The Stories that Shape You

“I had always felt life first as a story.”
–G. K. Chesterton

We humans are shaped by stories. More than we sometimes admit, the right story is air to us, or food. Barry Lopez, the author of Arctic Dreams, said this: “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”

Can you think of a time when you’ve needed a story that desperately–and then the story came to you? In a book, on the movie screen, or from the lips of a friend? Can you think of a story that not only swirled through your imagination but hit that needy spot in your heart, and gave you the strength to take another step?

It would be an interesting way to create a timeline (or storyboard) of your life, actually: to map out your history based on the driving story (book, film, character) that propelled you during that season.

What stories would show up on your timeline?

Baseball and Poetry (repost)

My inner poet cut her teeth on baseball.

Let me explain: When I was a kid, baseball games were my bedtime stories. I grew up in a baseball house–and growing up in southern California, within striking distance of Los Angeles, the baseball my family latched onto was the Dodger brand of ball. Now my dad wasn’t so much a Dodger fan as a baseball fan. Transplanted from the Midwest, if pressed, Dad would pledge some allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals. But I cut my teeth on Dodger baseball, and there were years of my childhood in which, if cut, I, like Tommy Lasorda, bled Dodger blue.

At night, during baseball season, I’d climb into bed and turn on the radio. And Vin Scully told me bedtime stories. Vin Scully has been the voice of the Dodgers for decades now (61 seasons!), carrying generations of fans and players through the play-by-play action of the Dodger baseball season. Scully’s voice carried over the airwaves and out my clock radio speaker in mellifluous tones that wrapped me up in the action. He announced the game as if telling a story, narrating a dramatic production—and Dodger Stadium, tucked away in Chavez Ravine, was the stage (at least for home games).

And there was plenty of drama to narrate. Those were good years for the Dodgers—the late seventies, early eighties. I grew up following a pretty consistent core of players. The solid infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey—and Yeager behind the plate. Dusty Baker out in left field (Bakersfield, we called it). Hooton on the mound, or Sutton, or Tommy John, or later Fernando Valenzuela, and later still, Orel Herscheiser. Lopes gave way to Sax, and Yeager to Scioscia, and I kept bleeding Dodger Blue under Tommy Lasorda’s enthusiastic leadership.

And Vin Scully’s story-weaving play-by-play. It’s masterful, really. Often poetic.

I love baseball. But truth be told, I probably love Vin Scully’s version of it. The version that pulls the story out of the play-by-play. The version that magically spins the straw of statistics into golden threads that mean something to the plot. That actually solidify the player in your mind rather than hanging off him awkwardly like so many cobwebs.

I have to think that the poet in me owes something of her development to the hours I drifted in and out of sleep listening to the voice–and the story-telling poet–of Dodger baseball, Vin Scully.

Workshop as Spiritual Diagnostic Tool

Both my creative writing class and my public speaking class have a workshop flavor. Which means that the students have multiple opportunities to experience critique–from both sides.

Because all my students in these classes come at life from a faith perspective, I explored with them this week some ways that workshopping a piece can serve as a spiritual diagnostic tool–in addition to sharpening their work. Critique situations stir things up in our hearts–and some of those things are issues that need to be wrestled with before God.

Let me explain. Here are a few of the heart-arenas that critique tends to target, and the spiritually challenging questions that tag along with them.

Do I trust other people to speak into my life and work?

Do I believe I have a voice?
Or do I believe myself to be voiceless, invisible?

Do I believe I have to defend myself? Why?

Do I secretly (or not so secretly) believe myself
to be above critique?
Do I want to keep my mistakes hidden,
keep them from being discussed out in the open?

Do I fear that relationship is broken (at whatever level)
when critique is spoken?

Those are the issues and questions that my students and I took a look at this week. I’m hoping that we’ll let God use our days of critique to shape not only our writing/speaking, but our character as well.

What do you think? Do you have any arenas or questions to add to my list? What spiritually challenging questions does critique stir up in you?

PS Some of this approach to critique stemmed from a confluence of reading I did some time ago. Noel Heikkinen blogged about being “Aggressively Teachable” here–his list of traits that block teachability helped shape my list of character issues in critique. In the book A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on their Art, a chapter by Keith Miller looks at writer’s block as a spiritual diagnostic tool and also influenced my thinking.

Idea Showers

Wanna get creative? Hit the showers.

I know it’s cliche, but I really do get great ideas in the shower.

Sometimes, I’ll take a shower not because I need to get clean, but because I need some fresh ideas. Time and again, it’s worth the water.

I wonder how many good ideas I’ve let go down the drain (so to speak) because I’ve kept plugging away rather than stopping for a shower.

What’s your idea place? How often do you go there? Do you ever miss out on good ideas because you don’t want to “waste” the water? Or because you don’t want to take the time?

Out the Door (repost)

What are you usually thinking about as you head out the door?

I’m often running through a mental checklist, trying to make sure I have everything (and everyone!) I need for whatever activity I’m heading toward. Here’s a typical leaving-the-house script for me:

Keys? Check.
Purse? Check.
Money? Check.
Phone? Check.
Kids? Check.

Oh–I just realized–we’re going to be driving right past the library! Kids, grab whatever books you’re done with and we’ll drop them off…

Oh, can you get my Pepsi off the table–I wasn’t quite done with it…

Oh crap, did I put on deodorant….?

Sound familiar, or is this just me? (Please, please comment and tell me I’m not alone in this…)


A couple days ago, a friend posted a snippet of a prayer on Twitter. I liked it, so I looked up the whole thing–and then I liked it even more.

And it got me thinking: Maybe I could walk out my door in a better frame of mind. Maybe, just maybe, I could shift that pattern into something a wee bit healthier.

I printed the prayer out all pretty-like, and posted it next to our front door, so I’ll see it every time I leave the house. I may swap it out with other thoughts or prayers or blessings as I find things I like–just to keep things fresh. But the idea is this: when I leave my house, when I head out into my community, I want to do it well. I want to walk out the door with a full heart rather than a cluttered mind.

What thoughts/ideas do you have on this?

Here’s the prayer, by the way. From what I can tell, it’s an old Celtic blessing. (Let me know if you have further knowledge on its origins–or if you like it enough to post it by your door.)

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you,
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

What Good Says to Evil

I sat at a Subway one afternoon, watching through the window as snow fell and started to stick. And I jotted down the following fragment:

what good says to evil

i will conquer you
like snow
one little choice
one little moment at a time

one defiant flake after another

you will dismiss me
as inconsequential

go ahead
look away
focus on something more formidable
more substantial

when you turn back around
i will have buried you