Tag Archives: writing

Truth In Fiction: The Sticky, Heart-Shattering Stories

I had a story for you, but it wasn’t mine. And not that they are all mine, that I am in the business of hoarding these absolutely self-absorbed and metaphored fragments, but some stories are like windshield cracks—ready, at any moment, to spiderweb outward and cave in and leave you sitting in a pile of shattered glass.

I have a feeling this story is one of those, so I’ll let it live inside my heart.

But that’s the question I’m playing ping pong with. Do we write them down—the stories over which we may never take ownership—and live with the guilt of that when somebody calls up and says they’d like to know about the details between the paragraphs?

Do we sit across from them in chrome-lined cushioned booths and say that it was about a girl who got off at the same subway station some odd years ago, a photograph of our mother’s first grade class picture maybe, that sparked the first sentence?

Do we let the lines of truth bleed into our fiction? Let his cracked knuckles, her eyebrow piercing, the way they say the word “wooder” when what they really mean is “water” work it’s way into the conversation. Give them the pieces you can afford to shed, the ones that won’t open doors that lead to windows that lead to the retractable attic stairs holding not just ghosts but everything you shoved up there before you hrumphed and locked it good.

Or maybe we say yes. Yes, there was a girl in the diner who said my name so sweetly I felt compelled to buy a slice of apple pie a la mode from her every Monday night. Yes, that newsboy did once knock my middle-aged husband out when he flung the paper too hard. Yes, it did hit him square in the eye and cause him to stumble into the porch column.

No, she didn’t sing my name when she said it. I only wish she would have. No, he didn’t have a black eye for weeks. I only wish the boy had better aim.

Maybe that’s where the magic lies—in the mystery, the sheer hope, that some girl out there sings sweetly when she says your name, that she always warms your apple pie, that some town out there still has boys on bikes delivering the New York Times.

Maybe I’m too afraid, with the world as fragile as it is, to take away the hope that comes with naivete. Maybe I’m too afraid to replace it with the truth, leaving you with nothing to fill in but honesty. Nothing to muse over but sincerity. Nothing to ponder while you syrup your Belgian waffle but veracity.

Or maybe it isn’t for you at all. Maybe it is for the girl who sits in that diner, waiting for someone to come back time and again so she can feel wanted. Maybe it is for the boy who always hits the planter and keeps having to truck to Lowe’s to buy a replacement for the poor old lady whose granddaughter just desperately wants her to grow some geraniums.

Maybe it’s for the ones I’m protecting, the stories so real that they shatter your heart, the details too complicated to sift through in 500 words or less.

Maybe, I would like you to believe, all our stories can be told and retold and you will find what you need in them. Maybe I am afraid of the stories that don’t end well, that don’t sum up nicely, that don’t leave you feeling like today? I can do this. I can.

You can. Find the stories that know you can.

I Believe In Storylistening

I think we (and by we, I mean me) have this implication that you start a website and you’ve mastered something. You know it good and hard and you’ll spread your knowledge like a fountain of water on a hot summer day.

Every so often, I feel like I have to remind my readers of something small but important: I do not have it all figured out.

If I ever tell someone I mastered college, I give you the full right to slap me upside the head. Because it’s just not true.

It’s because I crashed and burned and picked myself up, found the hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet, and let my scars heal that I founded HUGstronger.

It’s because those scars tear open on Monday nights when I break my $30 printer and it’s the last in a string of missteps that leave me feeling like I have nothing figured out.

It’s because I believe in life-long learning. I believe in storylistening. I believe in believing in something so much your heart aches when you realize how many thousands of people are sitting in front of their bedroom mirrors, pinching their love handles or scrunching their eyebrows or contemplating just ripping the thing out of the wall altogether so they don’t have to look at a failure.

It’s a word I use too much. More than I deserve to. And certainly more than any single person reading these words deserves to.

I knew this when I was in sixth grade and almost let fear paralyze me from doing what I loved—competitive gymnastics. I knew this when I cut up my knees every week trying to hurdle fast enough to qualify for the championships.

I knew this when I opened my browser one night in December and thought about what it might feel like to be more than a failure. To be somebody’s backbone for a second. And how it might feel to say you started something that let someone else sleep soundly through the night.

I have never slept soundly. Maybe you haven’t either. Maybe we are just wandering through this world, putting our fingertips to work on the things we find most important, and we shouldn’t be apologizing because we’re still figuring things out.

