Sunday, May 2, 2010

Good Stories


“I’m going to tell y’all a story,” my southern friend says to us, “about the time my granddaddy taught me to drive. It was one day in summer and Meemaw said to Big Daddy…”

The woman is an effortless raconteur. Ten minutes later, after I’ve finished braying, stomping my feet, and upending cocktail nuts, I turn to the group and say, “Well that brings back a memory about the time…” and everyone looks at me with expressions ranging from pity and strained courtesy to mild horror. Oh god, Karin’s going to try to tell a story.

I come from a long line of bad storytellers – I guess that’s why most in my family write. When you write you can revise things hundreds of times until they gather some semblance of order. But when on the hoof, my stories travel a dark and winding tunnel, stumbling over many unpleasant things along the way.

My dad loved to tell stories, particularly to large gatherings. These stories seemed to get the best reception when the gathering comprised his subordinates at work. Normally the plot was incomprehensible and included at least two botched idiomatic expressions and one major mispronunciation. To say nothing of the accent, which always got worse after a few cocktails. At the end of the – for lack of a better word – story, the group would be sitting there slack-jawed, wondering whether they were supposed to laugh or cry, and maybe this was a trick, and it wasn’t the end after all. Then dad, to whom in this case intention equaled execution, would slap his thigh and double over in merriment.

The rest of the party would laugh out of sheer relief, knock back a restorative martini, and then try to distract him with a work-related issue or some other shiny object.

It’s a harmless vice, this bad storytelling gene we share, probably originating with the Vikings. We're descended from a people who ended myths with “And then evil killed off all the Gods and everyone died.” At least through the centuries we’ve been practicing our punch lines.

(Oh, the picture above? I can dream, can't I.)

53 comments:

  1. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this foto is actually, on second thought, the last thing I wanted to say.

    So, 4get it. Butt, it wood have been a good story lemme tell y'all. I'll leave it to just your imagination.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That wasn't a good story....it was a great one! Especially the part about your dad.

    ReplyDelete
  3. LOL!!! (And I'm actually LOL-ing.) I'm still not convinced that you cannot tell stories, but you can sure write them!!!! (Looks like we both take after our dad's...did you get the 'reason-I-cannot-eat-garlic' story I told (I rest my case). And you can take great pictures of people! (I'm calling it quits, at least for the day).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey, is that The sweetly Southern fired Virginia pictured with Petrea?


    PS. You're one of the best liars I know.

    ReplyDelete
  5. First, It was Nannie, not Meemaw, but you're excused. I do think I left you all with eyes glazed and slack jawed but the cocktails made me do it.

    Merci mille fois mon amie. I'm honored to be on your blog!!! And for the record I don't edit over and over, I just blather on till I run out of steam!
    V

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have the badstorytelling gene too. I get sidetracked and when I get back to the story, I've totally forgotten the point or reason for it. I usually get this reaction from my bf's family: "Well that was a long walk to get to the store just to find out that it's closed."

    ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. There was definitely a MeeMaw in that conversation somewhere...

    Your photo absolutely captured the spirit of the day!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't think I have the storytelling gene either. My brother tells a mean joke. He'll have everyone laughing long before he even gets to the punchline. It's a gift. No doubt.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've found the best audience is people who owe you money.

    GG

    ReplyDelete
  10. Engineers typically have one or two jokes. One of mine has to do with boogers and the other goes back to my college days and can't be posted here. In person, I have the entertaining ability of a stump. In that we are kindrid spirits.

    Write on!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think good storytellers edit, too. They've usually told their story a hundred times and worked it until they've got it right (present company excluded, of course).

    ReplyDelete
  12. It was great! How many edits? I KNOW I don't have the storytelling or the writing gene either....the sister got it all.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Good tale, Karen. I wonder what they were laughing at in that photo. This weekend I recalled things about my dad. He was in a position of authority and esteem. When people would come over to our house for dinner, they were probably just awed to be there. Then my dad would hold forth with stories that I'd heard a thousand times. As a teenager, this frustrated me no end. My dad was not connecting emotionally to the situation, he was just on a pedestal. If the audience knew it, like I did, they didn't let on.

