GFWW President Jeff Bacot shares a poignant and honest post about the story each of us have inside us. Enjoy … and then get to work.
This is about you. It’s your favorite subject right? I know me is mine, so let’s talk about you and me and us. We haven’t met yet, so some introductions first, shall we? First of all, who are you? Second, what do you do? And third, what’s your story? That’s how it goes when you meet someone.
First, who are you? The question was asked by The Who in the 70’s, but never answered. In fact, Pete Townsend was screaming it at the end of the song and even uses an F bomb when posing the question (somehow still clears the FCC filters on the radio). What most people don’t know about that song is that reportedly he wrote it with a nasty hangover after a long night, while looking in the mirror the next morning, confused, ill and angry over the drunken debauchery from the previous night. (Read the lyrics sometime. You can actually hear him talking to himself. We’ve all had that “never again” talk with ourselves.)
I digress, so back to the question. The question is most often asked when somebody is suspicious, (WHO are you?), or angry (Who ARE YOU to ___?), or questioning your authority (“Well, just who the ___ do you think you are”). All valid queries, but rarely answered with clarity. Who are we really? Let me further clarify for uhhh, clarity.
When someone asks me who I am, I answer “I’m Jeff. People call me, well…Jeff.” Then they ask the second question; what do I do?
“I’m a writer,” I reply, which I am. What I honestly want to say would take too long, so that’s how I answer it anyway. We state our profession. And then the third question…
What’s your story? What does that even mean? What is YOUR story? Do you have one? Indulge me with an interruption so I can answer it for you. Yes, you do. We all do. But what is the story of you and what would you like for people to know and remember? Know you and remember you.
Who and what I am and my story, (and who and what you are and your story) are best answered like this: I am a lifetime of rich experiences, interesting people, cool accomplishments, battles lost, wars won, stupid things said, wise things meant, lives touched, horrors watched, money made, fortunes lost, funny things heard, vulgar jokes repeated, and most importantly…the fingerprints of all those moments imprinted all over me every day. All of those things make up the who, the what, and the story of all of us. “I’m a writer?” No, I’m not. I’m a life.
I talk to people all the time who want to write a novel, a short story, a fascinating yarn or even an autobiography. It’s intrinsic in our DNA to want to catalog in writing things about us, stuff that happened, mistakes we made, moments that mattered, people we loved. But few of us do. I find that sad (sad and solvable).
I’m often asked why I write. My answer is always the same. I like to write, but that is not why I do it. I write because I like people. (Well, most people). Because I am interested in people, I like to write about them and share it. I like making people think (and maybe laugh too). It makes me think and keeps me sane. It helps me understand, assimilate, love and frankly live better.
I can be a sarcastic smart-aleck, with a biting sartorial barb ready at will. I do it for laughter, amusement and even to make a point, but not disdain. I like to hear laughter, but I love to make people think about something they don’t think about normally. That is immensely gratifying to me. So, I write about it and don’t regret it. Which brings me to my father.
As my father lay dying three years ago, I was able to have many conversations with him about his life and mine. He was a brilliant writer and storyteller, but never sat down and put anything formal or lengthy in ink. He edited my work sometimes, and I saw his gift first hand. He would have eclipsed any success I have had or ever will have. But regretfully, he did not.
One of his greatest, if not the greatest regret, he had was not having sat down and tapped out a book, a story or even a short account of the insanity that was his existence. It would have been easy to read, hard to put down, probably frightening, but immensely entertaining. He lamented constantly in his final days about this. He was angry at himself and died in regret. And it changed my life.
A week before he died he said to me, “Jeff, don’t leave your story untold.” I looked at him with a puzzled expression. I didn’t know how to respond. I have not lived half the life he led. How would anybody care about my silly, boring, banal existence?
Well, I was wrong. Apparently a few people liked On the Hole and some other writing I have done. And hopefully the next book Air Over Water. But my story was in my head from the unique experiences I’ve had. I’ve had, not my father. He was right.
So you and your story await, with tapping feet, wetted lips and clenched fists. For what I should ask, the time to do it? None of us have enough time and all of us have too much. Pink Floyd said that tomorrow we’ll all be “shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.” What’s wrong with this weekend? Or even tonight?
Tell that short story about that wild summer abroad after college, it might take two days. The episode when you were mugged in Chicago after a crazy wedding reception, might take 2 hours. Your baby’s first words, will take one hour. That time you were seduced by your 10th grade English teacher, maybe one hour (that actually happened to me. Stay tuned.) Whatever the story, try these suggestions to make it easier to tell.
Dictate it into a recorder in the car, sketch it out on a notebook while watching baseball, write it in pencil on a legal pad on your lunch break, tap it out on a laptop if you’re bored at work, or punch it out on a typewriter (if you can find one) at home in the evening, just don’t leave it behind. Tell it. Share it. Give it away. Sell it if you want. Our words never disappear, just switch locations. People never tire of words, if they are true, they are yours, and they are you.
The Who’s first line in the song Who Are You is, “I know there’s a place you’ve walked, where love falls from the trees.” And in your life, if you ponder it carefully, its relevance and meaning, there is a place you’ve walked where love falls from the bushes, the trees, the skies and maybe even the heavens. But that story is untold.
My Dad was right. Don’t leave your story untold. Tell it all, tell it well and it will enrich the lives of your family, friends, coworkers, everyone and of course, you. The story of you IS YOU. It’s a fascinating tale, and it waits patiently.