“Forgive me,” Scott Hoezee writes in a prayer, “for sometimes thinking that inspiration comes from only the great stories.”
Forgive me, for ignoring the swell of gratitude I feel standing in front of the strawberries at the grocery store—because they are on sale, and red and plump, and their seeds pop like accessories; their green leaves the perfect up-do for stepping out—because this is a last-minute errand on the way home from work and there is no time to linger. Forgive me for believing that noticing the strawberries couldn’t make a great story.
“Make me attentive….help me listen to the ordinary things people tell me,” Hoezee continues.
The tri-colored pasta Jesse mixed with sauteed peppers and broccoli and the first grape tomatoes from our garden. “It was all leftover and you can have it,” he said on the way outside to go golfing, and Hadley and Harper were out too, and I was left alone to eat a rainbow and I devoured it—both the pasta and the silence in my home, but it wasn’t enough so I ripped open a box of chocolate ice-cream bars, grabbed one, sliced its wrapper off and sat outside looking at the oak tree in my front yard while I ate it.
“If I need fresh language and new metaphors, let them emerge from the ordinary….”
But I want to write about dragons, I think as I watch a moth flit and flutter around the lamp next to the mailbox. That light isn’t even on—how does the moth know this is where she’ll end up in a few hours when the cicadas sing and the leaves are still? Or is it that she flies towards a memory—of touching what she thought was fire—towards what she thinks could be?
I want the language of dragons. I want their scaly, green, winged metaphors to emerge but I am looking at a moth pounce around my lamp. She isn’t even green. Just black and white.
I read about a purple moth once. She lives on the pages of Rumors of Water, and I don’t think L.L. Barkat was looking for her either on the day the moth showed up.
I look again at my black and white moth to see if there’s any purple on her. There is not—just a design on her wings like a winter tree on a grey evening reaching toward barely-there stars. Even the moth’s wings show what she wishes for.
“Can you tell me about that purple moth?” I asked L.L. the next day. I tell her what I think I remember: that the purple moth showed up when she had other plans and the day wasn’t going great; that eventually she determined there would be a purple moth in each chapter of the book she was writing.
I tell her I would look for the moth myself, but I am at work and Rumors of Water is at home. I am telling the truth, but what’s also true and I don’t tell her is that I want her to make me believe again. Not in God, or writing, or myself. I want to believe in purple moths and dragons again.
“Can you tell me what the purple moth means?”
“What it means? I don’t know,” L.L. replies, and her response makes me happy. Who wants to explain away a purple moth? Isn’t it enough that it is there?
She copies the passage and sends it to me. It begins with L.L. taking out the trash. “It is too big for me to handle.” The garbage bin is an anchor—a metaphor emerging from the ordinary. I remember the strawberries and then the blueberries and the grapes too that I carried through the grocery store along with my wallet and car keys. “This is too much,” I thought, and I was talking about the fruit but also the writing assignments I took on, and Harper was going to State championships for swim, and I’m learning a new job, and Hadley is turning 16 soon, and my house is a mess. I am exhausted, and also, I am so grateful for the garbage bin L.L. writes about.
It is her daughter who tells her about the purple moth. Sonia created her, and the moth has teeth and is “as large as a dragon.”
As large as a dragon.
“I’ve been too stuck on what ought to be,” L.L. says of her writing struggles. She knows how books work; how they look except what she has for her story—among other quirky items—is a purple moth. She remembers a favorite writing book and the reason she loves it is because it is “structurally asymmetrical.”
Two years ago, L.L. sent me a card and told me about the asymmetry of trees. She wrote that a “dash of asymmetry strengthens the trees.” She told me that asymmetry is actually desirable for survival, and dared me to considered asymmetry in my own life and in my writing.
At night, I am at my desk writing and Jesse comes in to say hi. We chat for a bit and then he abruptly stands and goes to the window.
“There’s a moth in here,” he tells me.
She’s made her way in.
“I’ll take her outside,” he says, but I tell him no, that’s OK.
“I don’t mind that she’s here.”
This week, consider the asymmetry of your life and write a poem about it. Use a purple moth, or a dragon, or strawberries, or trees, or whatever stuff of the everyday that is calling for your attention and wants you to help it emerge.
Browse writing prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.