Do you think the professional marketing blogger knows what next week’s trends will look like? Does Apple know how long it’ll be until people stop buying iPods? Does Nike know if we’ll forever want to be impulsive and active and just do it?

No. Most certainly not.

All we can do is storylisten. And digest the idea that we do something not because we have it all nailed down but because we so badly wish we did and how can we sit back and not push forward? How can we stop growing?

We can’t. Please tell me, we can’t.

Write Your Heart Down

Most days, I don’t remember to write my heart down.

I know it when it breaks. When it shines. When it feels like maybe I’ve put a few too many Sweet ‘n’ Low packets in my tea and I’m zinging from one browser window to the next, trying to figure out which project to tackle next.

I forget that in two years, I won’t remember any of it. Not those small moments of elation and depression. Not the way it felt to find your name sitting in my inbox, the strength it took not to keep your words unread until I had time for them. Time to let them simmer inside my brain. I won’t remember.

So when people send me messages like, “I’m thinking about blogging, but I’m not sure if I should,” I want to shout from the rooftops that they don’t have to expose the world to their problems, but Target is just down the street.

Target is just down the street. And I am pretty sure I would walk there, find you a journal, and mail it to you if you need me to. Or tell you to take a few sheets of notebook paper or a pack of sticky notes and fix a makeshift one.

I wish I had kept better track of the last four years. The song in my head on the way back from Spanish class, leaves blowing past me as I broke into a sweat climbing the macadam hill. And the moments I sat against a cinderblock wall with every single 18-year-old boy on the planet watching me trying to compose myself while my big beautiful life plan came to a halt.

And it doesn’t matter that you’re seventeen or twenty-six or laying in a nursing home bed, wondering if God wants to give you a tomorrow. There is something magical about flipping back through years of pain and sorrow and joy and reading them like your favorite novel because you know the ending.

You know the chapter without the bookmark.

My mother can set a book down without dog-earing the page. She knows where to pick it back up. She’s engaged in a life that will never be hers. And I am trying to learn the art of remembering and detailing and saving for later. I am trying to learn and trying to appreciate it.

So anyone who is on the fence about writing it down, the good, the bad, the mundane, don’t be. Hold onto the wind in your hair and the ice cream dribbling down your knuckles and the laugh that made your stomach hurt for days.

Write it down. Write it all down. There is magic in the journey, magic in knowing where your first chapter began. We can’t always learn each others’ lives, can’t always tell you how they got to today. But you, your life is the one thing you deserve to understand.

Things have changed since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

This life is a book I can’t put down.

But half my readers would rather skip the part that says, “God is good,” and head straight for “The Downfall.”

In fact, they’d probably shake my by my shoulders and say there simply isn’t enough controversy in these pages to warrant any sales. To warrant a life worth living.

And I would spin them around, nudge them toward Self Help & Addiction and Jodi Picoult’s moral dilemmas and tell them they’ve come to the wrong spot in the bookstore, baby.

Because we itch our stocking and the backs of our necks when someone starts throwing words like Newness and Next Chapter around like they are good. Like progress is a problem.

The only problem is I can’t please you all.

My life isn’t a bookstore. It’s just one book in the Coming of Age section.

I am just a girl learning how to sign up for a health care plan and stock her own pantry and live in an apartment alone for the first time since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

And must I remind you that was twenty-two years ago? That the books we loved then are not the same as now?

It’s true that we get giddy about new chapters, but we all have different expectations for them.

She wants me to stay rooted in the Somewhere Safe she knows well, would rather I stretch to a 600-pager. I am ready to wrap this chapter up and Epilogue that sucker.

Start a new book that begins, “And then she learned how to live alone…”

Because I will. And it will not be your story. Or your mother’s. Or your best friend’s. Or your hairdressers. It will be mine. Just for me.

Maybe that sounds selfish. Us writers, we scribble stories stuck inside our heads. We are gray-seers and world-dwellers. We are so ready to scramble into the back of someone else’s car and land out butts in Charleston, South Carolina because something told us we should Begin Again.

I’m not asking you to pick me up in the middle of Chapter 22 and fall in love.

I’m just asking that someone, somewhere, have faith that I know what I’m writing today and tomorrow but in ten years? No, no no. That is for ten years from now to worry about.

We envision endings and Life Happens and a couple people read on to find out if that picture stays the same, if we learn how to not burn our grilled cheese or overflow the toilet. If we stock clogging the vacuum and if we always look like a mess when it rains all day.

But we cannot please the world. And if we could, what kind of life would that be?