Inside looking out: Everyone is a story
When I first started to write this column nearly four years ago, my editor said, “Write about whatever you want, and you don’t have to come up with something every week.”
Well, I have come up with something every week since then. Writers are always on the hunt for stories. You might think we have to find interesting people who have done something extraordinary, but the truth is everyone is interesting and everyone is extraordinary.
Allow me to put you in my mind for a minute so you might see how a writer perceives the world he lives in. You don’t wake up in the morning with a purpose to go out to find an idea for a story, and yet every single person you encounter or observe is a possible subject. You see the older woman working at the dollar store register right next to another employee, a young man who looks about 20 years old. You think, here are two people separated by 50-some years working at the same store, and you wonder what different reasons brought them to this job.
As a writer, you can decide to ask for an interview with both of them or you can make up in your mind a fictional character comparison and create your own reasons to why they work there.
You talk to a mechanic for five minutes and he might become the subject of your next story. He has a wonderful sense about car repair. He talks about a Ford Explorer that needs a new transmission as if the vehicle was an 80-year-old man in need of a heart transplant.
Your writer’s mind has no off switch. You’re always “on” to write the next paragraph on a blank page. You can immerse yourself in an idea that is so consuming, you drive right past the store you were going to for a gallon of milk.
Everyone is a story, but no one thinks that. Joy, sadness, love, accomplishment and failure define every human being. Behind the smile of a bartender is never-ending grief of losing his child to suicide many years ago. The man who laughs at his friend’s joke lost his wife to cancer last year. The old man in the Army cap struggling to walk down the produce aisle had once carried a wounded soldier through enemy fire to safety. The woman who mothers her children while standing in line at the bank is a recovered heroin addict. The basketball official makes birdhouses that are homes to families of chickadees every year. The pretty young lady coming out of church builds custom walkways with pavers made of stone.
Of course you’re not going to find out about someone unless you strike up a simple conversation. Then the writer in you searches for clues to solve the mystery in the man and to unlock the wonder in the woman.
Everyone is a story, and the story breathes from the soul. Release the bird from its cage and let it fly free, and you’ll feel the passion that lives inside us all.
Leo Buscaglia wrote, “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.” That “something” is our untold story.
Author Terry Orlick wrote, “The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy or passion.”
American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who promoted his theory of self-actualization, wrote, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be.”
Before we leave this life, we become stories of ourselves, told or not, written or not. The goal we want to achieve is the peace of mind Maslow speaks of, and we want to carry that peace with us until we cross over into whatever awaits us after we take our final breaths.
I find satisfaction in being the voice for everyone’s stories. I do not seek out resumes or biographies. I’m neither impressed nor disappointed with the level of education someone has reached or the size of the house lived in or the kind of car one drives.
I’m impressed with what makes the heart beat, what brings the light from the eyes and what sources the energy that unleashes the spirit.
Perhaps you and I shall meet one day. Our meeting will not be a coincidence. If we find each other somewhere and sometime, together we will write your story.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.