Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seeing Story

Storytellers have two sets of eyes. There's the pair we use every day to navigate our way through the world, and then there are our inner eyes, through which we see all the possibilities around us. All that's needed to switch between the two is a little imagination.

Take this tree. To everyone else it's an old tree with a hollow. To the storyteller it's a palace of surprises and secrets. What's in the hollow? A sleepy owl, a nest of baby birds, the diary a girl hides there because she never wants anyone to read it? If you reach inside the hollow, will you find a squirrel's nut stash, an old bottle containing a mysterious note, or another hand that tugs at yours?

An old stack of beat-up shipping palettes isn't very exciting. Unless you're a mouse, then it's a castle, a labyrinth, a sanctuary. Or for a kid, it's the mountain they can be king of (until someone knocks them off) -- or something much more dangerous. When I saw this I had a memoir moment, because when I was a child I climbed a stack of palettes just like this. At the time I was also barefoot, and stepped on a rusty nail. I was so worried about being scolded that I hid the wound from my mother for a week, until the fever and the red streaks running up my leg betrayed me. If Mom hadn't been as observant as she was, I might have died of blood poisoning -- all from a stack of old boring shipping palettes, just like this one.

It's not a yellow brick road, but it could be. The diamond shapes want to be counted, encoded, decoded. A game of dodge car and hopskotch, all in one. Perhaps one of the bricks is loose, and when you pry it up there will be something hidden under it, or written on the underside. When the street pavers come, as they inevitably do, what happens to all the old bricks? Do you nick some from the road construction dumpster, a couple at a time, and take them home to build something?

Story inspiration is all around you -- you just have to look at it through your other pair of eyes.


  1. I know exactly what you mean about the two sets of eyes. I find myself using my storyteller eyes when I am riding public transportation and I see people who interest me. I try and subtly study them and try and figure out their story. Couples in particular interest me as I try to figure where they are at in their relationship and how healthy that relationship is. I like to assign secrets to people and goals. It is a good character building exercise and it has led to some short stories for me. It also makes my commute to work a lot quicker on days the book I'm reading just isn't holding my attention.

  2. In May, I posted a photo and story on my blog, nearly every day. It was my attempt to be more in the moment, see my surroundings, be less in my stressed-out head. Almost immediately I began to "see". I love the focus and attention to detail my camera gives me, and pictures always bring the stories.

    The hollow tree was cool, until you said that bit about another hand tugging, which changed my thoughts from fairies to trolls. ;D

  3. I've never swiped bricks from the construction dumpster, but I did shamelessly used the cuteness of my kid in her stroller to get the road crew to give me a bunch of them. The diamonds on the bricks made me think of a secret code along with the row turned 90 degrees. See what you've done?Now I have a story idea.

  4. The stacks of unused road construction barriers always make me think: "Skunk Motel". :-)

  5. When my mother was young, she cut her wrist under her thumb on the lid from a tuna can. Three days later, the streaks up her arm were brilliant and the huge purple lump under her arm was the size of an egg. I'm so glad your mother was observant!

    The hand in the tree and the underside of the brick have given me ideas!


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