‘Every person is born into life as a blank page – and every person leaves life as a full book. Our lives are our story, and our story is our life. Story is the narrative thread of our experience – not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens, what we tell each other and what we remember. This narrative determines much of what we do with the time given us between the opening of the blank page the day we are born and the closing of the book the day we die.’
This is the opening paragraph of Storycatcher, by Christina Baldwin. The subtitle is ‘Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story’.
I bought this book a few years ago because of the title and the cover, which is of sand and sea. It’s a book I’ve never read cover to cover. Matter of fact I don’t think I’ve ever finished it. And today I believe I’m going to pass it on to my great-niece, a poet.
I’m not quite sure why the book, as a whole, has never pulled me fully inside its covers. The snippets I take from it, I like.
‘In the tens of thousands of years before writing, before popular literacy, before we recorded what we know in books and on computers, story was the way we transmitted everything. Story was the carrier, the link, the way we taught each other how to be human and how to see each other’s humanity as we crossed paths on the long walk out of Africa to populate the world.’
Even now, as I flip through the pages, I’m having second thoughts about giving it away. Maybe I should read the whole thing. Maybe I’ve missed some bits I need to know.
Plus, as any reader knows, it’s hard to let go of a book.
‘Whatever detritus we leave after ourselves, story is what makes it valuable. Without story, the artifacts of ordinary lives quickly lose significance and preciousness. An old chipped teacup is no treasure unless you know this is Aunt Grace’s artwork; unless you know she had polio as a young girl, that her siblings pulled her around in a small wagon until the family could afford a wheelchair.’
I have a teacup. Milky white, so frail the light shines blue through it. It was once part of a set, collected slowly, piece by piece, by my great-grandfather when he bought burlap bags of flour. Each bag had a single piece of china buried in the flour, as white as the china.
So I read parts of this book, and remember my stories, family who have passed on. Reading brings back melancholy, smiles, regrets, all the emotions that are attached to those stories, those memories.
And sometimes, I don’t want to be reminded. I don’t want to feel those emotions. And so this book can only be read in tiny moments when it’s safe to spend some time in missing loved ones. Otherwise I’d ended up buried and have to battle my way back up to today.
So yes, I’ll pass this book on to my poet-girl. It seems like someone who writes poetry must dip into those deeper emotions with every line they write. Maybe a poet is wiser about letting go.