How is it that you tell a story?
What stories do you tell? What stories get left behind?
A myriad questions come to mind when I try to think of a story. Or stories. To tell.
Ultimately, I stand befuddled in tongue-tied confusion. Wanting to tell all and able to tell none.
All those stories in my head.
Recently, I’ve been able to figure out why. It all dawned on me in a single moment.
I’m getting out of the train at the World Trade Center PATH station. It’s waves of people rushing out the doors stepping out with me meeting waves of faces waiting to get in. It’s waves of arms, legs, backpacks, boots, elbows, yellow caution lines and discarded metro cards on the floor (being trampled on incessantly by boots), a confusion of emergency phones on pillars, maps and defibrillator boxes all rushing at me in the crowd as I move forward.
Then, the feeling of moving up flights of steps and ramps and wide concourses, rising with the tide of people all the while saving my feet and elbows from getting jammed against suitcases on wheels and pointy heels and sharp corners of cardboard boxes. Finally the lightness of being deposited like a cork with the tide at the turnstiles.
Then moving up, and up, and up on the great escalators towards the surface from the bowels of the earth.
It’s then, when I’m very high above the turnstile level that something happens to me and I turn back. Always.
Most people don’t turn but there’s always the rare person that does. Some probably suffer from vertigo at this level seeing such a vast, open space behind them.
Those that do turn back, I suspect, are somewhat like me. [Maybe I’ll follow them down the road someday on Chruch St., or Vesey St., or Greenwich St., and ask: “Excuse me Sir, why do you always look back? Why do you do it?” Just to see if they turn back for the same reason as me.]
The scene down below is hypnotic.
When I look behind me I see a great sea of heads. Medium-sized dots that become smaller and smaller as I rise upward, moving in the direction of the escalators, all bent forward determinedly, weaving through the great waves of people, each at first indistinguishable from the rest, a mass of dark shapes, male, female, age, race, ethnicity, culture–all a blur, just a sea of humanity. Many streams converging, forceful, rushed, slow, fast, darting, lost, all determined to get out.
When I look at the sea from this high up, I take a deep breath, as though of freedom from it all. There is power in the freedom and the clean air up here. And there is a godlike vantage point at being able to make it all not matter, all homogenous, only direction driven, being separate from it all and yet being all-seeing, turning people into moving dots.
But then recent memory interferes.
I was down there. And I’m still tied to it all.
I know how to look closer. From the inside. Be there. For I was there just moments ago.
There’s a woman rushing along with her lunch box slung from her shoulder probably late for work. She looks like she probably dropped off her daughter to school and ran late despite standing in the express lane at the grocery store just before taking the train. There’s a man next to the turnstile in a fluorescent dress, clearly a construction worker, who has come down from the construction site above for a quick chat with a transportation employee he knows from back home in Trinidad. There’s a young man in an impeccable suit unsure how to swipe the metro cards, probably here for an interview from out of town. And there’s a super excited kid whose head I can see bobbing up and down at the prospect of riding such high escalators, his darting form a contrast to all the glumness at rush hour.
A whole collection of random stories. Many unrelated lives that have intersected randomly at this station.
Too many people. Too many stories. Too many perspectives. Within, without, seen from above, seen from below, comic, tragic, or just an amorphous mass. Random like it is.
We are always immersed in this something which is chaotic, which moves in multiple directions, which emerges out of intersections of innumerable things, which, for the lack of a better term, we call life. A meeting of related and unrelated events intersecting in many places many ways, real or virtual or imaginary, in settings real or imagined.
Hard to grasp, hard to describe comprehensively, understood very little.
Does all this randomness just mean that we’re alive?
Yet, when we remember the past, imagine the future and describe the present, we think of a story. As though it all hangs together. And when we tell that story, we cut a form out of the chaos and pare out the rest, like picking out the yarns of sugar from a cotton candy machine. All pink and perfect or just a blob, apparently shapeless. Just the way we want it.
We pick some threads and leave the rest. So the stories we spin with those yarns are neither false nor true because by themselves they mean nothing like what they did when they were with the rest of the unformed mass back in the machine.
We pick the yarns that we know, the ones that speak to us. We don’t want the rest.
There are ones we don’t even see.
But is it just in crowded places with a superabundance of people that stories overflow the mind and befuddle the storyteller trying to grasp at a shape or form of something that has none?
[Continued on my next post: Telling Stories: (Part 2: The Arrangements) ]