Recently on Facebook, an old college friend posted a photo of his first wedding to another of my old college friends. And when I say they are my friends, I’m talking about Facebook friends. I haven’t connected with either of them since 1980. I’m only friends with them because, like most authors, I’ll friend anybody who I think might possibly read. Anyway, I’d moved away by the time these two married, but I heard about it, and I’ll admit, I was surprised. Last I’d seen them, he and she were both actively gay. I figured it a marriage of convenience and let it go at that. The marriage didn’t last. So I gathered from Facebook. But not only did it not last, she left a seething comment below the photo calling him a spoiled, two-timing, cock-sucking, asshole! She said: And both your ex-wives hate you! Is that clear?
Wow. A gay man marrying a woman twice? A woke lesbian using such a homophobic term? What’s the story there? I was dying to know. Stiil am. Not enough to reach out, I have no desire to dive into their mess. But how did they get from point A to point B? And why? Immediately, my mind starts spitting out scenarios because I am obsessed with story. True. Fictional. A mixture. I’m all in.
Which is no doubt why I’ve crafted a life surrounded by stories. I write them on paper, improvise them on stage, midwife them in workshops. Stories hold my world together. Help me understand who I am, and who I’m not. They give me containers for my experiences. They ignite my imagination. Beginning, middle, and end. We’re born, we live, we die. How succinct. How perfect. What’s more, stories hold histories, issue warnings, give us a place to crow about our achievements, to seek solace for our sorrows. There’s really no escaping them.
As a teenager I learned just enough guitar chords to be able to play some of the old English ballads. You know, those sad songs with a million verses. I’d sit alone in my room, door shut, and croon those stories back to life.
T’was eighteen hundred and forty-six on March the eighteen day, when we hoisted our colors to the top of the mast and for Greenland sailed away, brave boys, for Greenland sailed away….
To this day, my favorite songwriters are storytellers. Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Robert Earl Keen. Their songs tell some good stories!
As for the stories that lie between book covers, I can’t tell you how disappointed I get when I read one that’s all beautiful descriptions, lovely sentences, but no story. I’m like… Why? Don’t get me wrong, for a story to grab hold of my heart, it must be told well. A writer has to know how to wield language to paint the picture for me. I want rhythm. I want heightening. I want a reason to turn the page.
There’s another kind of story too. The personal ones we tell ourselves. The I-don’t-like-potatoes-because-my-mother-always-made-me-eat-potatoes stories. These stories can actually trap us—because after so many tellings, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing them to be true. Or believing our story to be static. And stories are anything but! Stories change. They are alive. They are many faceted. Look at a story from another perspective, or in a different mood, and its soul will change before your eyes. They change with time too. A potluck potato mistakenly eaten is deemed the most delicious thing ever. The story morphs into I-don’t-like-potatoes-because-my-mother-always-made-me-eat-potatoes-but-then-crazy-me-I-went-to-a-potluck-and-found-out-I-like-them. So, methinks, it is best to hold our personal stories lightly. It keeps them from hardening into crusty ruts.
I’ve found this true when writing fiction too. I’ve killed off characters only to revive them in a subsequent rewrite. In Bait and Witch, coming out this November, I completely deleted a character to give the story a bit more pop. I mean, the guy was seriously dragging it down.
Fortunately for me, Dixie likes stories too. On road trips when passing a sign like Booger Hollow, one of us will ask, “Do you know how it got its name?” “Yes!” is the reply, followed by the most outlandish story you can think of.
So my question is this: what do you think happened between my two gay Facebook friends and their failed marriage? Hmmm?
That’s it for today.
Remember: Live the love! It’s all we’ve got.