My Christmas card list is alphabetical; it corresponds to my address book, an aging resource, much-amended, and long pre-dating an electronic ability to archive contacts. I start at the ‘A’ section, and I address an envelope to my friend MJ, whose married name is ‘Ackroyd.’ Her address has been the same for the last 35-plus years.
But MJ is in the minority. As I wrote out my cards this December, I marveled at the changes my address book demonstrated. For example: my former student, Jannie, has had six address changes since she’d graduated from college and got her first apartment, away from her parents’ home. After some bumps and unexpected jogs, she married her sweetheart, Cal. They bought their first home together after a year of apartment life.
They added a miracle baby to their family—a miracle because they were told they never would conceive. This year, their little family moved to a house closer to Cal’s work.
I think of all that those various moves represent. There was a heartbroken year when Cal decided that he needed to spread his wings and soar in a completely different direction. There was a new relationship for Jannie, and Cal’s startled realization that she might not be there when his soaring time was over.
There was Jannie’s struggle with anorexia, and her eventual (and on-going) triumph.
There was the reconciliation and the wedding. Three years later, there was little Grayson’s birth.
And every time Jannie moved, I carefully cut the new address label off the letter she’d sent me and pasted it over her last address. Now, in the “Jannie” space in my address book, there is a little lump. And in that little lump, there are stories. Although those stories have their sad components, Jannie’s story, overall, is one of triumph.
But the address book tells tragic stories, too. I have to cross names off this year: bold Kim, who outwitted cancer for seven years beyond the time her doctors estimated. Sweet Patty, whose cancer returned after a thirty-year wait, swift and vicious. Vivacious Rosemary, who could captivate a room with her funny stories—stories always told at her own expense, never at another’s. Cancer has been especially cruel this year.
My address book tells stories of separation and re-connection. It chronicles moves and marriages, births and divorces, leaps in employment, exciting travels, and heart-wrenching losses.
An old friend who is a freelance writer said something once that stuck with me. “If you have ten people in a room,” she said, “you’ve got at least thirty stories to tell.” As I write out my Christmas cards, I wonder how many stories are represented by the names and changes in my address book.
There are stories of meetings; there are stories of escapades. There are stories of partings, of moves and postings, of reunions and returns. There are stories of welcome, as new friends and family, new babies and significant others, enter own our and others’ lives.
There are end tales, too.
When I’m stuck, when I’m in need of a prompt to stir my writing juices, maybe I could just pick up my address book. I could select a name deliberately. I could flip to a page at random. I could pick a name and pick a story to tell. It might be “How We Met.” It might be “After the Wedding.” It might be, “Patsy Moves to a Foreign Country.” It might even be, “Why I’ll Never Write to Curtis Again.”
I might tell the truth. I might weave a tale, inspired by the real-life events my address book suggests. Whatever the Muse whispers, I am pretty sure my address book has the abundance I need to crash my writer’s block.
Not everyone, I realize, still has an old school, pen-and-paper, address book. Many of us archive our contacts in a phone…but those archives, too, have their stories to tell.
Following this thread, I wound up writing a short story about a woman of a certain age who couldn’t avoid the task of sending holiday cards. Here’s the link to that post:
What prompts has life presented to you? Please share your posts with us! Happy blogging, my friends.