Friday, March 3, 2017

Honest Stories

The Ladies' Literature Society gathers on a Thursday evening to discuss a book we found quite serendipitously.  No one had read it, but the NYTimes had designated it "ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR," and it piqued our interest; it made it to our reading list--an unknown author of short stories received her own month among the greats: Tennessee William in January, Leo Tolstoy in February, Viktor Frankl in August, Anthony Doerr in October,  Lucia Berlin in March, etc.

A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, is a collection of stories so rich, so intriguing, so raw and honest, it inspired us to tell our own stories.

C, the moderator for the evening, sent us a pre-gathering message: So along with the story you choose from the book, I would like each of us to tell a short story about ourselves. You can write it if you'd like, or just tell it, but something that you could share about yourself. 

"She said the story had to be real-whatever that meant for her. I think it meant, not contrived, not incidental or gratuitous: it had to be deeply felt, emotionally important." Try to find a story of your life that was deep, emotional, real.

By the time we arrived for discussion, I had at least five stories that fit "deep, emotional, and real." As I listened to the fellow lit ladies, other stories montaged through my head. The author had inspired us all from her portrayal of quirky people with holes in their sieves that leaked truth. 

M told about the family's Grand Marquis automobile. One day while driving down Main Street, the horn stuck, but Mom just kept on driving without any embarrassment while her daughter was dying of self-conscious teenage angst. As the youngest of eight children, she shared those quirky family moments-the moments that only we see as the children of our parents.

K told the story of watching her mother through her bedroom window, march across the street and advocate for her daughter after the neighbor boys had tricked her and a friend.

K told about a cousin, a communist, who belittled her, and made sure this brilliant woman "got" her inferiority. We also learn that as a fifth grader, K wrote a letter to President John F Kennedy--and it was answered after he passed on his concern to the Secretary of Education.

N told about her family's struggles and her awareness that each generation was getting stronger, just a little bit better, and how she hoped her own daughter would be better than her. 

I had the privilege of speaking next to last, which allowed me to further process my own thoughts and put together pieces I had heretofore never realized. 

The story I tell is about resolving the conflicts of my father's speech that didn't match who he really was. He spoke in the prejudice language of the era in which he was raised, yet he was the most loving and accepting man of all people. In spite of the confusion, I was able to form my own feelings and beliefs. In sixth grade, I was at the forefront of school desegregation and found the fears of my white community to be false. I loved my new black friends. Yes, we were different from one another, but I loved those differences. 

Once again, I am convinced of the power of story--in reading and hearing other's stories, we discover our own. In the honest retelling of personal events, we find courage to seek the honesty in our own stories, and in that honesty we become whole and accepting of the stories that make us who we are. 

Our Storytelling Cafe just had its third week debut and the numbers are increasing. Thirty-two attendants on Thursday!