An ex-boyfriend was fond of saying that I start every story with, “I was sitting on the toilet the other day when…” He was exaggerating (though only slightly) but I have become aware of a tendency of mine to tell stories on my friends. Let that be a warning to all my once and future friends – I will likely tell your story to someone else at some point in time. Important details, like your name, may or may not enter into the picture.
Upon further self-examination, I found that my reason for retelling others’ stories falls generally into one or the other of two categories: I’m trying to understand the story better myself or I feel that the story has bearing on the listener’s situation. I am not always conscious that I have engaged in one of these retellings nor am I often concerned with placing a story into a category or context before it starts spewing forth. The stories arise of their own volition and I suddenly find myself sharing things that the stories’ owners may or may not be prepared to share. Apparently, my storytelling apparatus cares not whether it is engaged in impropriety, however, because try as I might to apply a modicum of control, stories belonging to others continue to flow from me to new ears. This has caused some strife (especially within my family) though not enough for me to completely subdue my impulses.
Lately my difficulty has been even more perplexing. I have all these stories gathered and I’m being drawn to share them with an even wider audience, in written form instead of passed along orally. Since I was quite young, I’ve always considered myself a writer whether I am actively writing or not. Now that this new passion is gripping me, I find the words difficult to wrangle into their proper place on the page. Why do I want to share these stories? Why am I having such difficulty? Am I not supposed to share? Is telling the truth just really hard? Or is it that I want to be true to the content of the experience while learning how not to always share all of the TRUTH?
I argued ardently and at length with an exasperated professor in my first Creative Writing class during my sophomore year in college over telling the TRUTH. Two of my characters shared the same first name and he said that detail made the story difficult to understand. Why didn’t I just change one of their names? My impassioned answer was, “They have to have the same name because that’s how it really happened!” I railed on for quite some (yawn) time and never did concede during the course of the class that he was right. The duplicate names made the story unnecessarily confusing and just because “it really happened that way” did not make it a good story.
After a discussion about Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book Eat, Pray, Love, a friend suggested that a couple of us choose words for ourselves and for each other: one word that exemplified or encapsulated us. I chose “blue” for one friend and “capable” for another. My own word was more elusive. Finally I rested on “sunshine”. I often feel bright and cheerful. When I don’t, I can be scathing. Other sunshine-related descriptors come to mind: warmth, life-giving, bold, harsh, center of the solar system, part of a galaxy, tiny speck in the universe. (I wonder if my husband might say, “Celestial body,” ha ha.) Sunshine is a word that can express those qualities I am proudest of as well as those I recognize as areas ripe for improvement. My friend who suggested this exercise blessed me with two words for which I cannot thank her enough: “beautiful” and “grace”. I find it difficult to simply accept these gifts with an honest and whole-hearted thank you. My tendency would be to find reasons why I don’t embody those words. Instead, I would like to express my gratitude by not slipping into self deprecation. When I looked up “grace” at Dictionary.com, I found a long, multi-part definition. Two particular definitions jumped out at me:
1. elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.
2. the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.
Obviously, the first one is amazingly flattering. The second one feels very comfortable to me, like returning home from vacation to a clean house. The “influence… of God” is something I’ve been feeling keenly during the past two years, especially in a regenerative sense. It might be worth a brief mention that my concept of “God” doesn’t equal the modern Christian definition of the same word, but it’s the word I still feel most comfortable using.
So here, then, is the point of this ramble: I would like to call on this Grace to strengthen my resolve to finally get my work “out there,” in the hands of publishers, without all the attendant fears, worries, procrastination and foot-dragging I’ve been doing these many years. It’s a prayer of sorts, that I have the right words to set down in the right order at the right time and I’m jumping in the water fully clothed, asking only that I don’t drown.
4 weeks ago