Tag Archives: stories

Roll the Truth Around Your Head

Tell a story.

That’s the point of the matter.  I started this blog as a way to make sense of my day, to get through the grief and the silence of the late night when I couldn’t sleep.

Now I tell stories.  Truths roll around my head and whether I want to or not I need to get them out.  It’s the same thing with being a musician.  I need to get the ideas out before they go away.

My daughter, Abigail, feels the same way with acting.  My son, Noah, loves to make short films on his Nintendo 3DS, and wants to get a camera that will let him do stop-frame animation.  Not sure if that’s going to happen anytime soon, but you get the idea.  Sam loves to sing.  Hannah wrote a song for her sister as a graduation present and it made Abbi cry.

At the end of the day we all tell stories.  Robert Krulwich, a reporter for ABC News for a long time, anchor of the NPR program Radiolab, etc…says we all edit.  We all take information given to us and filter out what we know is extraneous and add what we think to be important that we’ve heard outside the original story.  Media reports tend to be bland, he says, and flat.  Police reports say x, y, z . . . and then move on.  But we still tell the story.  The truth rolls around your head and you filter it with your own experience.

I bring this up because we all take stories in, we just don’t know it.  I have them rolling around and they delve into the past, look into the future (though lately, not very far into the future) and bemoan what we hoped would happen with our lives.

I bring this up because I received a compliment from my daughter, whether or not she even thought much about the compliment.  We were walking through the local department store after having had an insanely unhealthy dinner – an indulgence neither of us regretted this night.  I’d had a massive headache all day and remembered needing to go to the store, just not what I needed in the store.  While wandering we hit the book section and I remembered . . . James Rollins, who has been quite kind to me though not thinking it was a big deal . . . had a new book out.  “You’re a good friend,” my daughter informed me, adding that it was nice I was supporting a local author.  “Friend is likely stretching it, we know each other,” I told her, adding that he probably didn’t need all that support, he’s a New York Times bestselling author.  But I do feel the pull to support a man who lives here and buy his book as it comes out.

Still, “it’s just as much for me, he’s a great writer,” I informed Abbi.  “Yeah, but you’re a great writer, too!”
“Well, thanks, kiddo, though I’m not really a writer.”
“Yes, Dad . . . you are.  You write every week for a national site.  You’ve been published in Smithsonian.  You’re a writer.”
“I guess you’re right, I suppose.  Never looked at myself that way,” I added, even though I write every day in my job.

She added that I still had the ability to talk with James Rollins, most people wouldn’t even be able to do that, she said.  But still…I wouldn’t ask a man who writes thrillers to look at material I’ve written.  Though he did read the article in Smithsonian I’d written and found it interesting.  That was enough for me.

The point to all this is not to raise myself up to a level where I’m a full-time novelist or compare myself to a bestselling author, I’m not that.  I’ve written a book, wouldn’t call it a Sigma Force epic like Rollins’ material.  But I write.

We all tell stories.  It’s what you do with them . . . if you share them . . . that’s important.  History is what we tell, not what’s always in the books.  I’m sure James Madison was the great man the historians describe.  I’m also sure there are dozens of stories about his personal life generations of Madisons tell you and I never get to hear . . . but they’re still there.  Told.

That, you see, is the point of this blog now.  I tell stories.  Maybe 3 people read it today, maybe 300 or 3,000.  Makes no difference, because even now, I can look back and tell my kids what got us where we are.  The truth will roll around their heads.

And we’ll have the stories.

SMILE Because It Happened

One of our adventures
One of our adventures

I had a discussion recently with someone about the things that happen to us.  The friend asked why I say Our Story Begins and why I seem different and whether I think constantly about being widowed.

My response was this: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

I’m a storyteller at heart.  I’ve always been one, I just never realized it early in my life.  I started on the radio.  I went into television.  I told stories, initially in front of the camera, then behind it.  Every portion of it the control, the feel, the shaping of what gets put together was thought through.  I stitched pictures to words and wove a tale every day, in two minutes or so, and put it out into the ether for the region to see, eventually making its way through the atmosphere and drifting as bits of signal waves moving past Saturn and Jupiter, likely never seen again.  I did this not knowing at the time that I was weaving a tale every day.

