Things My Parents Never Told Me – The Understory

Here is the beautiful summary of the stories told at March’s Tenx9 by co-host Cary Gibson. Our theme was “Things My Parents Never Told Me.”

 

Our thanks to tonight’s storytellers: Miriam Mimms, Ben Sawyer, Suha Ahmad, Kari Hoffman, Kate Gazaway, Joshua Hurley, Zach Swann, Sawyer Wallace & Kristen Chapman Gibbons.

In a world of increasing digital connection, there’s something precious about the experience of hearing real stories in real time, face to face. Tonight, the stories once again ran the full emotional spectrum. They called to mind, as Tenx9 Nashville stories often do, one of my favorite poems, “On Joy & Sorrow” by Kahlil Gibran,

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”

And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

 

Tonight your stories of Things My Parents Never Told Me drew once again from that deep human well:

My parents never told me how my mother, the writer, killed Ralph, my pet rat, out of her love for me. Nor did they come right out and tell me that my father was gay. I’d figured that out on my own. And that was just fine. They never told me how to bring up children amidst the confusing & scary mythical narratives of multicultural America without traumatizing us all into family therapy. I had to learn for myself that wanting something you might not get & having the persistence to achieve it anyway is a really good thing to want & do. My parents never told me that my businessman father was once a nomadic, hippie cowboy who was afraid of disappointing his parents & didn’t have it altogether & that I don’t need to know where I am headed either. My mother never told me of the strength it took to stand in the reality of my death and not lose faith that I would live. At 6, my parents never mentioned that alongside taxes, the one guarantee in life was death, even if I did become a video game testing pirate. Nor that my dad’s obsessive fear for his kids was born of silent grieving for my baby brother to be who never came & who I still don’t know how to grieve myself. My parents never told they’d not been to the theatre until I was on the stage, nor how to be out in the world & also of it, living without certainty.

These are your stories. Thank you for sharing them. It’s a privilege to hear & bear witness to them.

Cary.

Cary Gibson – Something Unexpected

Here is the lovely story from Cary Gibson at Tenx9’s November event, “Something Unexpected”

How I Discovered A 14 Syllable Synonym For Love.

 :: For Joel ::

The 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins – a political manifesto about the dangers of unfettered capitalism on the human soul – is also a story about the power of imaginative language to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.,

Crucially, it’s discussion of the word, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” instructs us,

So when the cat has got your tongue
There’s no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And then you’ve got a lot to say

But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl’s me wife!

You may think this story hasn’t begun. It has. Hearing the story, as you imagine it, it becomes fiction and yet, no less the real for it.

Our story begins – once upon a time – the 20 May 1845 to be exact –

the day Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett. The courtship and marriage between these two writers was carried out secretly & by correspondence, fearing, quite rightly, that her father would disapprove. Is that true? Surely every story, once it’s told and retold, is a fable.

This story has no ending. Not yet.

If we get our wish, the ending will be fatal. Because like every love story, it will in time, one way or another, become tragedy.

This story might prove that endings are rarely endings, because unless something horrifically unexpected happens, one of us will still be here to keep telling our story.

I told our story to a woman at a party and she responded, “What a wonderful tale to tell your children.”

I don’t have any children. If I were to, well, that would certainly be something unexpected. The true story already becoming fiction – being told to children born of another’s imagination.

Ours is a story about stories & the love of stories. And the love of a very blurred line where fact and fiction meet… of embracing everything as true. Everything.

And how stories are like maps. And that the only true map would be a map on a scale of one to one: an exact replica of the place being mapped. Because when we put things into words we fall short of the truth.  A story is an impartial map. And everything is fiction.

Where else could I begin?

Where and when we met?

Where we declared love for one another?

Or, where and when we fell into love?

The first one is easy. It’s a fixed point in time and space. We met at a breakfast table. In 1998.

But the second question – that’s a little more tricky – for we were in hindsight telling each other we loved one another in so many ways before he, and certainly before I realized it. So that when he did declare it, I was shocked.

So, when did we fall in love?

That really is impossible to tell.

You’d think it was easy. Because we have pages – that run into the hundreds. Each one dated, time stamped. They tell the story of what we came to call “asynchronous symbiosis”. He in one time zone, me in another. Emails sent back and forth, across an ocean, over several months.

