Rambling on Story

In China. photo by Mary Dessein
I have a pale dusty-blue gauze curtain in my writing room window, which allows me to look out yet not be readily seen, lets daylight in, and makes a wee bit of a buffer for the cold air in winter.

In wondering what to launch my writing with today, I figured I’d look at one of the many blogs I have started, that await completion. Then I looked up at my curtain and there in the wrinkly texture of the fabric, I saw the word, ‘Story.’ On a forty-five degree slant down from left to right, in a jaggedy font, I saw ‘Story.’ Like a shape in the clouds, no one else may be able see it, but I did.

How cool is that? There were stories at the Board meeting this a.m., a friend has stories to tell me about the wild City Council meeting on Tuesday, always Story. My podcast co-host and I caught up our stories with each other yesterday at the radio station. The Jimmy Webb song I’m learning, Wichita Lineman, is a story and the life of the song itself is a plethora of stories. Most songs are stories.

Country music legend, Harlan Howard’s quote that “a great country song is three chords and the truth,” is oft-repeated. Harlan was interested in story early on, being an avid reader since childhood and having “an ear for a telling phrase.”

A friend told me that some in her book club thought one of the novels by T. Coraghessan Boyle, who has won more awards than I have fingers and toes, was implausible because that much bad cannot happen to one person. So for stories to be believable do they have to be similar to our own, or something we can relate to? Like the Syrian family who’s boat capsized as they fled for their lives across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Greece, leaving the young father to see his three year old son’s body washed up on shore in Turkey, later to find his wife and other son had also drowned? Many of us saw that on the news, and were not only stunned but grateful that story was not our own. The stars in the sky are easier to count than the scenarios that fit into the “how did they ever live through that?” category.

Story – contains our humanity, recalls it, records it, and reminds us of our own.
“I fall to pieces each time someone speaks your name.”

Story. It all comes back to story, often with questions. Is the story true? How could that be? What is the human component? If the actual story isn’t provably true, the story is the vehicle for the human truth contained within it. Such as Ananzi the spider smashing a gourd on the ground, which releases all the common sense stored in the gourd out into the world; an explanation for the truth, if you will, being that some people have common sense, while others appear to have little.

As a professional storyteller, after I would perform in elementary schools, often students came up to me with seeking eyes to ask, “Is that true?” Animal tricksters, gossiping trees, tall tales, legends. I would answer, “There is truth in every story I tell. Flying donkeys may not actually exist, however, there is a lesson or an element that is true that we need to know. That’s why we tell stories that are thousands of years old: they contain human truths that we need to hear.”

Is fiction really fiction? Arguably, yet it contains human truths that we need. That’s why there are best-sellers, be they romance, detective, historical, fantasy, thrillers, super-heroes, or westerns. We crave those truths, and are intrigued, interested, or captivated to observe characters going through all the machinations to get to them, while we safely turn the pages. Granted, some truths are really difficult to accept. A recurring theme for me, I’ll be coming back to this concept. Truth – belief – choice.

“I fall to pieces each time someone speaks your name.
I fall to pieces, time only adds to the flame.”
Ah, Harlan and his three chords.

Truth & Dare …

My mom & her sister, Jackie 1929

Did I mention the signals my foot has been receiving from outer space? Maybe I didn’t, thinking you might not understand.

I, too, thought they were something else.
The first one came as I was sitting in my living room reading when I felt the outer side of my right foot vibrate, like my phone does when I receive a text. Hhhm, the stereo must be louder than I realized as I figured it was the music vibrating through the floor. Then it happened again a few minutes later. I got up and turned the stereo down. Soon my foot vibrated again. This time, I turned the stereo off.

A little while later, the same unmistakable vibration buzzed my foot. Was this some weird kind of stroke? I had no other symptoms, no discomfort; nada niente nothing to indicate I was having a physical issue.

That scenario was repeated in other rooms of my home, at various times. It became clear to me these vibrations were messages meant to get my attention. Where could they be originating? It had to be from space. I wasn’t standing on my cell phone. Or on my stereo. Or my microwave. Or my portable heater. It had to be outer space.

I grew up with Rod Serling, Isaac Assimov, and Madeleine L’Engle. I learned long ago that the truth often comes packaged as fantasy. Truth is easier to accept that way when it seems to be someone else’s made-up story.

Reminds me of the movie, ‘A Few Good Men,’ when Jack Nicholson shouted, “You can’t handle the truth!”
A Few Good Men‘ was written by Aaron Sorkin. Ah, the truth.

In dealing with one person I am on a volunteer committee with, I am frequently frustrated by her ‘little white lies,’ her denials, her positioning herself to look important and be the boss. When I gently called this out recently from a side angle about members making decisions for the committee yet without committee input, she again lied, denied, and huffed. I got no support from the other members, yet their silence also contained no defense of her. I so wanted to holler, “You can’t handle the truth!”
I didn’t. Yet later I did wonder, are there times when that applies to me?

As to Aaron Sorkin, he knows alot about alot of things. He reports a pivotal impact in his life was from one of his teachers at Syracuse University, Arthur Storch, who repeatedly said to Aaron, “You have the capacity to be so much better than you are.” Finally, Aaron asked the famous director and alumnus of the Actors Studio, “How?”
Storch answered, “Dare to fail.”

Truth. Failure. Growth. Ask questions. Follow the thread of intuition – trust it will lead somewhere valuable. Or, it will protect.

What was the message from outer space? Perhaps to pay attention. Trust. Watch small things, as everything has importance. Learn to prioritize.
Let whimsy lead me to the truth? Or… I have the capacity to be so much better than I am?

We shall see.