What’s Your Story?

If you have no story to tell, something, somewhere, isn’t quite right.

Not a day passes that we don’t experience something worth sharing, whether it’s something we observed, something we heard, something we participated in, something we remembered from the past, or even something we are planning for or dreaming of in the future. We all have a story to share.

If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share is it because we are sitting idle, waiting for life to happen? Do we wait for other people for the company, or to have enough time, or enough money in order to acquire experiences we feel are worthy of sharing? Do we dare not to dream because we fear we’ll never be in a position of “doing”? If this, in any respect, is the case, our story, presently, is a tragedy.

Scarlette Begonia

One of the best storytellers of the day is Casey Neistat, filmmaker and vlogger. He recently traveled to Madrid for a speaking engagement. During his vlog shot from there, in a moment of reminiscence, he recounted the story of his first trip to Spain; he was young, still a teenager, with a young child to support, he worked as a dishwasher. Yet, he managed to set aside enough of a small sum of money that he could manage to pay for a trip to Europe with his older brother. Casey’s story was a reflection of his priorities; he still supported his child, he worked very hard, and saved diligently, and he traveled and experienced, that he’d have life experiences to grow from and stories to share. He had very little time and he had very little money, but his passion for life and experience inspired him to find a way. Because of his commitment to experience and to storytelling, he has followed his passion into a self-made career as an independent filmmaker and YouTube artist.

There is a way, but it won’t likely come find us while we sit idle and wait. We must pursue, we must go forth, if we want amazing adventures to tell tale of.

And yet, stories don’t have to be of an epic adventure to be worthy of telling. Some of the best stories are relatable because they are ordinary events, just well told and joyfully shared.

Scarlette Begonia

If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share, is it because we don’t have the confidence to think others will find value in what we have to tell. This, too, would make our story a bit of a tragedy. Almost any story told with confidence and passion is worthwhile. There is humor, there are observations, there are plenty a worthy tale that can stem from the most mundane of events. The success of a story has only a little to do with content and much more to do with delivery and with engagement, which stems wholly from confidence.

Confidence, much like working very hard at a job and diligently saving money for a trip to Europe, takes commitment and practice and fortitude. And confidence will serve us well in every aspect of life. Confidence is a practice, like yoga or tai chi or ballet, like singing or playing the violin, once proficient, there is always another level of excellence to achieve. It is infinite. But confidence is critical, it is a life force.

Scarlette Begonia

And even with experiences to share and the confidence to tell them, there will be the few who will still not hear, will not listen, and this is never a reflection on the story or the storyteller. As much as storytelling is an art, so, too, is listening. The best storytellers are the best listeners; the best listeners are the best storytellers. As author Bryant H. McGill has been quoted, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Every story, every tale, every storyteller, will have a critic, too, from time to time. The quality of our story does not rely on the reaction of the listener, but the joy it brings us to tell and to those who truly hear. Do not be discouraged by those unwilling to hear, it is their loss, completely.

I often share stories of my simple, little life. In some cases, when I have an attentive audience, I feel I can tell the greates tale. Other times, when my audience isn’t connected or focused or willing, I struggle to even form intelligible sentences. I was, the other day, at the salon for my brow and bikini wax and as the hot wax was slathered on and the cool wax ripped off, I shared my tales of the weeks since my last visit. Here, I always find the perfect audience. May I suggest, if you struggle to find a willing audience with whom to share your stories, I have found the very best listeners, of all time, to be aestheticians. I have never had an aesthetician who wasn’t a great listener, who didn’t respond in all the right ways to all the stories I have to share. Your aesthetician, if you’re into bikini waxes, knows you in a way even your doctor doesn’t. There is a level of familiarity and intimacy with your aesthetician that can hardly be duplicated with anyone. I can get smooth and pretty and practice my craft of storytelling! Just thought I’d share.

Scarlette Begonia

Storytelling is a very large part of life; books, songs, movies, dance, photography, television shows, art, and poetry, are all just stories arranged into various mediums. Stories fill our every day, and, true, while many make a profession of telling a story, in one form or another, the rest of us are no less capable. We need only experiences to share and the confidence to express ourselves, and, we too, can tell a story!

So, what is your story?

Scarlett’s Letter August 17, 2013

Another trip to Sacramento.

I got up early and headed east on Interstate 80 to run with SacFit this morning. Except for the getting up at 4:30 AM, I really enjoy these mornings. I love driving on an empty highway, as fast as my little car will go, coffee cup in one hand, and my Pandora station du jour at an unsafe volume. Just as I get to the edge of Sacramento, the sun breaks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains further east and I am blinded. But, for the few moments before my vision is totally impaired by the brilliance of the sun, it is glorious. Perhaps I need to consider buying sunglasses with superior optic lenses. I’m fairly certain the pair I got at the gas station for twenty bucks isn’t really the optical quality I should be wearing for driving or sports or, at all. A point to consider.

