The Story Man

I can’t recall the origin of the nickname. I think I may have pompously referred to myself as such in a rum-fueled haze of confidence, high on one of my rare book sales, and a few people clung to it. It’s a decent moniker, if only in it’s accuracy: I tell stories – it’s my passion, in fact – and I am a man. I tell stories about life and death, killers and thieves, flower girls and friendships. I write poetry for women who have never existed, telling a story about a romance that will never be.

Lately, I’ve been telling a lot of stories about myself. There’s a conceit in that, an assumptive arrogance that anything about my life or me is worth reading about. It’s a promise I feel I often break, when I write a thousand circuitous words or more about my feelings or my soul-searching that usually ends the same way it begins: that I am listless in life, confused about my purpose, and generally dissatisfied with my output in virtually every way.

Yet I can’t stop. If I tried, I think I’d go mad. Well, madder.

I’ve never seen a blank piece of paper I haven’t wanted to write on. Something about the emptiness of it, the void, screams out to me to be filled, and when I do, when I write, it’s not as simple as “the ink of my blood flowing” as this bucking beast that’s been slamming against the cage in my gut finally finds itself a refuge to cavort to its heart’s content.

Of the page itself, it appears not as a canvas, not quite, but a gate. A window to a multiverse, endless possibilities to pull from and when I find the one I want (something with science and fiction, perhaps, or a poem about homesickness, or an echo of my own heart), a flash comes from behind my eyes and a dageurreotype is left in the form of words.

The page is a lover, of sorts, one whose every inch I want to explore and tease and fill to the brim with passion. Sometimes the process is more aggressive. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I’m left on the edge of tears. The page listens, and I endeavor to explain.

I do that with anecdotes. Stories. Tales.

I remember several years ago, a six-issue comic book mini-series came out called Taleweaver. It was a story about warring factions that had the addition of a protagonist who could change reality by writing what he wanted to happen in the form of a story. It was a concept that never had much sustainability, but I thought it was cool as hell anyway. And “taleweaver”. That sounds awesome. I could be a taleweaver.

The Story Man, though? That sounds so… well, I get two visuals out of it. On one hand, it feels ominous. The Story Man feels like a character ripped straight from King or Koontz. A mysterious figure with unclear intentions. Is he a monster? The last sword of God? A being of grayness, indifferent to the concept of morality? Stephen, if you write it, I will read it.

I also see, however, the old man at the beginning of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Though he becomes a major character further on in the book, we’re introduced to him as a traveling storyteller, scraping the floor with his chair as he takes his place by the fire in a quiet tavern. It’s he that sets the group on their adventure. He puts things in motion.

Do I do that? Lord, I kind of hope not. Here’s where I tell you not to take advice from someone who fucks up as often as I do.

And here’s where you realize if you listen to me, you’ve already taken my advice. Gotcha, sucker.

You know, part of me appreciates that the mistakes I’ve made, and the rash decisions and the ill-advised traveling, all of that has led to a number of stories. While I wouldn’t mind being rich and successful and having those upbeat kinds of memories to write about, the things I’ve done and gone through have allowed me to have a deeper – if still flawed – understanding of myself and the world and some of the people in it. I get the grime, I get the shattered windows and ripped photographs and discarded shoes. I also get the solitary rose growing through the cracks, the letter from a loved one fading from repeated readings, the stuffed animal sewn back together countless times.

I try to write my stories – fiction and nonfiction – so that they’re full of imagery and emotion. I want my readers to see what I see, to feel what I feel, so that they can understand me and maybe see a part of the world that might normally be hidden from them. I don’t know if I’m successful at that, but it also serves to get it out of me, get it onto the page I love, and trap it there.

If it stays in me too long, I get to thinking too much. Case in point, last night I stumbled across a picture of someone’s text post. It was a woman talking about how she was raising her daughter alone and how she would make something up about the father who left her behind. This got me thinking about my biological father, who left, and my adopted father who was unable to take care of me due to his own addictions.

I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’m going to do so again for a second. See, I came across Danny’s Song again. My adopted dad is a huge Kenny Loggins fan, and he loved this song (and I’m Alright, but that’s neither here nor there) in particular. I like the song, and Loggins, but it makes me think about what must have been going through his head in the 80s. In love and married to my mom, ready to raise and love me as his own. The idyllic life. And I think about how that all crashed and burned. How the marriage fell apart because of substance abuse and rampant blame. How he fled the state and I didn’t see him for two years or talk to him for a year and a half. How this perfect, picturesque family lifestyle has turned into being shut away in prison in different states and cutting almost all contact from his family and all contact from me.

Of course that leads me to my biological father, who couldn’t be bothered to even pay for the paternity test, so few fucks did he give about possibly having a son.

I am grateful for the grandfather I got, the one he raised as a third son and fourth child, though I shared no blood ties to him. I will always be grateful.

Even so, for as many years pass and as often as I tell myself and others, I still wind back around at dad and abandonment issues.

It’s sort of a weird topic to bring up in an article about being The Story Man (capital t, naturally), but I’ve been doing some soul-searching lately, and I haven’t been liking some of what I’m seeing.

Am I the man my grandfather wanted me to be? The one he felt was worth raising from the age of five even though he had put in his dues? Or was John right in running away from me before he could get to know me? Am I just a broken man like Rick who is set to have his idea of a happy family wrecked by my decisions and weakness?

I think about it a lot, because that feeling of duality drives me in a lot of different directions. The bulk of my stories seem to be rooted in the complex and very intense emotions that I’m absolutely convinced came from a loving but somewhat traumatic and confusing childhood.

Of those three options, I know which one I try most to be. I try to be a good guy. I try to build up and inspire others (the only way I know how, for the most part, being through stories), but I know specters of the other two haunt my life daily. I won’t even touch Terry, who I wrote about in Santa Wears a Black Hat, and who I learned a lot from – both good and bad – but whom I also spend far less time obsessing about.

So try as I might to be someone worth raising, someone worth being around, someone worth loving, I’m not always strong enough, I feel, to pull it off. Writing those thoughts out, the pain I’m feeling, the love I feel for beautiful things, my love of love, my longing for people that make me feel alive, my desire to strengthen connections with people and my anxiety that I did something wrong or am horribly deficient when that connection seems shaky… writing it out is the only way, the only *healthy* way I can keep my knees from buckling.

Sometimes that manifests itself in imaginary worlds, hard and beautiful and varyingly interesting places I’ll never be able to see; or characters who embody different aspects of myself. Sometimes it will be in fictional love letters, poetry that struggles to capture the romance I see and feel in the currents of the wind and the flight of autumn leaves, or whatever.

Sometimes it’s just me getting shit out. Telling stories, because stories are what I’m left with. The arrows in my quiver, the sword in my sheath, the A-4 KU Skyhawk on my aircraft carrier…. this metaphor got away from me.

I arrive in Montana on Saturday. I suspect I’ll have more stories pretty soon.

“To be alive
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”

-Gregory Orr


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