Recognizing Our Own Stories

Muses on a London building. Photo by Henriette Power

We go to the Muse and the Marketplace because we all share one passion: stories. We want to know how to write short ones, long ones, really short ones. How to find audiences for them, representatives for them, voices for them. We’re all in it for the stories.

Sitting in a quiet, out of the way room to record flash fiction for The Drum’s MuseFlash, I heard roughly thirty 500-word stories over two days. But what I noticed most of all was the stories that popped up around the flash fiction recordings. It was as if the two or three minute recordings primed the pump and the narratives just kept coming. A woman choosing her own name; another witnessing violent political transitions in Eastern Europe; yet another making a career singing in nightclubs. All weekend long I found myself telling people “you should write that,” or “there’s an essay there”.

Truth is, we don’t always recognize the stories we possess. And I’m reminded of an old friend I knew in her late 70s and 80s who, while writing a novel of suburban infidelity, told offhand stories that were unique, fascinating, and occasionally hilarious. There was the family she knew that had begun to clear out the furniture during a contentious divorce. The former ballroom became a rink for floor hockey, husband and wife turned sports rivals as well, with one child each on his or her team. The games were violent, but the family couldn’t make themselves stop playing as the marriage fell apart. There was the nun my friend knew who’d been arrested for a minor traffic violation and who, it was discovered once her trunk was opened, had been shoplifting lingerie from Filene’s Basement and hoarding it in her car. There was the story from my friend’s own childhood of how she and her brother, when assigned the task of getting rid of the Christmas tree, had decided to set it on fire and throw it out the window. This in downtown Chicago.

My friend tossed these stories off as asides and always seemed astounded by the response the rest of us in the writing group gave her. “That’s your story,” we would say. But to her, these were just things she knew. She had a kind of modesty about them. It had never occurred to her to turn the tales into narrative.

The Muse and Grub do many wonderful things for us writers. One of those is to surround us with people who will listen to us talk and who will know a story when they hear one. I know I’m tremendously grateful for all the Grubbies over the years who have pointed out where my story was, when I didn’t recognize it. Grub Street makes it easy for us to tell each other “That’s your story.”

--Henriette Lazaridis Power

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