Stories/Storytelling Archives

Six Word Stories 33-34

“Hello. Mello Yello Jello poisoned him.” – Six Word Story #33

Today while eating lunch with my youngest daughters, they decided to be a bit more rambunctious than usual. Lots of non-stop laughter, which would’ve been fine, except we were in a public place and I didn’t want them to choke.

To distract myself from their silliness, I decided to come up with as many words as possible that are spelled like Mello Yello (I was drinking one at the time). I know, the things I’m reduced to as a mother at times.  It’s a wonder I have enough little gray cells left to even string six words together. The story above is a line I imagined Captain Stottlemeyer saying to Detective Adrian Monk over the phone about the victim on a case the are working on (or substitute the detectives of your choice).

For kicks here’s another six word story (#34):

Quiet, personal camouflage protected her childhood.

Suffice to say there wasn’t any camouflage or quiet during this particular afternoon of my youngest daughters’ childhoods. ;-)


Placebo storytelling

I’ve written before about the importance of storytelling in the doctor’s office.

The stories a patient tells himself are important as well and new research shows the role placebos play in this storytelling process.

In the past, placebos worked because the patient didn’t know he or she was taking a placebo. Healing through deception, in a sense.

But new research indicates that placebos work even if the patient knows it’s a placebo. Say what?

It seems counter-intuitive, but apparently the ritual of taking a pill and going through the motions of  getting a glass of water, opening the bottle, swallowing the pill, etc. triggers a self-healing mechanism inside the body.

We’re also discovering that the power of narrative is embedded deeply in our physiology. Perhaps that’s not surprising. In the long centuries before doctors discovered antibiotics, they often had little else but an observant eye, a listening ear, and a bag of nostrums with names like decoction of barley and compound infusion of roses to offer their desperately ill patients.
Our study points to something that a number of people have suspected, but has been hard to demonstrate under controlled conditions: We have the capacity for healing physical conditions through psychological means. First, we have to accept that. Studies of placebo effects are great demonstrations of it.
This award-winning article in Wired about placebos is also worth reading.
Ironically, Big Pharma’s attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn’t care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That’s potent medicine.

Potent indeed. One could also reflect on how this indicates the power of ritual in general. But instead of reflecting on that I’m instead wondering if the placebo effect could work with, say, my cars. If I pretend my 1995 Dodge Neon is a 2011 Mini Cooper placebo will it run more reliably and stylishly? :D


Cleaning out the closet of stories with Facebook

More and more it seems to me that what it means to be human and connected to people is simply to be a collector of stories. As this “Facebook: A Spiritual Experience article indicates, for those of us who use Facebook, Facebook has changed the way in which we collect some of those narratives.

For example, it’s kind of ironic that, as my oldest daughter is on the verge of high school graduation, and #2 daughter has begun her first year of high school, I’ve become reacquainted with some high school classmates through Facebook and forced to think about my own high school experiences anew.

Prior to Facebook,  I was so Done with that part of life, hadn’t attended any reunions, and wasn’t in contact with anyone from high school anymore anyway so what was the point.

But, as I’ve started to notice now that I’m middle-aged, and am on Facebook, I realize that even though I may think I’m severed from my high school past (and other parts of my past), I’m still connected to the people – especially the ones I disliked or was close to but am estranged from or drifted apart from. I’m connected to them because I still know some of their stories and secrets.

As actor Vincent Kartheiser (who plays Pete Campbell in the TV show Mad Men) once said:

I mean, there’s people in the world I hate and they know things about me that the people I love the most in life don’t know, and because of that, there’s a more special bond between me and them, even though I really do dislike them.

Yep. Funny how that happens.

In the Facebook: A Spiritual Experience article, the writer says that Facebook demands honesty, which is why she says it can be a tool for spiritual growth.

