Monday, September 14, 2009

The Story of Storytelling, Part 1: Dream Bigger

Livin’ on the road my friend was gonna keep you free and clean Now you wear your skin like iron, your breath’s as hard as kerosene You weren’t your mama’s only boy, but her favorite one it seems Began to cry when you said, “Goodbye,” sank in to your dreams --Townes Van Zandt, “Pancho & Lefty” I want to run away from home. This might seem a little odd. I mean, there’s only one of me here at my home. If I run away there will be none. What, then, is there to run away from? That’s where the story gets interesting. See, other than a brief period when I was out at Western I think I’ve always thought, sometimes in the back of my mind, sometimes right out at the front, that I want to run away from home. I want to leave everything behind, live free with neither ropes to bind me nor nets to catch me. But I’m afraid to do that. I’ve always been careful, a planner, the guy who knows all his contingency plans and doesn’t bother to figure out his main goal. I think one of the reasons I like Seneca, Jessi Lynn, and Sarah Peacock so much is because they’re people who are out living their dreams with no questions, no regrets. I decided years ago that I wanted to live a life sans regrets. I think I missed that by about a mile. I’ve been too scared of failure to try. Lack of try means lots of regret. So here I am at twenty-eight. I still want to run away from home. That’s a theme that works its way through the things I write and the stories I tell. The story I’m still technically working on over at Right Behind oozes running away. I wrote an entire novel that shall probably never see the light of day on the subject. “Jimmy’s Journey,” that story that I kept going back to, is about running away. I want to run away from home. In my dreams of what I’d be when I grew up the words “Business Analyst” never appeared. It’s like that commercial from the Super Bowl a couple years ago with little kids saying things like, “When I grow up I want to claw my way up to middle management.” Nobody actually says that. It’s why it’s funny. It’s also why it’s sad. Growing up seems to require a point when you give up your dreams. It seems you have to stop doing what you want in order to do that which is necessary, expedient, safe. But, really, who wants to actually claw their way up to middle management? Who wants to see someone from way back and say, “Yep, I’m a Business Analyst now. Livin’ the dream, don’tcha know…” I’ve actually learned something interesting over the course of the last year or so as I’ve started to self-identify as a storyteller. People respond to it. Seriously, if it weren’t for my overall complete ineptitude when it comes to the female gender it would be a fantastic pick up line. Because when you say, “I’m a Business Analyst,” people think, “How boring.” When you say, “I’m an aspiring novelist,” they think, “So you’re poor? Awesome.” When you say, “I’m a storyteller,” people say, “That’s cool. Tell me a story.” For the record, I always fall flat on my face with that one. I mean, it always, always takes me by surprise. I’m beginning to think that I have a learning disability or something. “I’m a storyteller,” is followed by, “Cool, tell me a story.” What’s so hard to figure out about that? Anyway, I decided a couple days ago that I need to do something about this. Option 1 is to stop self-identifying as a storyteller (which is, admittedly, the easier of the two options I figured out). But I like being a storyteller. And, as of Saturday, I’m technically (by the widest possible definition) a professional storyteller. See, people actually gave us money for the set we did on Saturday night. I think I’ll be getting, like, 20 bucks. It’s not exactly a rent payment, but it’s pretty cool. Definitely the best twenty bucks I’ve ever made, too. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, what to do after I tell someone I’m a storyteller and they’re inevitably all, “Tell me a story. Dance, monkey! Dance!” I need some “back pocket” stories. Something short -- just a minute or two --, that I can just pull out of my back pocket and tell. That’s not really what I was intending to talk about here. But, hey, whatever. Let’s go with it. Storytellers are an odd lot. I mean, there’s probably very little that you can do that will elicit the sort of response I get to declaring myself a storyteller. You don’t say, “I’m a banker,” and hear, “Hey, awesome, write up some business loans while I sit here and watch.” If I say, “I’m a Business Analyst,”* I don’t then hear people say, “Neat. Tell me about supply chain expenditures.” It just doesn’t come up. But people just expect storytellers to tell them a story. And you know what? Storytellers will tell you a fucking story. They’ll tell you two, then three, then a dozen stories if you let them. They’ll probably sit and listen to you tell a few if you want and even comment on ‘em and might even encourage you to work at it a little more. Storytellers, at least the ones I’ve met, love stories. We just do. That’s probably why we do it and it’s how those of us who have found ourselves doing it know that it’s our, for lack of a better term, calling.** So I want to run away from home. Wait. That transition doesn’t make any sense? It’s simple, really. I want to follow my dreams. To borrow from someone who’s actually following hers (considering that I've already shamelessly stolen the "dream bigger" idea from her, it's only fair that I continue in my unoriginality): I got a whole lot of ground to cover So I put one foot in front of the other Stand back and watch the sparks fly --Jessi Lynn, “Someday Soon” I want to run away from home. Woeful Budgie asked how I got in to storytelling. I hope everyone realizes that there is no simple way for me to tell that one. I mean, if you want short and simple then you’re in the wrong place. And running a front-to-back narrative is kind of boring. Also, I’ve been reading way too much Weschler for my own good lately and trying to figure out how to tell stories that move through time. Kinda like Slaughterhouse Five, I guess, but with fewer Tralfamadorians. And, y’know, a less deterministic outlook. So before I begin what may or may not be an anticlimactic tale (I mean, consider the setup!), remember this one thing: I’m twenty-eight years old. I live alone. And I want to run away from home. That seems important for some reason. -------------------------------- *Which, for the record, I never, ever do. That’s just silly. **”Calling” is, for me, a loaded word. In the world I formerly inhabited to have a calling was to do what god told you to. I don’t so much go for that any more. However, I do still believe in the idea of the calling. However, these days I see it more as recognizing that this particular thing is calling out to me. It’s a siren’s song, irresistible, prepared to break the vessel of whatever else it was I wanted to do and leave me with no choice but to embrace it and hang on for dear life.


