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Telling stories on people

I read the obituaries almost every day. It's not an obsession with death. It's an obsession with people's stories. I can't possibly catch all the good ones, but I try to keep up. Years ago a friend clipped one from a small-town paper that described a beloved old lady renowned for her delicious fried children.

But I'm not reading them for the Leno-esque typos. That's a cheap thrill. It's just an extension of what I've always loved to do as a writer: tell stories on people. Sometimes I tell stories on myself. Sometimes I tell stories on my kids (almost always with their permission and/or review). And in my work, I often tell stories on fascinating strangers: a Korean adoptee's unsuccessful-yet-successful search for her birth mother, a dog-sledding firefighter house-husband, a man who was lost at sea on the remnants of a Jet-ski, a woman who discovered in her sixties that she had a half-dozen sisters she hadn't known about.

And the parenting experts, oh my. T. Berry Brazelton himself once suggested I seek therapy. I was writing an article about child development and at the end of the call, I dared ask him for advice regarding toilet training. He said perhaps Mother [by which he meant me; see previous blog regarding how well that might have gone over] ought to explore why she needed her child to use the toilet before the child was developmentally ready to use the toilet.

"Really, therapy?" I said. "Have you ever changed a poopy Pull-up?" (I don't recall his reply, but then I might have mumbled the question.)

Notwithstanding the self-proclaimed experts and authority figures, a lot of people really do have fascinating stories to tell. A lot of people are wise and resilient and hilarious in ways that are worth exploring, and not in therapy. Like the guy I interviewed today who made me realize what an honor and a thrill it is to listen and then write. I think that's why I read the obituaries every day. For a lot of folks, it's the only chance they get to have their story published. And it's our only chance to read them. Like I said, I try to keep up.
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