Those letters – contained a story. A story we wrote together, in the form of a map. A map of what we called, “the canon.” The canon, contained,  & made everything in it, real.

We fell down a rabbit hole, or perhaps jumped into a chalk picture on a pavement, that took us to a place just left of Narnia, our letters growing increasingly frequent and fervent: ‘the canon’ mapped fidelity with Ray Bradbury’s wedding vow, ‘to always love dinosaurs’, an exploration of wonder was led by Doctor Who, an invitation to pay attention by Sherlock Holmes, persistence was found in Neverwhere, & comics, hegemony was in The Matrix, or the Inklings. Political interviews danced with poetry, which rhymed with history, which argued with doctrine and laughed at certainty.

The stories shared over days, weeks, months were being added to an imaginative wiki – in which nothing gets left out and everything is interlinked, connected by dotted lines…

And somewhere in the midst of that map, we began to write ourselves.

Letters (written weekly, then twice weekly, then daily, then twice daily) wove our  own stories with every story written since Homer’s Odyssey – to name just a few – marked in invisible ink where you and me, was becoming “us”.

Because reading those letters I cannot tell where we slipped from friendship and respect into shared meaning making and then flourished into mutuality, particularity, intentionality, fidelity, and continuance… LOVE.

So, perhaps we’ll say that, ‘This is how it happened…’

That on the 12th September 2009, my friend was on his way to a family wedding in Texas.

The night before he’d been out for dinner with a friend and after cycling home in pouring rain, sent me a poem – A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford, which opens,

 

If you don’t know the kind of person I am,

and I don’t know the kind of person you are,

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home, we may miss our star.

I woke in Dublin to that mail and sitting at my writing desk, I sent back a response to say that his nephew was marrying his bride on the anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, whose story of tragedy and hope is the source of some of the most famous lines in English romantic poetry…

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Barrett’s 43rd sonnet was appropriate for a wedding day. But this is what I then wrote to him:

Barrett & Browning also have significance because they surely are now living happily forever in the land that was created, and everyday grows and breathes, with the words and spirit of personal correspondence. A part of the canon-map that is as real and true and significant to that world of words as the terrain made from poems or audio-plays or novels.

(I like to think it is reached by mail-coach. And to reach that genre, one passes through cities built with office managers’ post-it notes and memos. Cities, which are saved from being eternally grey cold edifices because they are decorated by notes from loving spouses and children’s paintings sneakily slipped into briefcases on Monday mornings.

The city parks trees are made of the quotes and ideas and vacation postcards that are stuck on fridges. And standing atop soap boxes on the street corners, orators entertain and inspire passers-by with recitations of mottos from magnets – no longer tired clichés but spoken each time as if it were the first, and heard with eternally new ears.

 

And the land beyond – that is built on personal letters exchanged between families and lovers and friends and strangers kept apart by distance, and estrangement and war and prison walls – is spoken of by those who visit it as the most breathtaking place they ever saw:

Carved from such raw, unedited, deep emotions of love and fear and patience and hope that its majestic beauty is almost too much to bear. That’s the place where Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning dwell.)

A few short hours later, in Nashville, after very little sleep, his shoes not yet dry, and rushing to get to the airport for his flight to Dallas, he wrote back a brief, confessional note that irrevocably altered everything, with this closing line,

‘Love, which I’m using very cary-fully, and which is definitely changing my life’

Signed,

 Joel.

Faced with this imaginative declaration verging on a proposal, written only for me, in canonical terms that were unmistakably acknowledging I was already in some deep sense, his girl, I’d like to say I reacted with eloquence.

But I could only muster a hurried,

 

Holy crap, Batman.

 

Followed by 6 smiley faces.

 

Yes. That probably covers whatever words fail me right now…

 

Never have I felt the weight of the phrase,

“I think we are on the same page…” and am struck by the weight of it and

with speechlessness, which also seems to put us on something like the same page.

 

I just realized I have no map. I hope you packed crayons and some paper….

With the engine running outside, suitcase packed, he responded,

 

I do have a map. With lots of dotted lines. And boxes and boxes of

crayons, all of which are also, yours.