I can’t write stories – especially dialogue – and I can’t sing. Two immutable truths you need to know before you read this.
So what was I doing at Dime Stories where people read stories they’ve written? (I haven’t yet heard anybody sing, but who knows?). The first time, I went to support my friend Birdie while she read. She came to my house, I gave her a couple shots of bourbon, I had one for good measure, and Tom drove us to The Source. It was a wild and beautiful night: New Mexico summer evening, under the stars, lots of people – Annam Manthiram filled up the room with her family, visiting from out of town – and many different people, all with a story about his or her life, all willing to get up in front of this bunch of people. If we’d thought to bring bourbon with us in our water bottles, it would have been perfect.
We went back, Birdie and I, and the next time, queasy stomach, no bourbon, I read too. At least I think that’s how it happened. Probably doesn’t matter – this is a story, after all – some of them are fiction, some are fact, and all of them are true, to quote the Dime Stories website. (It is a catchy statement, isn’t it?) I’ve been back only a few times, but each time I’ve read a story, and each time I’ve felt a little less nervous about being up in front of people (which really doesn’t have to do with what I think about my work, folks – and if you want to know what I think it does have to do with, come on out to Dime Stories), and people have responded warmly to my work, and each time I’ve had the joy of listening to others’ stories, some part of their lives, their imaginations, that they’re willing to share.
But why the mash note? These are strange and desperate times, when an Albuquerque firefighter has to solicit donations for life-saving surgery; when a woman can be jailed for attempted feticide and murder because she tried to commit suicide while pregnant; when corporations are seen as people with constitutional rights; when poor women lose access to health care because people are willing to sacrifice living, breathing, humans to protect a fetus; when a man who served in the Iraq war to protect the U.S., including those folks known as corporations, and the family who waited for him, are on the verge of losing their home to the Bank of America, which kept its fancy digs on the backs of U.S. taxpayers; when a man who calls the duly-elected President of the United States “the carnal manifestation of evil” and says the President’s “election was part of a CIA conspiracy” can get elected mayor of Clovis, New Mexico. And then there’s that guy, you know the one, the schoolyard bully with a $50 million per year contract.
Strange and desperate times, and in the midst of it all, an island of sanity, connection, humanity, where people sit down together, drink some tea, and tell each other stories. Look each other in the eye and share their lives, thoughts, imagination and creativity. This is valuable stuff, the stuff we are made of, if we only take time to remember it. Telling each other our OWN stories, not sitting around waiting for someone else to tell us what they want our stories to be. Stories are remembering, stories are our collective memory, and Dime Stories is that story.
Back to why I started this post with “I can’t write stories.” For years, I believed it, and I proved it time and again with some really weird stuff. Then I went to cheer for Birdie, and because of the reception she received, and the people who read their stories that night, I tried again. And found I could. That’s why the mash note, a thank-you to all the people who make the space where I came, finally, to write a story. And to read it out loud. The singing, though, I’m still not gonna do outside the shower.