and if they are, they must be startling in a way that packages startling neatly (but it is rare that I enjoy reading these books more than looking at them). The colours must designate a calmness to the image of me reading the book; if this calm is not promised, there is not much else that can be.

I liked different things about Alice Munro’s books. I liked how they were stacked between the shelves like a sighing testament to where stories come from, how they pass through you, and where they lie still. I liked that they were all of approximately the same length, because their uniformity said that she was never jarred when she wrote – that there was a sameness in everything she saw that let her make stories of stories of nothing of everything of stories.

When I was younger, I was excited about phenomenon, and the possibility of writing about strange, unique things. I have come to realise that the best things to write about are ordinary things. The best words to use are common words, sentences rarely peppered with one word I don’t usually use, consecutive stories doused with one word that is suddenly tender for reasons I don’t know, and don’t want to know.

I read Alice Munro and cry now. I read her because the colours of her book covers promised a calmness that she delivers. Words sometimes tell you a story, and sometimes require you to perceive a story, and her words lie in place where both of these things happen. A review on the back suggested that I read only one story a day, because they stay with you, and haunt you. I did this for the first few days, and then I fell. I fell in, into stories about children who built boats, and women who ran away; stories about professors and book shop owners, and tricks that are played by no one, that change one person’s life in retrospect.

I do not regret falling in. Falling is forgetting the words, forgetting the faces – walking through words to a place where there are none, when the room you are in begins to fade out, and a different kind of light from a different place lets you read the markings on a page. Alice Munro took me from her writing to the place that I begin writing from. This is a place where you must not contemplate writing in, because it is hopeless. But you must breathe its air, you must be here, because this is the place where the words become independent from you once again, and you can write when you realise that you can only borrow, and return.

What I Can’t Remember

It’s bothering me that I don’t remember things. RR texted me yesterday with a sound clip of a song, saying, “I just had to,” and a line of laughing faces. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he explained that when I once asked him why he liked the song so much, he hastily replied, “It’s comforting.” (To give some context here, the song is a lewd rap song.)

Apparently, I teased him about it for months, but I honestly can’t remember anything about any of it. What I do remember are the images in my mind that I created for myself, from the conversations we would have. I remember what I imagined his house and room looked like. I remember how I pictured his stepmother, even the length and texture of her hair. I remember where I imagined his cupboard would be, in which he would have kept the birthday present I gave him. I remember, as if I was there in the room with him, how I would see him hug a pillow when we talked into the night.

I also remember how edgy he was – how, although I never told him as much about my life as he told me about his, I still always felt like I was revealing more. With his stories, he constructed a wall around him, and the more he told me, the less close we felt. I could never tell my stories if I knew that they were disarming someone.

I think I sometimes perceive this difference between R and I, too. He tells me everything. All the things that words don’t usually acknowledge, he offers them to me. Simply, humbly, vulnerable. He waits to see what I will do them. They are now my burden, and it is the most beautiful feeling to know that I have made something easier, lighter, in my acceptance. It also makes me afraid – it is like I must offer just as much, just as quickly. In these moments, I am so aware of how much I could hurt him. He is so open, and yet, if I were to not embrace his memories the way he needed me to, he would snap shut, a quickly browning sphere of reproach.

In my writing, I am careful not to burden whoever is reading, with my memories, and my stories. Writing becomes the point at which the poetic is suddenly evident; the point at which a way to reveal something, reveals itself. I am constantly looking for this in reality. I am looking for a story that won’t take years to become poetic. I crave the permanent essence of the Story so strongly that I can tell you that it is made of the mixing of pastel and earth colours. It feels like a few hours after it has rained, when the memory of an intensity lingers like sweet and salt in the air. It is a wholeness. A gentle tumbling of thought, and image, and breath.