“ I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.” –Gilda Radner
I’m always thinking about stories. Everything tells a story, and often the stories are woven and layered. There’s the front story and the back story. Some aspects of a story are conspicuous while others are veiled. There are stories within stories.
I love opening a book and finding a boarding pass. It will remind me of not only of when I bought the book and where I read it, but also who I was with, how I was feeling, and what reading those words meant to me at that time.
Maybe that book was my first introduction to an author I loved and later filled my bookshelves with. Maybe the book has a warped spine or puckered pages from being read in the bathtub or at the beach. Maybe I loved the book so much that I dogeared it and wrote all over it. I underlined phrases and drew stars, hearts, and smiley faces in the margins when I felt the words were speaking directly to me.
Maybe it’s not a book, but it’s a bag. Maybe I find a long-lost lip gloss, a few receipts, and a bottle of vitamin C and I remember the friend’s wedding where I was so sick by the time the dancing started that I had to go sleep in my car. That triggers other details about the wedding: who was there and who wasn’t, who said X or Y, who brought a bottle of whiskey to my car to see if we couldn’t scare my flu away.
Maybe it’s a jacket pocket. Maybe there’s some cash in there. It reminds you of a ski trip, a concert, a farmers’ market. A pair of socks can remind you of a marathon. A sweatshirt can remind you of a school you attended. A package of AA batteries from Costco can remind you that you overestimated your battery usage and you’ve moved those dang batteries half a dozen times. A sleeping bag….oh, sleeping bags tell a thousand stories.
I wrote a post last October called “Keepers”, which was sparked by my grandfather’s death and the last voicemail I saved from him. I was happy I saved that one, but it is easy to get a little obsessive about what we keep and what we let go of. The inevitability of mortality can sometimes grab hold of us a little too tightly, and we can tend toward smothering and hoarding. We think: what if it’s the last time we hear someone’s voice? The last time we embrace? The last time we take a walk together? Ugh. It can be a bit much.
As important as it is to know what to keep, it’s equally important to know what to let go of. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about going to a Naked Ladies party and second-guessing what to keep and what to get rid of. I got rid of several bags full of things I still like, but that I would not pack for a road trip.
I brought a pair of earrings that I fell in love with at first sight and was lucky enough to score at a 50% off sale at Betty’s Divine. Here they are in Mexico….
They’re flashy. They dangle below the collarbone. They jingle. They weren’t exactly “me,” but we’d had some fun together. I hesitated—I love them!—but the truth is they’d been gathering dust at my house. I hadn’t even considered them in six months. I’d moved on, but was loitering in the past. They were not on my short list, and they deserved to go home with someone who might take them on a road trip or at least out to dinner.
At the party I spread them out on a side table with other jewelry. I hoped someone would see them and recognize their awesomeness. I’d like to say I watched the table anxiously to see who scooped them up, but I was too busy digging for new treasures to notice.
Then I spotted them on Melissa. They had met their match. I hurdled ladies and piles of clothes to say: “Girl. You are rocking those earrings.” I felt oddly compelled to tell her a couple of things about them, as if she was adopting a dog and needed to know that he drinks a lot of water, doesn’t like thunder, and will claim any couch as his own.
She’s a smart cookie who can handle her earrings just fine. She loves herself a wild accessory and I knew she’d incorporate them into her wardrobe without a hitch. I figured she might even take them on a trip knowing she’d get a lot of mileage out of one awesome accessory that can dress up a plain white tee.
I thought about telling her that they snag on scarves, can be hazardous when hugging, and have so many hinges and moveable parts that sometimes a piece (or two or three) drops off, but instead I told her about how that last detail turned into one of my favorite things about them. “I lost one of the crystals on the beach in Mexico, which was a bummer, but when I got home I replaced it with this little piece of bone….” She fingered the bone gently as she listened to then story, then said “I love it! That makes them even more fabulous! I love it!”
An hour later I was sitting across the room when someone complimented Melissa on the earrings. I saw her hands go up to the bone as I watched her tell my story, which was now part of hers. Maybe she’ll take them on a road trip. Maybe she’ll lose another crystal and will replace it with a bead or a shell, further layering the story.
Look around. I dare you to find something that doesn’t have a story. There’s your slice of the story, but there are also the elements of the story that began before you and the pieces that you may never know.
Live your stories, share your stories, love the stories within your stories.
Beautiful. This makes me think about why I love to teach writing. It’s such a joy and privilege to hear people’s stories. And to witness the ways the hearing and the telling changes both teller and listener.
Thank you, Maia! Writing is *hard* work, but like everything we do that challenges us: it’s worth it….