Monday, May 3, 2010

The Three and a Half, aka My Creativity Well

I sit in the living room of the Three and a Half, my maternal grandpadres' house. The deep blue of twilight shoves the solid black, leaf-fringed trees to the foreground as I gaze through the window. Peeps and trills remind me I'm in the country while a police-procedural on the TV upstairs and the steady heartbeat of the clothes-dryer in the basement reassure me that this old farmhouse is sufficiently electrified for this city woman. My mom relaxes in the wing-backed chair beside mine, her feet resting on a cushioned ottoman, a new-t0-her author's book in her hand.

Everywhere I turn my eyes to evokes a sensory trip down memory lane, physical, auditory, olfactory that tells me of my family, my roots and the origins of my story-telling life.

On the window bench, beneath the oval, hand-tinted photograph of my sailor-suited, three-year old grandpa, he told me the first ghost story I ever heard. I can't stand at the kitchen sink without thinking of my aunt and I, the two little princesses in the dungeon, forced to do dishes in punishment for being so beautiful. There is a brass-rubbing of a knight from a church in the north of England that hangs in the hayloft. How many battles has he fought - and won or lost depending on my whims - in the hundreds of years since his death?

I shot a documentary of my Nana for my graduate school thesis. The baskets she wove - that helped me weave her life into a narrative - decorate the nooks and crannies that abound here. Dollars to donuts, if you look underneath one of these baskets, you'll find a note, a name, a date. A reference about who should inherit it or why she used that pattern, those materials. If you're not courageous enough to peek at the bottom, a swift glance into a basket's belly could lead you to magazine clippings about opera, stray woodworking tools, or a collection of string (because who knows when you'll need a little twine?). Whatever the treasure trove, it always becomes the jumping-off point for another day dream.

What if the short flight of brick stairs and its archway were a portal to another time and place? Do you think the kettle-pot in the stone fireplace was a witch's cauldron once? What were the names of the horses that were stabled in the dining room back in the day? Did any of them compete in the Kentucky Derby?

I cannot remember a time when this magical kingdom was not my intimate playground. I feel I know each secret and special space yet that there is still so much to discover, to create, to name, to claim, to love and cherish. I could go on and on and on. The chair Nana and her brother used as a nutcracker. The fridge of endless grandchildren. The barn of mouse turds, race cars, and art. The three-seater outhouse on the banks of the river. This story-well, this imagination emporium, never runs dry, never runs out of stock. It is an endless tap of creativity and I remain grateful for its place in the shaping of my life.

Do you have a story place? Or maybe a collection of them? Did your family collaborate in your childhood what-ifs or did you stumble across the borders of make-believe as an adult? Where or how is your creativity rejuvenated? What or who helps?

Come on, gimme a story about your stories. I promise you - I'm listening.


  1. Lovely piece, Keely! It makes me a little teary and wistful as I think about the story-wells that used to exist for me in the house I grew up in. Now those story-wells only exist in my memory. Shortly after mother died twelve years ago, my father uprooted, leaving behind everything familiar to start again three states away from all those touchstones that could bring back my stories. My grandmother has since died and her house was sold. And my living grandparents moved into a smaller, retirement home. So over the past several years, my taproots to my own history have slowly gone dry. Yet, I take courage because I have three children of my own that I'm taking time to build into and create memories with so that one day they'll be able to trace their own hertiage with as much fondness as possible. The benefit of a wandering life? Freedom to restyle those memories into stories that work much better for your characters. :)

  2. What a nice story. I have several places from my childhood that are so precious to me. One of them was a secret hiding place underneath a pine tree, shrouded by low-hanging branches. My father and his brothers bought several acres and each built a house. The place was large and backed up to the George Washington National Forest. My cousins and I ran rampant over the place, playing in the woods and splashing in the streams.

    One of the most magical places was this pine tree. Its branches were massive on the bottom and reached all the way to the ground. Once you climbed inside, it was like a little hidden hut carpeted by pine needles. I just loved that place.

    We moved from there when I was a teenager and I've thought of going back to see if the tree is still there. I'm would almost dread it because it probably isn't nearly as grand as I remember it :)

  3. What a great post, Keely. I agree we all have those places. I have so many. My grandmother renovated her dining room when I was toddler and she put in a window seat especially for me. I used to sit there a lot and alternate between watching her and my great-grandmother in the kitchen and looking outside to the street. Come to think of it, it was a pretty good strategy on her part because then she could watch me!

    Another place was my grandmother's front porch. We would all sit out there in the evening and watch the traffic and talk. During thunderstorms, she would sit there with me and talk to me, telling me there was nothing to be afraid of and pointing out the lightning streaks. Years later, my mother told me that my grandmother was actually terrified of thunderstorms but she sat there with me so I would learn not to be afraid. I still love thunderstorms.

  4. Very nice, Keely. Definitely sent me back down memory lane. My favorite place was in a pine tree, on the road up to my family's farm. My parents always knew where to find me but my sister couldn't get to me. It was the perfect place to read and daydream.

    Lisa -- your story about your grandmother and the lightning made me laugh out loud. My mother did the same thing with my sister and I, only it was about bridges. Whenever we drove over a bridge she'd tell us over and over that it was nothing to be afraid of and everything was fine. I figured she was talking to my sister because *I* wasn't afraid of bridges. LOL.

  5. A wonderfully evocative piece, Keely. Aren't those places hard to leave??
    I had two places, both now gone to me, the enormous magnolia tree in front of my Grandmother's house - which we were always told not to climb, and invariably there were at least four of us in it at the same time during our stays there. The other was the Beach House in Lewes with its sanddunes in front. I'd be there, making fairy huts out of the long beach grass and making up stories. I would also climb into the hollows of the beach plum bushes and be hidden from the world (except my dog who always seemed able to see through my super secret camouflage).

  6. You've hit me right below the breastbone, Keely.

    Most of my creativity wells seem to need to remain private... But I always have a bunch of public ones.

    I'm the girl who walks through the mall and thinks, "Hm, if you had to escape
    from the spies pursuing you..."