Good Friends

On the best days, your story is like a good friend. You are eager to get to your desk because there you will get to spend time with this friend. You love the feeling of being in her company, you love how easily you talk together, and you love that although you may not know what you will talk about, you know it will be something interesting and meaningful. Surprises are a part of the pleasure of this friend’s company.

But sometimes that story is an enemy. It does not love you; it doesn’t even know you. You certainly don’t know her. She is stubbornly enigmatic and distant and extremely judgmental. You wouldn’t spend any time with her at all if you weren’t so desperate for approval. All her power rests in her withholding of this approval. You are allowed a glimpse before it is snatched away again. You are not yet worthy. Perhaps if you worked just a little bit harder.

It occurs to me that the best way to make good friends is to be a good friend yourself. I am not always such a good friend. Other people’s troubles seem like so much obsessive melodrama, whereas my troubles are the stuff of great stories. If my supposed friends would only listen, they would be both entertained and enlightened. Yet they are determined to believe their ups and their downs are as interesting as mine.

I can be a good friend too. When I am a good friend, I hear my friend’s troubles and think, “She has forgotten how great she is. If she only remembered, this wouldn’t be a problem at all.” Of course, there would be no stories to tell if no one ever believed in their own problems. And sometimes, I have to admit, I almost glad to hear about my friends’ troubles just so I get to remind them of the truth. Then I get to tell my favorite story of all, the one where friends meet again and remember who they are.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
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Share Alike

Today’s column is a blog within a blog within a blog. I had the good fortune of being invited to contribute to Laura Munson’s fabulous blog this weekend, and so I thought I would share both that essay, and Laura’s lovely preamble to it, with you today. Enjoy.

Read the essay.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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A Popular Friend

My best friend in seventh grade had been Palmer, but Palmer’s mother decided she couldn’t handle Palmer and his older brother, and so both were shipped off to live with their father in Pennsylvania, and then Palmer wasn’t my best friend anymore. I needed a new best friend in eighth grade, and that friend was Frank.

Seventh and eighth grades were the only two years in my childhood where the question of being popular or unpopular weighed heavily on my mind. I could not really understand the benefits of being popular other than to avoid the shame of being unpopular. Frank, I observed, would have nothing to do with the equation. He amazed me. He was universally well liked even while lacking any of the qualities popular boys normally possessed: cute, in a band and/or good at sports, and cool.

Instead, Frank was very funny and very honest. He seemed more adult than the rest of us. He had a grownup vocabulary and he could poke fun at teachers as if they were his peers. I learned that his mother had died the year before. I attributed Frank’s honesty and pointed adult humor to a lesson his mother’s death had taught him. I do not know if this is so, but I knew I wanted to be his friend and join him in this world where popularity is something silly and deserves to be made fun of when viewed against the death of one’s mother.

Our friendship ended when we attended different high schools, but I would never again wonder so much about my popularity. Occasionally that word will pop up in my work when I read about popular fiction, or what is most popular on Amazon. For a moment I am twelve again, wondering what it will take to be a part of the In Crowd. For a moment, life and writing feels like a dance whose steps I am required to master or be relegated to lesser lunch table obscurity.

But the feeling passes as quickly as my eyes travel across the words on the page. I used to have a morbid envy of Frank and his bereaved wisdom. If only some terrible loss would elevate me to the height from which my troubles look like ants scrambling on the sidewalk. As if I couldn’t see the whole world from where I stood; as if love weren’t ready at a word to teach me I could never be unpopular with anyone but myself.

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With Friends Like These

Today on Author2Author I will be chatting with Laura Munson (This is Not the Story You Think it is). It is easy to talk to Laura because she is a friend – by which I mean like my wife, and my brother, and my old pal Chris K., and (fortunately) many others, Laura and I have tuned the frequency of our attention to very similar channels. This translates to the sorts of conversations where I am understood even when I speak casually and am a bit unclear; like all my friends, she is able to fill in what I mean.

Which is why it’s easy to talk to her. It is nice sometimes to be understood without bringing your full attention to bear. And so we seek out people of like minds, surrounding ourselves with people we understand and who understand us. It would take me many years to see the real value in those people who didn’t understand me. In fact, for years I quite resented their misinterpretation. Chris understood me, why can’t you?

I have a friend, I will call him Fred, with whom I would frequently find myself in conflict. These conflicts grew so consistent and so unpleasant that I began looking for reasons to leave a room when Fred entered it. And then one day I made a deal with myself to bring my full attention to our next conversation. I would speak slowly, being as deliberate with him as I am with my readers, doing all I could to say precisely what I mean. It was the best conversation we had ever had.

Fred, I saw, was doing precisely what my close friends were doing: filling in those gaps I had left when speaking casually. Unlike my friends, who were closely tuned to my frequency, Fred filled in those gaps with the exact opposite of what I had meant. And so the arguments would ensue.

