The Stories We Tell
The gas station nearest my house happens to face a strip club. It is apparently a very successful strip club, as they could afford to install a LCD screen on their roof that might be visible from the Space Station. It’s certainly visible from the gas station. At some point my eyes will drift up while pumping gas, and there will be a one-story image of a young woman in some stage of near-undress. I’ve been getting my gas here for over a decade, however, so by now the sign does not have what I am sure is the strip club owner’s desired effect on me. For instance, as I was getting some gas this morning I again noticed the screen and its image. I wondered for the first time what a woman pumping gas thought when she looked at that screen. Though it would depend on the woman, I thought. A woman who had once been an exotic dancer herself would certainly look at that image differently than a Catholic nun. For that matter, a twenty-eight year-old single mom would probably look at it differently than a sixty-eight year-old widowed grandmother. Or, an eighteen year-old deciding if she wants to become a dancer would look at it differently than an eighteen year-old college freshman deciding between majoring in biology or comparative literature.
Then again, the men who work at the gas station would look at it differently than the boys who go to the nearby high school. Same goes for the teachers who teach at that school, just as the same goes for me. The image would look different to each of us. And when I say look different, I mean we would be seeing what amounts to a different image. For while the young woman’s pose and attire that I see are identical to the pose and attire that every other man, woman, and child sees, the story that image tells me is told uniquely by me, by my own ideas about sex and women and advertising and maybe even gas stations.
The image is nothing; the story is everything. Good to remember if you’re a writer. Writers don’t report the facts. The fact that there is a strip club with a giant LCD screen blazing near-nudity for all to see means nothing in reality. All that ever matters is what a person believes when they look upon it. What a person believes is the terrain of the storyteller.
And by the way, it is the only terrain of the storyteller. Storytellers, whether they are conscious of it or not, wish to alter reality. We are not so interested in changing the image that flashes on the great LCD screen of the world. Mostly that’s beyond our control. We could march, or protest, or fill out petitions to get the screen changed, but it’s faster, ultimately, to tell ourselves a story about what we see there.
I sometimes forget I have to power to change that story. My mind drifts as idly from thought to thought as my eyes drift from gas pump to pinup. What occurs in this exchange between the world I look upon and the story I tell can happen so fast, can be so habitual, that I can lose track of who is telling the story I am hearing. The moment I remember, the moment I see my mind as a blank page on which to write my life, I am the author once more, and my life is mine again.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com