Where is a man when you need one? Mine could be anywhere in the world, but I can pretty much guarantee if something's going to go wrong, it will go wrong when he's out of the country ... (This particular time he was in Cuba.) A week ago Sunday night I was in my bedroom watching TV and addressing Christmas cards when a racket shattered the relative quiet -- and it came from right above my head. Startled, I jumped up and tried to assess the what and the where as I speed dialed my daughter, because, as we all know, misery loves company. I had no idea what was going on, I just knew it was LOUD. It sounded like a whole family of something had moved into our attic space. With my daughter on the phone, I went outside, hoping against hope that whatever it was was on the roof, and not somewhere INSIDE my house. Alas, it was not to be. I declined my daughter's invitation to spend the night/week on her sofa, and listened in fear and trembling as this thing moved around upstairs above my head till after 3:00 a.m. At one point it sounded like it was dragging something across the floor up there. I kid you not.
I called Clark Exterminators first thing Monday morning. A young man -- who was my new favorite hero -- came within the hour, but alas yet again, he could open the access to the attic space, but he couldn't actually go in and do anything about what might be up there. It seems they have rules, and that, in my opinion, was the stupidest. What he could do was set a mega-mouse trap just inside the attic space, which he could reach while standing on the very top of my 6-foot ladder, without actually being in the space. Well fine. But let me tell you, A: this was no mouse, mega or otherwise! And B: out of 3,100 square feet of living space, the 16 x 20 inch opening in the ceiling that goes into the attic space happens to be right above the chair I sit in at my computer. So now not only was I afraid of whatever had moved in, I was terrified I'd hear a SNAP! while sitting here trying to write.
So this ... whatever it is ... had me on edge all week. I'd hear its nocturnal wanderings after the sun went down, and was jerked awake at 2:00 in the morning Wednesday, while it carried on above my head till after 4:00. Elizabeth Berg, bless her heart, kept me company.
Well, wouldn't you know there hasn't been a peep from the attic, lo, these many months? But in a few weeks Rick goes back to Cuba. I'm willing to bet something will go amiss.
There are things in my "other" attic that are nearly as difficult and troublesome to identify, and when it comes right down to it, who wants to?!? Like Katy said, the attic can be a wild place. But it truly is chock full of material for a writer willing to go there. It's probably true that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but I pull on the rope that lets down those hidden stairs, climb up, and root around in that dark and creepy place every time I get ready to start a new novel. I've been somewhat surprised at the themes that have emerged in my writing over the past number of years, all issuing from what I've stored up there in the attic. For example, each of my novels -- published and unpublished -- have dealt with extreme loss of one type or another. And most explore that most complex of all relationships: mothers and daughters. I have a very close relationship with my daughters, and I had a close relationship with my mom, but it was definitely difficult at times. I'm sorry to say the problem was mostly with me -- because of things I had a hard time letting go of. I've said more than once that Mom is the first person I want to see when I get to Heaven; I have some apologies to make. A lot of apologies, in fact. I don't mean to make this my confessional; I'm just keepin' it real.
I'm getting ready to start a new novel, rubbing my hands together and eager to begin. I love discovering new characters and delving into their stories. I'm looking right now at the faces I've compiled on my Character sheet for this new work, and I can tell just by looking at them that my themes will hold true. At least this time around, the loss will be less intense, and to that I say, "Whew!" But I reiterate the profound conclusion Katy came to in her post on Monday: "If we want to write stories that mean something to people with attics of their own, we have to climb to that shadowy place in our heads full of strange noises and wild animals. If you're a storyteller, you must go there."
What about you? How willing are you to climb through that trap door, and if you do, what themes emerge for you?