I am a storyteller. I am a poet. I am an artist.
I used to believe that to be one of these things was to be all of them at once. I have since learned the power of their singularity and how that singularity is not diminished but multiplied when they come together in equal measure to tell a story that is poetic and truly a work of art. This fusion is what I call genius.
When I say I am all three of these things at once, I am not calling myself a genius. For in any given offering of my creation – a story, a poem or piece of prose, or an artistic creation – I have not in my own opinion mastered that fusion.
Perhaps, on rare occasions I have accomplished two out of three in the same offering. Then there is the whole business of the “subjectivity” of judgment about what we or our audience consider a story well told, poetry that dances of the page, or something so particularly and universally enduring to be called art.
Nevertheless, is it not breathtaking when we encounter someone’s work that embodies this holy trinity in a singular piece of work and even more so in a body of work?
It is breathtaking enough when I lose myself in a Walter Mosley novel. That man can tell a story, and while there are poetic moments, I wouldn’t describe his prose as poetic as a whole.
It is breathtaking to read the poetic prose of Maya Angelou, and while her life in itself is an epic story as evidenced in her many autobiographies, I would not depict her as a master storyteller, though I would not argue against the courage and singularity of her work as anything but art.
It is breathtaking and unsettling at times to read the novels and poetry of Charles Bukowski, but not because he is a great storyteller or poet; though like Mosely, he has his poetic moments. What is breathtaking is that there is nothing else like his work — so unique in observation and context. His work is an expression of a kind of courageous art.
It is not only breathtaking, it is complete nirvana, to find the storyteller, the poet, and the artist in equal measure in the works of people like Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Kazuo Ishiguro or Flannery O’Connor, to name just a few.
Sometimes I wonder, as I spot one of you (you know who you are) at a Tacoma coffee shop or pub tapping away on your laptop. What are you working on — a poem, a story or memoir, the concept paper for a new idea you have?
People write, tell stories and create for many reasons. I have a friend who says he writes because it keeps him alive. Others write for reflection, therapy and catharsis.
At a young age I was affirmed for my writing. So, with a raw and unrefined gift and some natural instincts I worked at it — though not nearly hard enough, which is evidenced in the writing itself. But, somewhere along the line I realized that unlike my friend who writes for surviva,l my “life or death” thing is the practice of listening to other people’s stories and telling my own.
Telling stories is how we share the journey of how we got “from here to there.”
They allow us to explore and share our origin and identity; where and from whom we come and how that has shaped us. They compel us to pay attention to the here and now. They call us to be careful observers, commentators and meaning makers of the present moment.
They invite us to dream and aspire for a future that is still taking shape. They call us to be artisans of that future, of whatever that “there” is for each of us and those we share this planet with.
Keep on writing, Tacoma. Keep on creating that which only you can create and that will endure. Keep telling your (our) story of how we got from “here to there.” Your stories give me life, and I hope mine will do the same.
Tad Monroe of Tacoma is a consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who wrote for this page in 2017. This is his last column. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org