A date once asked me what my favorite thing in life was. My standard survival tactic for all small talk is to answer and then repeat the question back to the person asking. As I was hoping he didn’t notice my parrot like tactics, he said his favorite thing was stories. My world lit up like tin foil in a conventional microwave. Of course! I don’t remember what my answer was but it was lame compared to this and I immediately wanted to take it back. Stories are the only thing that I can remember on a regular basis. If you asked me to write a history book from memory it would be light on all the names and dates we were supposed to memorize in school but you’d have enough stories to wallow around in ’til the pigs came home. (Yes, I did say pigs. As far as I know cows don’t wallow, and since I eat beef, but not pork, the cows might never come home.) I’m not sure I like stories as much as Kristen Bell likes sloths but then again, I’m not sure I like anything as much as that.
Stories have taken a prominent position in my mind this week because I’m taking Scott Myers’ (@GoIntotheStory on Twitter) Prep: From Concept to Outline class. As I wrestle near infinite possibilities down to a single narrative, I’ve been thinking about how the telling of a story with the same basic facts can change the meaning and message. I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation interview with Rez Life author, David Treuer, and he said something extraordinary. What if we don’t talk about Indian reservations in a negative light all the time? What if instead we talk about reservations as having a surplus of everything? A surplus of everything from community to poverty. (See an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview in a tiny link next to his picture here.) Another book, How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston poses the hypothesis that if blacks in the US had a program, like Greek and Jewish kids have Greek School and Jewish School, where we can celebrate our history we might feel new pride and possibilities in being black. With my current crusade to give the black kids in my former junior high some hope, (see last weeks post) I realize how I frame the story of African-American history could be the difference between a life of opportunity and one of hopelessness for some of these kids.
As a writer, I am a storyteller. A storyteller has the power of shaping history, reporting the present, and dreaming the future. Choose the stories you tell with care fellow storytellers, the telling of them is what makes them real.