Living stories

image courtesy of google images
image courtesy of google images

As hard as it is for someone like me to believe, there are people who would have you believe they do not like stories. They will say they have no time for books, that they are too boring and require too much effort. They will say they have no need for the imaginary things, characters born of thought rather than flesh or places conjured rather than built. It is reality in which they are most interested. So they would have you believe. In the real world, there is little time for fairy tales. Living is serious business, stories are definitely not. Those who waste their time in tales are the ones who fall behind. They are the ones who lose the game.

I suppose that means I am losing at best. At worst, I am contributing to the delinquency of otherwise good and responsible human beings. Not only do I enjoy reading stories, I enjoy writing them. I enjoy seeking them out. And what I’ve found in my seeking is something those interested in the serious business of living would perhaps find very disconcerting—stories are everywhere. They are buried in every person we meet and every conversation we overhear. They are present in the pictures that adorn our walls and the music that fills our ears. They wait in every rock and puff of wind. In everything there is a beginning, middle, and end, and nestled in the spaces between those three legs of every journey lies all the magic and knowledge any of us care to seek. The poet Muriel Rukeyser once said, “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” I believe finer words have never been spoken.

There’s more to Rukeyser’s maxim than poetic truth, however. There’s a deeper meaning as well. Whether you call yourself a writer or a reader or an unbeliever in both, the truth is that you a storyteller. That fact cannot be ignored. It cannot be brushed aside. And most of all, it cannot be denied. You are the chronicler of your own tale. Your every day is but one small chapter in the larger story of your life, some part of the beginning or the middle or the end, written upon pages granted by whatever God or random chance you ascribe meaning to. Pages bound together by time itself, filled with your minutes and hours.

Perhaps that sounds a little too metaphysical for the seriously-minded. They may disagree with my notion. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change a thing. Good people can stand on either side of a truth, but that doesn’t alter where that truth lies or what that truth means. We can deny that our lives are a story, but that will make our story one of renunciation. We can choose not to respect our place as authors of our own accounts, but that will make our accounts ones of failure. Do you see? There is no escaping it. You have no choice but to write your story, just as you have no choice but to live your life.

So I say live it for all it’s worth. I say wring every bit of beauty and truth from it. Let is drip down your hands and arms. Let it pour into your mouth and quench your every thirst. Bore down into your every moment and mine the gold you find. Scribble and scrawl on your pages. Write furious and true. Do not waste your days. Time is not a flat circle, it is an arrow that stretches from now into eternity. There is where you should look, on to that final chapter, because God put our eyes in front of us so we can see where we’re going, not where we’ve been. Whether quiet literary or screaming thriller, lustful romance or heartbreaking tragedy, bawdy comedy or uplifting inspirational, when all is finished and the final period is put to the last sentence on the end page, your life in this world will stand for something. Your tale will be set down, and that is what you will be remembered by.


Leaving our stories

image courtesy of
image courtesy of

I try to schedule field trips into my writing life as often as possible. Sitting at a desk and staring at a sheet of paper can dull the senses. It contracts you. The Out There gets lost in all of the In Here. It’s nice to get out every once in a while and wander about the world.

That’s how I found Archie’s store. Because when you are driving down a lonely country road and you happen across a dilapidated building masquerading as an antiques store and the sign on the marquee says Dead People’s Junk, you have to stop and look. You just do. Very often the places that seem too good to be true are true after all.

The creaky wooden door finally gave way with a hard push, ringing the bell that sat suspended over the archway. The old man behind the counter—“Name’s Archie,” he said, and then added, “You break it, you buy it, even if t’ain’t worth nuthin’”—offered me both a Coke and the general layout of the building. “Furniture’s in the back. Art—and I use that term loosely—is to the right. Guns are over by the far wall.”

I sipped and walked, letting my mind wander. Antiques are such because of their age and their scars. They have endured through the years, survived countless moves and deaths and threats of the landfill. And it is because they have endured that they are all rich in story. Antiques are a form of living history.

That’s what I was after in the land of Dead People’s Junk. The stories.

Like the kitchen table that sat stately and dignified in the corner of the back room. Solid oak, with the worn shine of countless years of meals and gatherings. The price tag made me wince and whistle a long exhale. 1927 was written on the tag beneath the dollar amount, as if to justify the value. I took a step back. This was not something I was interested in breaking.

But still, a part of me felt the price would be more than satisfactory if the story of the table was included along with the chairs and the center leaf. Two years after it was built, the stock market crashed. Then Hitler rose. The Japanese attacked. The bomb was dropped. Kennedy was shot. Interspersed between those were times both hard and soft, the ebbs and flows of the great tide that was life. Who had sat at that table through the years? What family had broken bread there? What joys did they share, and what sorrows? To me, those answers—those possibilities—were worth more than the quality of the construction or the grain of the wood.

I exercised my mind in that manner for about an hour, moving through the crowded aisles of castoff belongings. There was a rocking horse I imagined once belonged to a small boy who grew up to be deathly afraid of horses after taking a tumble from that wooden substitution on one long ago Sunday afternoon. A desk where a young lady once sat to write a Dear John letter to her boyfriend at war. An opulent set of china—Never Used, said the tag—that was an expensive wedding gift to a couple who chose a simple life over the extravagant lives of their parents.

I roamed and touched nearly every surface of every object, listening. I thought about the sign out by the road and wondered if that had been Archie’s idea. I wanted to ask him. But by the time I made it back around, he was asleep in his chair. His half-finished bottle of Coke sat by the cash register—an antique in itself. Orange crumbs from the pack of crackers he’d snacked on littered the front of his shirt.

I managed to leave without waking him and pointed my truck toward home. I was satisfied. In my opinion, no better field trip could be had.

But I thought about that sign again as I passed it and decided it was all wrong. That was not Dead People’s Junk. Archie’s store may have been filled with remnants of the past, but they also spoke to our shared future.

To a time when perhaps our own dining room tables will be stuck in the corner, and when people will come and touch them and wonder. That brings me a great deal of comfort. Because we leave more than our belongings to this world when we pass on to the next.

We leave our stories, too.