Friday, December 05, 2008

Just for the Listening

The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been known as Black Friday -- the day businesses sell enough merchandise to become profitable. Some shoppers love it and others hate it, but I'm always amused by those who make the biggest deal out of the whole yelling about how they aren't going to buy anything. For the record: I marked the occasion by painting my bedroom.

The StoryCorps organization has also made a push to make the day after Thanksgiving The National Day of Listening. The idea was profoundly simple: Spend one hour talking to someone and listening to their story. It could be a family member, a neighbor, a friend, or someone in your community. The thought is, by listening to others, we become less isolated and more interconnected. Stories allow us to learn more about who we are as a people, and preserving them let the memories, and people attached to them, live on forever. It's a very cool idea.

Judging by the thousands upon thousands of stories this project has collected thus far, it seems everyone is ready, able, and willing to jump in front of the nearest microphone and start spilling the goods. For the rest of us, this is great. But if I asked anyone in my family (not counting the nephew, because as dear as he is, the world isn't ready for armpit-noise stories, and not counting the teenager whose daily refrain is YOU'RE NOT BLOGGING ABOUT THIS!) to tell me a story about themselves, their first response would be a Mince Pie Face. Their second response would be a loud "WHAT?" Their third response would be a very confused, "Why?" And the final blow would be a conversation halting, "Oh, I really don't have anything interesting to say."

Now I'm not here to diss my family, so let me explain. Why do I think this? Because I would do exactly the same thing. Stories on demand aren't easy for everybody, but I don't consider it a defect, it's just the way some people are, and being a pretty accepting person, I think it's alright. But it doesn't mean there aren't stories waiting to be told. Wherever there are people and life and living, there are stories. Lots of them. The trick is, you just have to learn listen all the time, in all sorts of ways.

My paternal Grandfather has been gone for many years, but I know some of his stories by things he did. He used to make small wooden replicas of things: table and chairs, china cabinet, a two-seater outhouse. There were no patterns or kits. He just made them, and they were beautiful. I still have a small grand piano that he made, and although he can't tell me stories about the piano, I listen to him ... I hear him and his story as I hold it in my hands.

Sometimes stories are told unawares. A drive through an old neighborhood. A picture. An old song. A favorite recipe. These ordinary prompts wake up our memories and shake them loose. If you're listening, you'll hear it, and be very, very lucky, because sometimes the unimportant stories are the best stories of all.

Today marks the first day of Holidailies. This is my fifth year of writing for this project, and as I look over list of participants, I recognize some old favorites, and look forward to discovering some new favorites as well. When I started writing back in 2003, it wasn't a conscious effort to begin recording my every waking thought for the entire world. I had a nine-year old, which meant I had automatic story fodder too good to forget. Over the years I've shared the funny, the heartbreaking, the isane as well as the inane. If you sat me down and demanded I tell you a story, I'd tell you I have nothing to say, but it seems this blog says otherwise. It's been my side-kick, my wailing wall, my psychiatrist and my thinking out loud place. For my daughter, my family and my friends and all of you who visit regularly or who just might be passing by, consider it an open gift. The stories -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- will always be there whenever you want them.

Just for the listening.


One year ago -- I was having difficulty adjusting my new life in Cube hell. One year later? It's just as noisy down here as ever, but I CAN tell you everybody's current medication, political leanings, and vacation plans.

Two years ago -- I was bemoaning my upcoming Christmas gigs in Haiku. Considering what I'm facing this weekend, it's just about time to crank out another set.

Three years ago -- I was thinking up excuses as to why I didn't write a 30-day novel. Even my excuse was late. No posts.

Four years ago -- I was getting ready to sing a gig in YooperLand. Hey guess what? I'll be back up there again in April, 2009.

Five Years ago -- I was bemoaning the fact that I have horrible timing. Five years later, I'm here to report nothing has changed.

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