Our lives became a tale, too.  I wasn’t realizing it at first, but those first, brightest, strongest emotions burn themselves into the synapses of your brain and live there, forever.  The feelings pump through your heart and every cell . . . every electron that bonds your molecules holds a portion of the most powerful of things you experience.  I met an amazing woman and through a period of successive years I had one child . . . then a second came that nearly killed my wife in childbirth.  When we were told she likely wouldn’t have children again she got pregnant…with twins.  Our lives a roller coaster of emotion and feeling and stress and elation.

Then she left.

It would have been easy . . . hell, it should have been easy to say the story was over.  It was finished with a classical ending befitting of the Bard himself, a tragedy of epic proportions.

But our story wasn’t a Shakespearian tragedy.  Sure, it starts to feel that way at first.  Those burned-in moments, like the blue spot on an old tube-based video camera, burn the brightest and you forget all the other details.  You focus on the spots, not the entire picture.  You forget the arguments and the screams and the depression.  You forget the loneliness and the distance and the lack of communication.  You forget how nothing in the life that you live is perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect.  All you have is those bright, burning spots, sparking the lightning of synapse across the hemispheres of your mind and drawing you farther from the tale you should be telling, not the story you’ve already read.

Along the way, though, and for me I cannot tell you the exact moment, those bright stars in your memory start to burst like a star as it starts to fade from night toward dawn.  They never go away . . . just like the stars in the sky never leave, they just get obscured until you look up and see them again as the sun sets, giving you that smile, that warm feeling and not the ache for what was lived.

My life isn’t the end of one story, it’s the continuation of my story . . . of our story, mine and the kids.  When the bright, burning memories return to their former glory you remember the little things that both confused and angered and enamored you.  The nervous laugh, the silly moments, the hysterical moments come back into focus and you realize that you’re okay.  The days, months, for some people years after are filled with the best moments and the most regrettable moments in rushes of emotion, tears, and worry.  But they are replaced by acceptance and restoration of the life lived.

I am the man I have become due to the influence of my wife . . . and I’m also the man I am because she left.  I am neither and both on many days.  It’s a story, like a Hollywood script, with moments of intensity and moments of slow plodding.  Hyperventilation followed by breathless ecstasy.  I have recounted my story before and will likely do it again, but each time the real story comes more and more into focus.

The person I was talking with above asked if I’d embrace going back to being married and who I was if Andrea, my wife, came back tomorrow.  They seemed taken aback when I simply said “no.”

No . . . I couldn’t go back.  The kids may think it would be great, but we’ve come too far on our own, adjusted too much and changed too many things for that to be a transition we could survive.  She would be the same and all five of us would be different.  Change is hard, particularly for kids who have faced so much change in the last two years.  But still, we faced it and embraced it.  Our lives now are filled with adventure in the smallest of events.  The big things that come our way, the love we see or hope to feel we know we need to grab or it will slip through our fingers.

My four munchkins...
My four munchkins…

Life, we now know, is fleeting and the moments we live are the ones that will burn in those portions of our memories forever.  I can see that my life up to now isn’t a morality play or a tragedy, it’s been a journey . . . a great story full of thrills, emotion and impact.  I no longer grieve for what could have been, I celebrate what I have.

“How can you look at your life this way, not even two years later,” the person asked me.
I repeated the phrase: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
“That’s an amazing phrase,” the person told me, “did you write it?”

No, was my response.

“It’s Dr. Seuss,” I told them, and smiled as I walked away from the conversation.

Tell a Story

Bound for Glory by the Tedeschi, Trucks band from the LP Revelator

I spent Friday at a college visit with my oldest daughter, Abbi.

Abbi, after last year's play.
Abbi, after last year’s play.

Abbi, you see, wants to go into drama, theater, film, whatever happens to hit closest to her heart when she goes.  The particular visit also included her having to audition for a scholarship from the school’s program.  Abbi has two monologues that she has to give, one classic, one modern.  The classic is a favorite of hers from Shakespeare, a comedic monologue.  The other is a section she just discovered from the play Our Town.

I’ve seen Abbi do the Shakespeare monologue before, and she’s brilliant at it – if I say so myself.  But the monologue from Our Town affected me, more than she may really know.

