Rendered Fat Content


Unknown Artisan(s)-Netherlands, early 16th century:
Story of Perseus and Andromeda (early 1500s)

"We are stories perhaps never coherently told …"

Faced with the existential crisis a birthday brings, I long ago ceased shopping for relief. I decided that I could not possibly buy myself out of this dilemma brought on by the urgent need to give the very best gift. In the past, I've usually resorted to producing a poem, and there've been plenty in their time. [I excuse The Muse her …, you get the drift.] I've sometimes produced an original song, one of which was the first ever Folk Noir tune and another, which accurately predicted our future. (The Invisible Husband, circa 2011.) This year, The Muse's Day happened when we were away. I attempted to write a poem while creeping around our shared hotel room but the context didn't feel right and the words wouldn't come. Writing a poem, especially one of potential importance, will not just come if beaconed. It must be reckoned with. It comes when it's ready and never entirely due to any sense of urgency, which most often serves to scare off the damned thing, anyway. Birthdays, as I said, produce existential crises.

We had five hundred miles of two lane blacktop looking at us, a day of traveling ahead.
Over the Wasatch and out over a great desert then up and over the Rockies' grand Front Range to Golden, Colorado, where the West begins and our exile ended. The Muse was traveling to deliver some presentations in person and to retire from her latest career, and to attend a big fat party mustered in her honor. What to give someone like that for her birthday? Not a poem this year, at least not yet anyway. (It's generally accepted as permitted to deliver a birthday poem a little late-ish. It's a literary tradition!) No, this year seemed to ache for a story, one nobody had ever heard before, one which Homer himself might have penned. A story only one person in the history of this world so far could have ever credibly told, and one that seemed right then to desperately need to be delivered.

"Why don't you tell me your story?" I asked, as she mentioned that she'd survived a long string of careers. What constitutes a career, anyway, she wondered? Would it be permissible to include the preliminaries, the odd jobs she took in moments of extremis (there were many, many of those) or would just the major accomplishments be permitted? I encouraged her to become her own editor. She could choose. Her story was hers to use as she wished. Revisit trauma. Amp up the drama. Wherever it goes, just follow.

She recreated a lifetime over the following five hundred miles and told a story that had literally never been heard before. Certainly we'd both heard snippets and vignettes, none of the pieces seemed all that alien and all quite familiar, but never quite like this, never with this sort of presence. They'd never before been told in epic fashion, with a captive listener, with an equally captive narrator. Patterns emerged never previously evident. Long obscure meanings suddenly seemed obvious.

Make no mistake, this might have been the greatest gift I ever gave. It was just an invitation and a small commitment. Tell your story, I said. I'll listen. I gave The Muse her story for her birthday, one which only she could have ever written. Well, actually, one which could never have been credibly written by anyone. Epic tales simply must be told or sung and suffer from any attempt to make them permanent by transcription. They must be just as immediate as they originally happened, with the storyteller listening, too, and learning something only they could ever disclose to themself, and witnessed by some rapt audience. We left Ogden as me and The Muse and arrived in Golden with freakin' Homer in the shotgun seat.

I suspect that this experience might have started a tradition for us, for what poem or original song could ever again compete with a person's own story, compellingly told? What better gift than some fresh insights into the meaning of one's own existence and a renewed appreciation for what one's accomplished? We are stories perhaps never coherently told, aching to be spoken. It must certainly be a great blessing to finally find some way to hear our own story. It might just require an invitation and five hundred miles of two-lane to accomplish, no heavy lifting involved.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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