THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
SEPTEMBER 17, 2016
How does a writer go about saving someone’s life? By “saving” I don’t mean some heroic feat requiring superpowers, courage, intelligence, magic, or the Heimlich Maneuver. I mean the kind of saving that we do with a safe deposit box. Preserving and protecting and setting aside for the future.
We write life stories. Biographies as short as an obituary sketch or as long as Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Somebody will be glad to read such stories. Those lives will be saved in a permanent record. And with the pen of a good writer, they can be full of fascinating and entertaining stories.
This week we are fortunate to showcase an essay by Barbara LaSalle, author of the honest and heart-moving book Finding Ben: A Mother’s Journey Through the Maze of Asperger’s, about which Dr. Bernie Siegel had this to say: “To love a child is to give them the gift of life.… Finding Ben shows this beautifully.”
Barbara’s essay this week for The Joy of Story is a celebration of writing the stories of our lives, in which she stresses the importance of preserving one’s own adventures for safe-keeping.
HOW I SAVED MY LIFE
by Barbara LaSalle
Every life, like every story, is finite. It starts at the beginning, moves to the middle, and finishes at the end. There are all kinds of ways of saving stories. We can write them, tell them, act them, sing them, and even dance them. But how do we save our lives? Aren’t our innocent beginnings, our meandering middles, and our wise-weary endings worth saving? But how to do it? How do we paste our lives, in all their millions of particles, into permanence? How—before we are gone and forgotten—do we save our lives?
This has been a question that has haunted me since I was small. It always seemed wrong to allow my life to go to waste. It’s not as if my life is extraordinary, just the contrary. Rather, it is its very ordinariness that begs for capture. And why not? My ordinary life is as precious to me as King Edward’s was to him. I have been just as happy, as sad, as desperate, as bored, as scared, as vulnerable, as weak, and as strong as anyone else, famous or not. But no one is asking to write my biography. No one will be checking my life out of the library, ordering it on Kindle, or listening to it on audiotape. Only I can recognize the uniqueness of my life and grant it recognition. Only I care enough to grant it safekeeping, if only for myself.
So that’s what I do.
And in the process of capturing my life on paper, I give it honor because honor is what it deserves. The act of saving my life requires my memory to sharpen, my perspective to broaden, and my sensations to invigorate. In revisiting my past, I understand it in a way I could not the first time around. In appointing myself author of my life, I vow to be its faithful custodian. Though I am tempted to pretty it up, I force myself to remain vigilant, depicting it as unbeautiful, and ungraceful, as it often was. Sometimes, I want to look away, to stuff my mistakes and misfortunes back down into the safe alley of forgetting. But it is then that I re-dedicate myself to my self-assigned task by reminding myself that I alone hold its memories, I alone can tell its story.
Funny things happen on the road back to yesterday. Unexpected epiphanies rise up, answers to long-buried questions find answers, forgiveness wraps me in its comforting arms, and the prize, the treasure that inevitably awaits at the bottom, is always this: breath-taking, awe-inspiring gratitude.
The road to saving my life is a hard one to travel, but it’s worth it, because not only have I saved it but find myself thankful for it, so very, very thankful. Writing about my struggles with all my life’s demons, tamed and untamed, I realize that I have done my best, even when my best showed up as my worst, and that I have lived, truly lived each and every mindless and mindful moment.
It is only a life, little though it is, but it is mine. I am its unconditional mother and my job is to love it, to adorn my house with its scribbles, to paste its heartbreaks and longings into soft, cloth scrapbooks, to wrap its triumphs and trophies, its successes and failures in the attic of safekeeping.
My life, like each of our lives, is a thing of beauty, a thing of courage, a thing of honor. It is by saving them that we give our lives their due.
Barbara LaSalle is a marriage and family therapist who runs a psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. A tireless advocate for people with mental illness, she is a frequent lecturere, workshop leader, and documentary filmmaker whose films include It’s Not All in Their Minds, Living with A.D.D., and What Happens When My Child Grows Up?
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for October’s 99-word story submissions is Octoboer 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for October 8, and will stay posted for a week.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: email@example.com
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: Are you trying to tell me that you never even met this person before?
Calling all published authors—
I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week. Meanwhile, may your lives be full of stories, and and may your life story be full of joy.