    Much more I could say about this. I've learned, more recently, to listen. Not everything needs to be said. I'm aware of how much my stories are told as if to say, "Please notice me and please like me." Probably everyone's are. But sometimes, although I have many stories, I don't tell them. I've heard my stories a million times. Better to listen sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good point, Mr. Earl. Listening is an art, too.
    Karin, you write a great story! And if you can't tell one, well, try it with a foreign accent. Everyone always stops and listen to a foreign accent - or a lisp.

    I am dying to hear Pierre's booger story!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hmm, I think stories are the primary way we connect, understand, and entertain each other. To your point, Earl, if a story intends none of the above, then it isn't a story at all.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hopefully when I retell them the hundreth time ( and most are almost there) they get shorter rather than longer!

    Earl.
    Petrea and I were looking at y'all! :)
    V

    ReplyDelete
  17. I can vouch for Petrea's take on storytelling...the Hubman is a great storyteller and I can tell you from experience, he tells them quite frequently and edits them along the way!!!

    And Mr. E...you'll be happy to know that he tells his stories with the intent to entertain, and express a bit of who he is!!! (Not sure if his kids would agree though!!! Although they've become quite adept at storytelling as well...)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Many good storytellers became that way because they had much opportunity to edit and practice their stories. For example, some of the better storytellers are husbands.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Just as I imagined Virginia's storytelling to be. And if I'm ever lucky enough to hear yours in person, KB, I promise to point and laugh just like V and P in that wonderful picture!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think Virginia and Petrea were laughing at my hair - I badly need a trim after 4 unscheduled weeks in Europe, but I'm scared to let a local hairdresser at it.

    My husband tells funny stories about our travel adventures, but they're so inaccurate that I keep wanting to jump in and correct him. Does anyone else have this problem?

    ReplyDelete
  21. If someone's a great story teller, I don't care if I've heard the story a thousand times. I'll even request the same story.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I've always thought there's a difference between story tellers and writers. A gathering is not complete without a good story teller. I'm glad Virginia had a good time.

    Your father sounds sweet. The kind of guy we would have loved mimicking as teenagers.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Bellis, it makes me laugh when I hear husbands and wives correct the stories, because no one else cares about the details. I guess it comes down to ownership of the memory.

    Actually, we did mimic him, PA, but never to his face. (And speaking of natural-born storytellers, you're one of them.)

    ReplyDelete
  24. I've always blamed my lack of storytelling ability on the listeners. ("Well, if they had actually really LISTENED to the story instead of being so DISTRACTED, they would have found it hilarious.") Saves me many a self-esteem blow.

    ReplyDelete
  25. When a story appears to fall flat, just claim it's postmodern. Nonlinear, fabulist, diachronic collage.

    And, as the room falls silent in response, just blink pointedly a few times.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Love the photo. Every time I tell an (inherently fascinating) story (of course) to my daughter she looks at me blankly, pauses, and says, as if to offer me my punchline, "and then you found ten dollars."

    ReplyDelete
  27. must. now. google "diachronic collage"

    ReplyDelete
  28. Linda, that depends. If wine were involved, I'd probably claim fabulous non-modern, post-linear collage. Then I'd give a big old Sarah Palin wink.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hi enliven ladies,

    Où sont vos appareil photographiques?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh, you are such a big liar. You are a fabulous conversationalist and storyteller.

    ReplyDelete
  31. If you want to hear some great stories (I'm no good at it either, but we can hope some of the talent rubs off, right?) try The Moth podcast, http://www.themoth.org/podcast

    Or go to a Moth story slam sometime. They're fun, except I identify too closely with the struggling-to-connect storytellers and I get stressed out.

    Definitely why I'm a writer much more than a great talker.

