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I'm preparing to speak at a library event. The organizers were especially interested in the origins of my storytelling life. I know what they want to hear, that I checked stacks of books out of the library every week. Yes, I certainly did that, but the deeper I dug for the truth of my storytelling roots, the library faded in importance.
I told my first story while standing in my mother's sunny kitchen. She asked, "Patti Ann, have you been in the strawberry patch?" How did she know? To admit such a crime meant punishment. As she scrubbed at my face, I told her that I was wearing wipstick. (I was only three years old!) "Really?" she said. "Yes, I'm going to church, and I want to look pretty, just like you." I don't remember if the strong arm of the law came down on me that day. But this wasn't my last "story." All through school, I embellished my humdrum life to school chums and strangers. I also used my storytelling skills to stay out of trouble, and sadly, I was very, very good at it.
This is just one of the reasons I love Jesus so much. He took something from my life that kept me dangerously close to disaster
Okay girls, now you know. My storytelling origins are dark indeed. What's your story?
Want my full attention? Just tell me a story. I'll sit dreamy eyed, at attention until you tell me "the end". From what I can tell, I've always been that way - pulled in by story. When I was about nine or ten, my best friend, Tracy, turned to me and said, "You should be a comedian." At first I was insulted because I didn't know what a comedian was, but it sounded close to custodian, and I knew what that was. But she was the first person to tell me I was funny.
I married my love for telling stories with acting. Even as a kid, I could memorize huge swaths of dialogue. I acted out movie parts and plays in front of my bedroom mirror. By the time I got to high school, acting was the central theme of my existence. With it came writing. I wrote scenes, monologues, stage directions, you name it. Around that time, my parents bought a typewriter. I hogged it for weeks, pounding out a very bad romance novel my mother adored.
I suppose what I lacked in skills I made up for with enthusiasm. I simply loved story, in all it's forms. It is the best vehicle we have to transmit understanding, to share ideals, to give voice to our fears and, in the end, banish them. To this day, I use story in everything I do. When counseling a family in crisis, or speaking to a group of women, or playing with my kids, the I use the power of storytelling to help us all understand our lives a little better.
Funny you should ask. I just attended an excellent local musical production of one of my favorite childhood stories, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. My mother bought me the book when I was nine. We had just read together Winnie the Pooh, and I still think A.A. Milne is one of the best ever at using language to enchant the reader. But The Little Prince was my first exposure to a tale with a level of depth and significance. It offered all the story-stuff I was used to: outlandish characters, fantastical adventures, and a moral ("It is only with the heart that one can see rightly..."), sitting nicely on top so I pluck it up and go outside to play. But when I got outside, I had this feeling that there was something more the story was saying, something just beneath the surface. So I read it again, and again, and again. I'm still reading it. Each time I do I come away with something more, and each time I have the feeling that there is more still to be found, if I just keep looking.
That book had a lot to do with the kind of writing I would love all my life, and the things that I would value most in my own writing.
Okay, two confessions. The first is the horrible, terrible, no good speech I wrote for my high school graduation on the topic of scholarship. I mean, who thinks up these topics? The worst part is that I thought it was pretty good until I got up to give it in front of my whole graduating class. You know how your house can look perfectly clean until you have company, and then you see the cobwebs and feel the grit under your feet - maybe I should stop. Well, as I gave the speech, it occurred to me how truly bad it was. 'Nuff said.
The second one is that the very first thing I toyed with writing was Lord of the Rings fan fiction, before there even was fan fiction. I'm talking YEARS ago, before the movies came out. I had finished reading them and just didn't want to give up the characters and the magic of the place, so I wrote alternate endings. They are destroyed - more really sappy stuff. I hope my storytelling has moved on significantly since then.