Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I am a storyteller. I can't say anything without telling a story. When I see something strange, it looks like a story. When I hear a new name, I wonder what a character named that would be like. When I find out about something that makes my insides seethe and boil and yearn to lash out and spread the burning, I wonder how to tell the story that will light the wildfire.

I have always been a storyteller. Many well-intentioned people have tried to change that, but since they aren't God and they don't know anything about rewriting DNA, they haven't had much success. One of their last ditch attempts to recall me to normality, to force me into a shape they can cope with, is a quasi-question: "But what is story good for?"

I say quasi-question because they believe they know the answer: Nothing. And that's what I usually say, because to me this is a question like "What's the good of oxygen?" or "Why do we bother with this whole living thing anyway?" The only response I've ever had is a long, blank stare. I'm good at stares.

I have an answer now. It's a story.

I'm taking Drawing. We work with 18" by 24" drawing pads, which is small in the world of Art but huge when you only have forty minutes of class time left. One of the things about drawing is that you have to be close to the paper to work, but you can't actually see what you're drawing without backing up at least six feet. (Someday someone will make a bird's eye view of an art class and it will look like a firework of people running back and forth.) You can draw or you can see what you're drawing, but you can't do both. It's like working blind.

When you're alive, it's like you're drawing. Every action (line) or inaction (negative space) makes a mark on your paper. Your paper might be huge or it might be small, but either way, you can't really see what you're drawing. You only see each individual mark. This is like looking back on the last week and to you it looks like milk in the living room carpet and too much chocolate, and to someone else, standing six feet away, it looks like mentoring a desperate teenager looking for more than he has and not yelling at your kids for being persistently, well, children.

This is what story is good for. Story steps back. Story says, yes, this looks like hodge-podge normality from where you stand, but over here it's beautiful. Or hideous. Or confusing. Or boring. Story can't lie. It can try, but you wouldn't believe how hard it is to tell a lie with story. Story is, by it's nature, truth.

True 'stories' include Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stories look at something accepted and/or ignored, and tell you what it looks like from six feet away. And once you know what it looks like six feet away, you still remember that even when you're up close. It changes everything. That's how one novel, a harmless, helpless story, swept a nation and planted the spark to light the wildfire. That's why slavery is no longer an acceptable resident in the United States.

This is what story is for. And this is what I would tell the people who try to reshape me, except the people who try to change me aren't the people who listen to me anyway, so I won't.

But at least my stare won't be blank anymore.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - what a great analogy. It reminds me of the story (or poem?) about how we're weaving in the loom of life and can't see how it all turns out in the end.

    And I *love* that you tell stories. (: