Two nights ago, I took my mom to the local botanical conservatory as a birthday gift to view the “Lights in Bloom” festival offered there for the holidays. The gardens, which are no small patch, were lit with Christmas lights in creative interpretations of flora, draped over actual plants (monstrous banyan trees, extensive succulents, lush orchids). The evening was balmy, boasting little breeze, the slight tang of sea salt, and the waft of cinnamon from a snack stand.
In the extreme corner of the property stands a ficus religiosa tree, called the Bo tree (short for Bodhi, which means enlightenment, as it was supposedly under this type of tree that Siddhartha Gautama, known better as Buddha, attained his enlightenment). For the event, the gardens called it the “Wishing Tree.” Visitors could write wishes on provided ribbons and tie them to the tree amid the strands of circling lights.
Because we went to the event on the last day it was open, the tree was covered in hundreds of wishes. There were the funny ones (“I wish I had a magical unicorn,” “I wish I had a Girl Scout Cookie Maker”—it is my opinion that this second wish is perfection). Close to seventy or eighty percent of them, however, had to do with health and happiness, and about forty or fifty concerned prosperity. Children wrote for their families to be happy, people wished for lasting relationships and marriages, the unemployed desired steady work.
This is, in itself, telling of the universality of our dreams, but more powerful were the individual, vulnerable, and sometimes heartrending wishes: “I wish Danny would love us again,” “I wish Kate’s cancer would disappear,” “I wish I could love my parents.”
Why am I writing about this? Because stories are everywhere. They are in every life, in every hope, in every experience. Behind each of the wishes on that tree, from generic to specific, are stories of people’s lives, hopes, dreams, fears, sins, desires, values, and souls. We live and breathe stories. Some of us feel like we have comparatively little to tell, and some of us feel like our stories aren’t worthwhile, that they mean nothing.
They mean everything. Stories are accounts of the human condition; any human can consider his or her life a compelling story precisely because it is his or her story to tell, and no one else’s. Many times, authors (including myself!) get caught up in writing about the plot and tend to neglect the characters, but more often than not, it is the characters—the people—who make the story come alive.
Next time you have encountered writer’s block, whether it concerns a new novel idea or a development in your story, look around you. Talk to who you can, learn what you can, and draw inspiration from the stories that are playing out around you, including in your own life.