Jonsi & Alex – Happiness
I’ve felt it at my fingertips since I was a young boy. The power of turning these words into something bigger than just complete thoughts. The possibility of creating. The potential to tell a story worth telling.
I’ve felt it at my fingertips since I was a young boy. The weight of turning these loaded words into something heavier than just complete thoughts. The gravity of creating. The unmet potential to tell a story worth telling.
There’s always been one problem. One very large, very significant chink in all this armor: I’ve never found the story.
How do writers write? How are places pieced together to establish the comforts of home and the mystery of the unknown? Where are characters created into living and breathing beings? Where is narrative nuanced into deep conflict and denouement? How do writers write? And yes…I did use the word “denouement” a moment ago. I’m not so pretentious that I could continue writing without first calling myself out.
I just finished Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”, his most recent book on the very nature of “story” itself. I closed the book inspired and intrigued. I felt called to write in a way that I hadn’t felt in quite some time. It was as if the winter months were coming to an end and this sleeping bear was called to go fishing again…except this time around my stomach was aching for the largest fish in the sea. I want to write and I want to write big. I want to write wholly and heartily. I want to and I would, but I don’t even know how to find a story worth telling.
I can put words together in a way that pleases even my picky, cautious eyes. They can tickle my brain and curl my lips into a slightly crooked, sly smile. I can get halfway thru a thought and find that vertical black line blinking…blinking…blinking…waiting in anticipation like a red light on a railroad track. I know the train will pass at some point, that the sentence, the thought itself, will be completed. That the analogy will piece together like two strangers making eye contact, smiling, waving. I have confidence that what is in me will eventually work itself out. I even enjoy this process, those pauses where you find yourself fumbling through catalogues of words and meanings in the scattered, sorted library of your mind, pages and papers flying everywhere like snow and wind and white. I can write. But I can’t write a story, because for the life of me, I can’t find one worth telling. Where in the world do they come from?
I was in-part accepted into one of the best universities in the country for young, aspiring writers because of something I wrote in my college application essay. At least, that’s what I’ve always told myself (I’m sure it had more to do with the fact that this Midwestern school needed more Southerners to fill out their stat sheet). Boldly, I wrote that I would write the “next great American novel”. Of course it was, in all honesty, just a bold piece of crap. But the thing is, I’m not quite sure that I knew it at the time. I think I really believed the story would come. I think I thought that, with time, change of scenery, life experiences, Hemingway and F. Scott and Twain would crawl down my brain to my shoulders, arms, and fingertips like the ivy falling free at Wrigley Field. But it never did.
I’ve written all sorts of things since. A pinch of poetry, a parcel of prose. Journalistic pieces, songs, letters, sermons. But never a story. Like a knight without a dragon I’ve found myself losing my grip on the sword of words. Part of me fears it will never come. But you know what? More than that, another part of me fears something even worse: it will.
I’m secretly scared the story will come. I’m secretly scared the story will come…and that it won’t be good enough. You see, I suppose the question for me isn’t necessarily “Where does the story come from?”…but how do writers turn that very simple story that came from somewhere very near to their own heart and experiences into something more widely known and largely felt? How do writers make the very possible seem impossible, the ordinary extraordinary? How do they take a bespectacled boy who goes to Wizardry school and turn it into a modern day piece of Greek mythology? I’m worried my story is something right in front of me, something on the tip of these fingertips that constantly type “something sane” instead of “something new”. I fear that I won’t recognize it, and even if I do, I fear that I’ll get halfway in and not be able to find myself out. Read enough books on writing (the irony: reading about writing) and you’ll come back to one piece of advice that is near and dear to all who’ve had success: “Write what you know.” Here’s what I know: I fear that I won’t be good enough.
That last sentence could paralyze me for the rest of my writing, waking life. Like my inability to ever really, loosely, whole-heartedly just let go and dance with my wife at a wedding, I could just sit there and curse my body for never outwardly expressing what I’m inwardly feeling. I could. But I don’t think I will. The Wizardress of writing herself (J. K. Rowling) wrote something perfect and profound: “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself.” It’s not that I’m not allowed to fear writing a story worth telling. I am. I always will be. It’s that I’ll lose sight of even feeling that fear. It’s that I’ll let that fear swallow me so whole I’ll forget what I’m fearing in the first place. It’s that I’ll someday forget why I ever even wanted to dance with my wife in the first place.
I must hold so tight to that fear that I face it with all the burn and bite these fingertips can force. That I’ll unblinkingly stare that fear hard and heavy into its hallowed and hollow eyes. That, more than anything, I’ll stride into that fear with the cadence of slow, measured steps—one, two, three…one, two three—and willingly dance like a dirvish. That I’ll finally find a fight worth fighting, and lash at it with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.
That these fingertips, the ones I’ve felt currents of electricity in since I was a young boy, that have known the strength of building small structures and simple sentences, that have relished the ability to one day really create, would do so. And would do so without abandon. Without caution. Without fearing fear.
That they would just tell a story. A simple, sincere story. A story I know.