“Tell Me a Story”
I was riding the bus home from school when Toussaint Hammie, the class clown and all-around pain in the ass, said to me, “Tell me a story, Cori.” At the age of thirteen I was used to hearing my nickname used as the butt of various jokes. But Toussaint’s alliteration was mildly annoying – and, in truth, quite accurate. Because ever since I could talk, I have been telling stories.
An early reader, I would read aloud to my younger friends, asking “Do you want that regular, or with expression?” I read anything with words on it. And when I grew tired of reading others’ stories, I started making up my own. I still remember the day I told an adult about the novel I was writing. “I’ve finished the prologue, and I’m almost done with Chapter 1,” I said, and as soon as the words left my mouth I noticed the woman was smiling at me the same way my grandmother would when she thought I was being particularly precocious. I was humiliated. I took my writing very seriously, but this woman’s response suggested to me that no one else ever would. A kid who saw herself as a writer was difficult to validate, much less manage. As I grew up, I took on different roles that lead to more financially viable career choices, but I never stopped telling stories, even if it was only to myself.
In 2009 my mother died, and my self-imposed burden to be the child with the steady job and good benefits package was lifted. What remained was the desire to create. Attending a writers’ workshop in the fall of 2010 was a magical experience: for the first time, I felt high on words and ideas. The creative energy was palpable, pulsating, and some of it must have stuck to the bottom of my shoe because since then I have been writing more than ever.
I am inspired by everything. Big cities and small towns. The mystical and the mundane. Lines from books, movies, and television shows. Song lyrics, poems, and news articles. A story overheard accidentally on purpose. Friends’ Facebook status updates and tweets written by celebrities. Oceans and rivers and bottles of Evian. Drunken conversations at two a.m. with lovers and strangers. I cannot predict when inspiration will strike, but I know it is out there, just waiting for me, the same way that all these characters lingering in notebooks and computer files stand around, waiting for their turn to jump onto the page and become as real as ink and paper will allow.
Someone once challenged me to write a six-word autobiography. I came up with: I believe in a magical universe. That belief is what propels me forward, not only as a writer, but as a human being. Because I don’t ever want to live in a world where there isn’t a possibility that a wardrobe will offer passage to a distant land, or a rabbit hole will take me to Wonderland. If I write my own imaginings, create my own worlds, I am doing my part to ensure the existence of other creations. If I encourage others to share their stories, again, I’m contributing to the creative cause. And when a crisis of creativity has me thinking my pen won’t glean my teeming brain, as Keats once wrote, or that I need to find a career much more financially lucrative, I only need to slow my mind and listen to that tiny voice that tells me, every minute of every hour, “Just keep writing.”
For the last decade I have earned a good portion of my living as a writer. Every day, I strive to overcome that fear of not being taken seriously. What I am finding is that as I embrace the writing life more and more, how I am perceived by others becomes less important. But in those moments when I am craving recognition as a writer and storyteller, I only need to remember Toussaint’s request to be told a story, and I have all the validation I need.