Don’t have to be a writer to know we belong to a storytelling species. Conversation is just a prelude, the entry point to an anecdote begging to be shared. I’m not prone to especially long-winded anecdotes, but even I can get carried away.
“The long and the short of it,” I’ll say, reaching the moment when, in my mind at least, it’s time to wrap it up, reduce everything I’ve said to a pithy thought.
“Too late,” says my brother-in-law, as gregarious a guy as it gets. I laugh. I finish my thought, and I actually thank him for that gotcha moment. If I haven’t stopped using that phrase entirely, suffice it to say (oops) I use it minimally.
A few years back my sister-in-law teased me about another apparently pet phrase. “That hit the spot,” I would say after a meal or a snack I enjoyed. Her intention wasn’t to embarrass me but she certainly got me thinking. Sure it makes a point in a lip-smacking kind of way. But what, really, is the point?
I see it so clearly now, those idioms uttered almost reflexively, filler phrases, or maybe a kind of self-commentary, in our storytelling selves. Heaven forbid we should stop and take a breath, think about what we’re saying. Let the shared moment be just that.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” Tracy Cochran reminds us in a wonderful essay that casts a welcome light on the meaning of resistance, not to mention what it takes to go inside ourselves, find that quiet place of no words.
As a writer, I relish what it takes to fine-tune a story or essay. But the spoken word is a whole other ball of wax, as it should be. In the best of all possible worlds (oops), people would do a little more self-editing when they speak. In the real world, we just can’t help ourselves. Joel Saltzman tells us, If You Can Talk, You Can Write, and there is some truth to that. It comes down to listening, really listening, to what someone is saying in a conversation. And listening to yourself.
Last week I listened to an inner voice egging me on, just do it. Broken Pencil, a site I like, put out a reminder re: the deadline for its annual Indie Writers’ Deathmatch*.
The more I wrestled with the idea of submitting a story, the more taken I was with the mixed metaphor. I looked through stories of mine not yet published, and it jumped out at me, a title as tongue-in-cheek as it gets, and the right word count, to boot: “My Dog Is Ruining My Life.”
Unseemly? Or gutsy? You tell me.
It’s a test, every step of the way. We wake up, tune in to the world at large (which feels more and more like a cross between The Twilight Zone and 1984), cry and/or rant, join up with the forces of resistance for solidarity and strength.
We step back into our caves, steady ourselves with routine, do whatever is needed when the triple whammy—doubt/disappointment/despair—hits hard and threatens to throw us completely off course. The message might be retreat and reflect, always a good thing. Until one day we see, with a little more clarity, that fuzzy line between the tenacity that keeps us doing what feeds our spirit and the leaps of faith that play their part in how it all turns out. Time to get back on the horse. Maybe even go down a different road.
The long and the short of it (can’t help myself, can I?): we choose our challenges, take satisfaction in the winnowing process that has made us one of the chosen, then consider how, for all our best intentions and efforts, the chips have a way of falling where they may.
*N.B.: Yes, my story was selected as one of the sixteen and rest assured you will receive a gentle plea next week when the voting begins.