Thursday, July 21, 2011

Telling Tales

Situationally induced insomnia gave me too much time to think last night. Too much time to think about the decisions I make and how they affect my story. Yes, I do think of my life as a story--or maybe a novel plus a collection of short stories--and when I'm feeling very good about it, I imagine I have some small amount of control over the plot twists, the story arc, and the other characters who become a part of my story....and I a part of theirs.

In fact, I would go so far as to say the story metaphor provides significant support for my personal spirituality. If there is a higher power, I imagine not only having to tell my story, but also what a loving higher power would want to see in my story, be entertained by, surprised by and....well, even impressed with. What would a higher power need to see to agree that my life was a well told, engaging....dare I say heroic.... story?

Maybe that's why I make some of the decisions I make, take some of the risks I take, refuse to follow some of the rules other people follow. I want my story to be a good read--for myself and for my higher power. Some parts are riveting, I'm sure, as well as ridiculous, heartbreaking, hilarious, and....horror of all horrors, ironic. As any of my close friends would tell you, mine isn't a tale that would make believable fiction, even if Steven King or Ann Tyler wrote it. A couple of weeks ago something unexpected happened that caused one friend to turn to me and say, "If your life were a play, nobody would believe any of it." Her husband responded, "Has to be a movie. The cast of characters is too large for a play. But nobody would make it. Too strange." True that.

Am I the only one who thinks of her life as a story? Who makes moves based on how this decision or that action will play in the story? I have an idea of who I want to be*, how I want the other characters to play in the story.....what is acceptable and what I have to do in reaction to what is not. I know who I want to be....if only other people would let me.

As a child, I knew who the woman I would become could be, in a perfect world. She would be amazing in so many ways! But as a child, I didn't realize how very fucking hard it would be to reveal that woman's character among the unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances of a real woman's life. The story I imagined as a child is definitely not the story of my life so far, although there are times, moments and events, when I think, Yes, this is what I intended for my story. If I get a chance to tell my story in some imaginary afterlife to some imaginary higher power, this will be a moment of pride. Events like when my babies were born, or when I had to put Pippi to sleep, or when I performed in The Vagina Monologues. The girl I was would have wanted the woman she would become to have lived these chapters the way she lived them. If only every part of the story could be that way.....but of course it can't.

Every good writer knows it's the tension that makes the reader refuse to put the book down at bedtime. It's the chapters and short stories that the main character....OK, that I don't have control over, the ones where I felt trapped into making a choice from no good choices at all, the ones where other people's stories smack up against mine like a hidden iceberg, the ones where I don't live up to my own ideal, the regrets, the times when I'm just really fucking confused.....those are the ones that make fiction engaging, and those are the ones I can't reconcile as I toss through an insomniac night.

So much of my story, as with good fiction, comes from living in response to other people or events. In the past few years, I've made--or had made for me--so many radical changes in my life, my head spins trying to catalog all of them. I've been reinvented .... remolded ... my life purged and emptied ways I couldn't have imagined. I still feel like a soft piece of clay, waiting for the next claymation animation of me. Often I think, If I were the author of this story, I wouldn't make me go through this shit. I'm doing everything right and things are still turning to shit. Hell, maybe I'm not the author at all. And if somebody else is.....well, he or she better hope we never meet face to face.

On the other hand, if I were the author and I wanted to make a life this.....interesting....I would throw in lots of perks to make my character sympathetic, like family and friends and incredible moments of beauty and serendipity. And that certainly has happened. Happened often, especially if I pay attention, stay in the moment.

If someone were reading your one precious story, how would you want it to go next? What crazy thing would you do to make the plot move in the direction you and your higher power would cheer for? Are you one of those people who seems to be writing your own story, an author planning and executing each chapter to suit your intended ending? Or are you like me, not sure what the next chapter will bring but trying to be the best character in the story you can be, not able to see two chapters ahead, much less to the end? Knowing if this were a movie, all the loose ends must be tied up and a happy ending is necessary to satisfy the audience--the lovers will find each other again, the sheriff will win the shootout, the cops will bring in the bad guys--but that's not how real life works.

Yeah, I wish I could believe in happy endings, but that seems to only happen in massage parlors and Steven Spielberg movies. My life is more like the Cohen brothers. I never know what will happen next, but I can be pretty sure it's not what I had planned, and fuck me, I hope that's not a chipper/shredder in the next scene. Guess I'll just keep writing and see where it all goes.

