Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff — complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah, U.S.A.
End of July, 2017
“What do you do?” We ask each other that question when first getting acquainted. We want a category label that summarizes identity and suggests how we make a living. When asked I usually say “I’m a storyteller.” That produces quizzical looks – people wonder if that’s a real job and if I get paid for it.
Storytelling is an ancient activity and I’m pleased to count myself in that long tradition of using imaginative narrative to make sense of this life.
Storytellers don’t deal in facts or information – and they don’t tell people what to think. They give you a framework for thinking about complex things in a simple, lucid way so that they make sense. Think of your favorite stories . . .
THE WAY OF THE ONGOING STORY
Here are five arrows of thought aimed at an idea that’s been churning around in my mind all week. At the center is a story that could be told:
1. In an African Village, when a story teller comes near to the end of his tale, he places the palm of his hand on the ground and says, “I put down my story here – so that someone else may take it up another day.”
2. In sub-Saharan Africa, poets and storytellers are called “the keepers of the waterholes.” Meaning they are responsible for the well-springs of truth.
3. In the film, Out of Africa, Isaac Dinesen, the great Danish writer (played by Meryl Streep) is at dinner with Denys Finch-Hatton, the love of her life (played by Robert Redford). He says, “We should have a story.” And she says that when she tells stories to her nieces in Denmark, they always give her the first line.
Denys says, “There was a wandering Chinese man named Cheng Huan, living in Limehouse, and a girl named . . . Shirley.”
A light goes on in Streep’s eyes and she continues, “who spoke perfect Chinese, and . . .” From that beginning an enchanting tale is spun to its end, leaving the listeners mesmerized, charmed, and enlightened.
(No I won’t tell you the story – go to You-Tube – “Out of Africa Scenes – the Story” – and see for yourself!)
4. From time to time, something I wrote comes back to me in an altered form.
Once I attended a wedding as the guest of a friend, even though I didn’t know the bride and groom. The marriage ceremony was an adaption from a ceremony in one of my books – perfectly tailored to this particular bride and groom and situation.
I was extremely pleased.
And I didn’t say anything to anybody – and never even met the bride and groom.
Things were just as they should be.
I was told that one participant at a gathering of English teachers told a story that was based on another story in one of my books – adapting it to specifics of her personal experience, and carrying the idea on to a better place than where I had left it.
This pleased me.
I don’t think of it as plagiarism in the least.
It is the Way of the Ongoing Story – just as it should be.
5. People ask me if the stories I tell are true, and I answer with these questions:
Is the joke a comedian tells true?
Is the painting made by an artist true?
Is the story line in a song true?
Are the stories in the Bible true?
Are fairytales true?
Is the story you tell of episodes in your own life true?
Or is their power in that they contain truth wrapped in a memorable form?
We live as if the truth served on the plate of embellished imagination is what makes it bearable and usable and unforgettable,
To illustrate what I mean, I will tell you a story at the center of those five arrows.
Once upon a time, not so long ago or so far away, there was a young woman named Shirley who went out into the world to seek her fortune – she wanted to be able to distinguish truth from fiction – and one day she . . .
There. That’s enough.
I put my story down here for you to pick up and carry on . . .