I am bad at telling stories. This is not a self-deprecating attention-grabber, but a tried-and-true, validated, scientifically tested, empirically sound fact.
Every single one of my friends would confess the same thing, and they have told me this many times as they roll their eyes, check their phones, or interject, “Get to the point already!”, as I tell them about the latest musical rehearsal or nugget of shallow gossip.
My friends aren’t monsters: quite the contrary. Other than their loving jabs at my storytelling abilities, they listen patiently as I ramble, dramatize, and use too many hand gestures to craft my latest tale.
I’ve never thought about why my stories end up being epic telenovela-style retellings. I just kind of assumed that my theatre kid background, trademark Jewish neuroticism, and God-given flare for melodrama would swirl together each time I have my friends’ attention.
Somewhat contradictory to my poor verbal storytelling abilities is my love for the written word. I’ve known that I loved writing ever since my third-grade teacher praised a story I’d written about time travel and dinosaurs (very high-brow stuff for a third grader). Whether this passion began as a result of an inherent love for the art form, or if it was born purely due to a constant need for validation from authority figures, I’m not sure.
Nevertheless, I spent my childhood with my freckled nose either in a book or two inches away from a page as I scribbled story after story. The edge of my left hand was perpetually smudged with lead, skin stained silver with my authorial efforts.
As I sat down on my extremely uncomfortable wooden desk chair to write this piece, I tried to reconcile my inconsistent oral and written storytelling abilities. How could someone who verbally stretches the story of one university party into the plot of a Riverdale episode enjoy condensing all of their harebrained melodrama into a Microsoft Word document? I stuffed a handful of Tam Tams into my mouth and furrowed my brow. This is not an advertisement for Tam Tams.
Even before COVID hit, I had been living through a very tumultuous year. A string of upsetting failed half-relationships plus — a lot more significantly — the sickness and death of a close family member left me feeling as though I had completed an emotional triathlon by the time lockdown began.
I searched for lessons or perspective in my confusion and anxiety, but mostly found myself writing in a small journal that has the words “The Creative Ramblings of a Restless Mind” emblazoned in gold on the front (obnoxiously on the nose, I know).
I normally scoff at people who swear by journaling, and think it’s mindfulness fluff. But seeing all of my worries laid bare in black and white gave me an odd sense of calm. I imagined the words peeling themselves off the paper and dissolving into the cold air of my basement bedroom, free from the confines of my overactive mind.
When my school closed down and I moved back home to Toronto for the remainder of the semester, my fast-paced, stressful, and exciting life as a burgeoning Riverdale writer/overachieving-yet-aimless-university-student came to an abrupt halt.
After I had watched all of the TV shows, read all of the books, walked the city up and down, and baked myself into a sugar coma, I once again found myself mentally replaying the events of the past year.
Sharp details came to me while I was brushing my teeth or walking through the ravine in my neighbourhood: a paperback novel resting on a hospital bedside table, the seizure-inducing green strobe lights of a nightclub on a particularly fateful night, or the soft sound of a friend’s voice over the phone as she promised to talk to me until I fell asleep.
And then, as if possessed, one day I opened my laptop and wrote these details down. I spent days typing nonstop, immortalizing the dramatic, convoluted verbal diarrhea that I had repeated to my friends throughout the year. Each newly realized detail fit like puzzle pieces between commas, after adjectives, at the ends of sentences. After I completed these stories, I would read and reread them, marvelling at how details fit into paragraphs which built up plots and characters, twisting a chaotic year into narrative sense.
I now realize that it’s the details that plague my verbal storytelling skills. The writer in me can’t omit them, even if it means boring my friends to tears. But it’s because of these details that I find such solace and joy in writing. It’s immensely comforting that there’s a place in which all of these extraneous bits of information matter, and where I can craft worlds and meaning.
Since this year is turning out to be even more chaotic and disorienting than the last, I’m glad that I have a permanent home in my writing for all of the mess and nonsense. This year, I’m going to need the details more than ever — my friends will just have to deal with it. I’ll be better at getting to the point next year, I promise.