WOW: The Invisible Picket Fence

Becca, who I count among those “friends as yet unmet in person” is hosting a summer writing roundtable called “Write on Wednesday.” Today is Saturday, but she assures me it’s not a problem, and her first question has been tumbling around my head for a few days.

She asks: “Why in the world do you come to the page?”

At first my answer was flippant and terse: Because I have to.

But it’s a question that deserves more than a four-word answer.

I write to explore, to create, to still the buzzing of ideas in my head, to give other ideas new life. I write because sometimes a conversation overheard on line in the grocery store or in a cafe is just enough to spark a story. I can’t follow a stranger home to observe the next part of their life, but I can imagine what might follow.

Did the mother of the five teenagers like whatever chocolate they chose at Tom Thumb while their harried father gave advice, at nine PM on the Thursday before Mother’s Day? Did the kids get stuff THEY wanted after all? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that there was something about this poor man surrounded by gangly young people trying to make sure his wife had a present from every child without blowing their budget that touched me. He had a story, and I wanted to know more.

Or what about the poet I used to chat with when I was 19 and working at a bookstore/cafe in San Jose? He let me read some of his work, asked me advice on word choice and comma placement, and never guessed that almost twenty years later I’d be thinking of him in his ratty fisherman’s sweater and jeans, scribbling in what I now know was a Moleskine notebook, and sipping slowly on latte after latte, as I worked on my novel. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the angular script he used, and the soft grey of the pencil strokes on the unruled paper.

In one of my favorite books ever, Outside Lies Magic, the author, John Stilgoe, mentions that if you’re riding a bike along-side a picket fence, and manage to find just the right speed, the fence becomes essentially invisible. The rational part of me knows that it’s just an optical illusion, that the fence is as solid as ever, and that the right speed simply synchronizes our active vision with the gaps between the slats, so we’re never looking at solid boards.

The more fanciful part of me – the observer, the writer – that part of me accepts that sometimes you can find magic in ordinary things.

For me, those things are words.

I write so I can see – and share – what’s behind the invisible picket fence.

4 thoughts on “WOW: The Invisible Picket Fence

  1. Words definitely create magic – and you certainly have the magic touch. Your retelling of those encounters with everyday people immediately sparked my curiosity and made me want to know more. It is that inate curiousity about other people’s stories, and the need to put our own into perspective that draws me to write as well.

    Along with a shiny new notebook and a good sharp pencil :)

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to Write on Wednesday.

  2. > if you’re riding a bike along-side a picket fence, and manage to find just the right speed, the fence becomes essentially invisible.


    transcendent, magic, significance, magnificence. it’s wonderful to be one who chooses to point others to it.

  3. I loved this post, especially the part about the poet from the coffee shop all those years ago and the memories you still have of him. Isn’t that fascinating, how the brain works??

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