A few weeks ago, I gave a prompt on opening a box. This was a writing by one of my male students (he'd like you to know I do have male students, grin). I love it because it skirts the edge of fiction and memoir. A few times you can hear him turn and address the question of voice:
Does it really matter how a story was written and how we read it? Does it matter if we can’t hear the writer’s original voice, the one that told their pen how to walk across a page as if it was dancing something sacred, as if it was performing a ritual that has been acted out many times before? Does it matter if we read a story in our own voice, color it with our own vision?As well, he ponders the question of (personal) stories and whether or not to tell them:
What was said? Who remembers? Is this the box of history? Are these the remains of stories I should know? Of tales passed down through the ages from mouth to hand to ear to mouth to ear to hand to mouses’ teeth?
And what of all my stories? Is this where they will end up, in a box, a black box hidden in a shadow?The details he uses - the gun in the box, the mouse droppings, all help to anchor these ponderings in something real, which is the point, of course, of using something concrete like a box for the prompt.
And I'll let you discover the final line, which is a powerful description of what happens when we try to see what is right in front of us, and points out the charge in what is hidden. As Dorothy Allison says, "Your shame is your gold."
Enjoy reading this writing, which is, of course, as always, unedited and fresh.
Then go and check out your own box - open it up. What's inside?
Oh, Box, what is in you? Who built you? Is that old wood, painted black, or was it new wood, now old, blackened by time, by use, by whatever it is you hold? There are toys in a box. It looks like they live there, weren’t just swept up and dumped there. This is a box that’s been hidden, pushed back under some stairs or into a dark corner, saved by someone for secret play, or played with in a way that wasn’t open to others somehow. The box has a secret but it’s silent.
There are colors in the box. There’s a red car, the color of ﬁre and passion, its small wheels once raced anger down a path and away from a large ﬁst. There’s the glint of a silver cowboy revolver, chipped and scratched, that still smells of the yellow explosions of the red dots of caps.
I feel like I’m writing about someone else’s toys, not my own. Let’s try a different path into the box. The box was littered with mouse droppings. Mice had made a nest of the letters and stories a long time ago, chewed them into soft bedding, and now the whole was riddled with small brown turds. What was said? Who remembers? Is this the box of history? Are these the remains of stories I should know? Of tales passed down through the ages from mouth to hand to ear to mouth to ear to hand to mouses’ teeth? And what of all my stories? Is this where they will end up, in a box, a black box hidden in a shadow?
I think not, because I think what I’m doing by coming here each week is pulling that box out of the shadow, clearing out the mouse turds, and writing new stories. And maybe sometimes spending a little time in the shadow under that oh so long ﬂight of stairs, ﬁtting scraps from an earlier time back in place, not necessarily getting the right pieces in the right order, but reading them just the same, exploring the story they make just the same, living as if these were true stories just the same.
Does it really matter how a story was written and how we read it? Does it matter if we can’t hear the writer’s original voice, the one that told their pen how to walk across a page as if it was dancing something sacred, as if it was performing a ritual that has been acted out many times before? Does it matter if we read a story in our own voice, color it with our own vision? Even though the story may have been written in the bright light of day, we may encounter it a long time later under a dark stair, and how then could we be expected to read it in the same voice the author used with bright sun in their eyes?
There was a small gun, a red car, a broken pencil, and hundreds of pictures snipped from magazines, pictures of people who spoke in voices that could not be understood. Perhaps the car was used to drive around and look for them, to explore where someone had not yet been. Maybe the small red car was a wish, a talisman, a little bit of medicine to jump start a journey of some kind.
And maybe that small gun was for protection, for this was uncharted territory. The mighty little blast of the caps would serve to scare off danger rather than to kill it, maybe even anger the unknown, and thereby raise the stakes. Maybe these toys are really tools of the traveler, to be used by young hands grown old, soft skin grown thin and papery, by memories once wild now softened by age and frequent touch.
I think this box still has a lot of play in it. I think maybe the box made its own shadow, like a hawk mantles its prey with its wings, a cat holds the mouse in its paws. The box wants us to ﬁnd it, to pull it out of the shadow, because the shadow is just bait. If the box had hidden in full sunlight on the kitchen table, we probably would never have noticed it.