September 1, 2015

To be a writer, you must listen.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora WeltyOne Writer's Beginnings

To be a writer, you must first be a listener. More than that, you must be a watcher too. There's only so much inside you. The rest must come from around you. And before you can truly tell a story, you have to understand it all the way to your core. 

Remembering is like listening backwards, which can be hard to do. This is why I like to hear the same stories told over and over. Like the one about my grandpa hitchhiking to Laramie, Wyoming. 

Born in Texas, my grandpa moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee when he was a boy. There he discovered one of his first loves: football. In his senior year of high school, he was invited to several colleges for recruiting visits, including Auburn, Texas Tech and the University of Wyoming. He and a couple buddies set out during Easter break to visit the schools. 

Recruits were given money for bus tickets, lodging and so-forth but my grandpa and his buddies decided they would keep the money and hitchhike instead. It's hard for me to imagine a group of three high school students hitchhiking 1400 miles one way, but in 1953 I guess it wasn't that big of a deal. 

I've heard this story told so many times, I know it well and can anticipate what parts are coming next. But each time, something new comes to light. That's why I never tire of hearing it. 

And this is only one of the stories he lived. One tiny sliver of the pie of his life. 

There are so many things I want to write about, as a self-proclaimed champion for stories that deserve to be told. But unless I have the person's exact words, I'm going to be guilty of telling them from my own perspective. 

We are told to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long on the Earth. The best way we can honor the ones who came before us is to tell their stories. And the only way we can do justice to someone else's story is to know it inside and out. Thus, we have to listen.