When I was young, I told myself stories. Or rather, I lived in the stories I told myself. It was daydreaming on steroids, not confined to lying in bed at night or sitting idle, but all the time. Most of the stories were not about me, but about my characters, such as angels, warriors, sorcerors, and even people in the books I read and the series I watched. When I wasn’t storytelling I was reading, or watching television.
These days, you might expect that a child’s intense absorption in fantasy might capture the attention of a teacher, and might lead to testing and diagnosis. Actually, though it was only the 1950s, it did.
I was so extremely inattentive, , disorganized, impulsive, and even destructive that the school insisted on testing me. The results meant I was skipped from second to third grade in the middle of the year, instead of being held back. Because I was still nonfunctional, therefore, my story-telling intensified, and so did my misbehavior, and I got steadily worse.
In my twenties, half way through school and completely unable to do anything, I had to learn, slowly and painfully, to pay attention to what was actually in front of me. To tell the story of my real-life self. One small step at a time, I finished college, got a job, married, raised a child, went to graduate school, and started a career as a teacher.
I still told stories, but I was writing them down, not living in them. I even got a couple of books published. But I couldn’t spend my days dreaming of the stories I was telling, because I was too busy. I had to force myself to sit down and get in the writing mood when I was writing. I had to steal time to do it. That felt wrong.
It turned out when I was the main character in my own life story, and when I was really paying attention to the escalating plot of real life, I didn’t actually have time to focus on my stories.
I kept writing. But I couldn’t daydream. Couldn’t immerse myself. Actually being in my life as the main character meant I couldn’t just drift off. I had to be present. I couldn’t even read the way I used to, because real life kept intruding.
I missed my stories so much. I was writing, but I wasn’t in the story any more.
Then I retired and took a part time job. I got my life organized, I tidied up my house, and I got rid of possessions I don’t need. I republished my books, and wrote another one. The pandemic intervened and I ended up quitting even my part time job.
Now I notice something I should have noticed during the past year when I was writing The Stick Princess. All the time, I am thinking about what I’m writing, but it doesn’t mess things up any more.
I actually look as if I’m paying attention.
Inside, though, I’m saying excitedly, “Emphasize that the final scene is on Christmas Day! Work Charon’s statement to Orpheus into the climax! Combine those two characters! What if I did it this way instead?” *
The stories are back. Well, Story is back.
Of course, it’s all Story, isn’t it?
*The current novel has always had the title Dog of the Dead because Lost Dog of the Dead is too long. The second novel in the series is tentatively School Dance of the Gods because Dance of the Gods seems misleading. I haven’t decided on the third book’s title. Elemental School won’t work because it’s a dumb pun and the protagonist of the series is a middle school teacher, but Earth, Air, Fire and Water are main players. Any ideas for titles? I suck at titles. My publisher named my first two books. I have to have titles because my awesome graphic designer will be free to make some covers for me in January. What? I’m rambling? I’m in the story again.
P.S. I fixed the typos in the paperback version of Stick Princess. That required reformatting and re-uploading the whole thing, which took ages. There were only three typos, and I almost considered letting them go, but I’m between revisions right now so I could afford to lose a day. If you were considering buying the paperback, let it go for a couple of days until the revision is live.
4 thoughts on “Living in the story”
Oh, man. The bit about having to learn to live in the story of your own real life, and also about how melancholy that can feel, hit me hard. I relate for sure. I’m so glad to hear that the Story came back for you. Never left, but came back to a level of encompassingness that feels proper, I mean. 🙂
Well said! I agree that the Story can get a little TOO encompassing and I’m glad it’s not that way now; there are still occasions, though, when I get lost in a book the same way, which usually results in losing sleep.
Driving was always a dangerous time for me. I would start out paying attention to the road, then I’d blink and have no idea where I was because I had disappeared inside myself for who knows how long. Trips to work I was only absent for 10-15 minutes, and was driving on auto-pilot to get to the office. For other destinations, however, I might miss my turnoff. Or I could pull out of my garage, intent on getting to the store just a few blocks away, and then find myself about to get on the interstate because I’d fallen almost immediately into my commute pattern. Describing this as “mind drift” completely misses the intensity of the interior landscape.
One advantage to the pandemic is that I no longer drive much at all. Ironically, there are also too many interruptions and too much noise clutter at home for me to disappear.
Yes! I have actually arrived at the wrong destination a number of times. I agree, it’s intense as hell in there.
I don’t drive much any more either, not because of the pandemic but because I live in the city and will never ever get my parking space back if I leave it. Also, I’m getting too damn old and my reaction time isn’t what it used to be. Once I stop fencing I’ll get rid of the car entirely.