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Stories about Stories and Stuff, Stuff, Stuff

Don’t know about you, but my life (and life’s work? Work?) is all about stories: listening, telling, writing. I grew up in an extended family of storytellers. Stories, true life and otherwise, could erupt at any time. Often during family gatherings on Sunday afternoons, and always at bedtime tuck-in with one or the other parent.

Those stories encouraged me to become a person interested in almost everything at one time or another, from archaeology and botany to x-rays and zoology. The natural, physical world and a lot in the invisible realms. World literature, the human condition—heart, mind, and soul—all of it. My curiosity knows no limits. Like my family, I’ve been a collector of books, music, hand-made objects, and beautiful things I’ve found in nature: smooth stones, sticks, feathers. Now that my hair is whiter and my glasses thicker, I’ve amassed an amazing amount of stuff. And of course, I would end up marrying a man with the same interests and similar collections. Put them together, and what you’ve got is stuff, a lot of stuff.

All those childhood stories gave me permission to become a generalist, not a specialist. A fox, not a hedgehog. That’s just who I am and what I came here to do. I’d have to agree heartily with E. M. Forster who wrote: “My defence at any Last Judgement would be that I was trying to connect up and use all the fragments I was born with.” So, on good days, I call myself a Renaissance woman. Other days, well, I’m scattered, that’s what I am, especially now that I’m working from home instead of from my downtown office and am sorting through dozens of boxes of books and papers.

Having so many varied interests means I’ve never become a concert pianist, a ballerina, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, or even a rock star. I’m not the least bit famous (and glad of it).

In my early years as a teacher, I had the pleasure of watching young adult minds connect with some of the most powerful ideas in the world through books and film. Later, as a professional listener, I have sat many an hour with people who are “writing” their new life stories, and I have agonized with those still clinging desperately to their old, painful life stories. It’s also no secret that I’m a huge fan of writing/journaling for a variety of purposes and what I now call “Beyond Journaling.”

So I know a little something about a few things, and in some quarters, I’m actually considered quite an authority, maybe because of all the fancy letters after my name. I’m called in to consult on difficult cases, and I’m a woman who can at least ask juicy questions, even if I don’t possess the answers that lie deep within the heart of a client. In addition to my psychological studies, I can also offer healing and inspirational metaphors and stories gleaned from a lifetime of reading and film, not to mention the stories from my family.

In my early childhood, my mother’s stories often centered around events in her past, and especially about the most wonderful thing in the world called college, where she and Daddy met. Then there were her stories about college future. Her stories often began with phrases like “Before you go to college,” and “After you graduate from college,” and “When you’re in college.” She assured me there were plenty of stories there, so the college plan was fine with me.

To get a bedtime story from Daddy, on the other hand, I’d have to bring him the huge, magic book of stories. It was so big I could barely lift it to carry it to him. He’d tuck me in, I’d get settled comfortably, he’d open the book to a certain page (it often took several minutes for him to find the exact page he wanted), and begin the tall and exciting tales. Heroes, battles, vast epics, rare books, ancient wisdom, mythology, astronomy, philosophy, biology—everything under the sun.

I didn’t always understand everything in the stories, but he’d explain, and I’d say “Oh, that’s it. Now I understand.”

Not all the stories rhymed, but some of my favorites did, such as “Heather Ale,” “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and “Horatius at the Bridge.” Carried away by the heroism of the last story, sometimes he’d stand and gesture with one hand as he declaimed, “Oh Tiber, father Tiber, to whom the Romans pray: A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms, take thou in charge this day!”

I worshipped that book that contained such a treasure of knowledge, humor, and wisdom. Even more amazing was that all the stories on those clean, white pages were written in invisible ink that only Daddy could read.

Would that I could find that book now with its blank pages and the green cloth binding. Yes, it’s a real book, not an imaginary one. Maybe it will turn up some day in the boxes of books and papers I’m now struggling with. I can only hope and keep digging through the stuff, stuff, stuff.

So what will I blog about? No subject will be off-limits, but I’ll write about what I know—whatever’s currently in front of my face or on the front-burner of my mind. Like this morning a luna moth and a lumpy, full-of-mice black snake on the deck overlooking the woods. Books I’ve just read or am contemplating. Connecting and reconnecting with dear friends (including the ones I haven’t yet met), and always: stories and stories about stories. Memories of childhood, and something approaching a memoir, but I’m certain my mind will roam far and wild.

Wish me luck in finding that magical book of stories and in settling into my latest and most surprising new life story (more about that later). And welcome to my world.

Feedback and comments are always appreciated, and I’ll do my best to answer each one.

So how about you? What place do stories hold in your life? And how do you wrangle your stuff, stuff, stuff into just nice, organized stuff?

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