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Tell Me a Story, Again

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(One thing I told myself when I started writing a blog was that I would never repost anything I wrote.  It would be better just to move on to writing new stuff and if I ever got to a point where I felt like reposting something, then it was probably time to hang up the pen or keyboard or chisel and rock.  Then this week happened.  In addition to the health difficulties with my wife that I mention below, my mother just had a knee replaced and requires a lot of attention from her kids.  We’ve got two sets of visitors passing through in the coming days, one of which is my son and daughter-in-law.  And I’m still employed at a job that they occasionally expect me to show up for.  Or at least I think I am.  (Did I remember to delete that e-mail about the boss?)  Amidst the chaos, this seemed like as good a week as any to repost something.  Anyway, this post from February 2014 is a good reminder of why keep writing this stuff.  And, yes, if you’re wondering, I’ve edited it a little.)

     Tell me a story.

Not long after Brenda and I got married, she started having problems with her back that would lay her up in bed for days or weeks (or, occasionally, months).  When you’re stuck abed for long periods of time, it can be mind-numbing, so we’ve tried a lot of things to ease the brain atrophy.  Thank God for audio books.  When she’s going through difficulties, even holding up a book to read can be agonizing.  The audio books make a huge difference.  But sometimes she needs human interaction along with her stories.  That’s where I come in, or at least, that’s the theory.

Tell me a story?

The first time she said this to me was only a few months after we were married.  She’d throw out the line in an exaggerated child-like voice, trying to make the request sound like something of a joke, but at its heart, the request was serious enough.  Tell me something that can stretch my mind and make the pain diminish for a while.

Tell me a story!

You’d think such a request would be right in my wheelhouse.  I’m from a long line of story tellers.  My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family was the best of the bunch.  When he would weave his tales, you would feel like you were at his side as he was living it anew.  His stories were always from his own life or from somebody that he knew.  He never made up a story, although I suspect many of them were highly embellished for artistic effect (something I would never do).  My grandfather was the best at it of anyone in my family, but he wasn’t unique.  Family members on both sides of the family could cast these spells.  My grandmother on my father’s side of the family was nearly as good.  I think it had something to do with their circumstances.  Both of my parents grew up in difficult, somewhat isolated surroundings in rural, western Missouri.  Life was hard and finding any kind of entertainment was a challenge.  Telling about the days events in an interesting way or describing happenings from the past were a way to expand the imagination beyond the dreary, daily struggles.  I suspect that this was, at one time, a whole nation of storytellers, although with each generation and with each technological advancement and new and brilliant shiny object that inundates our modern lives, the capacity to tell stories or the interest in listening to them has lessened.  This is not a criticism of our modern world.  I like the distractions, too.  It’s simply a recognition that each gain has a price and the capacity to tell a good story is a part of that cost.  I don’t tell stories as well as my grandparents or parents and the next generation likely won’t be quite as good as my generation is.

So, tell me a story!

Still, I’d picked up a few tricks from my ancestors.  Before we were married, I told Brenda a lot of stories and I suspect that’s one reason that she decided to marry me, much as I’d like to believe that it was because of my good looks and charming disposition.  So you’d think coming up with a story wouldn’t be all that hard when she asked, but I found that I couldn’t do it.  My mind would go blank and I’d struggle to even get a coherent sentence out of my mouth.  Part of the problem lay in repetition.  I’d already told her a lot of my stories.  Once you’ve heard for the tenth time the story about picking up the transvestite hitchhiker in California or about being rescued by an angel in Nepal, it’s just not that interesting in the eleventh telling.  It probably wasn’t that interesting the second time.

     Just tell me a story!

