Several months ago, I sat in a writing workshop put on by the wonderful Writer’s League of Texas, and the instructor had us do some quick writing using the skills we were learning about. I wrote about a mailman who fell in love with a woman to whom he delivered mail. At first he admired her from afar. Then he began reading her mail to learn more about her. Then he began sending her mail. There was a boyfriend involved, the mailman grew jealous, the writing exercise ended before I found the ending. There were a lot of descriptions of her clothing, all of it yellow. I don’t know why.
I thought no more about these people until last week when I was browsing the stacks of the local library and came across this book: The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, by Denis Theriault, translated by Liedewy Hawke. The back of the book told me it was a story of a mailman who reads people’s mail and falls in love with one of the people whose letter’s he delivers. I was intrigued. I was hooked. I checked it out.
What followed was a lovely story about a man’s obsession with a woman through the poetry she writes and sends to one of the people on the postman’s route. In an effort to continue his relationship with the woman, he takes greater and greater risks, makes wild choices and sees his life unravel because of them. It is a fun story with a poignant and thought-provoking ending. It is a far better than the one I began to write in that workshop, and I am grateful that fate brought it to me.
So, the idea so similar to mine. What’s that all about? Elizabeth Gilbert writes about it in Big Magic. Gilbert tells of a story idea that leapt from her mind to that of Ann Patchett when the two met and exchanged a kiss. She continues to say that instead of assuming or accusing Patchett of stealing her idea, she believes “that ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul” looking for a conduit to expression.
Now, I’m not saying that I had the same idea as Theriault, because his book existed prior to my writing exercise, but I do believe there is some magic out there that gets books into our hands the moment we most need them, at the time when they will have their biggest impact. I believe in synchronicity in the stacks. I love the idea of ideas having lives of their own, of their searching for someone to bring them into being, a partnership as it were.
What is this story trying to tell me? I don’t know. Yet. That’s the magic of words, stories, and reading. They sit with you and continue to work on your soul, teaching you long after you’ve closed the pages. Perhaps it was a call to interact with more poetry, or to go back and look at old writing exercises. Perhaps it was a call to discover a new writer. I think it may have been a call to be more daring in my writing, to take more risks, to make worse things happen to my characters. What’s the worst that could happen? Okay, let that happen. Then what? Push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Next time you close a book, ask yourself what it shared with you and why. And if you’re looking for a good, short read, try The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman.