“I have to get a hole poked in my eye tomorrow,” my mom announced cheerfully on the phone tonight.
We both do that.
Not get holes poked in our eyes–although I do have a horrific story about getting a hole poked in my eyelid*–no, we both start mundane stories as melodramatically as possible. I notice myself doing it but can’t stop myself. Sometimes I catch myself lying a little bit, just by accident, because the story sounds so much better than the truth. What can I say? I like telling it slant.
For example. The other day, as we were eating lunch, I started poking through the old cigar box I use as a recipe-card holder. “I’ve had this box since I was six,” I told Shmjon**. “It was my pencil box in first grade.” I stuck my face into the box to see if I could still detect that stale-smoke-mixed-with-pencil-shavings odor I loved as a child. The smell was gone, but underneath my messy stack of recipe cards, I found four or five brightly colored pencils, a few smooth rocks, and some trinkets. “These were my first-grade pencils!” I said, holding them up for inspection.
Shmjon expressed appropriate astonishment.
“This is a little Christmas ornament from my first violin student. This is a river rock. From somewhere.” I pulled out a dried, crumbling corsage. “And this is probably from prom.” I set it aside on the heap of little treasures and thought about what I’d just said. “No, it’s not, because I didn’t go to prom.”
Shmjon choked on his soup. “Then why did you say it was probably from prom?”
…Because I wish I had my corsage from prom preserved at the bottom of a recipe-filled cigar box, nestled in amongst the Minnie Mouse pencils I learned how to scrawl my name with? Because that’d be a kickass way to start a story?
In A Tree Grows In Brooklyn***, Francie’s teacher tells her: “…you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story. Then you won’t get mixed up.” And we, the readers, are told: “It was the best advice Francie ever got.”
I’m not so sure. I think maybe a writer needs practice telling the stories, too, not just the truth. It’s about learning the tone, the timing. The right opening line that will get that gasp you’re going for, that will hook your listeners’ attention, before you go into all the nitty-gritty details…
“Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds,” my mom said.
Yes, by the way, my mom’s eyes are fine. She just needs to have a minor in-office procedure done on her tear ducts.
“Why are you laughing? What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I told her. “Just, I’m so very much your daughter.”
*Keywords: cyst surgery, eyelash tape, chalazion, crying tears of blood. (See what I mean?)
**Whose name has been altered to protect his privacy.
***My favorite book, and if you haven’t read it, how are we still friends? Oh, right. Maybe we’re not. Maybe you’re just a person who has the Internet. Remind me again, why am I writing all of this for strangers to read? Ah, yes. Because I like telling stories, and telling stories is more fun if you can imagine that you have readers.