Story Ideas

The Covid pandemic has meant more time spent at home, so I’ve been taking some writing classes. Sometimes I ask myself why bother, there are so many extraordinary writers, what do I have to offer. But a writing teacher told me there are stories only you can tell. In thinking about it, he was right, there are stories that will be lost to time if I don’t tell them. I have experiences – to process/heal/make sense of/make peace with/find the gift in/laugh at/enjoy remembering and telling. I like to think I might tell a story that will help someone on his or her journey in one way or another, or maybe just help them understand my generation (Baby Boomer) and answer the question, how did we get here?

Here’s a short list of story ideas, not in chronological order…

Help comes in unexpected places. I worked for a man who escaped Nazi Germany to Shanghai, then escaped Shanghai ahead of the communist revolution to come to America. For reasons that were never clear to me, he took a special interest in helping me to graduate from college. One lesson he taught me – if you take too long to get your mind around change, if you hesitate due to disbelief, doubt, or indecision, the delay taking action can cost you everything. He and one other family member survived; the rest of his entire extended family died in WWII concentration camps.

I had three therapists (and also obtained 2 psychology/counseling degrees myself). I have a lot of opinions on whether people can change, and the when, why, and how of change.

My cognitive-behavioral therapist was a Vietnam veteran who called my childhood my personal Vietnam War. As with many Vietnam veterans, my drug use was situational and I stopped using when the war was over for me.

I was talked into riding in Cycle Oregon the year of the Oregon Trail and that was a lot of mountains to ride up and over. Respect for pioneers who did it in covered wagons. It was a hellish vacation (I’m just not that athletic). I cried in the port-a-potty over squandering my few precious vacation days to the experience. I was so exhausted by the riding that I had homicidal fantasies as I laid awake all one night, the tents crowded together, and some man having arranged his tent so that his snoring was closer to my ear than if we’d been in bed together. Like my guitar lessons, my training for an endurance event gave me a deep appreciation for the mastery of people who have devoted a lifetime to their art or their sport.

I have a dog and we are both like cats; we compete for the best spot to nap in the sun.

I worked at Music Millennium in the 1970’s and my co-worker Darlene gave me her sister’s ID so I could go out and listen to live music in bars with the men we worked with. There were some interesting drug-fueled parties, and memorable experiences, and one of the men that worked there found his way into my heart by playing the song Carol, performed by the Rolling Stones (written by Chuck Berry), while we worked. He and I were still together when I moved to Eugene to attend U of O, and he rode Greyhound down for a Halloween party, and was photographed walking down the street in his guitar costume, made out of bicycle boxes that fit over his entire body, just legs sticking out the bottom as the guitar walked down the street. He was on the front page of the local paper the next day. It’s sad to me that no one my daughter’s age can relate to buying music on vinyl, or having a brick-and-mortar store be an important part of music culture in the city. Note: technically I worked at The Upper, which was a hippie boutique selling clothes and jewelry that the owner’s wife started in the upstairs of the original Music Millennium store on 32nd and East Burnside. Only men worked downstairs with the music and only women worked upstairs, they were technically two separate businesses.

I, and two of my friends, have lost a brother to the fallout from drug addiction, in 3 very different ways, over a period of years. The loss was not so much a question of if, but a question of when.

In my early 20s I was leaving Montreal to fly to Casablanca. Most passengers would board in New York City, and there were just a few people on the plane for the Montreal to NYC leg of the Royal Air Maroc flight. After I boarded, the pilot came back to the cabin, sat down in the seat next to me, asked if I was traveling alone (yes) and was someone meeting me at the airport (yes). He informed me Northern Africa had a robust white slave trade, and blondes were especially coveted. He only returned to his pilot duties after I assured him I would not travel in Morocco unescorted.

When I was getting to know the man that’s now my husband, the first time I went to his house, he had a motorcycle disassembled in his living room. He had 5 more in his garage. I think 3 were working and the other two were in various stages of disassembly. Men, left to their own devices, live very differently than women. A disassembled motorcycle, no furniture to sit on  – all part of his charm.

In the mid-1980’s I lived downtown on SW 9th and Salmon, where Gypsy Slim, the first homeless, mentally ill person who pushed a shopping cart that I ever knew, would wake me up around 3:00 am with his booming voice shouting profanity from his sleeping space in the parking garage right outside the apartment window. I lived across the street from a liquor store. The Rajneesh bought the Copper Penny nightclub on the corner of SW 8th and Salmon, and the bakery kitty corner on 9th and Salmon, and pretty soon Rajneeshees were thick on the streets outside my apartment day and night (easily identified by their clothing in various hues of red and purple). Having taken a class called The Utopian Dream at Willamette University in 1975, where we traveled around to various Oregon communes (hippies were starting communes all over Oregon), sat in on community meetings held in geodesic dome structures, learned the challenges of reinventing community, religious or otherwise, I was not tempted by the vision.

Part of the reason I’m obsessed with interior design, the reason I constantly rearrange things, and I live in dread of becoming a hoarder, is because my parents rarely changed or got rid of anything in their house. When my mom got sick and it was time to move mom and dad into a retirement living facility, then clean out and sell the house, my bedroom had the same paint on the wall (lavender), same striped carpet (lavender with dark purple), same posters on the wall (early 70s vintage) it had the day I moved out as a teen-ager. Only change was that boxes and piles of unused stuff had been added. The entire house felt like a time capsule. The same Formica dining table with the stainless steel rim and skinny legs we ate at as a family was still in the same spot. Everything in the house would now sell as vintage or retro. The only upgrade and nod to modern design was a better television (although it still lived in a big, bulky cabinet).

That completes my story-telling to-do list for now. Every story I finish seems to spark an idea for a few more.

© 2021 Carol Merwin, All Rights Reserved

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