More than anything else, we want to share stories.
I could tell you that I’m a writer living in Pennsylvania. That’s one of the broadest versions of who I am, and a very unimaginative story. But I could also tell you that I write at a small desk squeezed in between my bed and a wallpapered wall in a double-wide trailer that my wife and I rent, outside of which is a garden, a stream and a large yard full of riding toys.
Now you are beginning to know me.
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Once a month Maile and I meet up with four other couples on a Sunday night. We plant our 18 collective children with other people that love them, for just a few hours, so that we can cease being parents and be, I don’t know, adults, or perhaps kids again. We drink wine and eat delicious food and after dinner the men usually smoke pipes or cigars. I smoke a pipe, because I am getting old, and it seems to be the best way to gray gracefully.
I’ve noticed something about the group: rarely do we exchange facts about one another. I couldn’t tell you most of our friends’ ages, or what their parent’s names are, or their street names, or the high schools they attended. We do not exchange facts.
We take turns telling stories. If you want someone to truly know you, you don’t tell them just your name and birthday – you tell them what it was like to lose your parent, or to have a miscarriage, or how, when your child first asked you about sex, you wanted to chuckle and weep, both at the same time.
The art is in the laughter that makes your stomach hurt, and in the unwept tears that make it feel like you need a tonsillectomy.
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Stop defining yourself (and others) with cliches and broad categories. Start telling stories, and listening to the stories of others. If you want me to know you, don’t tell me the definition of your psychological disorder – tell me how it makes you feel when you’re holding a knife.