How is storytelling like walking?

I recently returned from my annual trip to California to visit my beloved sister Randi, who has an abundance of time and energy with which to take insanely long and healthy walks, both in her neighborhood in L.A. and around her ski home in the eastern Sierras.  With the help of a handy phone app, we were able to calculate to the tenth of a mile how much walking we did in two weeks. The total came to about 40 miles, with maybe 50 percent of that occurring in the space of two days. Crazy, perhaps. But it was a great way to retain our girlish (ha, ha) figures, and it afforded us plenty of exercise while reacquainting ourselves after about a year apart.

Since I’ve been back in South Florida, with a considerable amount more rain, heat and humidity, not to mention work, I’ve been unsuccessful at keeping up our regimen. Nevertheless, maybe three or four times a week, I’ve tried to walk to accomplish errands, whether to the bank, the post office, the library or my university, all of which are within about a two-mile walk. I’ve walked to a storytelling gig, and I’ve also walked to the beach three or four times, which is a treat I’ve denied myself most of the 25 years we’ve lived in this area. It’s been a pleasure, even though I got soaked yesterday from a late afternoon shower, and my face and shoulders have had more sun exposure (a little of which goes a long way) in the past month than in the previous 10 years.

So what  does any of this have to do with storytelling? Quite simply, I have noticed myself noticing things. When I race around town (and I use the word purposely) in my car, I have come to realize that I am missing more than I had imagined. I miss whole swaths of landscape. It’s not that I don’t look out the window, exactly, it’s just that there is no way to pay attention to sidewalks, building facades and sweet little shops, not to mention trees, canals and ducks, when I’m driving. Life is sped up—that’s the benefit of the vehicles we take for granted. We can accomplish so much more in life. But it’s a summary of life, rather than a narrative.

Storytelling forces us to be mindful of the little details that accumulate, one on top of the other, to form a coherent and meaningful tapestry. We can get “just the facts” through a summary or chart. But we don’t feel, as the living, breathing animals we are, that we have experienced anything profound. Driving affects me the same way. Oh, I get to where I want to go. But the journey is not as fulfilling. I learn and feel nothing of consquence along the way.

Simple, obvious truths, maybe. But how many of us take the time to pay attention? How many of us speed through our lives rather than savor them?

I know I do. Or have. I’m trying to do a lot less of it now.

Thanks, Randi. See you next year.

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