My sweet wife would like to file a complaint.
You see, she is a journalist by trade, trained in the fine art of reporting the news. When she writes, she aims at third graders. That’s right: journalists put their stories together so that third graders can understand them. Actual third graders may not give one flying hoot about Iran’s developing nuclear program, but reporters want them to at least comprehend what gets said about it on the news. Her mantra—“shorter, sharper, stronger.” Extra words mean extra space or time which means something else has to get cut or not developed fully.
This training affects every part of her life: when we were taking our Advanced Writing course together at BYU, she was terrified of writing papers because she could never put together complex sentences (third graders don’t handle subordinate clauses and conjunctions that well, I suppose). It simply wasn’t in her nature.
This nature of hers also translates to social situations we find ourselves in. She listens. She observes. She says her two cents. She repeats, but only as absolutely necessary.
I, on the other hand, come from the other side of the galaxy as far as language is concerned. Beginning in middle or high school, when my best friend “Greg” (yes, that’s his real name—omitting the quotes would be a misspelling) introduced me to the wonderful Douglas Adams, I have always had a love for language. For the way it flows, feels, sounds. For the way it paints pictures. Along with this love of language came a love of great storytelling. Those masters that craft words as skillfully and beautifully as veteran sculptors hold a high place in my heart. I have tried throughout my life to imitate those that have particularly inspired me. And this, too, has affected my ability to function socially.
When I have a story to tell, it’s no simple recollection: it is a performance. And by performance, please do not let any community theatre production of Our Town obscure the vision here. By performance, I mean a Broadway classic, an epic, a magnum opus. Details are the lifeblood of stories—to abandon even one along the way would leave the tale scarred, wounded, incomplete. Plot is crucial. Suspense and timing are everything.
Time, on the other hand, means nothing.
I could hardly count the number of parties, dinners, or random encounters on the street during which I have been the recipient of some form of a swift but subtle kick to my shins under the table. It might be the briefest of glares, a firm squeeze of the hand, or an elbow to the ribs. Whatever form it takes, the meaning is typically the same:
Rik, you have been talking for the last eternity without any semblance of a point forming and I really think that the looks on their faces either mean that they are fighting back tears of boredom or that they are doing everything humanly possible to stop themselves from gnawing their own legs off in an attempt to escape so would you wrap this thing up as quickly as humanly possible? Please.
I always try to bring my finely crafted narrative to a close as quickly as can be accomodated by the story, but that’s probably never been fast enough for my sweetheart. And bless her patient heart, she’s still here.
For the most part, we’ve made our peace with each other. I try to watch the clock a bit more closely during social encounters, just to make sure I haven’t delayed our prearranged departure due to my prolonged storytelling, and she tries to find another party down the street whenever I look like I might be entering the prologue of another epic anecdote.
The problem, though, is that these self-imposed controls tend to relax whenever Michelle is not around. One recent example highlighted this, along with the fact that my wife might, once again, be right about me.
A co-worker of mine, that surprisingly still talks to me, asked me about something at work that I am fairly familiar with, and part of my response directed her to ask another co-worker, my carpool buddy, regarding a tracking method she used with her students. She thanked me and went to go find my carpool buddy; I started eating my lunch.
When she returned, she was far too excited for just having discussed student progress charts. Apparently, she and my friend had discussed me quite a bit as well, particularly my propensity for extended narrative. And what, exactly, did my carpool buddy have to say about this?
When he tells a story, it’s just like he’s unraveling this massive roll of toilet paper, unrolling it and unrolling it, and at the end, he hands you this intricately wrapped gift constructed entirely of that toilet paper and you say, “Where’d this come from?”
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this, but if there was ever such a thing as a toilet-related compliment, this might be it.
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