On Facebook you have so many of your worlds colliding in one place – colleagues, neighbors, old classmates, close  friends, church acquaintances, family members, etc.  Because of that there have been many times I’ve posted something on Facebook but blocked the post from some individuals/sets of friends, not because the post would offend them, but because it would either bore them or perhaps make them uncomfortable. I’m tempted not to do that anymore, even though there have been countless times I’ve read someone else’s posts and been so disappointed to find out their viewpoint on something or found it to be TMI (Too Much Information):

Slogging through old hurts is one thing, but Facebook elicits a communal shadow reaction that many don’t foresee. A hyper-distilled family reunion, digital social display leaves many users feeling forced to confront old demons, not just face the demon, but do so with the demon’s posse looking on. Also, where many have enjoyed the anonymity of a raucous Internet social life, for Facebook to work as intended, you have to be honest in the personal data you feed it. To that end, some have pioneered into lifestyles and experiences that are upsetting to those still at the old stomping grounds, or to employers or potential clients. And then there’s the base embarrassment in friending Aunt Bee, who’s scanned your adorable fifth grade yearbook picture for the world to see…

There’s been plenty of fun and even therapeutic storytelling via Facebook too, however. A few weeks ago an old high school classmate friended me on Facebook and we messaged at length about many things from the high school past and swapped stories. It was therapeutic and a way to recycle some of the stories in my closet of stories that I normally don’t have opportunities to bring out and add new ones.


Those 4000 bus rides finally paid off

Those “When I was your age” moments in parenting, when your story of hardship trumps your child’s story, are always one of those most satisfying moments as a parent.

I had one of those this morning. Because one of our vehicles had issues yesterday due to the extreme cold, there was a likelihood my oldest daughter would have to drive the youngest two daughters to school and drop them off a half hour early.

From the perspective of one of my younger daughters, this was considered a hardship of the highest order. “I’ll have to wait in the cafeteria for a half hour? That’s so boring!”

I knew I’d have to hear that again this morning, so before she woke up I calculated that when I was a kid I took the school bus to and from school each day for 12 years, for a total of 4000 bus rides.

The first thing my daughter said upon arising was, “Did the van start yet?” I told her I hadn’t checked yet but if she does end up getting an early ride, I’m not going to tolerate any whining because when I was her age I took the bus 4000 times and not once during those 4000 bus rides did I have fun. Her eyes widened and she was silent for many minutes. Yes!

I went out to try to start the van and it fired right up. Dang. I was so disappointed because I was already prepared with a comeback. You see, one of the other triumphs of being a parent is being able to use your own parents’ hardship stories that you were forced to listen to as a kid. It’s a fun way to recycle their stories. So I was all prepared to tell my daughter:

“When I was your age I didn’t complain about those 4000 bus rides even though we had a second car and my mom was a housewife and home all day and theoretically could have given me a ride and spared me the boredom of the bus. Why didn’t I ask her? Because my mom would have said, ‘You think walking to the end of our short driveway and hopping onto a school bus is a hardship? When I was your age I had to take a *city* bus all the time. The bus stop wasn’t anywhere near our house, either, and I had to walk many blocks just to get on the bus. We didn’t have a car, so we had to do this not to just go to school but anytime we needed groceries. Yes, that meant schlepping those groceries in a little pull cart for many blocks, even when the sidewalks were icy and it was freezing cold outside.”

As a kid I learned how to not trigger those stories but now as a parent I would have loved using that story of my mom’s as a trump card this morning. But that reliable Toyota didn’t give me a chance. Oh well. Maybe at least I can count on my 4000 bus rides story getting recycled in 30-40 years.


6 Six Word Stories

Six Word Story #27:

Holes made him whole, not holy.

Six Word Story #28:

He suffered her certainties 46 years.

Six Word Story #29:

Wanted. Anticipated. Saved. Purchased. Misplaced. Intoxicated.

Six Word Story #30:

He lusted. She trusted. Oops. Pregnancy.

Six Word Story #31:

Guilt arrived and sabotaged her afternoon.

Six Word Story #32:

Their love died from emotional anemia.


The Flight of NC5011C

This week my friend Beth posted a story on her blog that hasn’t been far from my mind since I read it. Her husband Bill is an English professor and has stage 4 cancer. He just began his second round of chemo, which is expected to be pretty brutal.

Instead of giving his usual lecture to his class earlier this week, he spontaneously decided to tell them a story instead. You don’t have to know Bill to be moved by and appreciate this story. I’ll paste it in below (feel free to read the entire post here):

He said he began to pace back and forth across the front of the room and instead of talking about Picts, Angles, Saxons, and Romans, he started telling them a story about what, in his mind, is the actual most important, essential reason for anyone to ever study English Literature.

