Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I've Always Been Ridiculous

Once, when I was probably too old for this story to be cute (ten or eleven), my parents were away in the middle of the afternoon. I was in charge of the three siblings younger than myself. I took that responsibility very seriously. I also took all of my Stranger Danger training very much to heart. So when someone called for our mother and my little sister TOLD THE STRANGER ON THE PHONE THAT OUR PARENTS WERE NOT HOME, I was pretty sure we were all going to be murdered.

Thus it was our parents returned home to find us huddling in a fort made of couch cushions, out of view of all the windows, clutching knives.

But were any of my siblings murdered by roving strangers cold-calling houses to find out which ones had no parents at home? No they were not. If that wasn't successful babysitting, I don't know what was.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Story Junkie

Some time ago, in the past, which is all a blur and I really couldn't tell you whether it was weeks or months, a whole bunch of writers on twitter all tweeted under the banner of "Why I Write."

I seem to recall saying something along the lines of, "I write because it's the least self-destructive addiction available to me."And someone remarked that my response was strangely out-of-character and dark, rather than perky and funny.

Oh, the internets. Some day we will talk about the difference between being personable and personal, and how if you want to have a public persona you need to figure out the line you want to walk and how much of yourself to give, and realize that the balance will shift constantly in relation to things you could not anticipate.

But today is not that day. Today we are talking about STORIES.

When I was younger (and even still now), it baffled me that people didn't love to read. Why wouldn't you love to read? You get to go into a world that isn't yours, into a head that isn't yours, into a life that isn't yours! You get to live that adventure, and then you get to put it aside, but you can go back to it any time you want because once you've read it it's yours. What about that isn't amazing?

I also assumed that everyone had narratives going constantly in their heads, stories they could pull up when things were dull or sad or lonely or when they couldn't sleep. Stories they could slip into like a second-skin, like a well-loved movie, like a song you can sing without even thinking about the words. Stories that served no purpose other than to be lived in, played with, run through again and again until there was nowhere else to take them and another story settled in to that empty place behind the eyes.

Because that empty place? That's a dangerous place. That's the place where, if nothing is there, the negative thoughts pool. The thoughts that say not good enough, not doing enough, wasting time and energy and potential. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Don't really deserve to be loved the way the people in my life love me. Those thoughts are like stories, too. They wait for you to look at them, and then they pool and pounce and circle, cycling through the same narrative of worthlessness over and over again.

I don't know if everyone has that spot behind their eyes, the one that gets heavy and aching with the burden of self-loathing. But I have figured out that if I can fill it with other things I can shut it the **** up. (Yes, I just said shut it the asterisk asterisk asterisk asterisk up. I apologize for the strong language, but sometimes a girl just has to slip in an asterisk!)

School was good for this. Love and religious faith and happy relationships and wonderful husbands and amazing children are good for this. But it's a rather large spot to fill, and sometimes the dark and poisonous things manage to find little spongey holes and seep in to try and take me away from the good things that I've filled myself with.

This is the glory of story: it moves me away from focusing on myself. It shifts my brain's tendency to obsess away from me (and my shortcomings that could fill novels in and of themselves) and onto something else. I don't want to be those stories, don't want to live in any life other than my own. But stories that come from inside, that I create and control, they fill those sponge-hole weaknesses better and longer than anything else, leaving me free to live in my life and enjoy all the good things I have. When I have a story to fall back on, there isn't time between living and dreaming for any drowning.

Yes, stories end. But the best thing about them? There is always another one to be told. And if I am creating and imagining and writing during the empty times, I don't have any room in that spot for anything telling me I am less than I am. I'm a wife, and a mother, and a friend.

And I'm a storyteller.