* Of course, I want nothing more than to be perfect. And yet, I know the perfect story isn't told by perfect characters.


  1. I identify with everything you wrote here.

    I am happy that I manage to pull images from my confusing inner depths, but I sense my words slipping away. Sometimes my own story feels like cold and silent illustration.

    I imagine myself gesturing dumbly at the end of my life, pointing at a pile of pictures, still trying to make myself heard.

    I appreciate your skill at dragging honest insight from your life onto the page.

  2. Thanks, Genie. You don't seem to need words. Your art speaks so clearly and evokes an individual response in each heart. Words are as slippery as Jello shots. There are times when I'm struck utterly dumb just when I need most to say something honest and important, or when I try and fail miserably to communicate, as if my words went through a telephone game for a group of five-year-olds after they left my fingers. Sometimes I think I've written pure drivel and someone else hears something vital there that I didn't see.

    Life needs illustration. <3

  3. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" from Summer Day by Mary Oliver.

    What a fabulous piece this is! I love reading your writing. I've been so busy writing about what has already happened -- and happened so long ago - I doubt if I could project where this "one wild and precious life" is headed next. Every day brings new changes and challenges -- most of them completely unplanned.

    My hope is for you and your "one wild and precious life". May it be glorious! May it be as adventurous and exciting as you wish! May you find the love you deserve! May you find the inner peace waiting within you!

  4. you're definitely not the only one.

    when i plan my life story, it turns out stifling and dull.

    when i express a fervent intention, the universe bends over backward for me and the resulting story is amazing. it's the universe that writes me.

  5. From your fingers to the great author in the sky, Ron. ;-)

    And Lindsay, good on you for making the universe bend over. Definitely something it deserves least in my story.

  6. I am really short on words right now, but I just wanted to tell you that this is beautiful. I have always been a long term planner, and have almost always had things lined up for myself in terms of where I was going. Things happen...maybe just growing up and being in the "real world," I don't know...but I suddenly feel like my vision and ability to write my story is very short-term. I have no idea what the hell is going to happen before the day is out, how can I plan what will happen a month or a year or 5 years from now?

    That's sort of what I mean but not really. I can't really put words on it, so I'm giving up...but you should know that this post has stuck with me. <3

  7. Thanks, Laura. I'm glad it even made sense, given I wrote it while I was waiting for my daughter to call me so I could meet her at the hospital and help her have a baby.

  8. I used to always be planning and figuring out my story and where I wanted it to go and how to get it there. When it went off kilter, I just planned some more. In the last 5 years I feel like I'm just wandering. No plan. Just oozing through. Not good.

  9. I hear you,Kristen. I often feel like I'm just along for the ride and no amount of planning or dreaming affects the story. The plot always twists in a direction I didn't imagine. Predictability has not haunted my story....but I don't imagine I would tolerate predictability all that well if it did find me.

  10. My Life always was a Drama, planned and executed and then evaluated and criticized by that nagging, Objective Critic who has refused to leave my head all these years. Everything I've ever done has required carefully orchestrated scenery, scripting, and even the proper costume changes...

    I failed to recognize, when I was young, that despite my egotistical expectations, the Great Director (Fate? Chance? Whatever...) didn't necessarily recognize my desire for that lead role, and on many occasions I found myself demoted to Side Kick, or even a Bit Player or silent walk on, as the Drama unfolded around me but not ABOUT me. ;-)

    And the genre keeps changing, and like any good actor, I must constantly adapt, evolve, to the demands of my role: no more the Grand Adventure, or Thriller I'd anticipated...the years of "Intellectually Pretentious Foreign Art Film" are long gone...Happy Domestic Comedy often played side-by-side with some melodrama suited to nothing but LifeTime Television. Lately, it seems the script I've been handed has me pondering how best to express my new role, something along the lines of "quiet British drama"--you know the type: low key, quirky, often set in a small backwater where Ordinary Characters reveal occasionally extraordinary dreams and behaviors, but ultimately Life closes back over them like a peaceful river, hiding the turbulent depths, as all seek to learn, with grace and acceptance, how best to flow downstream to journey's end. :-D

  11. Beautifully written, Becky. And so you.