In the final song of the musical Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, Eliza, recounts how she worked to keep her husband’s legacy alive. The ensemble also recounts Eliza’s accomplishments over the fifty years since Alexander’s death in a duel in 1804.
As Eliza sings the last note and just before the stage goes dark, she emits a gasp. According to one interpretation I read, at that moment in the show, she has broken through the fourth wall and is surprised and satisfied to witness a captive audience listening to her story.
There is a satisfaction in telling stories, especially when they are our own. Think of how many stories you have told. How many more you carry. Hundreds? Thousands? Do we collect a new story every day?
A few years ago for Mother’s Day, I gave my mother a blank journal, and asked her to write stories about her life.
Why don’t I just tell you my stories and you can write them? she asked. You’re the writer.
It was my mother’s inclination to writing and grammar that led me to study English. She is also a great story teller.
Just set aside an hour and write about one specific memory, one story, I said. It doesn’t have to be an autobiography.
A few days later my mother called and read a story she had written about a pair of shoes she bought for Easter when she was a child. It was priceless, complete with colors and feelings that only could have come from her.
I believe that personal stories are like fingerprints. The more details we can recall from them, the more unique they are.
So, how do we write our stories? I like the vehicle of poetry. If done well, a poem is a morsel, rich with imagery and feeling. If you prefer long-hand, creative non-fiction is also an effective medium for telling our stories.
The important thing is to follow the Nike maxim and just do it.
In her book on writing, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott relates her father’s advice to her brother for completing an ornithological report that was due in class the next day.
Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.