May 10, 2014
I’ve been thinking about “the story.” Not the story of running in Louisiana but how to tell a story. Specifically, how to tell a story of 5K in 50 States when the story isn’t yet clear to me. What I know of the Louisiana story is what I posted on Facebook a year and a half ago: “Then there was that time Rachel dropped me off at the Mississippi-Louisiana state line to run 3.1 miles in the swamp.”
It sounds like the beginning to a good story: “Wisconsin/Seattle girl travels to the bayou and encounters…..” But what happened is less than that. Rachel did drop me off to run in the swamp but that’s about all there is to it. I remember feeling like I was the only runner zipping through the small town of Slidell, running past an empty bar of broken windows, a water tank with a faded painting of a rose, and a willow tree roped off by a metal chain and a ‘no trespassing’ sign. There were stories but they weren’t happening to me. I remember a manhole warning of the sewer underneath, half hoping I would trip and fall in the swamp sewage water, not for the experience but for the story. Instead, the story lies only in the fact that after Louisiana I could say I had run in twenty states. I was two-fifths there.
I started thinking about the story this weekend after a talk given by Drew Barrymore to promote her new book of personal essays. As Drew told her tales I was reminded that she is an actress, not a story teller. When everything is dramatic nothing is dramatic. When the F word is an every other adjective, meaning is lost. Drew’s brand is the free-spirited flower child, not storyteller. If a person can be emancipated from their parents at age fourteen, flash Dave Letterman on live TV and still not be able to tell a good story, what did it take to tell one?
And then I had a blind date at 9:30 at night on a Sunday for a screening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Manhattan was my gateway Woody, before I shifted from identifying with young, hopeful Tracy to kooky Annie Hall. At intermission my photographer date turned to me in the dark, eyes lit up, the most at ease I’d seen him, and said: “I love the wide angle shots.” From then on I switched from studying the storyline to the cinematography. I watched where the light came from. I watched Woody and Diane converse in the dark planetarium scene, shadows outlined by artificial moon glow. I watched them argue in his living room, illuminated by a glowing, white table lamp. I studied Tracy reading on the sofa, spot lit by a floor lamp. And of course the famous bridge scene, a wash of gray sky, diamond lights draped across the Queensboro Bridge, the backs of our two leads like black cardboard cutouts. I thought about all of those little stories told in blackness, almost in the dark. I thought about the sweeping skyline scenes synced to the Gershwin score like a fireworks show. Maybe to tell a story you don’t need the whole story. You don’t need to fall in a sewer pit or put dramatic emphasis on every twist. Maybe you just need a lot of Gershwin and little hope. Maybe, as Tracy says in one of my favorite last lines to a movie, “you have to have a little faith in people.” Have faith in the story. Step into the dark room and turn on the light.