why i tell stories

May 18, 2005

As any of you who has read my blog with any regularity has probably noticed by now, I tend to tell stories. I believe in telling stories; more specifically, I have found that by telling my own stories I begin to glimpse the mystery and meaning that can so easily be hidden behind the daily-ness of a life.
My recognition of this drive came not so long ago, when I began to awaken in the night with the itch to tell a story. I would lie there wide-eyed and restless, feeling as though I needed to somehow give birth, yet not knowing why I felt this way. This was the sort of sleeplessness that does not need to be soothed to sleep; rather, it was the kind that needs to be nurtured, and gently coaxed until it can release its creative seed.
This was happening regularly, and each night it was a different event—a specific happening from my life, that was swirling about in my head.
And so I began to listen to it. When I awoke, I rose and began to write, to put words to that story. I wrote of childhood wounds, of silly anecdotes, of events in my adult life—all was fair game when it came to the need to tell a story.
The seed of the drive was taking root much earlier however, well before waking moments when I actually put words to these stories. It began when my family first moved to the U.S., and I would have those childhood introductory conversations.
“What’s your name? . . . Is that your sister?—she looks just like you.”
And then: “Why do you talk funny? . . . Where are you from? . . . Why’s doesn’t your Mommy walk?”
That was my cue to explain that I wasn’t really American, not like they were. I was African—or maybe Canadian—but apparently I sounded British? . . .I wasn’t quite sure, actually . . . but Mommy is paraplegic, because she was in a car accident when we lived in Africa. Daddy was in the car too. He’s in heaven now.”
It was always the same after that—a stunned silence, or a series of stumbling apologies: sorry for asking, sorry for making you talk, sorry that happened. A quick change of the topic or, more likely, an excuse to find a more normal playmate for the day.
But I was not sorry. I wanted to keep talking. I wanted to tell them about Africa, about my family, about what my Daddy was like. I wanted to tell them how tall the trees were in my village, and how small the huts looked from high in the Paw-paw tree. I wanted to tell my stories, and I wanted someone to listen.
So when, as an adult, I began to start telling my stories, what I realized was that the telling gave life to the experiences. Whether I was telling the story of my cat’s love affair with his pet duck or the story of scaling the icy mountain to get to work in the morning, the telling was as important as the tale itself. Because somehow the words give significance to the event. And suddenly life is no longer just a string of daily routines: each day is a glimpse into the mysterious beauty of the woven whole.
There is a power in the telling. A making real. So I speak the words, and write the stories . . . and live.


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