MY WEEKLY BLOG
TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY
As a ghostwriter, I’ve been fortunate to interview luminaries from all walks of life and help them tell their stories. These people live public
lives with great highs and lows, but they also have private lives with human foibles and weaknesses. No matter how exciting we imagine someone else’s existence to be, they still have to get up in the morning, brush their teeth, drink their coffee, deal with their relationships and find the courage to face their obstacles.
When I conduct my celebrity interviews, I view them like
archeological digs. I slowly make my way, question by question, deep into someone’s psyche to reveal the story beneath the story, the face beneath the makeup, the wrinkles beneath the fillers and the inner struggles beneath the outer victories in order to paint each person as unique and authentic.
I was writing a memoir for rock and roll diva, Grace Slick, and I needed to dedicate a chapter to “Woodstock,” the legendary music festival in New York in 1969. Her group, “Jefferson Airplane,” was one of many headliners, there was certainly a great story there, but I had a dilemma. So much had already been written about it over four decades, I needed to find a fresh new angle, the other side of the story, to avoid repeating the same old stuff that everyone had heard for years. This is an ongoing task for non-fiction writers who want to make familiar stories interesting.
The Woodstock event had been filmed, told and retold. Everyone
knew about Jimi Hendricks’s iconic performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” We knew about “The Who,” a group that was famous for smashing their guitars at the end of each performance. We had seen Crosby, Still & Nash perform together for only the second time at 4 AM. There was available footage of the entire
concert, the rain and mud that people sloshed through to be a part of it and the miracle of half a million people gathering together in peace and harmony for 72 hours. So what didn’t we know? What was the other side of the story that would spark people’s interest?
I sat opposite the great diva and said to her, “We all saw the legends perform, in person or on film, but we were on the outside looking in. We don’t know what it was like to be you, to be on the stage looking out.” I asked her to close her eyes and imagine herself on stage. How did it feel to perform for hundreds of thousands of people? Was it scary? Was it exciting? Was it difficult? Was it rewarding?
Grace closed her eyes and imagined herself sitting on stage
for eight hours, waiting for her turn, with no bathroom breaks. She told me about her decision to stay sober so she could bear the responsibility of being a powerful feminine example of freedom and love. She told me about feeling the fringes of her white tunic blowing in the breeze as she sang her heart out at 8 AM. By the time the interview was over, I felt satisfied that I had gotten the other side of the story, the things that made her feel the most vulnerable and human.
Everyone has a story. Please don’t minimize yours. Just because you’re not as loud as someone else doesn’t mean your story isn’t as
interesting. It may not sound exciting like Grace’s, but no matter what it is, if you’re authentic, if you tell the truth, “warts and all” as the saying goes, what you have to say will be interesting and valuable to other people, no matter how unremarkable the theme. On the other hand, if you’re not honest, if you try to embellish the truth, what you have to say will be boring no matter how lavishly you try to gild the lily. You will become untouchable and no one will be able to relate to what you’re saying. Each of our lives and the things
that we do have purpose and make their mark. When we view ourselves as the sum total of all that we’ve done, we can find meaning and self-acceptance.
Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Anne Tyler, who has written more than two dozen novels, is a great example of making the mundane infinitely interesting. Her books all take place in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives and not much happens plot-wise. They are about inner isolation, the struggle for identity and communication between people. The things that we all face. Nothing shiny and sparkly. No fireworks or heroic feats. No histrionics or catastrophes. Just people being people like you and me.
Native Americans have always considered story-telling a sacred method to pass down traditions, a way to blend the outer and inner
worlds. They see their dreams as metaphors, bringing their stories to life and learning from them. In my writing classes, we excavate our hiding places, we write what’s in our hearts and we read out loud as we release shame, pain, fear. A sense of relief washes over us. Whether we remember the past with pride or shame, whether we’re looking at our victories or our failures, whether we like what we’ve done or not, there are always two sides to every story. We are not perfect or imperfect. We are simply living our lives and trying to stay present and aware. If you think your life is boring or repetitious, find a new way to look at it. Find the other side of the story. It’s always there.
The late Poet Laureate, Maya Angelou said, “There is no
greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”