A story about story
We all make up stories--not just us author-types.
And even when I’m not writing fiction I still make up stories in my head--like why I knocked over the carton of orange juice on the counter this morning. My spontaneous headspace story was quite unnecessary, uninformative actually, and not at all entertaining. And, oh, just to reassure you—the cap was still on the carton so the juice didn’t spill.
We make up stories so we can make sense of the world and what we face within it. It’s only natural that we do. We do it constantly without thinking about it. Well, that’s not quite right, those stories are our thoughts--without self-reflecting on it.
The short story on offer this month on the ENGAGE page of this website deals with making up stories. Little Steven, a grade three student back in the 60s, makes up stories about the pictures of movie stars he finds on the underside of milk bottle caps. At school, he hears the formal story of the Swiss Family Robinson, a popular novel just made into a movie with those very same stars. Every afternoon, just before recess, his teacher reads some of the novel to his class. After school while he delivers the papers on his paper route, Steven makes up his own stories about that family marooned on the desert island.
But Steven is admonished by his mom for making up stories because of the family’s religious beliefs. Stories are like lying, and as a family they hold strong to the truth--perhaps here the word truth should be capitalized given the way their particular religious truth is perceived by Steven’s family. And months later, once the movie is released, Steven is punished for going to see it with his class. His family doesn’t think going to the theatre is the proper thing for a good Christian to do.
This didn’t happen to me when I was eight--the Swiss Family Robinson / milk bottle caps thing. But I was admonished for going to a movie, a different one. It was called Big Yeller, a story about a dog. Going to the theatre was the entertainment at a birthday party for one of my friends when I was about 6. My mouth wasn’t washed out with soap as was Steven’s in this month’s story and I wasn’t strapped. But I was told clearly that Christians weren’t supposed to do the worldly things that others did, just so we could be a witness to them (here witness means an example of someone leading a godly life).
So the Steven story is fictional, but it tells a truth about my childhood. Not a literal, objective truth as would’ve been recorded on that 8mm movie camera my dad had. But a truth none-the-less about the sway over a child that could come with particular ideas of what Christianity is. There’s a lot of that in the emerging collection of Steven stories.
I’ve been especially careful writing these stories that the characters are not my specific family members. The Pastors in the Steven stories are different than the ones in my childhood church. That said, the pastors in the stories play as prominent a role in family life for Steven as missionaries did in mine. And even though the events are not specifically the same, through them I intend to tell a deeper truth about my childhood life.
Now just so you know, Steven grew up to be a lot like me. In fact, in the collection of stories there are quite a few when he is seventy. His job through his working years was getting people to tell their stories, as was mine. He did it as a newspaper reporter, I did it as a psychologist. And in his senior years, he’s looking back over the stories of his life to make sense of it all, as am I through my writing.
Oh.. oh … I have to tell you. In the collection of stories, Steven gets saved! Just in case you don’t know, getting saved is a pretty big deal in gospel churches like the one I grew up in. It meant getting right with God. And I apologize for the jargon here, there’s just not a better way of saying it and I hope you’ll get the gist. But Steven is not “saved” through the doctrinaire beliefs, but from them. His salvation comes in a subtle thread through the stories, woven in to the mix of confusion and compulsion that surrounds him, discovered after the fact to be celebrated in retrospect. Ah, the truth of that, eh?
Oh, and just as an aside, according to the stories about Jesus written decades after his life, he made up stories, too. We call them parables.
I sure hope you’ll follow along the Steven Stories with me. Many of them can trigger a good laugh. Others, a tear. Monthly I’ll announce one of them (or something else) on the ENGAGE! page of this website. I can also send them out in the process of their writing and compilation as an eBook. I intend to make audio recordings of them too.
Please let me know if you’re interested by sending me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clickable links to previous blog posts.
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.