Tell Me a Story

Ever walked along a fully deserted street in the middle of the night?

March 3, 2010

There are few things in the world that match the feeling of being a senior in college and majoring in English. Sitting up to the early hours of the morning, typing away by the light of a half-burnt-out lamp I’d found in a basement closet, I clicked away until the poem, short story, or whatever I was working on that night was perfect. Caffeine, sugar, and the adrenalin of having walked around the campus three times at two o’clock in the morning pushed me and drove sleep away. Words were my medium. They still are. I won’t pretend I’m anywhere near as good as the greats that inspired me.





These were the standards, the pure forms of what I hoped to accomplish. I still do. While I’ve worked in education, government, and at various jobs that never required me to write anything other than a drink order, the study of words, of language, has served me well. The manipulation of homonyms, synonyms, and severed limbs is a skill every person should learn, if only to enrich the possibilities of the mind.

Machinery of the Stars by =alexiuss on deviantART

I recently tutored a student who didn’t understand why poetry and fiction were essential. He saw no use for an English class. Not for him. This kind of attitude is as strange to me as a shark with kneecaps. He wasn’t an English major, he said. He would never write a story, or a poem, or have to ever again analyze literature after leaving the class. It sounds like a reasonable concern. If you’re studying business, politics, or even biology, why in the world should you have to sit through a class on Emily Dickinson?

Because she’s awesome! That’s why!

But maybe that’s subjective. Maybe I just want everyone to have this level of passion. Schools make a big deal out of their kids reading more and more, but very few of them actually work hard to make sure their kids can write. Not just write, though. Students are never taught to really use and love language, to use it to not just communicate, but create. In the three years I’ve worked as a tutor, I’ve had maybe two students come in with creative writing assignments.


A lot of school districts usually cut the arts funding first. As we speak, districts in Indiana are cutting music programs. It’s an unfortunate story, but it’s happened in many districts throughout the country. Art in any way, shape, or form doesn’t seem to have a place in schools. It’s something fun, something that may make you either famous or doom you to a career of obscurity.

It’s not.

Art is how we learn. It’s play. Metaphors lead to the understanding of new concepts. Even mathematicians benefit from realizing the humor and beauty in their respective subject.

When I teach and find students are so entrenched in a single way of doing something and they can’t think of new ideas, I want to cry. Personal essays come out dry and cliché. Students worry more for form than content. The appearance of eloquence and ability is more important, is easier, than actually learning. If a movie is the right length and has special effects, it’s a masterpiece. If a book talks about endless love, it must be deep. If it’s got a budget equal to the cost of the Apollo program, it has to be good, right?

I want language to come back. I want everyone to appreciate art, good art, and strive to build something new. One of the worst things I was told while working as a speechwriter in Congress was that I was not supposed to make anything new or say anything too good. I was only supposed to write the absolute minimum to get things done.

That’s the philosophy we’re encouraging.

Language builds our reality. Be creative with yours. Think that six thousand years ago, before we had written language, our thoughts only had a single form: sound. When we uttered something, it was gone forever unless someone remembered it. With the advent of writing and later the printing press, our thoughts had a permanent form. Why don’t we encourage more creativity with it? Artists have a hundred ideas an hour, and yet we only ever really pursue one or two paths, a line here, a word there, a stroke of the brush between the sorting of mental clutter.

Sometimes I long for the days of a small, crappy computer and a burnt-out lamp. The pressure to create. I drive myself, and now this site drives me, too. It’s the biggest rush in the world. To create something that didn’t exist before, even something as small as a haiku, is a miracle. If every computer and piece of information was destroyed tomorrow, we’d rediscover nuclear energy. We could rebuild mathematics. Digital watches would come back in short order.

But art? Art is unique. In all its flaws, glitter of diamond perfection, and accidental genius, art is unique. Everything you’ve ever and never written was unique. But now art has no place in the world.

Reject that kind of thinking. Be spontaneous with your words. Start small. Write something on a bathroom wall no one would think of writing.

you are my sunshine by =mastertouch on deviantART

Curse with words you’ve never used for swearing.

Make up a term for how you feel when you first wake up.

Tilt your head to look at something in a new way.

Filter by ~pezton22 on deviantART

Art is pain, joy, ecstasy, and chance. It involves showing a little bit of truth. Everyone can speak. Everyone can write. All you need is something to write with and ten seconds.

Start a revolution with a pencil.

3 Replies to “Tell Me a Story”

  1. – El lápiz sólo escribe sombras de palabras.
    – El escritor quiere escribir su mentira y escribe su verdad.
    – Sólo el poeta tiene reloj de luna.

    I’ll tell you a story. There was a time I didn’t write because I was told I couldn’t. Consequently, I spent that time in therapy—happy, happy, raw therapy. There are some things I can’t express. I need a pen to filter it for me. Thank you for this.

  2. Art is you.

    My biggest goal in life is to become a writer. I’ve always loved any kind of art. Paintings, sketches, sculptures, what everyone commonly thinks of when the word art in involved, but I love all types of art. I enjoy the acting of an unknown actor who acts because it their life, and not because of money or fame. I enjoy the simplest melodies of an amatuer musicain that plays music because its the only thing they can possibly understand.
    But me, I write, words are is my art. Last year in state required exams I failed the English portion even though I was in Advanced Placement Engilsh. In fact, half my class did. When the teacher contacted the peolple who graded them and aked why, they said becuase “We think to deep into things, we should only look on the surface next time.” but I digress.
    I write all the time, I enjoy coming up with new ideas, new charcters, new worlds, new troubles, new heros, new villians. I enjoy analzing the charcter so much that you can understand and love even the most evil of villians. My stories end up all over the place and most of the time I have no idea where they go becuase I cant keep up with them all. I constantly have people telling me that I’m going to become famous one day. ( I really hope I don’t) But Most times I get people coming to me saying that I should tone down some of my idea’s and that if I ever wanted to make it as a writer then I needed to appeal to everyones idea of a perfect story. I should do the over done, make people comfortable to read my stuff.
    But thats not art, thats nothing. Its a generic copy of what was once great but is now obsolete in innovation. But art should be something new, something that you and only you can fully understand.
    Art is when an idea comes and you just have to let it lose. Art is when something brings you great joy. Art is YOU. Its the way you walk, its the way you think, its the way drink form a glass. All you have to do is see it, and accept the fact that you’ll never fully understand it but keep moving forward to understand it anyway.

    1. Bravo, Myra. And yes, don’t ever try to appeal to everyone. If a lot of people like it, great. If you aim for everyone to like it, no one will. Or you’ll end up writing the next Twilight. Please don’t do that.

      Spread the word, my friend.

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