A friend sent along this link to Ira Glass of National Public Radio’s “This American Life” talking about the early days of his career and how he had to work through all the horrible, sucky stuff he had to do. Working through what is not necessarily great work. He sits there and critiques (what was I talking about?!) a radio show from his early days. The point is it takes a long time–maybe forever?–to figure out how to tell the stories you want to tell. And inasmuch as this is aimed at a ‘creative’ audience, writers, radio people, reporters, anyone trying to tell their own or someone else’s story, I think it also applies to everyone–everyone! Because one big part of our common humanity is the need to tell stories. That’s what we do all the time. All the time. You get together with a friend and say, “I have to tell you what happened to me this morning!” You’re telling your story. But you don’t think twice about it when you’re telling it. We are speakers. Talk comes naturally to us. To then turn around and try to write that story is for some reason, an entirely different animal. Weird.
And then I see this review of Paul Auster’s latest book, Man in the Dark, in The New Yorker. The final line reads: “The narrative juxtapositions and the riddling starkness of Auster’s prose create an absorbing if mildly scattershot effect, breathing life into a meditation on the difference between the stories we want to tell and the stories we end up telling.”
Why do these things pop out at me now? And connect? I suppose it’s that I’m working with a friend who is trying to tell his story. A piece of his story. But he’s run up against that issue of, “When I tell this story to friends at dinner, it’s always interesting and amusing and unless they’re lying, they say it’s a compelling story, but when I try to write it down, it doesn’t sound like me and I don’t even want to re-read it.” That age-old dilemma. We are story tellers as speakers. Talking is natural. But writing is not. And for some reason (that 8th-grade English teacher?), people get totally constipated about writing their stories. Perhaps it’s just that gap between the oral and the written. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that it takes a lot of practice to make that written story sound as good as the spoken one. Perhaps it’s that we’ve been talking longer than we’ve been writing. Or maybe we spend a lot of time actually thinking about how we’re going to talk our stories. I know that I might have some experience and before I actually tell anyone about it, I might think about how I’m going to describe what I experienced; try to find the right words in my mind that will convey what happened. And perhaps we all do that; perhaps our training as speakers is so innate, so ‘within us’ that we don’t think about the oral practice that we do all the time.