From here to anywhere, I named this column. Because stories can do that — take us from wherever we are to anywhere else. Of course, we have to be careful, because the places they take us can be harmful, even deadly.
Just now we’re all trying to make sense of a story that’s been imposed on our lives. We didn’t have time for this story. We were too busy living. But here it is. So we wash our hands and practice social distancing and try not to succumb to panic — or hoarding toilet paper — as we sort through the changing versions of this story and wonder what it all means.
Meanwhile, we live without school and church services and sports and concerts, art exhibitions, powwows. Pendleton Center for the Arts had to postpone this month’s First Draft reading with Don Colbert, a poet I promise you will love when he returns, we hope, in October. In fact, we have some incredible storytellers lined up. (Aloha Rodeo, scheduled for May, will blow your mind.)
But, just now, it’s up to each of us to seek out the stories we need.
J.D. Smith’s recent East Oregonian column titled “Shimming the Ching” sent me to my copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching.” I can’t say I understood it (“the way that can be spoken is not the way,” right?) but it did distract me.
I’m reading Les AuCoin’s memoir “Catch and Release,” too. The stories of AuCoin’s life take us from a fatherless childhood lived in poverty to the United States House of Representatives in 1974, when he was only 32. He would fight for many things — affordable housing, “trickle-up” economics, wilderness protection, abortion rights, and nuclear arms control — before his return to Oregon for trout fishing, catch and release a metaphor for both succeeding and letting go.
It’s a good book for me just now, because in nearly every chapter AuCoin inspires us to hope and encourages us to keep trying. Or as he told a captivated First Draft audience in February, “It’s not them. It’s us. It’s our democracy.”
Pendleton Public Library is a lifeline for me. I have three books on order through the Sage Library System just now — Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive, Again”; Louise Erdrich’s latest novel “The Night Watchman”; and Beth Piatote’s “The Beadworkers: Stories.” They are all books I know will fill me — teach as well as entertain. I can hardly wait.
But there are times when we just want something fun to read. My brother, John — the one who’s always three good books ahead of the rest of us — called to say he was having trouble with Cormac McCarthy. He had read the first book of “The Border Trilogy” but was bogged down in the second. It’s a famous series, he said. What did I think?
McCarthy is a wonderful writer, I told him, but I finished only the first book. “I just got so depressed.” He’s my brother, so I could confess such literary heresy. I recommended Ann Cleeves’s “Shetland” mysteries — the Jimmy Perez stories we all love to watch on TV — and he told me about Peter Bowen’s “Montana Mysteries,” featuring the Metis brand inspector Gabriel Du Pre. A week later the first two books in this series arrived in my mailbox with John’s return address on the package.
I hope Jimmy Perez is helping him as much as Gabriel Du Pre is helping me.
Sometimes what I need is poetry. It’s when I’m trying to understand but can’t, quite. Or needing to reach toward meaning that can’t quite be reached. Because that’s what poetry does.
Here’s the last stanza of Danusha Lameris’s poem “Insha’Allah” (translation: “that soft word meaning, ‘if God wills it’”) that is helping me today.
“How lightly we learn to hold hope, / as if it were an animal that could turn around / and bite your hand. And still we carry it / the way a mother would, carefully, / from one day to the next.”
You can find her poem on the Poetry Foundation website, and I hope you will. But mainly I hope you find the stories you need. Now, and always.