What belongs in a story? Art and literature generally streamline the stories of life, homing in on narrative arcs and peeling away the detritus that collects with time. They compress and refine. They make sense of the intertwined relationships, discussions, thoughts, and experiences that compose our lives. Writing, making art, composing music, performing: these practices and the dialogues they inspire help us figure out what our stories actually are. Except, like, sometimes.
Area Man Goes Over Handlebars, Thumps Brain
Portland, Ore. — Plazm magazine co-founder and Art Director Joshua Berger sustained a severe Traumatic Brain Injury due to a bicycle accident Friday. Several days later, Mr. Berger, 45, stated immediately upon regaining the ability to speak, several days later, “Oh shit.”
The accident occurred in Southeast Portland at 8:23 a.m. Mr. Berger was taken via ambulance to the Trauma Ward at Oregon Health Sciences University’s Intensive Care Unit. Authorities reported no other vehicles at the accident site. One eyewitness called 911 and administered initial aid to Mr. Berger. His family reports that they have been unable to find the witness to thank him or her.
[Image: altar in Mr. Berger's hospital room. Objects link from a chain utilized by the Belizean military to pull Mr. Berger's and his wife's automobile from the mud on their honeymoon, and the bicycle helmet that saved Mr. Berger's life. Photo by Ms. Brown.]
Tiffany Lee Brown, Mr. Berger’s wife and a co-editor of Plazm, declined to be interviewed for this article, writing via email, “Instead could you come over and clean the two-day-old toddler vomit off the bathroom floor? Key’s on the front porch under the dahlia. Page me at OHSU if you need me–no cell service in ICU. Thx.”
A daily bicycle commuter, Mr. Berger was unaware that it was Ride Your Bike to Work Day.
What the hell does that have to do with this story?
This story is supposed to be about The Easter Island Project, an art thingy I’ve been working on since 2007. I know the story should be about one woman’s struggle with the biological clock, trying to make meaning in her life with art and conversation, following her heart to the isle of Rapa Nui. I know this because I said it in a grant application and RACC gave me the grant, so now even if I didn’t feel like it I’d have to tell that story.
Thing is, I do want to tell the story. I will tell the story. I will tell it right here on this blog over the upcoming months.
But what belongs in a story? Art and literature generally streamline the stories of life, homing in on narrative arcs and peeling away the detritus that collects with time. They compress and refine. They make sense of the intertwined relationships, discussions, thoughts, and experiences that compose our lives. Writing, making art, composing music, performing: these practices and the dialogues they inspire help us figure out what our stories actually are.
I’m an editor and writing coach. I can trim the fat off the dripping meat of your story and help you find its thread (and, as a bonus, help you mix cooking and textile metaphors in a single, fabulous sentence).
But sometimes fat is a good thing. Ask any cook. You sear its edges and let it release flavor and texture into the potatoes, the carrots, the animal’s flesh. Sometimes you untangle the recycled materials of an indie-crafted maxi-sweater and end up with a pile of fabric scraps and wormy little bits of yarn. Or you hide behind your loom at night unraveling the tapestry you weaved all day. There is no unifying thread.
Sometimes you throw the whole mess in the Crockpot — rump roast, yarn, tapestry, and all. Maybe you add the kitchen sink, too, for the frisson of one last domestic metaphor.
I think that’s what will happen in my story. I know my husband’s bicycle accident, nine months after I completed that grant application, has no business in the focused, appealing version of the biological clock story I used to think I should tell. (Neither does the death of Nora Ephron or the philosophy of flipping coins, but those may make it in, too.) The story will probably go something like this:
There was grief.
There was a child.
There was community.
There was a bicycle accident.
There was a process.
Your story might look something like that, too. We won’t know until you tell it.