I expect that most of us come by our interest in everyone else’s business honestly. After all, we spend our days, nights and weekends making up the interior and exterior lives of our characters and, really, we must have material. We must have practice.
So, here’s what I’ve been wondering about today (and yesterday, and the past few months).
We have these neighbors. Not close neighbors, because we live in the country. These people are about two miles away, but there aren’t many actual houses between us.
They live on a sort of miniature farm with some sheep and two sheep dogs and many chickens, and a few turkeys. But a few months ago, there were a hundred chickens, more turkeys, many ducks and geese. They had goats, too. On any given morning, one would find that a chicken didn’t quite make it across the road. Feathers everywhere! The critters were a road hazard, really, but it was kind of fun to dodge them and watch them bathe in the puddles. (Not the sheep or the goats–they were less fun in the road.) The whole effect was one of grubby but profligate animal joy.
But then things changed. I saw a sheriff’s car in the driveway one day. Soon after, fences were (sort of) mended. The goats disappeared. There were fewer feed bags and egg boxes and plastic buckets lying about the barnyard. Then no more geese. Or ducks. Just chickens, the sheep and the enormous dogs lying about. The chickens stayed out of the road for several weeks–now, one or two will occasionally slip out to peck on the road’s shoulder. The entire farm has an air of despair about it. (Have you ever seen or read Cold Comfort Farm?)
The despair, I fear, is a result of human sadness. Best that I could tell, a family of three lived there: a husband, a wife and a teenager. I’ve only seen the wife and teenager once–but they travel to and from the farm in a nice car. Dad drives a farm-worn truck. I never saw wife or teenager doing farm chores. Only Dad. But around about the time the sheriff came by, the nice car disappeared. For months, I only saw the truck.
Is the story so obvious? Did the wife become so discouraged by the out-of-control animals and the sheriff’s visit and the dead chickens that she took the teenager away to live somewhere else? Did the husband undertake the clean-up to convince her to return? Or was it already too late?
On Monday, the nice car was back for a little while, but not long. I wonder if it was the wife visiting, or the teenager.
I’m sad for them. But it’s a sadness of my own making, I know. I don’t actually know what the real story of this family’s life is. I can only imagine it. The people we see but don’t meet become characters in our stories. It can be a dangerous sort of game because, in real life, it can lead to misconceptions and miscommunications and all sorts of other mis-es. But the game is not just limited to writers. We are all storytellers. Stories help us make sense of our world–They stave off the chaos, and that can be a good thing.
What stories do you tell yourself?