Blessed are the storytellers.
I live in awe of those artful weavers of spoken language.
Most are fortunate enough to know at least one of these rare creatures at one time or another. It’s your best friend from high school, your favorite aunt, the guy from accounting. They often hold court in the lunchroom, living room, conference room – and rightly so.
From the moment their words effervesce forth, you become enraptured, trancelike. Their memories, ruminations and imaginings are spun from no more than atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, yet they seem to gyrate and shimmer, nearly tangible enough to touch. Listeners are enchanted with such otherworldly ease that their skill is indeed nothing short of magic.
I have never been blessed with this gift. My brain flashes too fast for my mouth; it simply cannot keep up. My out-loud stories are disjointed, jut in wild directions, and skip from one topic to the next in a seemingly haphazard manner. I’ve only met a handful of people with the patience and understanding to know I will arrive at my point eventually; thankfully I call these dear souls my best friends.
Writing is the only way I’ve found to “speak” concisely. When writing I am able to slow down, focus on each syllable and punctuation mark. I can correct myself when I wander astray, delete the idiosyncrasies and unnecessaries in an attempt to reel in my meandering diatribe. I’ve been allowed 700 words per column, give or take; just ask my editors which of the two it tends to be.
When it comes to your own story, however, the most skilled and competent author is the one gazing back at you from the looking glass.
Mediums for autobiographical storytelling are as varied as the stars. Yours may be sculpture, cooking, working on car engines, running at dawn – whatever helps you pause in the melee, process your thoughts and feelings, return to yourself.
When I see a friend who appears on the verge of blowing a gasket, I know it’s often because they haven’t checked in with their story lately. They’ve temporarily lost themselves, just a bit.
It’s not difficult to understand why this happens. Much like experts and critics, it seems that storytellers abound. Society constantly chatters; we are immersed in a looping stream of voices and images clamoring for our attention. Someone else’s agenda, opinions and promotions trickle subconsciously into our psyches. If we aren’t careful, our own story might be easily breached. You may wake up confused one morning, unsure of whether the path you are on was one you chose or if it was chosen for you.
“To thine own self be true,” but how to separate that self from all these other selves? And once alone, how will we know that our choices are correct?
Some find it easiest to make life decisions by letting their heart twirl them along, some rely purely on electric zaps from their intuition, while others analyze a pair of shoes at Ross for so long that beads of perspiration form on their lip. Guilty.
If you practice listening to yourself in times of calm, keeping a mental finger on the current page of your story, you’ll be more prepared when you’re faced with everything from, “White or wheat?” to major life changes. Once you find your medium, the one that allows you to tune out the cacophony, you’ll begin to recognize your own voice whispering from the background.
Some of the best advice I ever received is to follow the Rule of Three: heart, head, gut. If you can get in touch with these three elements of your composition, your chance of making a sound decision vastly improves. From your tailbone through your solar plexus to your skull, when the three are in harmony you can actually feel the ground solidify beneath your feet.
If even one of your three is off-center, however, taking more time to consider how this choice could alter your story may bring clarity. Substitute a noun or erase a page entirely, watching your story shift as you edit. When your teetering boxcar tilts gently back onto its rails, you will know what to do. The eclipse of the three shall be your guide.
Pick up your pen. This is your story now.
This is the final column by Melissa Frink, one of five reader columnists whose work has appeared on these pages. She lives in North Tacoma with her feline daughter, Moxie Moo Frink. She has no human children at this time. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.