bluefrog said...

Professional storyteller! That's so cool! Whatever else you do, grab that, hang on, and don't let go.

big a said...

"Growing up seems to require a point when you give up your dreams. It seems you have to stop doing what you want in order to do that which is necessary, expedient, safe."

Not sure I really agree with you here. In growing up you realize you're not superman and that shit happens. You develop the maturity to take joy in the contentment and consistency of working a job that, while maybe not the best in the world (or even what you'd hoped for), allows you to make plans with friends or family, have a comfortable and safe place to live, and just generally not go through life in a constant state of fear, misery, and powerlessness.

"Living the dream" is often dangerous, and many adults come to realize that the danger associated with them trying to "live the dream" isn't worth it. This doesn't make them cowards, sellouts, or quitters - it makes them humans who've realized "the dream" isn't what they thought it'd be.

Adults also often grow and change in their priorities - the dream to run around the country as a rock n' roll band in your 20s may become the dream of giving your children a meaningful education in your 40s.

In short I guess what I'm saying is that one should pursue their dreams to the best of their ability when they can, as much as they can, for as long as it suits them. If and/or when the time comes that they should suspend or change that dream, they should embrace that as part of the life experience - rather than racking themsleves with artificial guilt because things didn't work out the way they'd planned back when they didn't know what they know now.

p.s. there's no such thing as life with no regrets, but it behooves us to do the best we can to minimize them.

p.p.s. These comments aren't necessarily directed personally towards you, but are more my general philosophical musings, so be sure to consider them in that vein.

Fiat Lex said...

Yes! *claps hands* Tell us a story about telling stories!

Stories are what people use to organize our personalities! We need stories like we need water, or gravity, or salt.

Remember when I went through that phase where I'd start out conversations with, "So, tell me a story"? It was really surprising how often I got a story. People want to be heard, and they love the feeling that someone else thinks they have something to say that's worth hearing.

Of course people ask you to tell them a story! When people ask you what you do, what they're digging for in the first place is the story of what you do. They want to imagine you doing the things that keep you alive and living indoors. Being a storyteller, you don't have to make them imagine! You can show them, which is infinitely more memorable! And entertain them in the process, which is a cool bonus for all concerned. (They for being entertained, you for demonstrating that you have the power to entertain. Which when you think about it is a very powerful power.)

So tell us that story, Ged-man!

And please feel free to test out your supply of anecdotes anytime. :D I have missed having a constant hilarious and/or instructive anecdotes in the last year and a half, and am always eager to find new sources.