I started this blog because I enjoy writing, even though I’m not particularly good at it, and it’s a way to exercise whatever DNA I got that enjoys storytelling.  As is always the case with any project that’s worthwhile, in the intervening months it’s become something more than that.  It’s become a way to connect to my wife and keep her connected to a world that sometimes seems determined to keep her from engaging it.   Before I’d publish each post, I’d read it to Brenda.  She probably doesn’t have the most discerning palate for literary criticism, but she does seem to enjoy listening and she offers advice when needed.  I’m sure she hates the sports stuff, but she tolerates it.  It didn’t take too long for me to realize that this was the answer to my storytelling dilemma.  She doesn’t have to ask nearly as often now and that makes me happy.  So, the next time you read this blog and wonder what the heck I’m trying to accomplish, just remember that all I’m really doing is engaging in a very old family tradition.

I’m telling a story.

Overthinking It

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The other day, I was reading through a thread on Twitter.  (Note: Do NOT try this a home, unless you are a trained Twitter observer, as I am.)  The thread started out with a discussion on the Senate health care bill, which led to varying opinions on the sexual habits of porcupines and eventually concluded with a discussion on everything wrong with the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Now that’s some serious twittering there, and I could think of a thousand different directions to go with that, but really three points stick out above the rest.  1) I think porcupine sex could be a fascinating topic, and one which I intend to explore further once I get that plum job as a journalist for National Geographic.  Or maybe Playboy.  Whichever one can pay me the most.  2) The holodeck really is a lazy plot device on TNG and episodes involving it were rarely any good, although that episode where we found out that Lt. Barkley was using the holodeck exactly the same way every nerd I know would be using it was pretty cute.  3) I really need to quit overthinking things.

I bring this up because I went to my high school reunion last weekend and it was for real, too, not some program I cooked up for the holodeck.  A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post in which I posited I might not go to the reunion.  It wasn’t that my fellow alums are bad people or my past experiences at reunions were bad experiences.  It was just that most people look back on their high school experiences nostalgically (Surprise!) and my memories mostly involved hiding in plain sight, an activity I continue to engage in at social gatherings to this day.  I had doubts that I would have any fun.  So, I agonized over it for months and then I started getting texts from former classmates, gently asking if I was going to come.  They meant well, but I’m not sure it helped.  I waited until the last week before sending in my check.

As it happens, the reunion was a lot of fun.  I give much credit to the organizers.  Early on, they made the decision to have the reunion at an outdoor venue, a highly risky proposition in Kansas in June.  But the weather was perfect and there’s something about being outside that gave the event a more mellow feel.  It was easy to simply hang out, enjoy the encroaching dusk, and just be yourself.  I’ve never had anything but admiration for the great majority of my classmates, who are, on the whole really good people, so it was easy to get into a good rhythm socially.  So all of that overthinking was a waste of time and energy that would have been better spent working the kinks out of my “Destination: Tahiti” holodeck program, which is woefully behind schedule (I think my wife may be sabotaging it when I’m not home).

In the aftermath, I’ve been thinking a lot about overthinking.  We all do it from time to time, unless you’re a sociopath.  I believe they call that phenomenon is “paralysis by analysis.”  Sometimes, overthinking is a good thing.  If we’re deciding to launch nuclear weapons, I want my leaders to overthink that decision a lot.  Most of the time, it just gets in the way.  If you’re a Christian like I am, it could be getting in the way of what God really wants for you in this life.  I believe they call that phenomenon “lack of faith.”

This week, I had a brief e-mail exchange with a classmate of mine about a television program we’d both seen.  It’s an enjoyable program, but one that strains credulity from time to time (I wrote about it a while back). She said that her method for dealing with that situation is GWI (Go With It).  As long as it’s enjoyable and harmless, then it shouldn’t be that hard to ignore the plot holes for a while.  GWI seems like pretty good advice for most situations, even beyond the television world.  Perhaps not for nuclear war.  Most situations aren’t nuclear war.

I could go on in this deeply philosophical vein, but I’m scheduled for some holodeck time, this time with the “Woodlands” program.  National Geographic just called and I’ve got a lot to learn about porcupines.

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

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