What I am is a story-hearer. More than that, a story-elicitor. And sometimes, a story-composter, in that i take other people's stories, turn them over, and discover the little new potatoes growing voluntarily out of the mulch they threw away back there when they didn't know the value of it.
I zero in on people's stories. Hone in like a laser beam. Too intense. Too nosy. I want all the details. I was the kid who asked the inappropriate questions. Not just the sexual ones--the overly-personal, probing, sensitive questions. Of course in the time and place I was raised, a lot of things were considered inappropriate which have since become no big deal. But I'm interested in what is a big deal to people. the stumbling blocks, the obstacles, the overcoming, the worst moments, the best moments, the moments when clarity emerged.
This is what I do in my classes and consultations with people who want to write their stories. This is the thing that is effortless for me to do; ask those questions, look under those rocks.
It always amazes me, how much willingness I am met with by the students. I guess they are a self-selecting group. mostly they come to the classes because they want to tell their stories. They are courageous and willing to dig deeper.
I know plenty of people who either have written a book-length memoir, or are in the process of writing one. I look at my own life, and I don't see a book-length narrative there. What would the central theme be? I went in search of meaning, adventure, encounters with reality? There have been numerous small adventures, and I have written about them in small essays. My dad wants me to do a book of non-fiction. But I can't think of what the story would be. Perhaps my story is simply one of listening to other people's stories and perhaps that is enough.
As I write this, C is cleaning out his car. We are going to leave early for Ashland tomorrow, to see my dad and stepmother and to see plays. I have finished the Recruiter--now called Human Error--and sent it to a few places. I finally finally finally finished. it/ I had announced the final draft so many times no one believed me any more. My friends had received too many emails, with : this is the final version, followed quickly by another email stating, "No--this. No--this."
I lost face. I lost credibility. I injured myself, my shoulder, with too many hours at the computer. I lost track of how many drafts I put the thing through. I stripped it down to the studs, not once, but three or four times, eliminating major characters, adding other ones, completely changing the plot, the chronology--everything about the story changed except for a few essentials, which I held onto.
They were stories I had been told, which I felt responsible for, like stray animals that had shown up on my doorstep. One was the story my friend Bob, an organizer who worked at a center advocating for soldiers who wanted to get out of the military told me, about a young man who had been told that the only way he could come home would be if he agreed to act as a recruiter at his old high school. I've been holding that story for about 12 years.
The other story I heard more recently, at a writing retreat. A fellow artist who knew the subject matter of what I was working on told me a story about a soldier he knew who was about to re-deploy to iraq. He woke up one morning to see his wife standing over him holding a gun. "I was trying to figure out where on your body I could shoot you to maim but not kill," she told him. She was so desperate to keep him Stateside,. to keep him safe, she was willing to shoot him.
Those two stories form the basis of the play. Onto their skeletons I hung all that I have learned about marriage these last few years. I am so relieved to be done that it almost doesn't matter what happens to the play now. Of course I would love for it to be successful and for me to make some actual money. Actual money is a refreshing concept. But whatever it is, I did the best job I could and now I'm free to move on to the next thing. And that feels incredible.