Keepin’ stereotypes alive.”
Sometimes when I am in the studio my Memaw Susie’s voice kind of melds with mine and before I know it there’s this strange hybrid of the two of us saying things like “Now. How can we go about effectively dandying this up?” all up in my head. This is while I’m turning something special –a porcelain hand, a business journal dated sometime in nineteen-nineteen, a length of rusty-and-twisted wire– over with my fingertips.
There are so many things up there in my escape room (a plain-yet-apt name) that lay there humming. Some chance to sing when I pick them up; this is how I decide what I’ll keep pulled out so that I can stare at it loudly and expect something to happen. My fingertips listen for the want(s) of the thing, trying to decipher if it will be the focal point of something whose elements have yet to be drawn together and arranged or if it will be used to subtly pull the eye toward some other highlight altogether.
Two broken wall hooks, a cigar box, a heavy brass mail door (with! keys! hallelujah!) sidle up to one another and become a sweet treasure box that is pretending to be art. An old eight-by-ten of a stoic group, snippets of text from various magazines and newspapers, a castaway picture frame all jostle and slide until there is poetry: a free-form mishmosh amalgamation of philosophy gleaned from this dying age we’re trying to pass off as all hopeful rather than incredulous.
Tonight, while straightening then cutting lengths of baling wire, I marveled once again at the greasy black-smoke condition of my palms, the mark of handling raw material and manhandling it with purpose. It put me in mind of photographs from my father’s creakingly heavy album, the one that catalogs his time in country. Cinched up between its covers are faces and faces and faces of young men with smoke and sweat and trouble smeared all across them. That, or freshly-scrubbed and thick with drunkenness, no trace of a uniform in sight, arms crooked about the necks of a variety of little Vietnamese women, so dainty.
I am not particularly a student of history, but I like for the things around me to allude to having a story that is ready to be conveyed. There is richness in this, in having a story, and I sometimes I am struck by how many options we are afforded in order to get that story across.
People e-mail me on the fair regular with snippets of this or that, wanting my take on something. I give it to them (sometimes it takes a minute, but I try to accommodate). We all have something to give and we all have something to take, right? “Give enough so that the amount of your taking isn’t bastardy, and then give ten more percent on top of that.” is one of my life mottoes. There are others; we may or may not get around to talking about them sometime.
Sometimes people e-mail me and ask my advice on telling a story. WHAT??!? You might as well ask me how to blink.
“Just, um, do it.”
That seems glib and haughty, though, right? Right. So I never give complete answers, just disjointed approximations of tips and a virtual neck-hug before I send the soul foolish enough to ask me, of all people, back out into the world. How am I a suitable candidate for teaching anyone a dang thing?
While I was at my father’s, attending to the Mathematics of Cancer (now THAT is an almost-complete other post for another time altogether), the mechanics of telling a story came together and I wrote them down on the back of a receipt from a convenience store gas station deli combo joint: Its name, hysterically enough, is ‘Kum & Go’. It’s printed right there on the receipt that contains my Big Ideas About Storytelling. The Universe will always find a way to keep you humble, there Shotgun.
The list has five points on it. They are, exactly as I first penned them on the back of that now-crinkled receipt, as follows:
I want you to listen to their stories.
I want you to listen to how they tell their stories.
I want you to pay attention to the language.
I want you to find the song in their stories.
Breathe life to that song.
That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. So either you learn to pay attention to several different aspects of an experience, or you learn to take a pass or five at it after it’s up there in your Rememberator so that you can squeeze all the juice out of it.
One thing, though….I was in such a hurry to get those handy-dandy tips down that I left out an obvious preface: Go into the world and find people. Interact with them in some way….actively, passively, whatever; I don’t give a shit about the niggling details. Then you are ready to move on to Point the First.
And then (this here is the fun bit) you are ready to hear, “Now. How can we go about effectively dandying this up?”
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This looks incredible. Hollywood is trying to get better and tell stories worthy of this world, I think. God bless the writers, every messy last one of us.