“Chasing Tales” by Lyndsay Michalik
He told me about how he’s a storyteller, about how he loves stories, as he drove me home.
I said I have some of those.
He pulled up to my building. 30 seconds of silence. Then I awkwardly stepped out of the car and made my way up the metal stairs to my second story apartment. I began a mental inventory of my stories. Because maybe I can tell them to him some other time.
1. That Time I Told Everyone My Dad Met John Wayne At A Gas Station When He Actually Hadn’t, It Was Just Something I Dreamt Up
2. The Night I Dreamt A T-Rex Bit Me And When I Woke Up My Knee Was Bleeding
3. I Sat Next To A Strange Box In The Backseat Of His Car As He Drove Me Home That Day.
It was the kind of box they give you when you buy a hamster. A box you’d bring a hamster home in and then not know what to do with it, because it’s full of holes. Avocado boxes are similar but the holes are bigger. Hamsters could escape through them. This is exactly why they will never send you home with a hamster in an avocado box.
I asked him what’s in this box?
He said stories.
That was the whole conversation. Then I got lost thinking about the box, feeling the gravity of his stories pulling me in, tiny story hands reaching out of hamster holes, story mouths pleading, “Hold me!” I thought about new stories seeping in through the holes as old ones slip out unnoticed. The ones that shuffle around inside rub off on each other, ink bleeding from page to page leaving sticky ink marks and soiled words.
I imagine his stories have much better titles than mine.
4. The Day I Made Up The Titles Of His Stories, Most Of Which I Had Not Heard
My biggest problem is that nothing happens in my stories. The action is all in the title and then I’m left with emotional ramblings, repetition, tail chasing. The plot phones in. I meander. Copious non-sequiturs. Incomplete thoughts. But sometimes I like to keep thoughts open on purpose, in case I’m ever in dire need of something to interpret in the future.
6. Yesterday I Accidentally Left A Jar Of Peanut Butter Open On The Counter For Eight Hours, But Luckily Nothing Bad Happened With It While I Was Out
There are some stories I swore I’d never tell anyone. I often find myself telling them anyway, choosing my audience willy-nilly. Then there are the stories I tell over and over because they mean too much, because the feelings get so overwhelming.
7. The Rainy Day The Lady In Front Of Me In Line Paid Eighty-Five Dollars For My Groceries And For A Moment I Might Have Believed In God
8. The Day I Didn’t Go To The Hospital To Visit You And I Then I Never Got Another Chance To See You And
I wish I had secretly slipped one of my stories into his story box. Though I’m pretty sure he’d notice it wasn’t his. I have clearly different handwriting, with big loopy cursive Ls and Js. Or does he type his stories out? Is he the typing type? Maybe (just maybe) he’d pull my story from the box one day and mistake it for his own. He’d tell it like it was his, remember it like it was his. Remember it better than me, probably. And then the stupid title would throw him off, ruin everything. I really should work on saving some action for the story and not blowing it all in the first line.
The problem I think is that so many people don’t really care about what comes after the first line. They stop listening. They start thinking about other things, grocery lists, people they miss, a person they want to get to know that is not the person who is currently talking to them, dead pets, an impending storm, war, really good sex. Listening. That’s the real problem. People used to say I was a good listener. No one says this anymore. I think I know what changed.
9. The Time I Had No Idea What You Said But I Pretended I Heard You Because I Did Not Want To Have To Ask You To Repeat Yourself Again
10. The Other Time I Had No Idea What You Said But I Pretended I Heard You Because I Did Not Want To Have To Ask You To Repeat Yourself Again
11. The Day I Found Out I Have “Moderate To Severe High Frequency Hearing Loss” In Both Ears And Realized I Have Been Listening Mostly With My Eyes For A Long Time
Imagery is important.
12. The Frustrating Moment When I Couldn’t Think Of A Good Image To Use In This Story Title
Confidence is important when you tell a story I think. You have to own it like it’s yours so people will believe you, so they might make it past the first line. You can’t add in extra unnecessary unrelated stuff just because you’re thinking about something else at the same time. Like armadillos. You shouldn’t put armadillos in your story just because one crawled through your mind because you can never just think about one thing at a time because so much is happening all around you. The highway traffic outside your drafty apartment. The song you’re learning so that some day you can play it for somebody and not curse if you hit a wrong note. How much you like sharing pajamas with him. The way his eyes catch yours and you swear your heart stops for a moment and you forget to breathe and you feel lost and found all at once and you hope that this will keep happening for a very very long time. You should work on only thinking about one thing at a time. And you should leave the armadillos out of it.
He has an armadillo story. I know this because he told it to me. I wonder if that one is in the box? Maybe if I get another chance I can secretly slip that story in like it’s mine, so when he pulls it out and tells it like it’s his it will be okay because it actually is. Right?
Have you ever had someone tell you a really good story that you knew was your own story they somehow twisted and started telling as if it was theirs? I have.
Did you tell them it was not their story, but yours, and you had just told it to them last week? I didn’t.
13. The Day I Spent Writing Another Story With No Plot When I Should Have Been Accomplishing Something
14. The Epic About How I Always Use Kitchen Utensils For The Wrong Things, The Most Recent Chapter Being The One That Explains How I Just Stirred Soymilk Into A Lukewarm Cup Of Coffee With A Giant Whisk Because It Was Right There And Looked Relatively Clean
I should warn you, I’m a little weird and not a good example of a regular person who likes stories. I love all the extra bits that should have been left out in hindsight, the parts of the story you’ll skip the next time you tell it. I enjoy the details of how warm your jacket was, how you knew the server at the restaurant, what songs you were listening to in the car, what songs you chose to sing along with, the tacky license plate of the car in front of you, how you really wanted to jump into the giant pile of leaves in the park, the way that cloud was shaped exactly like a beta fish behind her head but she couldn’t see it because she was looking at you and you didn’t ask her to turn around to look at it because you knew it was something only you could see because of your special ability to see such things.
I think all of this makes me either a really good or a really terrible person to test-drive your stories on.
15. The First Time I Drove A Car Was In Reverse In Circles Because My Dad Thought This Was An Excellent Beginner’s Lesson
16. The First Time We Held Hands We Were Simultaneously Petting A Very Needy Cat And No That Is Not A Euphemism For Something Naughty
17. The Hour I Spent Wondering If We Would Tell The Cat Petting Story The Same Way
I don’t have a hamster box. I do however have an avocado box. Maybe I’ll show him my avocado box. Except I’m not sure if there’s anything interesting in it, and I don’t want to get into the habit of showing him uninteresting things. Personally, I like uninteresting things because they make the interesting things even better. I wouldn’t mind if he showed me uninteresting things all day. But I suspect I would somehow find his uninteresting things interesting, just because he was showing them to me.
Here’s carpet lint.
That’s interesting, the way you chose to call it lint and not fuzz.
Here’s a pile of blank paper.
That’s interesting, I’d like it if we made it not so blank.
Here’s where the recycling goes.
That’s interesting, recycling is a fascinating process.
(These are just hypothetical examples of course. Well, two of three.)
Good stories should have equally good titles. Titles that tell you just enough but not too much. Titles that don’t give away the whole plot. Titles that make you think deeper because they only relate to the story in an ironic or metaphorical way. Titles that make you say:
18. Yes I Would Very Much Like To Know More About You, Please Do Go On
–Lyndsay Michalik is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at Louisiana State University. Her interests include adaptation and performance of literature, performance art, visual culture studies, and playing with time and space.
Image from http://www.istockphoto.com