Can’t Let Go

Not letting these stand in my way because I can't let go of my desire to tell stories.

Not letting these stand in my way because I can’t let go of my desire to tell stories.

Been awhile since I’ve been here in any regular capacity. It seems, as I expected, that the Cafe has survived quite nicely and even thrived in my absence. For those who don’t know, here’s the short version: I got sick, really sick, and had to take some time to get healthy before I could think straight about what I needed to do to be a writer. Let me tell you up front that coming close to dying can truly change one’s mindset. Anyway, I’m a lot better and the outlook is good.

All right, enough about that. It’s old news at this point for anyone who knows me and tedious going for everyone else who doesn’t really care. I mentioned it to give some context to why I think about certain things and how they may’ve changed.

Now [rubs hands together], let’s get back to it, shall we?

All our life we’re influenced by the things we experience and sometimes we can’t let some of those things go. It works for positive and negative things. How we’re raised indoctrinates us or triggers a rebellion in some way. The books we read may be the trigger, or the influence of friends or mentors, or whatever. It really can be anything but usually it’s something that we weren’t expecting. Revelations. Epiphanies.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three or four months thinking about what makes me want to be a storyteller. I’ve realized that there are a lot of things that I’ve never thought about that have shaped me in that way, pushed me in that direction. Almost everything has had to do with stories.

Comedians, for one. George Carlin and Bill Cosby in particular. Their comedy albums (and I heard them on vinyl LPs with all the scratches and pops) affected me deeply. I never studied their bits to see why they worked, I’ve never really studied anything about storytelling, actually, which is probably why I struggle so mightily with it sometimes. But Carlin’s and Cosby’s stories always worked as stories, not just as jokes. I often think about the 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television and Go-Carts. Both bits are very, very different but they work for the same reasons: the listener can see into the story and put himself there whether he’s actually ridden a go-cart or not, whether he’s used those words or not.

I never thought about comedians being a big influence before but they have been. Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, Bill Hicks, Dennis Leary (I know, I know the arguments but still), Bill Engvall and so many more. They’re all storytellers. They all have pulled their audiences in and made them think enough to laugh out loud and stupid stuff. But that stupid stuff is real, it’s what we all do when no one is looking.

My grandfather is the most acknowledged influence on me wanting to be a storyteller. I’ve talked about him a lot here and there but what I miss most about having him around is that I never studied him when he told stories. We call it holding court in our family because that’s exactly what he did and we all came to know all his stories very well. I have a few of them written down but it’s not the same. The words are there and I can hear his voice in them, but the timing is something I should have learned.

So what I can’t let go is that I haven’t studied hard enough to be the writer I want to be. I’m practicing all the time, on this blog and my own and in my writing. It’s a struggle that needn’t have been so hard. I could have finished college and learned more if I wanted. I could have spent the time actively studying the things that attracted me to storytelling in the first place. Would it have been better than what I did? Playing music, making comics, watching TV?

Maybe.

But here’s the argument: maybe I’m a better storyteller for having done all that. It’s true that I could have taken some formal instruction and spent some time doing some research on my own. (Yes, I have but nothing formal, all of it more scattershot than anything else.) It all comes back, however, to my desire to be a storyteller in my own right. I can’t let go of that. It’s in my blood and my DNA. I’d be farther along (maybe) if I’d been more formal about it. But maybe not.

Instead I’m doing what I have to do. I have to tell stories. The audience isn’t there yet but it’s growing. Slower than I’d like but that’s me – impatient. I can’t let go of that, either.

So I’m glad to be back in the Cafe. Expect more stories, maybe some insights. I hope you enjoy them.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

5 Comments

  • I’ve wanted to collect all of my dad’s stories for awhile. I’ve been trying to capture the way he tells stories, but he does it so well, it’s hard to describe and even harder to mimic. I think vocal storytellers have a gift that is almost impossible to translate into writing. And sometimes those vocal storytellers have a hard time putting those stories into written words.

    Also…I don’t think you need formal training to be a writer. You just have to be storyteller. Look at Dave. He isn’t even a writer at all, his background is in engineering and his only training is reading books. Studying to be a writer is all well and good, but to be writer, all you have to do is write. Write a lot and learn from your own writing and get better every story you write. No classes. No reading how-to books. That’s all just theory, and what works for one person might not for another.

    Just keep doing what you’re doing, Jason. And welcome back to the Cafe!

    • Jason Arnett says:

      My grandfather was a raconteur of the highest order. I wish I’d taken advantage of the technology I had at the time and video taped some of his stories. Fortunately I have two books’ worth of material, one he self-published and the other that will remain unpublished. I think some of the family thinks of his stories as some kind of embarrassment. Anyway. Vocal storytellers need to be recorded somehow to truly appreciate them.

      As for the other, I wish I’d really pursued writing stories more seriously twenty years ago. I might have gotten all the bad writing out of my system by now. But I’m keeping at it. And it’s good to be back.

  • Aspen says:

    I’m not sure that I want to tell stories (because that would require seeking an audience) so much as I want to lift the hood and rummage around and see what makes them go. Writing has certainly made me a more sophisticated reader.

    • That’s a great motivation, too, Aspen. I think that’s probably more why I write, too, or at least why I started writing. It was also partly that I did want to tell stories, but I was my only audience – I wanted to write stuff down so I could think it again later. These days I don’t even know why I write anymore, except maybe that I just always have so that’s just what I do, and who I am.

    • Jason Arnett says:

      “Writing has certainly made me a more sophisticated reader.”

      Ain’t that the truth? I used to wonder about why slush readers only wanted a certain amount of text to determine whether the book was good or not. A detailed synopsis and the first couple of chapters will show a lot. It’s easy to tell if a book is going to connect with me as a reader because I’ve written so much I can recognize what I like quickly.

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