Thank you for joining me today, for storying together. Please grab a coffee (or whatever your beverage of choice is), get comfortable, and emerse yourself in the narrative below. While reading, I want you to try and pick up on the given style of my storytelling. It is not the most entertaining style, nor is it the most versatile style. But it is a style I have chosen for the sake of learning from my past.
For the purposes of learning, I try to structure my stories under specific parameters. What these parameters do is force me to re-experience the story itself. How does one do this? By retelling the story within the story.
a) Write in first-person: The story isn’t about “Dave” or “Judy”. It’s about you.
b) Write in present-tense: There’s a difference in memory recall when you tell your story not as something that “happened” but rather is “happening” right now. When you re-enter the memories as a “this is happening now” participant, you’re in a better position to recall the important details.
c) Write in detail: When you have an experience that moulds you, your brain goes into memory-making overdrive and collects an enormous amount of information in that moment. As trivial as you might feel a memory is, it is NOT trivial. Your brain has stored the memory for a reason. Within this story, it can be challenging to tell which details are vital and which are not, so it’s best to write down as much as you can.
d) Sense the story: What do you hear? Taste? Smell? Touch? Dan Allender speaks of “landing the plane”: getting out of the sky and into the story itself. Take a second to imagine what your experience would be like if J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series was told from a strict birds-eye-view? You wouldn’t hear the grunts of the ogres. You wouldn’t smell the moss in the forest. You wouldn’t feel the butterflies in your stomach as an Ent swept you off the ground and carried you away. When writing your story, don’t leave out the full experience of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch!
e) Do not interpret: The temptation is to bring adult interpretation back into the narrative. Don’t do this! Stay present in your story, tell it, and then afterwords you can concern yourself with interpretation.
These parameters allow me to “tell in the past, listen in the present”. If you tell your story as something that happened a long time ago, you risk removing yourself emotionally from the memory. You might as well be talking about something you read in the newspaper. Take five minutes to BE that child, as scary as that might be.
This are just some guidelines I use for storytelling. I don’t adhere to them fully, so please excuse all the times where I break the “rules”. ;)
Remember, the guidelines are used in the context of personal growth and learning. If you’re writing for entertainment or professional literature, there might be better parameters artistically speaking. The parameters outlined above are especially helpful within the context of a story group. Perhaps – in a future post – I will go into detail of what a story group is all about.
Cheers! Be blessed!
The Mousetrap Incident
It’s late fall.
The air has become cooler. Our maple tree has shed its leaves.
I’m playing basketball in my backyard. We have an old shed behind the house with a basketball net attached up high. The white net is possibly as old as I am, and thus droops helplessly on only a few hooks around the red ring. Our backyard is large and full of plants and grass, except for the area in front of the basketball net, which is mostly dirt and rocks.
I hear mom call out that it’s supper time. Time to head into the house.
I charge the shed for one last lay up attempt. I pitch the basketball towards the backboard with ease and watch it slip down through the red ring and tattered net. A feeling of satisfaction fills my chest.
I approach the backdoor of my house, turn the handle, and listen to the door creak as it opens. Stepping into the dark, damp basement of my house, I take three memorized steps forward in the dark and flick on the light switch in front of me at chest level.
Below the light switch is where I place my basketball, within the loops of the green garden house, so that it won’t roll down the sloped cement floor toward the darkest corner of the basement.
As I turn towards the stairwell door, something catches my eye. Just a couple feet away from the garden hose lay a small mousetrap. It has a wooden base with a red painted label. It features a heavily spring-loaded bar and a trigger, strong enough to snap spines and crush skulls.
Rigid and lifeless, a small dead mouse is pinned between the wooden base and the metal bar, peanut butter still in its jowls.
Upstairs, the family sits around the dinner table while mom serves delicious goulash, my favourite meal. Mom rarely sits down to eat. She typically busies herself with cleaning up the kitchen before ever sitting down to eat. By the time she eventually sits down with her meal, the rest of us will have already finished eating.
Being a growing boy, I devour my meal (plus a second helping) in record time.
I bring the dishes to the sink and hear my father speak my name.
I freeze, feeling the familiar cold rip through my chest. I turn, attentively, to my father.
“You didn’t change the traps. Go change the traps, there, buddy.”
My father has already left the conversation. Up from his chair by the dinner table he has made his way into the living room where a sofa, a remote, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine awaits him.
My dad loves sci-fi. I love sci-fi. Moments of peace and enjoyment come when my dad and I are sat watching Star Trek, Stargate, or Earth 2. We laugh at the same jokes. We mute the TV during commercials and discuss the plot. We put away the day and focus on something really fascinating on the TV screen in front of us.
But today I must take care of one task before sitting down with Dad. I must change the traps.
