The Compulsion to Tell A Story: The Dog Ate My Glasses

My husband Tim tells the story of when he was in 4th grade playing baseball with the neighbors. He had brand new glasses and was afraid of breaking them. He set them in a “safe place” in the grass nearby. A dog was snooping around.

After he got up to bat and rounded the bases, he returned to pick up his glasses. They had vanished! So had the dog. Surely the dog was the culprit.

Poor forlorn Tim went home and told his mom, “The dog ate my glasses.” Poor forlorn Tim got a spanking. Not just for being irresponsible, but for lying. A likely story!

Fast forward a year. Tim is walking through the hallway of the local college where his dad was a professor. Guess what he sees tacked to a bulletin board! His glasses–all chewed up!

He yanked them off the bulletin board and charged home with the proof of his innocence. “See, the dog really really did eat my glasses!” His poor forlorn mother had to eat her accusatory words.

Tim still enjoys telling this tale.

We all have the compulsion to tell a story, the need for somebody to listen and laugh, to empathize, to cry. It’s usually our own story, or someone close to us.

Sometimes we feel like we’ll burst before we can share what happened. We crave that connection to others. For in their expressions, we see ourselves. And acceptance.

Having four children has created a lot of funny stories. One of our family favorites is the dog story. Far too long to share here, it’s the two-year process of how we acquired our dog Rocky. It actually took a lot of ingenuity to find him, so that’s a topic for another post.

My dad tells a story that sounds like a rendition of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In the 1960s, he once did everything possible to get to a meeting in Chicago in a blizzard, only to find out upon arriving that the meeting was cancelled.

Loving genealogy, I once made pen-and-ink drawings to show a visual history of my grandmothers’ lives. One was born and bred in Michigan, the other had immigrant parents that hailed from the Netherlands. I loved researching their lives and choosing pictures that encapsulated their various experiences. I presented the framed drawings as gifts.

I’ve documented my kids’ lives in journals and a big binder of “Family Chronicles,” along with ancestor anecdotes. Hopefully, they will enjoy these stories later when they start thinking more about their roots.

I also love creating my own stories. Plots suggest themselves to me merely from visiting a place. When I was in high school and college, I spent time in the North Woods of Minnesota, not far from the Boundary Waters. Though I didn’t yet know the characters or conflict details, I was determined to write a story about it someday. Years later, my award-winning story Summer People sprang from that setting.

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You can make anything by writing.” 
–C.S. Lewis

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My trip to western North Carolina in college was the impetus for an award-winning short story that later grew into the novel All That Is Hidden. It wasn’t just the beauty of the setting that captured me, but the culture, and the people who embodied it. They  embodied a worldview very different from the “American Dream” notion I’d grown up with. That visit changed the way I thought about work, play, goals, and success. My time there evolved into a tale that needed to be shared.

Diego J. Lizcano on VisualHunt

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“There is no greater agony
than bearing an untold story inside you.” 
–Maya Angelou

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While we all love telling our real life stories, fiction writers have the urge to create their own places, situations, and characters. These often communicate deep themes about life in ways that impact readers more than a news article or essay could.

It’s the difference between “Nothing but the facts” and “Once upon a time . . .” The latter sweeps us up in its drama.

It’s the difference between reading a textbook and reading historical fiction. If I want just the facts, the textbook might suffice. But if I want to learn history plus empathize with the people of that time period, experience their passions and fears, I’ll read the fictionalized version.

This is what novelists want to do. Reach both your mind and your heart with their stories.

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“If there’s a book you really want to read
but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.”      
–Toni Morrison

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Settings aren’t the only inspirations for stories. Sometimes you meet someone who later emerges as a character. More often than not, that person is a composite of many people’s traits.

Stories arise from a situation you read about or find yourself in. Ideas materialize merely from asking, “What if?”

But wherever stories come from, we use them to connect with each other. It’s that connection that binds us together.

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“If stories come to you, care for them.
And learn to give them away where they are needed.
Sometimes a person needs a story
more than food to stay alive.”
–Barry Lopez

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What stories–family or otherwise–do you most love sharing?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

P.S. Next time: Meet an author who creates century-old story worlds with maps, music, and musings


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10 thoughts on “The Compulsion to Tell A Story: The Dog Ate My Glasses

  1. Laura… I have that drawing on my wall along with darling pictures of my grandparents and great grandparents. Thanks for the blessing of putting history into pictures… they are a part of my story as well.
    Blessings. Carolyn

    1. I love to hear about people appreciating their family history. So true–it’s part of our own story, too!

  2. As usual, my mind is a total blank while I try to come up with a story. (Story? Family? Do I even HAVE a family?)
    But I enjoyed reading this so much! I know people who truly cannot comprehend fiction.
    “If it didn’t really happen, why bother?” is an almost verbatim quote.
    Wanting to know facts and details is admirable, but it always seems these people are cutting themselves
    off from such wonderful worlds, and reality that is conveyed through imagination.

    1. Yes, I’ve heard those kinds of reactions to fiction, too. “Why should I spend time reading about places that aren’t real and people that don’t even exist?” is one such comments. I love the way you put it: “reality that is conveyed through imagination.”

  3. One of the things that I really miss is listening to family stories via the oral tradition, particularly as told by my grandmother Ina Seeney, mom’s mom. As children we would be mesmerized as we heard about our family heritage and our multicultural background. I hope that as a culture we do not completely lose that great human tradition. Another type of story I love is when I think about or dream about the future, most notably what it is going to be like when we all get to heaven. Every time I think about walking on the streets of gold, or sailing on the sea of glass, or flying from world to world, it just thrills my heart. If we did not have fiction, an important place from which our imaginations grow, how could we ever dream about the world that is to come?!!!!

    1. Brad, you are so fortunate that you had a story-telling grandma! Sad to say, but I think the oral tradition is becoming more and more rare. This generation is growing up with screens rather than face-to-face stories and interaction. I love that you learned about your family heritage through your grandma’s stories.

  4. Stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, help us see the meaning behind the facts, the richness. It’s like giving someone a bone (the facts) or a steak (the story).
    Once in English, we came in to find these words written on the board: “A pregnant woman, a five-year-old boy, and a filthy older man all stuck in a broken elevator.” We had 45 minutes to write what happened. The basic facts were the same, but our stories were completely different. The story I wrote that day is still one of my kids’ favorite to read.
    Last year at a family get-together, I asked my father-in-law to tell the story of how he came to know Jesus as his Savior. We had heard the two-minute version, but I was hoping for a little more fill-in. Boy, do I wish I had recorded his telling it–All true, but incredible. It’s a story that begs to be written!

    1. I like that bone-steak analogy, Elizabeth. I often give students the “bare bones” of a story–just the facts–and they have to fill in the details to enrich it. Looks like your elevator story qualifies as “steak” since your kids enjoyed it so.

      I hope you can get your father-in-law to tell his complete story again sometime. And that you have pen and paper handy!

  5. I should say, his full story took an hour and a half to tell, but every detail showed the amazing hand of our Sovereign God!
    (And by the way, my dog ate three pairs of glasses and my daughter’s college diploma–imagine THAT phone call to the college when I had to ask for a new one 😉

    1. I’ll bet the lady who took the “dog ate my diploma” phone call at the college that day got a good laugh! That’s better than “the dog ate my homework.”

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