    ReplyDelete
  32. KB,
    You put me and everybody else to shame Sistah. I am flattered you enjoyed my tale about learning to drive in North Little Rock with Big Daddy. What can I say, it has been a week I'll never forget and dear friends that are even more dear.. if that's possible. I'm blessed.
    Virg

    ReplyDelete
  33. Such fun that y'all got together! Love this photo; obviously a fabulous time was had by all. Great storytellers need good listeners to make it work. Especially ones who will upend cocktail nuts.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Don't sell yourself short, Karin. I've hacked up a few cocktail nuts due to your storytelling skills. ("We found Heidi...")

    Virg may have had Big Daddy, but the Meemaw reference was all mine!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hiker, once again you find a topic that seems casual, out on the fringe of what's important, and then you show what's universal in it, not to mention funny and interesting. It makes your visitors even funnier and more perceptive than usual. This is Hiker Hall of Fame. And thanks for the photo.

    (I've had some experience in the South, but never had heard "meemaw" till Sheldon used it on Bing Bang Theory. Is it widespread? Like kudzu?).

    Amy, sorry it's at your expense, but that's a nice line from bf's fam.

    Earl, if you don't turn your comment into a blogpost, I'll have to say a bad word.

    Quid and Linda Dove, brilliant and true.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Yah, I know that ending...

    ReplyDelete
  37. As to the growing controversy over Meemaw versus Nanny, poetic license.

    When Virg gets around to writing her version, then she can change it.

    ReplyDelete
  38. KB,
    Apparently you forgot you were going to do the writing of my memoirs! I just tell 'em, I don't write 'em! I leave that to the pros and you're one of 'em.

    And it's NannIE ! :) Ya'll have a great day, ya heah?

    ReplyDelete
  39. The trick to telling a good story is to have it based on actual facts, and then enhanced a bit. It works especially well if the person the story is about is present when the story is told. Only that person knows where the line is between truth and fiction. Everyone else knows it's based on facts, and most would rather believe it's all true. And of course, the story gets better each time it's told.

    That is the art of good storytelling.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Wine + diachronic collage = 'I can see Russia from my house'....

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.


    WV= mulgful. Amen.

    ReplyDelete
  41. dbduya,
    So you mean I could embellish? WHO KNEW! Wait, I've got a better story......stay tuned.
    V

    ReplyDelete
  42. Absolutely, V! Embelish all you want.

    ReplyDelete
  43. yes, Karin, everything looks so fresh after a week in the woods!

    ReplyDelete
  44. I can't see Russia from my house. Another reason to live in Alabama.

    God love ya, KM. I hope your trip home was good my friend. I do so love me some KM.

    KB, I love hanging out at your blog. Maybe I ought to head home to mine, but yours is such a great place to be. I just have one more thought....... AIN"T BLOGGIN GRAND!!! :)
    xx
    virg

    ReplyDelete
  45. Diachronic collage...I tried to google it and came up with nada...diachronic, however, means ...
    "Of or concerned with phenomena, such as linguistic features, as they change through time."
    I would love to be able to watch the diachronic changes of Russia while viewing it from my porch with a glass of wine!!!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Just arrived here thanks to a link at Virginia's - I loved reading you. Maybe you're a bad storyteller but you're a great writer. Keep bringing it on!

    :-)

    ReplyDelete
  47. Yeah, Virginia, blogging IS grand! A virtual Salon where the elite meet, greet etc.

    And as for you, PasAdj...you have a way of bringing out stories, even out of ME, so often mute.
    I think it is that you listen and whatever else you do is your own magic.

    ReplyDelete
  48. You just never know what kind of diachronic collage you'll find around here. Blogging is grand, and y'all are the grandest.

    Nathalie, thank you so much.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Yes, Shanna, the Elite meet & greet here. (Wish we could Eat here as well, but, KB is working on that one, I'm sure.-At least that's her story.) Thanks for the reminder, SG.

    So, that's why a K9 is here. Butt, dunno about the resta y'all.

    ReplyDelete