Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Wednesday, August 31, 2022 7:57 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

Word by Word

That I dream in sentences may seem a bit odd.

Except it isn’t, really.

How the sentences began is a story in itself, intertwined with my love of reading, prompted by whatever book I’m immersed in or, more likely, by my opinion of whatever book I’m immersed in. I hear the words. Then, slowly, they emerge. Words that want nothing more than to make my mind a truer place in which to live.

They are not always successful.

Nor are they new to my dream cycles. When I was a kid, Highlights was my favorite read, and mine alone, though I was supposed to share the magazines with my sisters. I didn’t share them with my sisters. In winter, I hid them under my bed. In summer, in my tree fort.

No one ever found me in my fort and that’s what I wanted. Without interruption, I was eager to know myself in the world outside of my family, my school, my street.

My fort was neat, airy, and when the afternoon sun hit the paper birch, the white bark illuminated every insect hovering in the air between the lowest branches and the ground. It was about this time that I started dreaming in sentences.

My father said, “don’t let the neighbor kids climb up,” which didn’t bother me, I didn’t want the neighbor kids to climb up. But I couldn’t imagine what he meant by “dangerous.” To me, the weather-beaten boards weren’t a hazard, but safety. I thought the lopsidedness of my three walls (it was more of a lean-to) was its most endearing quality. To this day, a well-kept cottage can fill me with house-envy. But it’s not like that when I see lavish reflections of wealth. It’s as if I can feel certain tensions seeping out and then, there they are, gathering in a sleepy sentence inside of my head.

I’m not saying every gigantic house is chaos waiting to happen. I’m just saying that’s how I internalize them. Listening to my parents’ marriage implode within the sturdy split-level my father built, my fort became, not all at once but as their fights intensified, a requirement for the rest of my life. I felt more at home in my fort than anywhere else. I think I’ve been searching for that same feeling ever since.

A few of my homes have come close. Sometimes I feel as if my true place is still out there.

I write terribly in the dark and most mornings I have no memory of the sentences. But when I re-read the scribble, I see how the words want to matter just as much as I do, they want to try. They bomb just as often. But they try.

This morning, the exclamation points ran off the pad. It looks as though I was upset. 

And I remember with absolute clarity why I was so upset: Earlier, I ate red meat for the first time since I was seventeen. I didn’t know I was eating it. It was in the sauce. I was fine. My stomach didn’t even seem to notice. My mind, however—clearly more sensitive to the thought of beef than my stomach—rebelled, leaving exclamation points in its wake.

“In my tree fort I began to see how my life would always be about small losses, small wins.” Half an hour ago, this sentence surfaced during the nap I tried to take. The words made their way in, they made mistakes (for instance: I don’t like the word “wins”), they made me listen. To everything.

Even the memory of that fort makes me smile. I manage to forget the world’s harms and come back to my nest in the woods, and that’s the closest thing to happiness I know.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Mary Lou Sanelli, author, speaker, and master dance teacher, is the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays nominated for a 2022 Washington State Book Award. Her novel, The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs, was released in 2020 and her first children’s book, Bella Likes To Try, is to be published in the fall of 2022. For more information, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

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