In telling a story, especially for public consumption, I am always aware I have a choice. Do I tell you the gory details? or stick to what I loved most about it? Do I talk about how crabby I was? how the kids wouldn’t stop whining? how Matt and I were ready to wring each others’ necks? or how majestic the redwoods were?
All these stories are true. And it’s a question I ask myself often. What story wants to be told? Am I telling you a story about visiting the redwoods and why you should go too? or is this story about something else?
I have a tendency to get triggered by certain blogs. My I’m-not-enough meter goes haywire when I see their beautifully decorated homes, their immaculate children, their seemingly storybook marriages- what I perceive as their perfect life. I want to be inspired (and sometimes I am) but I usually end up wondering why my life doesn’t look like that, or more specifically, what’s wrong with me that my life doesn’t look like that. Have any of you had that experience? OMG, please tell me you have.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for celebrating our lives, highlighting the good, and giving thanks for what’s working. These people are doing nothing wrong in their lovely blogs! but when I find myself in that moment when I get to choose what version of the story I want to tell you, I am tempted to provide the public service of making all of us feel normal and better about what our lives actually look like.
It feels like a risk even as I write it. Keep up the mythology! a voice in my head shouts. Just show the pretty pictures and be done with it! The shiny version is more inspiring! But is it? It’s the blog equivalent of something Matt watched me do at a party last year. I had just had Nico a few months before and some girlfriends were complimenting me on how I looked. “Oh thanks you guys, but really it’s just these pants,” I said conspiratorially. By this time I had lifted up my shirt and shown them the extra flesh on my belly. “See?” In the car later, Matt and I agreed I should have just said thank you.
Ah, well. That’s me.
What I really want to say is that I could have written a neat little post about visiting the redwoods, about watching Ben’s delight as we entered the park, about his unbridled glee as we came upon ginormous tree after tree, so big you could literally step inside the room at the base. I could tell you about Nico, and how his legs kicked wildly in the Bjorn every time Ben got excited, aware that something extraordinary was happening but not entirely sure what it was. But somehow that wouldn’t be the whole story.
Years ago, I heard Ira Glass (from This American Life) speak about storytelling at a local theater. I remember him saying that to be interesting, a story has to be universal. It has to touch on something that connects us all. The story itself is specific, but points to something bigger. I don’t always succeed, but this is what I am listening for every time. What’s the nugget of truth hidden inside? What’s the tiny revelation? What’s the real story living just below the surface?
In the case of the redwoods, the story is more of a question, or something I wonder about. In blogging, there is a fine line between airing our dirty laundry/complaining and telling the real story. One is uncomfortable (like oversharing) the other connects us in our humanity. Telling the bright side of the story rides the thin line of either super-inspiring or coming off as pollyanna and without depth.
By the time we arrived at the redwoods, the kids had been in the car way past their expiration date. They had been alternately crying and whining for HOURS and Ben had literally been asking, “Are we there yet?” so many times he fashioned it into a song. Landing ourselves in a hundred year old redwood grove with 300 foot trees towering over us, is possibly the ONLY thing that could have made that drive feel okay.
I felt bad for Matt in regard to his birthday this year. We ended up spending it in the car, in massive traffic, with two crying children (wait, this sounds familiar!) while all of our friends waited to celebrate him back in Berkeley at a park. The next day I told him that I was sorry his birthday turned out that way… He smiled and said, “It was just really real. A little too real.”