It didn’t have to be a perfect day.
One might even say that I began the day by jinxing it. We drove to Alabaster for an herb co-op only to discover that I had mixed up the times. Suddenly, we had three hours to kill in a town sixty miles from home.
Though I always forget to bring along food, drinks, diapers, and all the necessaries, I never forget to bring a book just in case the right meadow should present itself.
Today, I found Ruth Sawyer’s The Way of the Storyteller tucked in my backpack, using the space normally taken by the baby wipes.
Perhaps I needed Ruth more than baby wipes today. Her words reminded me of my own blind spots- the way in which I use stories to “teach” rather than tell, to train rather than liberate, to “educate” rather than elucidate the intangible shaded areas of human existence. Though her book is intended to reframe storytelling as a folk art, Ruth clears many cobwebs along the way. So I sat in the grass, reading Ruth, peeling clementines, and watching the little people turn rusted old pipes into balance beams.
“Storytelling is not for remedial purpose or for training. It is not a mechanical process to be made easy and pleasant. It is not a means of presenting limited material to the minds of children. It is an art demanding the utmost of your capacity and mine for living and understanding ; it us dependent upon our power of creation; it asks for integrity, trust, and vision.”
We see different things. They see a perfect line to follow like a thread. Maybe they see something small enough to master.
I see a tunnel running underneath their little feet- a subterranean world with its own songs and arguments, a passage beneath our habitual empiricism, a possibility whose darkness symbolizes comfort rather than cruelty.
“I think stories must be acquired by long contemplation, by bringing the imagination to work, constantly, intelligently, upon them. And finally by that power to blow the breath of life into them. And the method? That of learning incident by incident, or picture by picture. Never word by word.”
“Here is a sad paradox: those musical instruments invented on the pattern of the human body, and stringed to produce the most sublime qualities of the human voice, have so far outdistanced us in resonance and beauty of tone that now we turn to them to get the quality we would like to hear in our own voices.”
The story changes every time I try to touch it with a word- maybe the light didn’t hover so much as it haunted, or the shadows moving quickly across the grass left us dizzy rather than lulled. Or my viewpoint went from vertical to horizontal. Where does the story stop changing?
Ruth might say this is a problem not for the storyteller but for the writer, who must choose one fixed version to pass along. The storyteller never stops spinning or weaving, adding new colors, removing salted ones.
The storyteller is free from the bindings of one weather- free to inhabit the “whether”.
What can I say? The story continues. My words don’t equal the watching. The perfect day that made no promise also left me with no settled story to tell Patrick.
Maybe when the images finish pickling and I hanker for the salt, my hunger will get the best of me and today’s story will hatch, shiver, shake its feather, and wander out in the world unsettled, changing each season, that chick-turned-hen I’d rather follow than catch.