When I was a child, one of my parents would read my sisters and I a bedtime story. I looked forward to this magical part of the day, especially when my dad, who would have preferred being an actor instead of a draftsmen, read. I’m not certain what enthralled me most: hearing him skillfully use different dialects and voices to embody each character, or catching a brief glimpse of his inner world which he shamelessly revealed while he read. He was as delighted to read as I was to listen.
After the story ended and my parents left the room my sisters and I shared, we were often keyed up and giddy, so my sisters would ask me to tell them a story. I would ramble on, stringing whoppers together, the three of us in our flannel nightgowns giggling at the ridiculous predicaments of my invented characters. There was one story in particular that my sisters asked me to repeat.
“The shutters were open and the bright moon woke Lisa. The shadows of the plum tree looked like scary fingers, so she clutched her stuffed Bunya as she eased out of her bed. Warily, she peered out the window. She loved the moon, and that night it was enormous! It had a kindly, grandmotherly face, and seemed to float gently above the lilac bushes. She decided to call it ‘Madge.'”
I have always told, and enjoyed telling, stories. I have always loved the moon.
“Madge whispered for Lisa to come outside, into the yard. Lisa decided she could trust Madge, so she padded barefoot through the kitchen to the back door. Her cat Chutzpah followed her, but wanted none of this adventure nonsense and decided to clean his paws, instead. Lisa knew her parents would worry if they found her missing, so she quietly, gingerly eased the door open and raced outside.”
Good characters, like children, are often propelled by impulse and a power outside themselves, and struggle with powerful emotions: guilt, responsibility, regret. And chutzpah is a handy trait to have.
“Madge lowered herself onto the cool grass next to the swingset. Using craters as handholds, Lisa clambered aboard, giggling at Madge’s knobby, bald head.”
My mother was severely deficient in mothering instinct. She didn’t want to be bothered with caring for three girls’ hair every morning, so we all had very short pixie cuts. Most of the girls who I went to school with had long hair, and I wanted long hair, too. Stories allow us to get unpleasant memories, disappointment and pain out of the way.
“Madge told Lisa to look inside one of the shallow craters above her right eyebrow. ‘You’ll find a silver key—the kind you use to wind up a clock. Don’t lose it—the fate of the world depends on that key!’ Lisa nodded gravely. She picked up the key, surprised at how large it was and how heavy it felt. She stowed the key safely in the pocket of her nightgown.”
Storytelling allows the truth to be irrelevant. A storyteller has the power to shape the readers’ experiences. She also has license to negotiate her feelings, especially when she is a powerless child, by operating in fantasy.
“As Madge whirled through the air, Lisa saw claws reaching up from the ground and gasped. ‘Madge! Look out!’ There is something with claws down there trying to steal the key!” Madge chuckled gently. “Claws? That’s just a plum tree. You must be hungry! I’ll swing by slowly; grab yourself a plum or two. He won’t mind.” Lisa was relieved to realize she didn’t have to be afraid, and since she fed half of her disgusting tuna casserole to Chutzpah, she was hungry!”
Perceptions are funny things. They can be distorted. It can be hard to separate what happened from what you think happened.
“Madge whisked Lisa from her tidy neighborhood to the looming skyline of the city beyond. As they traveled toward downtown, Madge explained to Lisa that before the sun came up, she would have to use the key to wind up all of the buses and cars so that people could get to work on time. Lisa thought about how her Aunt Mary, when she last visited, had called her clumsy, and how her mom constantly needed to remind her to stop dawdling. What if she accidentally dropped the key, and it fell down one of those sewers in the city? What if she couldn’t crank up all of the vehicles fast enough, and ran out of time? How would people—how would her father—get to work?”
Most lessons are learned in the infinite space between losing and winning. Storytellers pay attention to their arch rivals; they’ve studied their opponents.
Are you discovering that our inner worlds are similar? Yes? Good. I’ll get out of the way and let you finish the story.
©2018 Leslie I. Bolin
Leslie I. Bolin is a marketing, graphic design, and multimedia professional by day, and after hours, writes poetry and prose, weaves textiles, and designs historical costumes. She enjoys viewing the world through her polarized light microscope, and week-long loaded bicycle tours on Tomatillo Absinthe, her trusty two-wheeled steed. Visit Leslie at www.studiosouthpaw
Illustration by Leslie i. Bolin