I loved the beginning of my adult life. I was seventeen and so ready to shake the world up, grab it by the short hairs and make it different. Everything was in front of me; love, travel, education, work, family and children, pain, Everest sized highs, Grand Canyon lows, friends lost and gained. Anything was possible. Life was a buffet and I was hungry."Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. "—Robert Moss, Dreamgates
I never stopped to ask if anyone else felt that way. I was seventeen, still worried about pimples and whether that cute guy at table 7 was smiling because he liked the menu or because he thought my blue jeans fit just fine. The world was "According to Nancy", mine to shape, mine to create. I still had never been out on a date, never went to Prom, and my only forms of transportation were my feet and my bicycle. It was 1968, the Summer of Love, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots and protests, The Viet Nam War, and Woodstock. It was a time of agonizing reappraisal. And I was ready to take it on!
I was an honors student, thought I knew where I was going, had a budget of $7 a week for groceries and lived in a tiny studio apartment with a bed that folded out of the wall and a tiny bathroom that was nearly bigger than my apartment. It was luxury! I could go out and walk in any thunderstorm that I wanted to, ride my bike for as far as it and my legs would take me and live in blue jeans and embroidered filmy tops made in the exotic land of India.
But time is a funny task mistress. She has a sense of humor that, like most good comedy, comes from anger and pain. It hones you, gives you lines and wrinkles and a melting face. It just keeps on ticking in a relentless forward position. It pushes you along in a tide that catches you in the undertow, snagging and depositing you on a distant shore that you had no idea existed. And, oh, the stories!
Stories are everywhere. We trail them after us like banners in the wind. When I stopped to ask myself what I liked best about all of the many different jobs I've had, my answer was meeting people, listening to their stories, watching the theater all around me. I've loved their faces and expressions, laughed at some of the stories, gasped, cried, commiserated, and, most of all, listened.
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings (William E.Massey Senior Lectures in the History of American Civilization)
Story telling was a tradition in my family. On Sunday mornings my Mom would ask me if I wanted to hear her read the Sunday comics. We'd curl up together in bed and I'd put up with them for a couple of rounds of Brenda Starr and Peanuts. " Mama, tell me a story. Not a comic, a real story."
She would sigh, mumble something about little girls who were too smart for their britches and then she would tell me a story. Most of the time those stories were about Marie Curie or Joan of Arc, numbers that took on personalities ( my favorite was the story about Nine ) and elements who talked about iron and oxygen and what happened when they ran in to hydrogen. She was, after all, a chemist and mathematician. And, for a while, I was content.
But I saw the world through a tinted glass with crossed senses . And I was one of those very lucky children who had extra hours to lay in the grass and make pictures from clouds. My imagination grew faster than I did, took me to exotic places when I found addresses to write to and began pen pal friendships with people in England and France. I even wrote to the Prince of Lichtenstein and he responded two times, on beautiful hand made paper in a flowing cursive style. I thought I was probably famous if people I didn't know would write back to me and oh, the stories I told. I was a wild cowgirl who rode with my Grandfather across the plains, always west. I carried a six gun even though I had no idea what a six gun was. And my horse could talk, my dog rode in the saddle with me and sometimes, when no one was looking, my horse who was really Pegasus would unfurl his shimmering, magical wings and we would fly through clouds that looked like giraffes and elephants.
I've always wondered if any of those little girl stories were saved, maybe in a dusty box under a bed somewhere.
Later, as a young Mom with two little boys, paint on my jeans and more imagination than money I continued the story telling. We kept a story going for more than ten years about Archimedes, a talking dog and Mike, who was really an alien from outer space who somehow got separated from his Mom and Dad. He lived with The Captain, who ran his own tug boat. And there were all of his friends; Mr. Groceries, a very fat squirrel, the Little Blind Boy who lived in a cabin in the woods and others that came and went over the years. There were talking dinosaurs (one named Ralph) and cows with crowns, Ravens who flew all the way from the edge of the Grand Canyon to bring Archimedes and Mike news. But the best part of the stories were that they were round robin stories. Everyone added to them. Ryan and Ben, friends who spent the night, John, Me and Lightfoot, our Golden Retriever or Mr. Boogie, our huge silver grey cat who was really a Russian Prince in disguise.
The rule was that no one ever dies in the story and they can come back in to the story line at any time. And once we give them a name, we really, REALLY give them life. They are still there, waiting to reappear, all of these years later. They never age unless magic makes them age and anything can happen, well except dying. And magic can make them young again too. And now the stories live again with our Grandchildren. It's a never ending story.
...and now I tell the stories to my horses. They're patient listeners, walking along quietly while I tell them about flying tigers and Time Machines that open doors to the past and future, to other planets inhabited by flying horses and the King Of Horses who is really Apache's long, lost father. We lope down a road together lost in our world and always heading home where the stories begin again. There are ancestors and outlaws, mysteries and flying monkeys who just happen to get blown the wrong way over the rainbow. And my partner for the day is always happy to hear my tale, appreciative of the carrots at the end and new horizons in between.
And here's a little secret, just between you and me. I still feel like I'm seventeen, like the world is a banquet and I have a very big plate to fill. If you don't have a chance to stop by I hope you'll pick up the thread and carry the story forward, add your characters, your heroes and villains, ghosts and elves. Tell your stories with friends and keep the Round Robin going. You can have Archimedes visit you, Mike and the Captain, and don't forget Mr. Groceries. (He could use the exercise. He wobbles just a bit.)
If you listen, the characters will start it for you, take you in to their world. So listen, take a deep breath and begin the round again. And then come back here and write a few lines out. I promise I'll find them and we can begin a story told round the world.
Ready? Once upon a time, in a place not too far from here and a time not too long ago there lived...
Your turn! GO...
I am, ever yours, Nancy, listening and rocking down the road, waiting for the next chapter, smiling...
PS. What are you waiting for? Go tell a story! Paint it! Act it out! Sing it and dance it. GO...