“There is no greater power on this earth than story”
There is in fact a story behind why I have not posted anything to Off My List the past several months- assuming that my few yet cherished readers actually noticed this. A little drum roll please: it’s because I was busy finishing the writing of my first book. Finished. My. First. Book! I can hardly believe I am actually typing those words. A lifelong goal since middle school, I have just printed the first copy of a memoir that tells the compelling story of a dear friend’s life in memoriam. Dee, the book’s subject, led a long and very interesting life, and was herself a wonderful storyteller. A warm and energetic lady, the entertaining and often humorous way she told a story was somewhat circuitous and definitely unique. She mostly did not mean to be funny, but her delivery, expressions and ability to laugh at herself delighted the rest of us whenever she held the floor. Dee’s gift for storytelling holds its own solid place on the list of ways to describe her.
Storytelling is right up there with the most important of all mediums and activities. It connects people everywhere to almost everything they know and do across the globe. The religious doctrines of history and history itself are based on it. The daily news, web content, and any number of books we read are all born from it. Cinema and theater, two of the most popular ways for visual storytelling, provide a multisensory way to enjoy stories. Without the act of storytelling, the ongoing preservation of moral and cultural values would be a much more difficult process. Even if shared out loud in order to simply entertain others, the art of storytelling is amongst the most powerful tools of the human race.
This completed memoir, composed of someone else’s experiences and recollections, is the longest writing piece I’ve cranked out since my English Lit final thesis paper on Victorian women writers and George Elliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss. Over the past year, I’ve poured over 10,000 words onto paper and spent several hours crafting them into an organized and hopefully engaging read. Behold an excerpt, a story within the story if you will, of the finished book here:
One year during the 1970s, the annual grocers convention was being held at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. Dee and John decided to turn it into a bit of a vacation while they were there and enjoyed outdoor activities in the warm desert climate, wonderful dinners and musical shows when they could fit them in. One afternoon John, Dee and Sophie & Bill (close friends from home who were also attending) were enjoying some time under the shade of the palm trees by the pool. A fashion show unexpectedly began poolside and the elegant models cat-walked right past Dee and Sophie. “Look at that gold dress! “ observed Dee. “Who would wear such an attention getter?” Sophie glanced up and said “Sexy!” and went back to her magazine.
Dee recounted the day’s events. “Right after show was over, John came over with the news that I had an appointment at 1pm to try the gold dress on. ‘I would never wear that dress!’ I exclaimed, surprised that he had even entertained such a thought. Without missing a beat John said ‘Yes you will!’ ‘What if it doesn’t fit?’ I asked him. He pooh-poohed the suggestion, and he and Bill took off to attend a convention event on their own.”
But the story was far from over. “After lunch, Sophie and I went to the hotel boutique at 1pm, thinking we would show up, I’d quickly throw the dress on, and we would go back and just tell him it didn’t fit, and put an end to the whole thing. But when we arrived, there was John, sitting right outside the fitting room door! Here goes nothing, I thought as I entered the fitting room. I tried the gold dress on, and wouldn’t you know it fit me perfectly. I modeled it for John and he promptly bought it. Sophie and I were dumbfounded. I repeated what I had said to John earlier. ‘I can’t wear that dress. It is too revealing and was made for someone younger and bolder than I.’ And John repeated his answer as well, telling me yes you will – tonight when we all go to dinner at Caesars Palace!”
“I could not believe John was insisting I wear the dress to dinner. Don’t get me wrong, it was a spectacular dress, but so out of character for someone like me. As we walked through Caesar’s Palace toward our dinner reservation, John, Bill and Sophie arranged it so that somehow I was out in the front of the group, and stepped onto the escalator first- alone. With the jingling sounds of the casino all around me, I suddenly realized everyone on both sides of the escalator was staring at me. I figured some of those oglers wondered what movie star I was, because it was that kind of outfit. I got inside the restaurant door and unbelievably, at the bar was Frank Sinatra!! He made eye contact with me, and looked me up and down…and all around. Soon our little dinner group caught up with me from behind and we went about settling in at our table. John beamed proudly the whole night. He really loved me in that dress. I only wore it one other time, because it was not appropriate for most of the events we attended. But I will never forget it or the look on John’s face when I wore it for him.”
When Dee shares that story, she recounts one of her favorite memories and in listening to it, we find ourselves transported: we can feel the desert sun, hear the clank of the slot machines and bells of the casino. We are able to visualize her feelings of self-consciousness as she rode up the escalator to dinner. While her initial intention was to entertain guests around the dinner table, the telling of that story does so much more- it gives us insight into her values, her own view of herself; it provides a snapshot of her personal history. Great storytelling just does that- it transports the reader into an alternate world, one where the lines of time and place are blurred. It reveals little pieces of history and facts that sometimes would never have been brought to light, unless the storyteller had shared them with others.
Everyone has a story to tell, even if it isn’t exactly their own…my first book is a fine example of that. What about your story? Can and should you tell it? As one of my favorite writers on earth, the one and only Anne Lamott has said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” So get to work, write your own story. You can thank me later, after the applause has died down. Just remember that you and only you can tell it the way it should be told, for future generations to have and to hold.
©2019 Lisa Ihnken, All Rights Reserved. Photos excepted.