My kids have been surrounded by a lot of darkness lately.  Death seems to swirl around us lately, and it’s nobody’s fault, it’s life.  Life, however, seems to have a mist of grief that is intent on bringing us to bear and it’s hard to keep moving when the mist obscures the landmarks and footprints you’ve made.  It’s hard to see if you have traveled the same ground when you can’t see where you’ve been or where you’re going.

Abbi performed the monologue for me and it nearly brought me to tears.  It’s a character who is coming to terms with the fact that she has died and is trying to see what she did, could have done, and what she is missing or missed.  She said she was nervous and wasn’t happy with her performance.  If that’s her worst, I feel for her future audiences because of the fact that it reached into my heart and squeezed it.  Hard.

I wasn’t at her audition, but she talked about it.  She wasn’t first to perform, but came after a girl who was in-state, filled with confidence (too much maybe?!) and was part of the state’s drama programs.  She walked in a bit over-confident and a lot egotistical, and she got the attention they felt she deserved.

Then Abbi got up and gave her two.

After her dramatic monologue, the panel questioned her . . . a lot.  They asked her about her choice of the piece from Our Town.  Abbi recounted to me that her answer was more than sincere, and maybe a little more personal than she’d wanted.
“We’ve had a lot of death in our family lately,” she said, “and it’s been a lot to bear.”  She recounted losing her mother, her great-grandmother and her grandfather, all in less than two years.  She talked about having to adjust to things in life and how we all feel now: life isn’t nearly long enough to waste it.  Grab the opportunities and experiences as they happen.  Find the adventure even in the smallest of events, and live it.

And tell your story.

The panel had read her essay – a required part of auditioning.
“You say here that you want to tell stories.   Can you expand on that?”

I won’t recount her entire essay, but she said that at the end of the day she wants to tell a story, a tale.  The way she connects and tells them is acting, on a stage, adding herself a bit to the character.

When they asked her to expand, she said that, in essence, she was doomed.  Every time I tried to complain about my job, my industry, all of it, my wife would look at me and roll her eyes.
“You have too many stories you want to tell,” was her line.  She hated that fact about me sometimes, but she was right.  I do.  Unfortunately for Abbi, she’s doomed to have it as well.
Abbi told them her father is a writer, a storyteller, a journalist.  But she added: “but I get it from all sides.  My Mom was a reporter.  Heck, my grandma can tell you a story about how she went to the grocery store this morning.  It may take her a half hour to recount the adventure of her 15-minute trip, but it will be a tale and it will always be interesting.  I want to tell stories and I do it this way, for me it’s the purest form of telling a story by inhabiting it myself and giving it to the audience.”

A member of the panel apparently was extremely excited by that answer.  It’s apparently exactly how they looked at things and she unknowingly had hit the nail on the head.

I couldn’t have been more proud of her, either.

Tell a story.  That’s what we do.  I recounted my past eighteen years here . . . telling of love, loss, and life.  I’ve told how I’ve moved on, becoming more and more the person I am now, moving into a new phase in life, a new way of looking at the world.  I sometimes dominate the conversation – to my detriment.  I have learned to listen.  I talk a lot, because I tell a tale.  But we’ve both learned to hear and not just fill in the gaps of silence.

We have little adventures, small trips, and seize what opportunities we hope to grasp.  It’s important to us.  We’ve lost, but look what we’ve gained?

The truth rolls around our heads . . . and we tell our stories.

So what tale do you have to tell?

At the movies, with Abbi
At the movies, with Abbi

Every Picture Tells a Story . . .

One of the few smiling images of mine

I’ve seen a number of descriptions of my writings here but none touches me as much as the thought from a number of people that his is as much a love story as it is a story of grief, loss or flat out manic depressive family panic.

I truly hope people see that is the fact, I did love Andrea, more than anyone. But I do have to admit something, whether it’s right or not; whether you believe it or not.

I got far more out of this relationship than Andrea did.

I’ve given glimpses of myself, expressed how awkward I was, how much of a geek I was . . . none of that gives a true picture.

If you’ll forgive the photographic theft, I’ve attached a few pictures above and below. I think you should all see the transition and hopefully you’ll see my point. I wasn’t just skinny, I was gangly. I can use the excuse that I had moderate asthma, took medication that sped up my metabolism to the point that I couldn’t sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time and burned an unhealthy amount of weight, but that isn’t all of it. Not by a long shot. A friend described me recently, and I’m paraphrasing, as very talented but also quiet . . .extremely quiet. I don’t dispute that it’s true, but that statement could also be read as shy.  Paralyzingly shy.

