05
Sep
08

Story meets Life

My friend Eric tells great stories. I don’t mean that he makes up his own stories, or he tells tales of legends of old around a campfire, or anything. He just tells great, engaging, often hilarious stories about things he’s actually done and lived through. Like the time the transmission went out on his van and he tried to get it home by sitting in it to steer while his pal RC pushed the thing uphill toward a busy intersection and braking just in time to avoid disaster and praying to God the nearby cops didn’t bust ’em.

Eric’s got stories like that. I don’t. I mean, I tell stories about how my day went, and the bullshit I had to put up with at work, or nutty person I ran into on the bus. . .but never stories like that. Stories of real danger and crazy hijinks, often involving alcohol. Stories of narrow escapes from calamitous fates and real life that isn’t spent in front of a computer screen wishing for adventure in my life and seeking it through shared imagining and rolling dice.

Now, sure, a lot of Eric’s stories are the result of questionable judgment (like ignoring his wife’s advice to call a tow truck). . .but I envy him just the same. He lives a life of experiences, real ones, while I read books an watch movies and play characters and yearn. I don’t live a life of ducking danger, flouting authority, or daring escapades. I live a life of thought, not action.

The Society for Creative Anachronisms calls these “No shit, there I was” stories. I’ve enjoyed nights around a campfire hearing story after story of these funny, endearing, and outrageous life experiences. And silently regretted that I don’t have a “No shit” story. Not even close.

When I think about bringing story and everyday life together, this is what comes to mind. But what do I really want? A life of foolhardy danger? Less common sense than the little I already have? An existence divorced from the joys and responsibilities of founding a stable family?

Maybe I do. Or maybe I just want meaning in some form, and I instinctively grok that meaning comes not from thinking, but from doing.

Peace,

-Joel

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8 Responses to “Story meets Life”


  1. September 5, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Well, this gets dangerously close to treading on the “telling you how to live your life” territory, but … what the heck! I’m arrogant that way.

    Poor judgment is not the only way to get yourself into entertaining situations … it’s just the one that gets you into situations that are entertaining because they’re REALLY DANGEROUS.

    However, risk is only one sort of adversity. If you end up in a social situation where you are understandably pressed to your limits, then the story of that will be entertaining (whether you handled it with aplomb, bombed it with charming lack of finesse, or whatever).

    The question is not, I think, danger per se: It’s how close you are to the limits of your capabilities. If you always do things that you are confident you will succeed at then you will never find entertaining stories in your life.

    So, in order to step off the “How to live your life” bit … I suspect that you already have grist for good stories, you just aren’t looking for it correctly, because your exposure to “life of adventure” stories has made you question the entertainment value of your own softer tales.

    Look at situations where you’ve been stretching yourself … where you were trying something for the first time, and probably where it went a little horribly wrong. Some of that is just sad, miserable failure: But sometimes, in those situations, wierd unpredictable, -unfair- things happen. Life is perverse. Those wierd obstacles make for good stories.

    That’s my two cents.

  2. 2 storybythethroat
    September 5, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Hey, Tony. No worries; I’m the one who held my life up for scrutiny. :)

    I think you’ve got a good point: “pressed to your limits” is a great metric for an interesting human experience, hence interesting story. It fits nicely with the Story by the Throat credo, in fact: “Characters showing what they’re made of.” A person under pressure is a person who will show us something interesting or funny or heartbreaking or triumphant.

    So with THAT principle in mind I think you’re right; I do have good stories in my life. They’re popping into my head now, one after the other. I think my frustration with my funny and tragic failures creates a blind spot–I want to tell stories where I’m the triumphant hero! I have a couple of those, but not nearly as many. I suppose that’s pretty normal.

    This is making me think harder about part of SbtT’s mission statement: bringing Story to everyday life. I need to think less in terms of making Story happen, and more in terms of drawing out the story that’s already there.

  3. September 6, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Joel and Tony, both of you have given ways of bringing out interesting stories: dangerous hijinx and testing human limits. I read your post, Tony, as saying that you are defining *the* basis of good, human stories. If I’m reading ungenerously, my bad.

    Either way, I think that isn’t the only reliable formula for good storytelling.