These drives are so carefree, so exhilarating. Especially when there are no cops, and there generally aren’t, at this time of day. I like to go fast. I like to go fast and get away with it. I know I’m on borrowed time, I exceed the speed limit far more than I obey it, and I’m at least fifteen or twenty years, now, without a speeding ticket. But as I am sailing down the highway, feeling like prey that escaped the gaze of a predator, I round a corner and see a horrific accident. There are cops and emergency vehicles and I can’t help but think, no survivors in the wreckage. And I am sobered. Life can be led safely, life can be led carelessly, and either way, you could lose. It’s almost like a crapshoot every time you get in a car. Or Russian roulette. I reduce my speed and drive more cautiously. For about two miles.

Like last week, I arrived early enough to relax, think, write in my journal and eat my half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich before my run. We ran 9.5 miles today. The email said we’d be running 10.5 miles, after 8 miles last week. It seemed like a pretty big jump, but I’ve run twenty, so I don’t really care. Apparently, there was an error, so we got a reprieve of one whole mile. This is my third week with my new pace group, and I’ve been really pleased. The pace has been good and there have been no whiners and no mid-run potty breaks, water refills and all those little delays that annoy the hell out of me in “group” runs. I don’t like having to stop my watch mid run to accommodate the small bladders of others, both the anatomical and the hydration pack variety. You’re either prepared to run the distance, or you’re not. I am. Let’s do this. This week, quel domage. Tiny bladders of both varieties, and whiners, too. We are an 11:30 pace group, with our one minute walk break after each five minutes run, we should average between 11:45 and 12:15. We ran 13:20. Seriously.

As we neared the end of our 9.5 miles, I reached for my phone to stop my running apps and save the time and route information. There was an unexpected text message from a close friend. It seemed a little early in the morning for her to be texting, and that could mean only one thing. Bad news. We have one friend quite ill with brain cancer, and another who has been battling another type of cancer. With a little trepidation, I viewed the text message. It bore news, terrible news, the possibility of which hadn’t occurred to me in my wildest imagination. Her older sister had passed away the previous night. You know how that cold curtain falls over you when you hear news like that, like every drop of blood has been drained from your body. Your mind goes blank and your conscious mind feels like it has been shut in a box deep within your brain. Everything around you unfolds in slow motion. I could hear myself saying “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

This wasn’t totally unexpected, I suppose. She’d been battling alcoholism and related health issues for some time. But she was better. She’s been better. I thought she was okay. I thought she was going to be all right. Oh my God.

I did my stretching, dutifully, numbly, and headed toward my car. I saw a friend of mine, from high school, that lives in the greater Sacramento area now and runs with my running club, several pace groups ahead of me. We graduated the same year and we know all the same people. He knows my friend and her sister, so I shared the news with him and he was as shocked as I was. It was good to have someone nearby to share some thoughts and a few memories with. It helped immensely and I was able to go back to my car and reply to the text message with a  fair amount of composure.

Through it all, we agreed, life is so incredibly fragile. There are those who, like us, try to eat well, exercise and do everything we can to preserve health and secure a long, active life. And there are no guarantees for our efforts. There are others who, intentionally or not, destroy their bodies, their lives and even those who seek to end the life they’ve been given, intentionally. There are more who just take life for granted and let it slip mindlessly away. Squander it. Life is a mystery. Life is a gift. Every day we wake to see another day is something we should express gratitude for, something we should cherish. Every day we wake from sleep, we should seek to put the gift of another day to the best use possible. There are people whose lives are cut short that would love to have the time that another has so carelessly wasted. There are people battling terminal illnesses that would love to have the days that another person discarded in ending their life too soon.

I don’t think we are meant to understand. I think we are meant to take what we do know, that life is fragile, life is uncertain and that life is mysterious, and remember to honor the people in our lives that we love. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Talk with them. Show them affection. Express love. Each day we live is a gift, and each day those around us are there, too, is also a gift. Fleeting. Cherish those gifts.

I With a Capital I

People are interesting. Have you ever noticed, in conversation, how much people enjoy talking about themselves? There is nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, it’s what we do. All of us. We like to share things about ourselves, our experiences, injustices, adventures, helpful information, unbelievable details. Nearly everything we bring up in conversation relates to our personal experience or relationship with the topic at hand. Even when we speak of others, it is usually based on our own personal experience or exposure. It may seem obvious, but we do know more about ourselves, our experiences, our methods for doing things, than anything or anyone else and this becomes our basis for participating in conversation. The trick is to know when you are only talking about you and not listening, really, to anyone else.

