Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thinking in pictures

When E was little (and by little, I mean so small she was not yet in school, and still needed a carseat), her idea of a really, really good time was for me to make her a page of math problems.  I'm not making this up.  We had a small table and chairs in the corner of our living room, with a box full of scratch paper in it.  There were crayons on the table, but E wasn't nearly as interested in coloring as she was in doing addition and subtraction.  And--"Please Mama, make them three numbers hard!"  By the time she was four, I had to break down and teach her about carrying and borrowing because we were both getting a little tired of the same few combinations possible without knowing those important steps.  After that, though, the world was open to her.  And I'd created a little math monster.

I tell you this because E"s love for and interest in doing math is almost exactly how I felt about writing stories from the moment I learned that this letter and that one, put together forming this word and that one could create meaning and more meaning and---STORY could be the result.  Story.  That's what I was always after. From my days of make-believe and paper-dolls to the first three sentence paragraphs I learned to write in school, I was more interested in writing what wasn't actually true, but could be, than what was factual.  And I think the reason for this is because I think in images rather than in words.  I've had conversations with many people about this and have discovered that this thinking in images is less common than thinking in words (or, I'd guess numbers).  But I can't imagine thinking in words.  I can't--I physically can't--make myself see words in my head.  I've always felt that my hand and pen or fingers on the keyboard are the instrument of writing.  Sometimes I don't even know what I'm going to write until I see it on the page, or computer screen.  I realize that sounds a little strange to some of you who plot everything out ahead of time, who can't imagine working without an outline.  To do so would be like working without a net.  But that's why I like writing fiction.  Because I don't have to know the whole story when I start.  I only have to get to know the characters, learn their backstories, uncover the problem, and wind my way through their lives with them  It's a discovery for me too.  And I love it!

Ok, so this is perhaps too left-brained and creative for some of you who don't think as I do.  My ability to think in images, however, does explain, I think why I have such a good memory.  Take, for example, the memory I wrote about at the beginning of this post.  I can instantly call to mind a specific picture of E with her hair cropped above her ears (a cut her Grammie gave her that I've forgiven Grammie for, really I have), sitting at that little table, dressed in a little jumpsuit (don't ask me why I'm picturing this particular outfit).  It's butter yellow with pink flowers and has a tie at the waist.  E is holding her pencil so tightly in her fingers, I'm sure she'll snap the pencil, but instead, she merely makes very dark numbers on the page.  When she finishes her math page, she brings me the page, and I tell her she's gotten one wrong.  This is not news E EVER likes.  She goes back to the table, and sits there pouting.  I can look back from here and see that child and know how much she hated making mistakes, how much she wanted to tell me to SHOVE it, but was too obedient to ever do so.

And here's what I'm coming to understand.  This is the story I am meant to tell; because all these pictures in my head of all these moments?  They're my story.  For as long as I've been writing and telling people about it, I've heard, "You should write about my family/mother/life."  This has never inspired me, actually. My answer has always been, "You should write it.  Only you can tell your own story."  But somehow I haven't really been paying attention to my own words. I've been thinking that all writing about my own little life I've been doing in the last three years since I started this blog (and my novel got shelved), has just been to tide me over, so to speak.  Just something to do, but not the real writing I'm meant to do.  But this is real writing.  This is the writing God has called me to, if He's called me to anything.  It's not this's this!  The only until is until He calls me to something else.

This may not be a revelation to anyone but me...but that's sometimes how it works.
Sometimes God has to paint me a picture, if you know what I mean.


E said...

It has been a while since you did up a page of math problems for me.

Elle said...

I think it's fascinating how language and pictures go together. I was reading a novel (which was in Finnish) yesterday, and after reading three pages I realized I had "taken in" only the first three sentences. I went back to the beginning, and had to concentrate on the words real hard to get back the mental images of the Finnish language. Then I picked up a novel which was in English, and sighed of relief: Thank God, something I understand! :) I'm afraid I'm losing my Finnish (the written language + the images)more and more every day!