On life thesis statements and being the mayor of a non-existent town
August 2, 2010
Today I’m writing from The Land of 10,000 lakes, the birthplace of Target, the state where – as my Meme here says – the mosquito is the official bird. To me it’s always just been the place that explains why my Dad wears shorts in the house all winter long.
I am here for a difficult reason – the passing of my grandfather, Poppey – but in this family, mourning takes the shape of a multi-day storytelling session with breaks for food (if you call blintz soufflé food, which would be an insult to blintz souffle). It’s the kind of place at the kind of moment where an almost-27-year-old grappling with major life changes should be quarantined and given high doses of when-we-were-your-age stories intravenously. It’s also a bizarrely fervent fan base for this blog meaning no story – wisdom-filled or otherwise – begins without “oh – I’ve got one! Now this one is for sure going to make the blog!” Correction: no story Uncle Evan starts.
I am a good audience for a good story (if you don’t mind being misquoted), and owing to the IQ and long-term memory of this side of my family – there are countless tales to tell (none of which compare to the time Poppey took a solo ride on a Zoo elephant at the age of late-60-something because my cousin Sam chickened out on the elephant boarding dock. “Look! No Hands!”), but in story-shower storm situations I always become more interested in the patterns than the details. Maybe it’s because being a writer gives you an ear for the overarching narrative that comes out of the events? Maybe it’s because I’m more interested in who the character is than what they do? Whatever the reason, come story 10 of 10,000 (new state motto?), I go into what-would-we-title-the-Biopic? mode. I listen for the thesis statements of the people in the stories. Not what they did but who they were to the whole. As the now-very-non-PC adage goes, were they chiefs? Were they Indians? Were they Mr. Potters or George Bailey? If we’re all just some form of characters in The Wizard Of Oz, which part would they play?
With the stories of Poppey both shared and gleamed in the short time since we’ve arrived I have my overarching narrative and with that, a lesson on how-to-live that can sometimes only come once you’ve stopped living. It’s a life-lesson I’d like to bottle and re-feed myself intravenously whenever the questions of how-should-I-behave-in-this-world comes up.
The lesson is that you can be an unelected mayor of a non-existent town without a day of campaigning and that, if you are able to achieve that kind of stature in that kind of no-boundaries community, it will define your life and that community. It is also about how a couple (Poppey has a Meme counterpart to complete the oddly-named set) can have a style of life so compatible that it’s hard to determine which personality influenced the other.
See there are people who go to the grocery store to pick up a few things and people who go to the grocery store to visit with the owners, talk about the Twins game, and then pick up a few things, maybe. There are people who have a doctor they see when they are sick and people who have a doctor they call by first name, buy meaningful gifts, and speak of as if he’s family. Some people go to religious center for worship. Other people go to a religious center for community, friendship, education, and a to workout with the congregation’s fitness instructor who then becomes the kind of friend that visits the house upon their passing. Some people have children that they care for like parents care for children. Other people have those plus a gaggle of other people who somehow become like children. There are people who are sought out for advice and council because they have degrees in advice and council-giving and there are people who are elevated to that kind of oracle-stature because they know the right things to say.
They’re not chiefs. They’re not indians. They’re not even community leaders or elders. They’re just people who on-purpose or because they can’t help themselves – reach out and touch a community in a way that gives them an un-official, official role in their world. And as their life comes to an end, they are the very rare kind of people who receive a donation in their name from the owner of their favorite restaurant.
And those are just a few examples.
People will give you lots of advice on how to live your life. Big-picture advice about financials and religions and proper number of kids spaced a proper number of years apart. After my time here in America’s heartland picking up advice on life-in-general based on the sad passing of one life-in-specific, I’ve gleamed that the big-picture is made of the tiny actions that make you known in community you occupy – the tasks of a campaigning mayor who doesn’t know he’s campaigning and doesn’t want to mayor.
They tell actresses to, “make the whole room remember you.” I think the thesis statement of all the stories I’ve heard here is, remember every single person in the room, and they won’t want to forget you.