Have you noticed how we often refer to ourselves in conversation? Of course we use the word “I”, and in proper grammatical use, it is capitalized when written. It would be weird for us to refer to ourselves in the third person, so this one letter word has been devoted for expression of self as a proper noun. But, when we use the word “I” in conversation, we often place a lot of exaggerated emphasis on it. Instead of just “I”, a single syllable, single letter word, it comes out as IIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiii, in about three syllables. If it were a musical note, it would have one of those crazy symbols, a “maxima”, which octuples a whole note, so in 4/4 time, that would be 32 counts or beats. A really long time, that’s my point. It’s emphatically crazy. When we’re trying to get our point across or to be convincing in any manner, we over emphasize the word “I” to add reliability and justification to our statement or position. The more we emphasize the word “I” the more right we are, at least that’s what our subconscious seems to think. We don’t come out and say “I’m right, you’re wrong”, like we did in the second grade, which then usually digressed into the “uh-huh/huh-uh” exchange. How refreshing that would be, as an adult; to spend ten minutes defending your position by simply saying “uh-huh”.

I catch myself doing this and I observe others. Frequently. And, it seems the better we know someone, the more likely we are to engage in this behavior. Once you become more aware of it, more attuned to it, it becomes almost entertaining to observe, in yourself, hopefully so you can fix it, and in others. And though we are all susceptible to falling prey to this self-righteous behavior, anyone who has ever read a book on conversations, charisma, or relationships is aware that the most important part of a conversation is the listening part.

I am often described as quiet. I can be. I try to be, at times. I’m listening. Intently. I am asking salient questions to validate the speaker’s topic and to clarify my understanding. When I speak, I speak carefully without trying to sound too self-absorbed or too self-righteous. It is hard. It is a skill, an acquired skill, and one that is never perfected, but that always takes conscious effort.

With people close to us, family and close friends, the exaggerated “I” comes out. At its worst, the exaggerated “I” is prefaced with the word “well”. Listen for it. Our unsophisticated (egoic) mind uses this combination of words almost like bait, “well IIIIIiiiiii …” and, since we consider ourselves experts on the particular topic (the amount of emphasis on the word “I” is proportionate to the amount of knowledge we feel we have on the topic), our subconscious is begging, begging, begging for someone to ask “why?” That gives us license to unleash our vast wealth of knowledge, information and examples on the topic, further leading to our validity and (self) importance.

One of the more recent examples of the “IIIIIIIiiiii” monster coming out was in a conversation about the “correct” order for brushing, flossing and mouth washing. I honestly cannot remember who the participants in the conversation were, but there were quite a few “IIIIIiiii’s”. No one was right, no one was wrong, and we all had different sources for our (very strong) beliefs. So, did the “IIIIIIiiiii’s” have it? Nope. To my relief, based on this conversation, I was just happy to know that everyone believes, passionately, in solid dental hygiene habits.

Often in, shall we say, “lively” conversation, debates, or, heaven forbid, fights, we feel so passionately about our position or argument, that not only are we using the exaggerated “I”, we use the time the other party takes to state, or restate their position to think through what our response will be. There is no listening whatsoever. I remember this in my former marriage, or, more correctly, the marriage I no longer live in. I would (and rightly so), state my position and my spouse would be so busy rebutting, and usually talking over me, interrupting and getting louder and louder in the process, that he never heard what I said. In other words, there was no conversation, no exchange of ideas or information. Our “conversations” resembled what we see on political panel discussions on television, which I think is the cruelest version of hell and the hell people who don’t listen are going to be banished to.

So, what do IIIiiiii recommend? IIiiii suggest listening carefully to yourself, and of course, to others, in conversation. Be mindful of how you speak and to how well you’re listening. Observe how people begin to react to you differently as you practice listening actively and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. They will begin to make eye contact with you more during conversation, they will lean a little towards you as they speak, and, most miraculously, when they are assured that you are listening and are interested in a compassionate sense, they will stop using the exaggerated IIIIiiiii, and their tone of voice will soften.

When you have the opportunity to speak, keep the “I’s” short, speak clearly but not loudly, make eye contact with everyone in the conversation and allow others their turn to contribute to the conversation. You may not have the chance to expound completely on your topic; learn to let it go. Conversations are like a school of fish; they change shape and shift and move in different directions. Let it go, don’t try to force the conversation, don’t try to force your agenda. Share your ideas and let the conversation evolve. Successful conversation is in the “I” of the beholder. This is the art. This is the key to success in family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, and in business relationships. It’s what IIIIIIiiii try to do.