Generally, it is best to change a trap early on – when the mouse has only been dead for a couple of hours. This can be, however, slightly unnerving as there have been occasions in which my post-mortem friend has sprung to life in glorious and terrifying spasms, causing me to shake all over, yelp, and drop the damn mousetrap. If, however, you leave the trapped mouse alone long enough, you can rest assured the little critter is truly deceased. The problem with waiting so long, however, is that when you raise the metal bar to release the mouse . . .
it . . .
doesn’t . . .
The mouse’s body will be wet and sticky and stuck to the metal bar. A sort of bloody puss adhesive will have formed around the bar and the collapsed hairy body, causing the two to stick together. And so you have to shake the two vigorously (because there’s no damned way you’d want to touch the mouse!) until the mouse eventually detaches and falls to its grave below.
I survey the basement.
Trap #1, underneath the leather work bench . . . untripped.
Trap #2, next to the fuse box . . . untripped.
Trap #3, the one from before, has tripped and pinned a grey-haired mouse.
It has a shocked expression on its face – mouth open, eyes buggered out, blood dripping from its ears.
Trap #4, underneath the basement sink . . . peanut butter is gone but it remains untripped.
Maybe Dad won’t notice the peanut butter is gone.
Trap #5, in the dark corner . . . tripped. That makes two.
Ok. I can do this.
First thing’s first. I carefully grab the corners of the mousetrap with my thumb and index finger, lifting the trap and rodent and carrying it outside to the maple tree, where I lift the bar, shake the trap, and drop the mouse onto the dead fall leaves.
Back inside, I open the small pail of peanut butter from the shelf above the sink and use my index finger to scoop out an appropriate amount.
You don’t need much peanut butter to tempt a mouse. But I try to give them lots. If they’re clever and careful enough, they can have a good meal and maybe feed their families. If they slip up and get slammed, at least they might be able to get a few more bites before losing consciousness (if the bar hadn’t killed them instantly).
Setting the first trap is easy. The pin latches and I manage to place the trap on the floor without it accidentally tripping. When traps accidentally trip, they give a loud and horrible “SNAP!“ and leap in the air.
Setting the second trap has proven more difficult. This is what I’ve feared.
Setting a mousetrap is difficult for an eleven year old boy. First you have to use all your strength to pull the bar across the wooden base to the other side. Then, you have to move the long pin so that it sits on top of the bar and slips into a tiny metal groove where the food lies. The groove has to be infinitely slight, so that any touch whatsoever – even the touch of a 20 gram rodent – will dislodge it.
The bait is set. The bar is pulled. The pin is lodged.
“Haah!!” I yell, dropping the mousetrap, letting it clatter on the cold cement floor. I pick it up and try again.
The pin is lodged, and I have slowly positioned my fingers to hold the trap with my thumb and index, ready to place it on the floor.
Ok, now DON’T breath… Don’t set it off…
The wooden corner of the mouse trap touches the floor - SNAP!!
I stomp the floor, spin around, and tears well up on my face. I wipe them quickly. I realize I can’t do this.
As I enter the kitchen upstairs, I’m surprised to see mom and dad standing there. They can read the panic on my face but offer no comfort.
“What is it?” Mom asks.
“I need help,” I reply.
“With what?” Mom asks. She knows what.
“The last trap. All the other ones are set, but this one’s hard.”
My father speaks up,
“Come on, son.
Just try again.
Don’t bother us.”
I let out a despondent sigh and head back downstairs.
I pick up the mousetrap. I am determined. I will beat this thing. I won’t be weak.
This time, the bar nips my finger, and I cry out in pain.
I run back upstairs, this time with tears streaming down my face.
“Please help me. Pleeeeeease!” I bawl. Mom and Dad are emotionless.
“Oh, come on, Josh!” – Dad is angry – “Just get back downstairs and get it DONE!”
But I… I CAN’T!
I look pleadingly at my parents, hoping that they’ll show an ounce of compassion. I take a breath.
“Dad, I just really need your help this one time, please. I can’t get it set right. It keeps snapping on me.”
And then my father began to laugh. Mom, who wasn’t usually cruel, joined him in mockery.
“What, are you scared??!” Dad guffawed in amusement.
I feel my heart sink.
I begin to feel dizzy as many words from my parents wash over my body, lifting my helpless soul and carrying me away. I am truly alone. No one wants to help me. I am not good enough. I am weak. I must struggle.
I go downstairs. I don’t even make an attempt this time . . .
when suddenly I am hit with inspiration . . .
I quickly bolt to my father’s tools, where I locate a pair of pliers. With mousetrap in hand I aggressively – angrily – twist the metal groove so much so that one would have to intentionally move the pin for it to dislodge. I then pull the metal bar across the spring, set the pin in the now enlarged groove, place the trap on the floor, and then walk away.