I am still walking. I am still editing. The words are getting better. I am also reading Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, a beautiful book about the process of writing. She asks, “Who are we without everything that’s ever happened to us? And if we are writers, how can we do our work without the grounding of our own history?”
She writes about the seeds of a story and how an idea for a novel came to her on a drive into New York City. How the pieces of overheard conversations and the little stories that are parts of a life sometimes work their way into a story. She quotes Colette who said the most important thing is not necessarily writing:
“But the domestic task of knowing how to wait, to conceal, to save up crumbs, to reglue, regild, change the worst into the not-so-bad, how to lose and recover in the same moment that frivolous thing, a taste for life.” ~ Collette
So today, on Halloween, while walking, I thought about a two year period when I lived in a two family house in Newton Corner just outside of Boston. My landlord was the son of Judge Garrity Jr., the judge who ordered schools in Massachusetts to follow a plan for compulsory busing in order to eliminate unfair segregation. If towns didn’t comply they would lose state educational funding. This led to protests and riots over a period of time, from 1974 to 1988, called the Boston Busing Crisis. I lived in this apartment from 1984-1986. There were times when Charlie, my landlord, an easygoing guy in his early thirties, was harassed with hate mail. He took it all in stride, supported his Dad and equal education for all, and always attended our annual Halloween party.
Yes, I’m writing about Halloween. But I’m also writing about writing. I grew up as the history teacher’s daughter and that influenced my politics and my view of the world. How history, current events, and politics affect our daily lives. It has always been there, grounded in my history, a part of my life. It’s not just something on the evening news.
I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. How stories get started, where a person’s point of view comes from and how you tie all the pieces of your life together to make sense of things. Sometimes it’s not meant to make sense of anything, it’s just a good anecdote. If you’ve read my novel The Reverse Commute you are about to get a glimpse of how a little piece of someone’s life makes it’s way into a fictional story.
I had recently moved back to Boston after a winter in Vail waitressing and trying to save money to continue my move to California. It didn’t work out that way. At the end of the ski season instead of moving west I found myself back east in Newton. To paraphrase Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “it had something to do with a guy.” That guy is now my husband.
I needed a place to live, a friend of mine from college told me about two girls who needed a third roommate. Shortly after moving in with them, I discovered they were famous for their fabulous, well-attended Halloween parties. They always had a theme. People need direction, if they have a theme to inspire them, they will come wearing better costumes. My new roommates were right. The first year I lived with them, the theme was Ghost Busters. The movie was wildly popular that year and the invitations instructed people to come as their favorite dead celebrity. Yes, we mailed out invitations. I remember sitting at the built-in kitchen table with the booths, what my boyfriend called the Brighton breakfast nook (our apartment was a mile from the Brighton line). We did this old-fashioned task together with an address book, a roll of stamps, and a bottle of wine. No emails, no E-vite, no text messages.
I was amazed at the creativity of my friends.
Karen Carpenter, Mama Cass (wearing a picture of a sandwich around her neck), Grace Kelly holding the steering wheel, and I no longer remember who the woman in blue is supposed to be.
Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood
My husband (then boyfriend) wearing his brother’s West Point jacket which transformed him into Robert E. Lee or so he said.
Bonnie & Clyde. Although it makes me feel old, I love these grainy photos.
My roommates and I were the Ghostbusters.
There are always those people who don’t like to dress up for Halloween. Most of them seem to be men. We had several of these types at the party. They did make a half-hearted attempt at a costume, dressed in running shorts, T-shirt and sneakers and calling themselves Jim Fixx, who was the author of the book The Complete Book of Running and died of a heart attack that year, at the age of 52. So much for running, we all thought, heading towards the keg for another beer.
I’m upset about misplacing a photo. I know I had this photo. I can clearly see it. My friend Mary Jane had one of the best costumes of the evening. She wore army fatigues and around her neck, a cardboard helicopter blade covered with aluminum foil. She was Vic Morrow, who died in 1982 while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie when a stunt helicopter crashed on him. Yes, the evening was full of gallows humor and irreverence.
Remember Morris Day and The Time? Come on, yes you do. It was a huge hit in 1984 and became the theme of our 1985 Halloween party. Jungle Love.
I have no idea what this guy in blue is supposed to be. A giant jungle mouse?