In my humble opinion, it takes a pretty big ego to say or even claim one is a writer. I’m still working on that. What I think I am is a story teller, which is a very different animal. Writers aren’t always good story tellers and vice versa…a story teller is often a lousy writer. In very rare situations you do find a person who can handle both.
Stephen King comes to mind, Mark Twain was the ultimate story telling writer and I would love to meet Jessamyn West some day at Starbucks just to hear her stories (yes, I know she has passed but I’d still like to talk with her).
See, writing is about rules and structure. Story telling is more free form. A writer can write something very learned and even readable as long as he sticks with the norm, stays on the path. A story teller, on the other hand, just as often wanders off into the brush chasing rabbits and deer before bringing you, the listener, back around to an ending you never saw coming.
And here’s the thing, the story teller’s tale does NOT have to sound the same the next time it is told. Stories are alive, they live and breathe, they grow and change with the audience, the teller, the time they are told. A story floats in time. It can begin yesterday when you thought of it, or it can begin two years ago when you made the decision to turn right instead of left. It can end now, at the telling, but it can go on in time to the next telling and the next, never really ending.
A story can be true or it can be a lie, but a good story teller always makes you at least WANT to believe.
I have stories always waiting to be told. I can tell at least two stories about a visit to Boston, one about a visit to Montreal and probably several about my travels in Haiti. I met and talked with Al Unser in Albuquerque, NM in 1965, fell for the old broken-part-on-your-car-but-there’s-only-one- in-town-and-it’ll-cost-$300 scam in a little gas station in Arizona and toured the Texas-Mexico border with the border patrol. I’ve lived through a flood, witnessed a helicopter crash, seen horrible things that tear at the soul, and I can tell you stories about all of it.
Lately, I’ve been doing genealogical research and the most important thing that I’ve discovered is that we all have stories. Stories tell us who we are and sometimes even why we are who we are. No one tells a story about something unimportant to them so stories also tell us about the teller.
I know stories about my generation and have been told stories about the previous generation. I know those people and I can tell the next generation about them. That family history deserves to live on when the people are gone. I’ve heard it said that we never really die until our name is never again spoken. Our stories keep us alive.
I have a real fascination with words, their meanings, their origins, their evolution, so it’s not lost on me that the root word of history is story. As I’ve learned about my ancestors, I can’t help but learn about the daily life they saw and experienced, the world events they lived. It’s made history come alive for me in a way school history classes never did.
I started out telling stories with photos, the gradually I found my words, but a few years ago, I lost my “story vision,” that part of me that saw the stories all around me. I’m working to get that back. Over the next few blogs, the weeks or months I am able to keep this up, I want to tell stories of my family and find new stories that can speak to my readers. The other day, in my car at a red light, I looked over and the lady in the car next to me, also waiting, sat with her face buried in her hands, sobbing. There was a story there, but the light changed and as we have all been trained and must, traffic moved on. I’ll never know that story, but I will continue to watch for the stories that I can know, listen to the stories of others and more importantly, tell them so the lessons, understood or not, are not lost.