High Octane Curiosity
And I think I was born with high octane curiosity and imagination. Everything was so alive to me as a child. Everything in my room was alive. Stuffed animals, the dolls, the monster under the bed, even my books. Everything felt very, very vital and alive. And I was just — I had a lot of curiosity as a child, a lot of high energy, a lot of mischief. And I was drawn to anything I could glean or pick up about — a story about anything. No one in my family was especially a great storyteller, although my father was very funny. But I remember gravitating toward the old people, to my grandparents and their friends on both sides.1 I particularly remember hanging out with them at their house, my father’s parents we went and visited quite often.
And they would always have their friends over. My grandfather was a retired military officer in the Navy, and all of his friends were the same. And they would all come over and sit around very formal, and have their cocktails, and I would sit on their laps, and then they would play — have a formal dinner and then play poker and smoke and drink deep into the night, which I thought was perfectly normal. And I loved hovering around them, because they would be telling stories. There is a wonderful quote by Eudora Welty about children and listening for stories. She says “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for children is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s a form of participation. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”
And I said that’s what I did. I hung around all these people. There was a little more leniency as a child when there were a lot of people in the room. Nobody noticed you quite as much or paid attention to your manners. If you were just quiet, you could kind of be invisible. And I just loved being around them in my mother’s family, in Oak Park, Illinois, sitting on the porch, great grandfather is smoking cigars, Irish Catholic, that whole world, around the farm, playing Crazy Eights on a summer night, on the porch. And just to be able to be with them and sit with them, I think I just through osmosis picked up stories.