I am always so very amazed by what makes up a person, what in the brain and the world sticks and what is cast aside, and why. The relative unpredictability of this is what makes people interesting to me. Otherwise we are all pretty much bones and skin and messy biological functions. You never know what will end up making an impact.

For many years as I was growing up, my mom was a serious purveyor of garage sales. It fit into her Depression-era nature to find bargains, and it was actually a lot of fun. I went with her on many Saturdays, and we'd usually come home with a Windsor chair that she would want to refinish, glassware, old linens, records for me, and often big cardboard boxes filled with books. My entire family loved to read, and I would read whatever it was that filled up that box for a dollar or two -- books on public speaking, lawn mower manuals, Readers Digest compilations, Happy Household Hints by Heloise, anything.

Sometimes the books would be very old, from the estates of the farm folks who had died. I remember one about the Titanic that was published only a year after the disaster. I found this so fascinating, to hold a book that old and try to imagine who had it first, what life was like then. One book I read was a collection of short stories by French 19th Century author Guy de Maupassant. I was probably around nine or ten years old at the time. The book was very old, with almost Olde English type print, with delicate thin pages edged in gold, a burgundy-red leather cover crumbling at the edges. I would sit down in the basement and read, where it was cool and quiet, and I could be alone to become lost in the stories.

I remember feeling the swift, heart-stopping ache in many of his stories, told so engagingly, so elegantly. He was so able to find the drama in the everyday, the choices that people make that change everything, the beauty in human frailty and grace. The short story format leaves no room for wandering or tangents. Everything is economy; focused on this one thing to say, to quickly engage your reader and be able to change how they see and feel in a few pages then let them go again, hoping that they take away something, even a small something, that felt real and true.

I hadn't read de Maupassant since then, although I loved that crumbly old book. I suppose there were more garage sales to attend, more boxes of books to read, not to mention the whole growing up thing and relentless adulthood and all that. But last night I found a website and re-read several of the stories I had admired all those years ago. With some shock and amazement and a bit of delight, as I read I realized: this writer may have influenced my writing the most of anyone. I saw similarities in content and pacing and flow and dialogue and flavor, and it made me smile. This is not at all to say that I think I am anywhere near as fine a writer, not at all. He is far more formal and educated a writer, from a far different time and place, more eloquent and polished. But I see me in there, a whole lot of me and how I think and what I can do. It just stuns me a bit to think that as I sat there as a child reading those then-100-year-old stories, that they stayed in me so much, and years and years later, I just make that connection now.

Although maybe I should worry that I see stylistic similarities between myself and a dude who eventually suffered from syphilis-induced depression and dementia. Heh heh. Well, beats the hell out of Heloise in any case, I say.

Guy de Maupassant -- "Useless Beauty"