When I was growing up on the east side of Rochester, New York, my family had a tradition. The first Sunday of every December, we’d head to Wambach’s Farm Market a few miles up the road. There, usually in cold and biting weather, we’d stroll through their selection of Douglas-fir trees, looking for the “perfect” tree for Christmas. Some years, we’d bicker among ourselves. My two older brothers might like a particular tree. My sister might like another, and I might want yet another. Being the “baby” of the family, my vote probably counted a little more than it should have, much to the chagrin of my siblings.
The memory of my family’s annual outing to the farm market, hunting for our Christmas tree, is now an old one, going back to the 1980s. And yet, even today, when I’m in a pine forest or beneath a fir tree, the scent of the pine takes me back. That is one thing I recall vividly from those Sunday mornings in early December, years ago. I remember the sting of the cold on my face, the wind whipping in off of Lake Ontario just a few miles away. I remember the arguments–annoying at the time, but fun now, looking back. “I like that one!” “No, that one’s no good. Let’s pick this one!” But most of all, I remember the scent of pine needles. And when I smell that fragrance today, in my mind, I am transported back two and a half decades to the farm market and the Christmas trees. . . .
It’s a very specific memory, of course. It’s my memory. My experiences. But at the same time, it’s yours, too. Maybe you didn’t go on family excursions to the farm market when you grew up, picking out that season’s Christmas tree. (Or maybe you did.) Maybe you didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. It doesn’t matter. Because, very likely, you have a similar memory. The specifics, the details, the circumstances, may be very different. But the heart, the essence, is the same.
In The Eye-Dancers, near the end of the book, Mitchell Brant puts a gold, heart-shaped locket around his neck.
He realizes he might be laughed at. It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect a boy to wear. But he has just said good-bye to a very special friend. He had met Heather only a few days ago, yet connected with her on a level he’d never experienced with anyone else. The problem is–she lives in a different plane of reality. He can’t stay. He has to leave. She gives him her locket to remember her by, and I’m sure, years later, he will look at it again and remember. . . .
And, it is my hope, this sequence in the story will resonate with readers. On the surface, this seems laughable. How can you relate to someone who has fallen for a girl in a different universe, a different sphere of reality? Underneath the details, however, we see a boy, growing up, entering adolescence, saying good-bye to what really is his first girlfriend. He knows he will never see her again. And that kind of feeling–losing a first love, saying good-bye when it breaks your heart–we can all relate to, in some shape or form.
It strikes me that one of the keys to creative art of any kind (be it a poem, a novel, a song, a painting . . .) is tapping into your own highly personalized experiences, and then sharing them with people you don’t know. They don’t know your personality. They didn’t grow up with you, don’ t know your friends. They might have a completely different culture and point of view. And yet, despite the differences, your words, or melodies, or brush strokes somehow bridge the gap between you. They touch your audience, move them, perhaps even bring them to tears.
When I read about (or watch, if I’d rather see the movie) Andy Dufresne get convicted of a crime he never committed in The Shawshank Redemption, and then slowly and methodically execute his escape from prison over a period of two decades, I am riveted. When he is able to instill a sense of meaning, of hope, into the lives of some of his fellow inmates, most notably the character “Red,” I am moved.
When, in the movie, “Red” says, at the very end, “I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope” — I am on the cusp of tears. And yet . . . I have never been convicted of a crime. I have never been to prison. I can’t relate, on the surface, to being locked up for twenty years for a crime I never committed. But it doesn’t really matter. The story moves me just the same. Because somewhere, somehow, the feelings Andy Dufresne feels, the sense of loneliness, isolation, and, ultimately, friendship are feelings I have known.
We all have something to say. Think about a personal memory. Perhaps it is comforting, and brings a smile to your face. Maybe it’s painful. Maybe it’s bittersweet, and nostalgic. Jot it down. Sing it. Draw it. Paint it. Write about it. Chances are, even though it’s something that only you experienced, it will still reach and move, affect and inspire others.
It is uniquely, yet universally, yours.
Thanks so much for reading!