    Joel, you find your friend’s crazy hijinx stories riveting. The story you just described above does not amuse me or capture me in the least. I’m betting that’s because I’m lacking the context with which to appreciate it – I don’t yet have reasons to care for this man’s safety, I don’t understand what his smirk-in-the-face-of-danger looks like, whatever.

    Context is a way of adding significance to a story.

    I submit: A good story is created when people add significance to the words they speak. Context, tone, implication, exploration of why it matters to them…

    I have a friend who I’ll rename Jones for now. Jones and I and one other guy were driving back from Seattle one rainy night. We were looking off into the sheets of rain and the rolling countryside. The music playing was soft but full of hooks. Jones starts to explain how in high school, he was always falling madly, passionately in love with girls. He would write them poetry, stay up until 3am making them mix tapes, write their names in his journal. He’d never just go up to them and talk.

    We’re tuned in to the utmost at this point. Jones glances over at us for a moment, then back to the road. “It’s weird, but I’ve never gotten used to the idea that important things are allowed to be simple. I felt like if I didn’t combat a wall of angst and frustration, that it would never work out. I never ended up even talking to most of the girls.”

    We go silent and become, once again, entranced by the rain.

    Best story ever. Really, it captured so many things that I want to feel when I hear a story. It was made good by: the rain, the music, the darkness, the hillsides we were passing by, the low hum of the engine, his thoughtful tone, that moment when he glanced at us, how it spoke to both the things we know about him and the things we don’t, how I saw pieces of myself in his story, how he gave us all the tools we required to become closer to him.

    No hijinx. Arguably no great stretch of human capacity. Just honesty given significance.

    I hereby submit that one way to create good story is to give simple actions and events significance. However mundane. It can most certainly be stories about the weather or your job.

  4. 4 storybythethroat
    September 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Yeah, Joe, I think that’s exactly how I present the “my day at work” stories that I do tell; also, I know my audience. Like, with my wife I’ll probably share about everything that is emotionally resonant for me, whereas my brother just gets the stuff that I figure he’ll relate to.

    I’m not surprised that my account of Eric doesn’t grab you; that synopsis ain’t the story; Eric’s OWN telling is the story, and I’m not about to try to reproduce it here; I’d never do it justice. And yes, the effect is in the details–both the personality that Eric brings to the telling, and the little events and sensory bits that make up the experience.

    Your story of Jones resonates with me. I hope you’re not annoyed if I say that it resonates precisely because of it’s portrait of a human being at the edge of his limits. :) But it’s also the context and tone and stuff that brings out that portrait. You and Tony are both right.

    Not that there’s any one way to approach anything, and blah blah and so forth. But I’m getting a good picture of how this sort of thing works by viewing the pair of comments as complimentary, not oppositional. :)

  5. September 7, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Definitely.
    Cool.

    So, with these few ideas for what makes a story meaningful and good, how does one move forward to have a more story-charged life? I got that as being part of the point of this post.

  6. 6 storybythethroat
    September 8, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Yeah, I’ve been mulling that over for a bit. Let me see what I can break down:

    First, it seems that it would be key to simply be more aware, to be mindful of elements of personal limit-stretching in your life, AND soak up all the details and atmosphere. If you notice that the sound of the rain as you drive in silence has an emotional impact, then for God’s sake remember that. Don’t just let it fade away into the ether of foggy memory. Then all you’ve got is, “Uh, so I was driving with my friend, and he said this stuff about girls, and, like. . .well, I guess you had to be there.”

    Sounds like you’ve got that principle internalized pretty well, Joe.

    So that’s a basic framework to operate from. But the second thing! The second thing is super-important: you’ve got to be willing to stretch your limits. Welcome it, even. Seek it out!Like Tony said, don’t just do stuff that you find easy and comfortable. That doesn’t mean make yourself miserable for something that’s just not you. . .but I’d say we all have stuff in our lives that we suck at, or are ignorant of, or are afraid of. . .but that we yearn for some experience with that the suck/ignorance/fear won’t let us have. That’s what makes story out of life: the defeats and victories of that striving.

    Whaddya think?

  7. September 18, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Joel,

    Can I make a blog post here?
    I got this conversation I want to start.

    Like, I could send you the post or you could wrangle a second controlling account or something.

  8. 8 storybythethroat
    September 19, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Hey, Joe, that sounds great! Go ahead and send it to me to publish, and I’ll think about the shared account thing.


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