Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

Category: Language, Books, and Literature

“Live a Great Story”

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Megan and I were in San Diego a few weekends ago. An old friend worked on a new show at the La Jolla playhouse. In addition, seeing the southern part of Southern California and the San Diego zoo has been on our to-do list since we moved here.

Poking around some cute Coronado stores, I saw a decal stuck to the wall that simply said, “Live a Great Story”. It was apparently a decoration, or left over from some past display. If there had been a stack of them for sale, I probably would’ve snapped one up. Since I saw it, that sticker has been on my mind.

Here’s the problem: you can’t live a great story. You can only tell it.

I recently heard comedian Mike Birbiglia comment that people tell him “stories” all the time that aren’t stories. They’re just things that happened to happen to people. A story is something different. A story is information ordered in a particular beginning, middle, and end.

“Isn’t it wild? [Thing] happened!” is not a story.

In that same way, “living is a great story” is impossible. Life is boring a lot of the time. So much happens in our day that is just not worthy of narration.

I get it, though, that the “Live a Great Story” sticker is trying to tell us to live adventurously, courageously, to go out and find something that we can turn into a great story. That’s good enough advice.

But the fact remains that our days are filled with things that aren’t worthy of story. And sometimes, life surprises us during mundane events, and those make great stories.

Matthew Dicks writes about his “Homework for Life”: his practice of writing one or two things down every day that change us. That’s it: that’s the simplest criteria for a story. For example, Dicks won the Moth GrandSLAM event with a story about dropping his car keys on his shoe.

In that sense, you can’t live a great story, you can only tell one. A lot of really interesting things can happen to you. If your “story”, though, is, “Isn’t it wild, [interesting thing] happened!” It might be difficult to care. If something mundane happened, but it caused you to stop and notice the unrest inside of yourself, it’s possible to make a riveting story.

So, yes, go live a great story! But do your friends a favor and learn how to tell a good one, too!

Default Mode

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I currently tutor in LA’s southern beach cities. Part of my work there is administering a series of tests to help figure out why a student is having difficulty reading.

A coworker mentioned to me once that we see a lot of students that are bilingual, or are from bilingual families. At about the same time, I started to notice this word on one test:

knoink

Its a made-up, nonsense word. The point is, based on standard English conventions, can a student look at that word and say “noiNGk”?

I noticed that if I were given that test on my first day tutoring there, I wouldn’t do well. I’d look at that word and pronounce two Ks, one at the beginning and one at the end.

I also noticed that I had trouble teaching kids “complex vowel” sounds. The big one for me was always “au”. That sound is usually the /au/ sound in “August” or “caught”. I couldn’t help pronouncing it like /ow/ in “ouch”.

I realized I have a kind of default mode. I’ve been speaking/learning German for (yikes!) 20 years now. When I see a word I don’t know, my brain has learned to shrug and say, “Must be German.”

A German-speaker would pronounce two Ks in “knoink”. The German word knecht and the English word “knight” have the same parent. We don’t bother with the K, the G, or the H, but Germans still pronounce the whole word as written. Germans pronounce the word aus with the same vowel sound as English “out”.

That’s my default mode, at least as far as new words are concerned. I wonder what my default mode is for other kinds of new ideas?

Poems for Advent/ Adventsgedichte: December 22nd – “Much Bread Grows During the Wintertime”, by Friedrich Wilhelm Weber

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A poem and translation for Advent: “Much Bread Grows During the Wintertime”, by Friedrich Wilhelm Weber (1813 – 1894)
Ein Gedicht und Übersetzung zum Advent: Es wächst viel Brot in der Winternacht, von Friedrich Wilhelm Weber (1813 – 1894)
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Poems for Advent/ Adventsgedichte: December 20th – Farewell from “The Freethinker”, by Friedrich Nietzsche

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A poem and translation for Advent: Farewell from “The Freethinker”, by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
Ein Gedicht und Übersetzung zum Advent: aus Der Freigeist (Abschied), von Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
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Poems for Advent/ Adventsgedichte: December 17th – “Ice Skating”, by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben

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A poem and translation for Advent: “Ice Skating”, by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798 – 1874)
Ein Gedicht und Übersetzung zum Advent: Der Eislauf, von August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798 – 1874)
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