When I was in Rome several years ago, I went to the Vatican Museum late one afternoon and had only an hour or so to see the Sistine Chapel. I’d seen it before, but wanted to see it again – it’s hard to get enough of that ceiling. But I passed the day of my planned visit busy with other things – friends and writing mostly – and time got away from me, so I was in a rush. Once inside the building (which way to the Chapel???), I moved as quickly as I thought I could in a building that was old and hushed and sacrosanct – it really isn’t kosher to run through the Vatican (well, nothing is exactly “kosher” in the Vatican, is it?) Outside they have guards in fancy outfits, guards who mean business and hold lance-like things that look painful. Who wants to be told to slow down by someone dressed like that?
Inside, I moved through the long hallway of rooms, one after another after another (were they temporarily re-routing the way for visitors to reach the chapel that day?) I came to a room – a corridor, really – filled with magnificent globes. Globes! Oh, I love a good globe – round, simple, beautiful, never anything but elegant - and, even better, these particular globes were centuries old. Some up on their stands were taller than me, at least that’s the impression they made as I rushed by. I almost stopped, almost…but then…there was that ceiling waiting….
On my way out after a brief hour in the Chapel, the museum guards were politely moving everyone along, back the way we had come, reminding us in several languages that it was closing time, repeating over and over that it was time to go, please move along, please keep going, the building is closing, please move along. I came again to the long hallway full of globes. Again, there was no time to linger and be amazed, but I vowed (yes, at the Vatican, people vow) to return the next day.
Only I didn’t return – not the next day, not any other day. I had classes, coffee with friends, trips to the market, a walk along the Appian Way, the catacombs, Hadrian’s villa – the list of things to see and do in Rome is always long, and my days slipped away. I didn’t get back to the museum before I headed home to Seattle. And I haven’t gotten back since, despite a trip to Florence a few years later with my husband. That room – those globes – are still waiting. Those globes. So beautiful.
At VCFA, we talk about a “desire line” for the main character. Desire lines can be superficial (that is, on the surface, like me wanting to see those globes) or they can be deep, deep down (like me wanting to believe that things last, that beauty lasts, that the world is full of beauty that lasts, and that I will have time to experience it.) My sister has been ill, and I’ve been worried about her, and for some reason when my head and heart drift over to thoughts of her, those globes keep pushing their way in. Why? I’m not sure what the connective tissue is, but it’s there, it’s part of my story.
Maybe it’s about trying to hang on, to find something that lasts; maybe it’s a nagging feeling that there is something that I am failing to do that would change how this part of the story unfolds, or a reluctance to admit that not everything fits into one lifetime. And, as I said, maybe it’s just because the clock is ticking and life is short, and I hope the people I love will live forever and I hope beauty is long. I hope some things last. Now there’s a deep desire line.
I caught a glimpse of something that day and I haven’t gotten back to look more closely, but I still hope I will. Not to stretch too far to make this relevant to writing, but I do believe hope is something storytelling touches on. Writers try to get back to that definitive moment, that lost thing, that moment in the story when something changes and time stops – taking the time to look carefully helps us find the connective tissue that holds it all together. Makes it last. Some things last, right?