He began by quoting, from memory, two poems by William Butler Yeats, which poems are timelessly beautiful but which Bill used to demonstrate that even the most perfect literature is, in one sense, impotent and ineffectual, giving the example that Yeats, despite having the Nobel Laureate in literature, couldn’t use his poetry to get even the unknown young Irish girl, Maude Gonne, to give the merest edge of consideration to courting Yeats.

But, Bill continued, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, said that the mark of intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind simultaneously and to give assent to both of them.

To illustrate this point, and to show the power of literature, Bill then told the class the story of the most memorable day in his life, which occurred when Bill was 18 years old, and when, in the presence of his roommate Geoffrey, an 18-year-old poet, Bill launched, for the first time, a wooden airplane that had taken Bill nine months to build from scratch. Bill had painted the beloved plane yellow and named it NC5011C.

Also watching this plane’s maiden voyage were two other friends, Jim and Barry.

The launch was successful; NC5011C flew briefly and gloriously, but then as Bill watched in horror, the plane unexpectedly turned and headed for the earth, at a terrible speed, and hit, crashing into a million yellow wooden splinters.

There was a brief silence, and then Jim and Barry started laughing and laughing and couldn’t stop laughing. Bill, even as upset as he was, had to laugh, too, to look cool, he said. But even as he laughed, he noticed that his roommate Geoffrey wasn’t laughing. In fact, Geoffrey walked away in silence.

A few hours later, after Bill had spent some time alone, kicking dirt, walking aimlessly and trying to recover from his monumental loss, Bill went back to his dorm room. When he stepped in, he noticed that a piece of paper was taped to his pillow case.

The paper had been hand-decorated in baroque style with drawings of cherubs blowing trumpets and the like, and on the sheet was the following poem, which Geoffrey had written, entitled, “On the Death of NC5011C: An Elegaic Sonnet Written in Iambic Tetrameter and Dedicated with All Sincerity to William R. Drennan.”

“For leaning days and wearisome nights,
he loving shaped thee perfectly,
most beauteous of aerey sights.

‘Ah, thou shalt see the sun
on tops of clouds,’ dreamt he;
then thee with bright yellow he bedights.

Then thee to the yard he doth transport,
and with a prayer said for thy dearth,
he sends thee, looping round to earth;
such grace, and yet thy flight so short.

The tears that fall around thee after
strangely sound, almost, like laughter.”

After that day, Bill gave up his major in political science and pre-law, and became an English major.

When Bill finished telling this story and reciting this poem to his class at Appalachian, the room was quiet, he said. He then reiterated that on one hand, literature can be impotent, but on the other hand, it can change a human life forever.

In closing, he said to the class, “I need to tell you one more thing.”

“I may not be with you for several class sessions this semester. I’m appearing here between major cancer operations. I have already had three operations and chemo, and I start four to six months of chemo on Thursday.” No one spoke.

“But I’ll try not to die on you before the end of the semester,” he threw in, trying to lighten things up a little.

He then noticed that one woman student was staring at him, apparently frozen, with her eyes so wide open in surprise at what he had just said, that he felt he needed to respond.

“What?” he said to her gently. “It’s okay. It is in the nature of things for old men to die.”

Then he added, “You will understand that when you get to the part about Beowulf and the dragon.”


Deceased yet Consolation

It’s something of a coincidence that this week, of all weeks, my 8-year-old daughter had to master the pronunciation of the words “deceased” and “consolation.”

Today, which is also coincidentally the day 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene was laid to rest in a casket handmade by monks in Tuscon, AZ, it was my daughter’s responsibility to stand at the lectern of the Catholic church associated with the school she attends and read the petition for “consolation” and “for all the deceased” during the morning mass.

She landed this gig a week ago after playing Rock/Paper/Scissors with the neighbor boy, who also wanted to read this petition. She won and had been elated about that ever since, working carefully with me every evening to make sure she pronounced “consolation” and “deceased” correctly, over and over again.

A perfect refrain for the week, as it turns out.

She recited the petition perfectly this morning and I thought of Obama’s speech last night (perhaps the first time I’ve ever been deeply moved by a presidential speech) and the part where he said we see ourselves and our children in the victims:

For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.


Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

After my daughter read the petition, the priest addressed a recent conflict at the school by encouraging the kids to not lash out in anger when hurt, to instead seek healing and to help heal others. That, along with Obama’s speech, are small steps in the direction of consolation, along with the stories of the acts of heroism that occurred during the shooting.

My daughter doesn’t really yet know what the reality of being deceased means,  as she hasn’t lost a loved one. She can pronounce “consolation” now but has yet to express it or experience it at a deep level.  When that day arrives, I hope, along with Obama, that this country really will live up to her (and all our children’s) expectations and that she’ll have reason to say, “We are so blessed. We have a good life,” like Christina used to say to her mother.

Memory Eternal, Christina, Dot, Dorwan, Judge Roll, Phyllis and Gabe.


6 Six Word Stories in 6 Hours

Seeing as how there was a blizzard today, and I didn’t feel like doing the writing I was supposed to be doing, I thought I’d try writing 6 six word stories in 6 hours. I ended up writing five of them in a half hour.

Here goes:

Death in the drive-thru came swiftly. (Six Word Story #20)

Unfortunately this is a true story. Last Wednesday at the credit union I go to all the time in my normally quiet community, a police officer fatally shot a man who kidnapped an older man.

She killed husband, not the boss. (Six Word Story #21)

I finished the book Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King this weekend, which is about a woman who got away with murdering her husband years ago but then was falsely accused of murdering her boss.

It’s not a horror novel, which is why I was able to read it (I made the great mistake of reading his Cujo horror novel one weekend when all my roommates were gone for the weekend and I hadn’t touched a King novel since). This was a fun read because the book is entirely a monologue by Dolores and there are no chapter breaks.

Seven league boots fly through snow. (Six Word Story #22)

Cellist Zoe Keating has a song called Seven League Boots so I looked that up and found out those are boots in European folklore that can go seven leagues (21 miles) in one step.

Loyal German Shepherd performed blizzard rescue. (Six Word Story #23)

I had to write some copy about German Shepherds this afternoon and found out how loyal and smart they are and found myself developing a soft spot for them even though I’m not a dog lover.

I had to write a true story about how a woman noticed a German Shepherd sitting attentively in a gas station parking lot across from the restaurant where she was eating. She later asked the gas station manager about him and he said the dog was abandoned there seven days earlier but hadn’t budged from the spot because he was waiting for his owners’ return. She ended up adopting him.

I also learned German Shepherds can be trained to do just about anything and are sometimes used as diabetes alert dogs. They sniff to see if the owner’s blood sugar is normal and will run and fetch the glucometer if  they sense the blood sugar is abnormal. Of course my diabetic daughters now want one of these dogs.

He’s nobody’s fool – smarter than God. (Six Word Story #24)

I’m reading the novel Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, who is perhaps my favorite modern novelist and a winner of the Pulitzer prize.  His novels are about “blue-collar heartache” and are set in working class communities in New England, usually. Quite often the main character is an English professor.

That Old Cape Magic is a good novel to start with if you haven’t read one of his novels before.

Well-tempered clavier finally lost its cool. (Six Word Story #25)

Every winter I go through a phase of listening to lots of classical music, including Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I’ve always found that name vaguely amusing so I had some fun with it here. What can I say, I was snowed-in and bored and therefore easily amused. :-)


Now it’s time to get your Charlie Brown Christmas on

I like what liberal agnostic empiricist Michael Chabon says about the below scene from Charlie Brown Christmas (as quoted in this Terry Mattingly essay about the Charlie Brown Christmas special):

“I still know that chapter and verse of the Gospel of Luke by heart, and no amount of subsequent disillusionment with the behavior of self-described Christians, or with the ongoing progressive commercialization that in 1965 had already broken Charlie Brown’s heart, has robbed the central miracle of Christianity of its power to move me the way any truly great story can.”

You can watch Charlie Brown Christmas in its entirely for free on Hulu.


Best six word story ever

Well, maybe not the best. That distinction still belongs to Hemingway, I think, for his “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.” This one is the most clever one I’ve come across (from the Six Word Stories site):

Optimist drowns in half full bathtub.