Average Jane



Tell Me a Story

One of the first Radiolab episodes I remember listening to was called, “Tell me a story.” It’s not a traditional episode – rather than the witty cross-generational banter of Robert and Jad, you hear only Robert delivering the commencement speech to the California Institute of Technology. As a good commencement speaker would, he sends these academics out into the world of non-scientific feeble-minded simpleton (in other words, America) with a bit of advice: If you want people to understand you, understand a world of information as foreign to them as it is germain to their lives, tell them a story. Put data into a context. Give your audience a reason to remember.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the little pieces of the day fit into a bigger story, or how the mundane vignettes that play out around me are a part of someone else’s story. I subscribe unwillingly to the “everything happens for a reason” magical thinking because “fate” is a better story than happenstance. I silently hope that good people have a sordid past, and that sordid people fell from grace. I think about the regret and frustration felt by the driver of a car donning a Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker.

I never realized how distracting it was. Distracting and destructive.

When I moved from DC to Philadelphia, it was another chapter in my growing story of job loss and loneliness and wanderlusting my way around the eastern seaboard. This book was getting to be a heavy load to carry. And two years later, in my car driving from Philly to DC for the last time, the book grew again. Every step, every decision felt like an addendum, proof of failure once again with no way to go back and erase, edit, rip out the chapters gone by. My resume, the table of contents, bore witness to the crimes of my past.

Then I turned 30, and it became open season for “Well, how do you feel, Jane?” It felt like a day, a day after a day. A day before another day. How did I feel? I felt like there was nothing I could do to change my story. That any regrets I had, any emptiness I felt was in the past. A chapter gone by.

And then I met someone. In a completely unremarkable way. For a moment, that bothered me in a staggering way. I was going to meet the man of my dreams in a way befitting my first novel. Over drinks last night, I mused that the toast at our wedding would be short — no funny stories, no consorting compatriots, no “we both reached into the popcorn at the same time.”

“So what?” a dear friend piped up? “So what? So you talk about everything that happens after that. You talk about everything else.”

Who cares about my resume or my litany of moves or my need to fit life into neat little package I can document using twenty six oppressively limiting letters? Standing down from telling a story is a big step. Or, is it stepping aside from writing about what could be/should be/would be and focusing on what is…

 

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