This was not the easiest conversation I have ever had, but in certain ways it was more satisfying than those I have had with closer friends. I had to show up completely for him to see me, and when I did, I saw myself. I would still rather talk to my wife, who sees me completely even when I say nothing, but the value in friends like Fred is the awareness that, if I am willing, the bridge between us can always be me.

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The Future That Wasn’t

I started watching Blade Runner with my wife last night. This was an absolute favorite of many of my closest friends growing up. Chris, an aspiring actor, could quote Rutger Hauer’s dove soliloquy at the end of the film. For this reason, I have fond memories of it. I can remember leaving the theater with my friends and their bubbling post-movie enthusiasm. It was cool and it was different and Ridley Scott got it. It was reassuring to know someone in Hollywood got it.

Yet the truth is, I was somewhat less smitten with the movie than they. Even then, I found myself craving a wider variety of emotions than the film seemed to think humans experienced. I knew it was cyber punk, which is a kind of futuristic noir, but still—are things really that miserable in the future?

It was my wife, the very antithesis of a science fiction fan, who noted, “The future is always unhappy.”

How right she is. Can you imagine pitching a book about how much better things are going to be in fifty years? Even though it flies in the face of the entirety of human history, even though we statistically kill each other less and love each other more, even though a person living in poverty today has more physical comforts (central heating, refrigeration, a horse-less carriage!) than a nobleman 500 years ago, we seem determined to only tell ourselves stories of our coming demise. Meanwhile, the past gets better every day.

Because now that I think about it, when Chris told me how great Hauer’s soliloquy was, I said something to the effect of, “It was drivel.” This hurt Chris’s feelings and generally lowered his opinion of me for a time. We’re still good friends, however, and probably always will be – all the way into that fearful, unknowable future.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Stormy Weather

A few weeks ago I returned to the East Coast and gathered with a group of old friends in a rented home in the New Hampshire ski country. This is a bi-annual event where for a long weekend my high school buddies and I can get away from whatever might need getting away from.

One of those friends has spent the last twenty some years in Hollywood, first as an actor and now as a writer. Because of a particularly spectacular pilot he wrote a few years back, for some time now Chris has been this close to the kind of immediate and jarring success only possible in Hollywood. Though work is forbidden at these getaways, Chris explained that at an appointed time he would have to excuse himself to make a phone pitch to a powerful producer.

The hour arrived and Chris took the call outside on the wide lawn that stretched from the ground floor to the surrounding forest. I watched from the picture windows as he paced the lawn in the blazing summer sun, pacing and gesturing and talking, and I thought that this producer was not going to be particularly interested in this idea of his.  So it turned out to be.  She was still interested in his original pilot, however, and would be seeing what she could do with it – as others had before, though none quite as powerful as she. I knew my friend was disappointed. The original pilot felt a bit used up, good as it was, and it’s never fun to have someone say no.

The last night of our getaway a thunderstorm rolled in over the mountains. We stood on the deck and watched as it descended on us. There was barely time to get inside from the moment the first drops struck to when the deluge began. It was a magnificent display, and we grown men stood at the windows as if we’d never seen rain before.

Soon a figure appeared on the lawn. It was Chris, hopping about in the downpour. It was a thunderstorm, and I found myself worrying that he might get struck by lightning. I’m certainly glad he didn’t, though I wondered if perhaps that wasn’t what he’d been hoping for all along.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The Good Story

One of my earliest memories of a close friend was the day he told me the story of Knack the Black. We were in high school, and Knack the Black, Father Knackowitz, had been the Vice Principal of the parochial high school Chris, my friend, had been compelled to the attend the year before. It was a simple story, really. Chris wanted me to understand what life at this particular Catholic school was like, and so he told me about the time he had seen Knack catch a student shirking in the hallway between classes.

The key was Knack’s coffee. He loved his coffee, and, according to Chris, was never seen without it. In this instance the shirker made the mistake not only of shirking, but bumping into Knackowitz and spilling his beloved java. Chris was fifteen years old at the time of the telling, had never taken a writing class or had never read a book on the craft of storytelling, but painted such a compelling portrait of Knack, his coffee, his black raiment, and his rage, that forty years later I still have a vivid picture in my imagination of a man I never met.

Did Chris exaggerate? Of course. Did it matter? No. The truth was hardly the point at all. We were becoming friends, and stories would always be a part of the friendship. Not everyone is good at telling stories, but not everyone is good at listening to them either. I know I am good at the latter, and I hope I do a fair job of the first. The better we are at hearing stories, the better stories we get to hear. Just as a comedian is funnier when his audience is laughing, so too a storyteller will tell better stories when his listener is appropriately shocked, amazed, or delighted.

The reason I became such fast friends with Chris and why I am a writer and storyteller today is because stories are a vehicle through which I can express my own love of life. I have always felt that discovering a new writer is like finding a new friend. What we call friendship is a shared perception of life. So when lovers and friends, when readers and writers, when comedians and audiences get together, the applause and the laughter and hugs and the handshakes never mean merely, It’s good to see you, or, You’re so funny and entertaining—rather, they are us standing up and cheering as we discover once again that life is worth living after all.

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