Found Stories

Scientist and mathematicians are asked to find solutions to questions or problems. The theoretical mathematician might be asked to solve, find the answer to, an unsolved equation. Once solved, the mathematician no longer needs to find the answer to that equation. It is complete; it is known; it is a puzzle with all the pieces at last in place. A writer too must find her story. Whether her story is culled from her own life or is entirely fictional, she must find those core events that suggest the entirety of the world she wishes to share. Always, this finding of the story occurs before the story is complete. She might say she has found her story when she at last understands that her heroine does not actually love the man she claims to love, or when she realizes the victim committed suicide and was not murdered. At such moments, we declare with relief, “I’ve got it! I’ve found the story.”

Or have we? I had one such moment with my last book. I told my wife I had found the story when I understood my memoir was about what my son taught me, not what I taught my son. That understanding brought the entire book into focus, it informed every chapter and scene. And yet unlike an equation, or a lost checkbook that has been recovered, every time I sat down to write my book I had to find the story again.

The story, after all, is not merely a series of events. The story is a flow of language, and, ideally, each word I choose – I find – exists within that story’s flow. In this way, I am continually realigning my attention to my story, finding it and finding it and finding it every moment I spend at my desk, as a tightrope walker must find and find and find his balance from one end of his rope to the other.

And even when I am done with my story, I am not entirely clear on what it is I have found. I can hold a published book in my hand, but that book has no more to do with what I sought than does a marriage license my wife. It is as if the experience of finding the story, of translating what is inside me into words outside of me, has simply brought the story back into me where it is reabsorbed into what I have become in the telling. How strange to feel complete even as another story brews, another story I must tell to find what I already am.

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