Stories, the Bread and Cheese of the Brain

Well, it looks like a ruckus, but the story I heard is that it's a picnic

Well, it looks like a ruckus, but the story I heard is that it’s a picnic

There are so many great things about being a freelance writer working out of the home. For instance, consider all of the unusual facial hair experiments you can conduct. (And to my women writer friends, I don’t want to be exclusive—you’ve just got to concentrate.) But working from home or not, the greatest of writerly wonders is that you get to regularly think of, ponder, listen to—and write!—stories.

Stories, the bread and cheese of the brain. Whether one year old or one hundred, we are wired for stories—there is an electric trap-door that snaps open when the brain senses a story: drop it in, will process immediately! That’s why working with stories, whether fiction or nonfiction (or the clasped-hands circle that often entwines the two) is the highest privilege of being a writer.

A prime example from my recent writing life: my brother and sister-in-law recently visited the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront National Historical Park. Besides having a name you have to take a taxi around, the park is host to Betty Reid Soskin, a full-time interpretive ranger. My relatives went to one of Betty’s presentations and told me about her.

Taking the Long View

Besides her five-days-a-week gig at the park, Betty also gives presentations to other groups. She’s also been blogging regularly for more than 10 years, often on civil rights issues honed through a long perspective. Long as in, Betty is 93 years old. A blogging ranger, with all kinds of outside interests and activities, at 93. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a story. My brain tingled.

Stories come together from curiosity, observation, and attention to language. When you think like a writer, you realize that you don’t have to hunt in the piney woods for a story—the dang things are everywhere. I’ve been writing short pieces for The American Scholar magazine for a while, and my editor there agreed that Betty’s story rang all necessary bells, so she’ll grace a page in the next issue.

But hers is a story that deserves a more rounded telling—she is a primary source, a living history and an engaging one at that—so I’m querying a few other publications to see if they are lucky enough to publish something about her. In the brief time we’ve been corresponding, it’s been so much fun, because she is both witty and wise. I hope I can meet her in person soon. But in the meantime, you might like to meet her on the pages of her blog—they are well worth the reading.

Book Update

I’ve essentially finished my book on writing, tentatively titled Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: A Guidebook to Go from Perception to Page. It’s likely I’ll self-publish it, though I am going to check with a couple of publishing connections to see if there’s interest. If self-pubbed, lots to do still, like work with a cover artist and a crunch of formatting for ebook needs. But I’ll keep you informed on where it’s at, and where it will be.

In the meantime, sniff out some stories. (Hint: they smell of fresh-baked bread.)

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4 thoughts on “Stories, the Bread and Cheese of the Brain

  1. Story is everything. It’s what we tell ourselves about what we believe, what we see, what we feel, who we love and why we hate.

    There is no reality, only stories.

    I love meeting interesting new people, even virtually.

    Speaking of people, this phrase caught my eye: my brother and sister-in-law

    As in, your brother, and his wife, or are both in-laws? (I don’t recall ever hearing of you having a brother, but then, maybe I don’t mention the two I have either.)

  2. Yep, you know exactly what I mean, Joel: “This is your brain on stories!” (and there’s no hangover).

    And yes, I do have a big brother (and was referring to his wife); I have two older sisters as well. They all happily tormented me as a lad, and continue the attempts now. Talk about some stories…

  3. I feel your youngest-kid-in-the-family pain, Tom!

    My three older sibs still happily torment me (and I return the favor). One of my older brothers (the one who used to spin me around by my leg and arm until I screamed for mercy) includes an intriguing “disclaimer” at the bottom of his email. The disclaimer states that the email content might be the result of meticulous research, or stuff he just made up.

    Whether it’s a cool, true story like Betty Reid Soskin’s, or pure fiction, our “brain on stories” lights up like a Christmas tree.

    And congrats on finishing the book. I’ll want my copy signed by the author.

  4. Annie, your brother’s disclaimer sounds like it could be applied to the bulk of my existence; I hope he doesn’t mind if I get it as a label for my shirts.

    I do hope to get more on Betty’s story from her directly—she is a witty and fresh writer, a description for which I’d easily accept either of those terms at 93. Or perhaps now.

    I will happily autograph your copy of the book (as long as I can include your brother’s disclaimer).

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