I also was filled with anxiety and fear, brought on by a tremendous lack of self-confidence. If you look at pictures of me, you see me through the years. As a kid, with a Bieber “do” far before Bieber was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Maybe before his father even hit puberty. I had a massive obsession with Eric Clapton and Fender Stratocasters. I own a Dr. Who Neckerchief/Scarf from the Tom Baker era. I was introverted to the point that after the unfathomable reality that I’d actually asked a girl to the Junior prom it didn’t mean that I was an enjoyable date. I shudder to think how awful those early, awkward evenings – evenings I had such romantic and amazing plans for – turned out to really be.  And sure, they were bad memories for me, they must just be unforgivable for some of those unfortunate enough to have gone out with me, let alone just hang out with me.  There are days I cannot believe I actually survived those years with any friends still willing to talk to me.

Before I met Andrea, the only time I was able to actually be myself was on stage, in front of a microphone with a guitar slung over my shoulder. There, I was myself, even freaking out some of the people who knew me before this, showing a side of myself they never knew existed, maybe never got a glimpse of.

A rare likable photo of me . . . at Septemberfest

Yet I’ve heard from friends that never knew me in those years who say they cannot picture that version of me. (No, I won’t go on some “look at me” rant here, I don’t have that kind of ego)  Colleagues who say they can’t even imagine the person I’m describing.

The answer to the dichotomy is pretty simple – it’s the other picture(s) . . . the ones that have the amazing blonde in them.

20111020-114845.jpg
This was at the station where we met. Just a quick flash of me.
A look at the changes...in me, not the beautiful woman on my arm

I know I play up her looks, and sure that’s the first thing is the physical attraction, but she gave me so much more. I wouldn’t say I changed, because I think the fundamental person that I am was always there. But Andrea found that fundamental person. It wasn’t a few weeks and I changed from the kid with the Beatles-haircut-on-sterioids look to the guy standing next to her in Geoffrey Bean shirts and short hair. There was something fundamentally profound for a guy like me to not only go out with Andrea, but to know that when you walked into a room, the room changed. All because of her. If you’re standing with someone amazing, smart and beautiful, it’s funny how your own barriers start to fall down. But it’s more than that. Whenever I’d get quiet, she’d nudge me . . . “you OK? You’re awfully quiet.” If I got down on myself, she’d tell me I was wrong. If I just had a rotten, God-awful day, she’d just smile at me. Any coldness left inside of me just melted away.

Every picture tells a story.

You can see the transition, it isn’t subtle. I went from shy, combative, grumpy, stick in the mud to a little less grumpy, stiff or quiet. I went from being a behind the scenes guy who dabbled in television stories to the guy who produces the whole thing, writing documentaries, travelling to Germany and Afghanistan. If you’d told people who knew me back then, I don’t know that they’d have thought twice about how things went.

But the pictures diminished. Not for me, but for her. She always fought what she called a weight problem. I never looked at it that way. I know that, because of some liver issues and medicines, in the last few years the problem became reality, but it wasn’t something permanent and we were working on fixing it.

The terrible, horrible thing I have to face now is the fact that I have no record of those years. She wouldn’t allow photos or video of her. We went from having a photographic history of our life to rare moments where we captured her without her knowledge and kept the photos to ourselves. Sure, I gave her things, wrote her a song, but what does that compare with what I got . . . she gave me my life back, the person I saw in the mirror but couldn’t bear to let everyone else see. She was brilliant as the sun, smart as a whip, and she gave it to me without reservation.

How do you remember someone you lost?  I see that amazing woman, the outgoing person who wouldn’t let me hide behind the wall any more.  Do the kids see her?  Do they remember that woman?  Will their image change to the ones that are left behind instead of the Mom they knew?

I hope as long as I continue to push the amazing things she did for all of us they’ll remember the person I saw, the one who did far more for me than I can imagine I EVER did for her.  It’s evident, my friends, there’s no disputing it.  Even if you don’t believe that, no matter, the evidence is there. Just look.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart

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