Trashing a good story


The old man’s eyesight was fading and he couldn’t get around well without his walker, but you could usually find him each day on the front porch of the local grille. He’d be dressed in a pair of denim bib overalls and soiled work boots gently rocking back and forth in an old rocking chair. He’d show up late afternoon and within a half hour or so, you’d find a small group of locals circled around him on stools listening intently to his every word.

The man served as a B-17 bombardier during World War II and spent most of his life farming in the small Virginia community and had a lifetime of stories. As a young reporter, new to the area, I came to count on his stories and perspective.

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I spent hours listening to him. You’d tell him a story that you thought was of particular interest and he’d come back with three or four better ones. He had a story for every day of the week and two for Sunday. The topic didn’t matter, he’d start talking and I’d be drawn-in immediately to whatever story he was telling.

He told stories about growing up dirt poor and taking care of his six brothers and sisters; how he managed to scrape together enough money for an education; and how “a young hick” like he used to call himself, came to travel to Paris and Rome and still found his way home to his wife and a life as a country farmer.

You’d ask him about his day and he had a way of making something as simple as taking his garbage to the local dump sound like poetry. Fast forward to this week. I was going through some old papers and couldn’t help, but think about the old man. I love a good story, so much so that I hoard them. I have stacks and stacks of stories, some related to my job, others dealing with topics that I want to write about in the future, and still others touching on self-help topics.

A storytelling epiphany

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In any event, I’m working to clear up my home office and I had “a come to Jesus moment.” I was running out of room in my desk drawers. I had been saving tons of stories and articles that I had cut out of the newspaper or magazines or printed out and saved.

How big of a pile? The pile was larger than I would like to admit. I had printed out inspirational feature stories on men and women who has overcome cancer and chronic illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis. There were stories on military units coming home from the Middle East and how they had hung together during traumatic times.

I had saved other stories closer to my own life, on everything from tips on how to make a great presentation like the TED events you see on the web; marathon training programs; to tips and considerations for applying for financial aid and dealing with college admissions offices.

My pile definitely tended to focus on self-help. In one folder I had saved a Wall Street Journal story from 2013 on Scott Adams, the creator of the comic Dilbert, and his secret of success. Here’s a hint: his advice on climbing to the top: be a failure. In another folder, I had cut out a story on how to turn bad stress into good and a second one on how to start using meditation to lower your blood pressure.

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I had printed out a few of the stories because I thought they might make a good future story or even a blog. I had a few 5K race applications and “to do” lists stuck in the middle of a couple of the folders. I had obviously stored them with the print-outs with the idea of returning to the applications at another time and never found the time.

Pile upon pile

With the pile of stories spread out on my desk, I read a few of them one more time, the others I let slip through my fingers without much of a thought. In the end, they all found their way to the trash bin.

Whether it’s at the feet of an old-timer I look up to and respect or piling away stories that interest me and inspire my creativity, I’ve always been a sucker for a good story. I suspect that a part of me will always love a good story. I just need to make sure that I don’t become a physical and virtual hoarder (via iCloud and computer memory).

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With that goal in mind, I considered it progress this week when I came across a captivating interview with one of my favorite authors and didn’t try to print out a transcript or download the video.

If big journeys start with small steps, then I took my first step today.

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