The Lost Stories

Two things happened that lead me to write this part of the journey.

The first was a wonderful evening spent with my wife. It was beautiful, she was beautiful and while I won’t go into details, a great time was had by all.

The second was when I struck a nerve.

My wife and I have a quasi tradition of enjoying an episode of a favourite television show on DVD most nights before she falls asleep and I go back to writing for the night. Last year it was all nine seasons plus two movies of the X-Files. We did Quantum Leap’s first season and we have moved onto the starting two seasons of Sliders. It was while watching an episode of Sliders that I took a toothpick and poked around one of my rear molars. The toothpick slipped (or slid) into a hole in my tooth I had been unaware of, but believe me, you could judge by my screams of “Oh, God” followed by spittle covered expletives that when the pointed end came in contact with the exposed nerve inside my molar, I was very aware. The pain was like being shot with a large caliber bullet straight through the upper jaw and out of the crown of my cranium – over and over again.

I grabbed my heating pads and applied giant dollops of Oragel maximum strength, then I crawled down to my basement where I could cry in peace like a man. While I enjoyed the numbing effects of the gel and calming incense of nicotine, I began to think. I arrived at several conclusions. The best moments in your life (or maybe just mine) are preceded or followed by some of the most painful moments in your life.

These good and bad times become our stories, the myths and legends of our lives that we leave behind as a way for people to remember us. When they are gone, we wish we could remember the stories our grandparents tried to leave us. Those “lost” stories were about those moments in their lives that were most important, even if they seemed to our child’s ears tall tales of inconsequence.

I’m turning 29 in less than two months, all of my grandparents are gone from me. They are lost with their stories. My children are growing up with one less grandparent, since my mother passed less than a year ago. It’s a family tragedy — my mother’s death — for so many reasons. My children never had the chance to hear her stories. She never told me enough of them to pass on. Storytelling is an art lost to my parent’s generation. Sure, there are great novelists born from their time of the fifties and sixties, but something has been misplaced along the way and I’ve come to realize, it is they themselves that are forgotten. The average parent of Generation X and Y have been busy telling the stories passed down by their grandparents and parents, failing to remember to tell their children and grandchildren their own tales. I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure there are socio-economic factors that could be pointed at. Or that the world suddenly fell on a set of shock paddles, jump-starting the motors and all the hippies realized there was work to be done and we were left with hordes of White Rabbits late for everything, always in a rush. When these men and women stopped working long enough to tell a story, the only ones they could remember were the ones they had been told as children themselves.

Generation X and Y, have gone in the opposite direction. Their stories are all about themselves. The only problem is, life was busy growing up and they didn’t take the time to really listen to the stories of their grandparents and great grandparents when mom or dad took a break to pass them on. They heard them, it’s just that they couldn’t wait to get back to playing Nintendo or Playstation, or just catching the newest episode of Thundercats. That’s why so many memoirs or life-based fictional books by these two generations (X and Y) have little soul in them. Their words are ink on paper without resonance. Literary fast food, instead of soul food.

One of my favourite movies is Big Fish and I only came now to understand why it rings so true to my heart. Right now I understood it, at this very moment of typing these words.

Big Fish is about my parents’ generation. Fed up, frustrated and too busy to listen to what older generations are trying to pass down to them and their children; and like the son in the movie, never realizing that the tall tales they’re being told are their tales too.

If we don’t put soul and meaning in our stories before we give them to our offspring, how can we ever hope to live on through them? How can we ever expect our kids to know that there is more to life than the next text message or what generic favourite television show of the month is going to be cancelled?

My generation and the generation after knows their own story but forget that their parents’ stories are an important part of that.

What stories will our children have to tell? I shudder to think of it.

So what’s wrong with books today?* There’s been an implosion caused by lost stories fallen between the generational gap.

The only solution to making your writing something that matters, is to make your parents tell you what life was like for them growing up and raising you. When your grandparents begin to ramble on about the price of bread or how they dug wooden nickels out of the piles of dirt left by street sweepers in the alleys, LISTEN. Don’t just hear their words, LISTEN to them, commit them to memory, write them down, record them on a digital recorder and save it in an MP3 file. I don’t care how you do it, just don’t lose them. Because the most effective way to write from what you know, is to remember all of it. When you chronicle how a young protagonist yanks a tooth out with a foot of dental floss and a slammed door, it will be more realistic if you are not just working from your own memories of pulling off such a ridiculous and seldom plausible stunt, but if you remember the way your parents told the story to their friends over coffee. You may be surprised to realize after asking them a few questions, that the reason they held you so tight as the tooth dangled in your nine-year-old mouth with blood running down your chin, is that they felt your pain. They may have done the same thing at a similar age, maybe instead of a door, it was string attached to a rock thrown by a sibling, and that matters, those details matter. They’re the reason you felt a single tear fall on your shoulder as they held you, soaking up your sobs with their work shirt.

The lost stories are ours, theirs and those that came before. Without those three dimensions, the story you tell may be one dimensional and flat when it reads off of the page. It will lack the wisdom and experience it needs to thrive with passion that touches the hearts of even idiots like me who take three years to understand what you were saying.

It will be painful but it will also be beautiful. Or beautiful with the pain coming later. That’s life. The best way to get that on paper is to always remember…


*I would note that there are exceptions. Most of those exceptions have not forgotten the stories of those that came before and it shows.


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