I can’t tell stories

May 8th, 2009

There is something about remembering a joke or telling a carefully crafted tale, that my mind mangles and the result is either I am perceived as a bad storyteller, or I wind up with a new creation only vaguely related to the original concept. On occasion, I’ll recite a poorly-remembered quote or joke or song or whatever I felt worth committing to memory for the purpose sharing: the result is better than the original. The more common result is a joke with no punchline, a story with no outcome or piece of interest to the listener, or singing that has little resemblance to anything recognizable to anyone else but my own.

What I suspect is happening: whatever thought is committed to memory is only added in fragments, often only the most interesting or most unique bits. When retold, my mind fills in the blanks the same way it might take care of a blind spot on the eye. Then it just comes out of my mouth (if I write the thought down I have more time to better fill in the holes or do the research necessary). 

I have tried to either fix this malfunction or find a way to use it to my advantage. One major hindrance is the tangled methods my memory associates things. Tangents come easy to me because I link memories in an arbitrary fashion. The way the sunlight looks through a window may remind me of a song I heard that was tinged with melancholy, or the way someone talks about a movie triggers some story I want to tell about some crazy person I saw on the street. Neither of which has an obvious connection to the trigger.

Also, I lack the skill of attribution. Unless the source is built into the thought or is from someone or something which I consciously try to remember (such as a friend or favorite artist), there’s little hope that any of that information will be remembered.

To change how I think is nearly impossible and filled with unforeseen consequences. I accept who I have become and think that any attempt to consciously change who you are, especially when it’s a skill or trait that runs deep, is always the worse choice. This is the biggest flaw of any self-help advice on living one’s life.*

Which leaves making an inability to re-tell stories an advantage. One way is to write fiction. I’m finishing and posting stories that are built from the half-remembered ideas that clog my memories. But that project is hindered by another of my hang-ups: self-doubt. But self-doubt is often disarmed when met with action. My first reaction to an upcoming new experience is fear, which usually goes away immediately after the event has begun.

Perhaps self-doubt is what this post is really about.

*My rule for any self-help books is that if it’s younger than 100 years then it’s not worth reading. A good judge of great work is time, and when it comes to advice on how to live one’s life, the longevity of an idea is very important. I may talk about this in a later post.

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