It makes me proud. I don’t know how much credit I can take, but I do encourage it. Yesterday, we headed out on a bike ride. Halfway across town, halfway to grandma’s, Nik stops and says, “You know what story I am always going to tell about this bike ride?”
I want to pause and savor this moment. (I overheard a student say the other day, very proudly, how they don’t savor anything, and never will. They just gulp it down without thinking.) He, my son, is practicing what I say about adventures, which is that a lot of what a good adventure does is give you something to tell others about. And this is something you can get better at if you practice. And on a true adventure, you never know what you’re going to experience. My son is about to tell a story which is an adventure in itself. I never know what he is going to say. (Unless he’s got candy on his mind.) This is his story:
“When we left it was cold and raining, and then suddenly the sun came out. And it felt good.”
Why do I love this story so much? Did you notice the word always when he introduced the story he was about to tell? Did you notice that a paraphrase of his question is permission to ask a story? Do you realize that this is an opportunity to validate and guide and connect? Do you realize how often in people’s lives this question (disguised as less than direct or important) goes unheard or unanswered? Did you notice that the story has a beginning, middle, and end? Did you notice it went from cold and unpleasant to sunny and pleasant in a few words? In reality this happened in a dozen blocks.
I hear people say, “I guess you just had to have been there” after they attempt to tell a story or joke. And then they give up, judging and blaming the audience for the experience. Sometimes I get all animated and fired up at school explaining “It is your job as the writer to put them there!”
I am overwhelmed with the significance of that bike ride, which explains why I make a better poet than President. True, you (distant reader) don’t know exactly why. A lot can be implied. Father, son, growing up, exploration, grandma and grandpa’s house, rain and then not. A lot of details or specifics could be added or layered into the story. What was happening when we left our house, what Nik’s sister said to him when we rode away, what Nik said about the hibernating turtle next to the bike pump in the garage that he put on his tire for the first time by himself, the mushy leaves and the puddles that quickly made a brown stripe up his blue rain jacket, the blue and then dark gray sky, the tingly cold of our hands only a block away from home, the continual insistence that “we can make it dad” and “isn’t this a fun adventure?” But he doesn’t always say adventure, he says “venture” half the time.
I try to teach my students that specifics are what make a story interesting. You have to have the right ones, and if you have too many it can get quite monotonous. Do I include that when I let him lead he takes us to all the places we rode by in the summer and found blackberries? Do I include the way he smiles, and looks at me, and looks at the empty and wet blackberry brambles and says “I know dad, but I just wanted to check anyway.”
Do I include that I almost didn’t go on the bike ride? Do I say that I almost put him in front of the television so I could figure out what the hell I should do on Monday at school? Do I describe the giant Yew tree in the yard of a strange looking church where a few days ago my mother described how the chemo drug derived from that tree didn’t agree with her? Do I mention the houses we drive by, where certain parties may have happened, and even certain stabbings of childhood friends? Do I pause at the weird connection between a remembered stabbing among childhood peers and the news chatter about a reported stabbing by someone running for President?
Do I mention that a few of these houses were once on my childhood paper route? That door, right there, solid and wood, I would throw the paper as hard as I could. It gave a pleasing thunk. The screen doors dented when you hit them and they were loud, but the solid wood you could throw hard against it and hear the thunk. And that house, newly remodeled now, DID NOT want a paper or any advertising supplement whatsoever. You would hear about it if you made that mistake by accidentally giving them a paper. Some people don’t want the news, even if it’s complimentary.
Maybe. That’s the answer. How long should a story be? As long as a piece of string. My grandmother, we learned when we cleaned out her apartment, had bags of strings and yarn labeled “Pieces too small to use.” I like my son’s story. You could flesh it out more, but the skeleton is there. And if you were also there, it is more than enough.
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