Sarah & Angelina Grimké, 1837: The power of a compelling story

The Grimké Sisters DNGAF at a time when NGAF could ruin a woman’s life in no shortage of ways. I’d already set these women on my shelf of revered feminists after reading “The Invention of Wings,” a fictionalized account of their lives as abolitionists and feminists by Sue Monk Kidd. A new theme about their story emerged for me, however, in their short (non-fictionalized) entry in “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” It turns out that one of the biggest audacities of their audacious lives was lecturing to same-sex audiences on abolitionism.

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Some Things I Know: Crafting a story worth telling

Whenever I have the privilege of doing a book reading or writing presentation, I always spend some time talking about the power of sharing your story. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is worth sharing, I say. I stand behind this. It is both true and important.

But in another way, it’s not true, right? Everyone has a story that has value in their own lives, within their own circle of humans. However, if you’re hoping to publish your story, to craft it into something marketable, the bar is a bit higher. And before you start down the long road of drafting it all out, editing it until your heart sweats and pitching it to agents, a good first step is to determine if your story is worth telling, not just to your friends and family, but to a larger audience of readers.

How can you know? To me, it comes down to two things: striking a balance between bizarre and relatable, and having a solid theme.

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This is why we tell stories.

I don’t know about you, but I woke up with an emotional hangover yesterday morning. If you can relate, you were probably also following The Firecracker Foundation‘s #WhyItold online storytelling event on Monday (or you were doing something else emotionally overwhelming. I don’t know your life). Throughout the day, Madam Firecracker herself, Tashmica Torok, led sexual assault […]

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Battling the Robots

Robots have been driving me nuts recently. Two specific kinds of robots, actually.

First, there’s the kind all journalists know about: the human PR robot who refuses to answer the question you just asked them. Sometimes this is fine. Even if their language is painfully robotic, you really just need them to say something, and you can fill in the narrative around their quotes. Other times, particularly when you’re trying to report on something in depth that asks “how” or “why” something happened, it ruins the entire interview. If you ask a question that should be answered beginning something like, “Well, this one day, Tom said to Mary, ‘I’ve got a great idea!’ And the first thing they did was…” and instead the answer begins, “As a company Big Brand has always been committed to supporting great ideas…” that is not anything. It’s robot sludge. It’s definitely not a story.

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Finding the Truth in Divided Times: Follow the stories

I watch enough crime dramas on television to know that a sure way to get to the truth of a (fictional, at least) mystery is to follow the money. When faced with bitterly divided argument in which those on either side are completely convinced they are absolutely correct, a similar philosophy holds true: follow the stories.

Talking points are carefully crafted. Juicy and tempting non sequiturs are volleyed back and forth by both sides without anyone challenging the other’s logic. Stories though, stories matter. Personal stories of people and experiences that beg the case for one side or other bring to light the reality of a situation. More often than not, the human factor is the most important piece of any argument, and it can so easily get lost in the yelling and the insults and the marketing.

My reasons for supporting Obamacare are all a part of my story: my family, my career, my tendency to always need Neosporan and a band-aid.
That said, I have not heard one story from an individual whose life will be made worse in some way by the Affordable Care Act. I’ve heard people say their principles will be violated, their personal interpretation of the Constitution threatened and their ideas of how the world works would be upset. No one has a compelling personal argument explaining how their life is good now, but will be made worse under the new law. And I have looked.*

What are available in abundance are the stories of people’s lives who are in desperate states because of a broken healthcare system. They are people who were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and could not afford the medicine they need to survive. People who have had to quit their chosen careers to get a different job to just barely cover the medical expenses of their children. They are people who had an accident or illness that not only hurt them physically, but also swallowed them in debt. I have my own story of why the ACA is good for me and my family. So many people I know do. We are all depending on this program beginning in January, and we will all be hurt if it does not.

Stories – true stories, that is – of people’s experiences matter. They matter more than statements like, “I shouldn’t have to pay for your birth control” or “Obamacare is socialism.” Those are empty words about abstractions that do not have any real benefit to any real person. If those intangibles are more important to so many Americans than the true stories of their relatives, their neighbors and others, than I suppose those people are right about one thing: we do live in dark times in the US. When we’ve lost the ability to empathize with one another and support those in need, when the stories of others have lost their power, then we are in trouble indeed.

*There are people complaining about increased premiums, this is true, but those are all from before anyone even had the opportunity to even look at the healthcare exchanges that will allow them to shop for a better plan.

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On hating hills and writing better

So there’s this hill, right before I get to my gym, that is a total nightmare to ride up on my bike. I strain and groan and stand up on my pedels and almost fall over, and by the time I get to the top, my heart is thumping wildly and I can hardly breathe. Sometimes I just get off my bike and walk it. Every time, I get mad at the hill for even existing. Stupid hill.

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Know your story, then own it

I’ve been on a bit of a feminist streak lately. No, that’s not the right way to put it. Rather, I’ve recently more fully discovered my voice as a feminist, which has allowed me to better articulate feelings I’ve always had, as a result of navigating through the world as a woman who was raised without even the suggestion that my opportunities, talents, intelligence or place in the world were tied in any way to my gender.

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