As Old As Forever

I learned something profound from the Bob Costas this week.

I like a good story.  And everyone has one.

We had been watching Olympics coverage on our nifty ipad app that let us see full events with a mere tap of the screen.  Figure skating, men’s downhill, bobsled, and a crazy amount of curling at our fingertips.  More events than any viewer has ever seen.  Sweet!  We were so excited.  Until we used the app.

That’s when we realized the problems.  Besides the technical stuff (freezing screens, sound issues, seeing the same AT&T commercial twenty times in an hour), we found ourselves missing the evening coverage we were used to.  The good old days (of four years ago) when you could only see highlights (who knew you really don’t want to watch every skier ski – summary: they all seem really fast)  and they told you about the people involved.  The stories behind the athletes.  The part that I’ve always considered cheesy and silly and a blatant act of emotional manipulation.  I don’t deny that’s what it is.  But I’ve realized this week that I like it.

I remember watching Scott Hamilton skate when I was a kid.  He was brilliant on the ice, but learning that he had a disease that stunted his growth made me support him even more.  Because I felt like I knew him.  I got sucked in to the story arc of his experience.  I cared.   Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace is a mom, had a miscarriage between the last Olympics and this, and her husband built her sled as a way to help her recover.  Before I knew that I was just annoyed that her commercial kept interrupting my coverage.  Emily Cook rehabilitated two broken feet to win medals at multiple world cups and make it to three Olympics.  Bode Miller’s brother died last year, and as you might have seen, he broke down over it to a reporter.  Yes, their stories are being sensationalized because they are dramatic.  Tragic.  Displays of the Olympic theme of overcoming obstacles to become the best.  But we can relate.  These giants of human athleticism are real people.  That’s what we learn from Bob Costas and Mat Lauer, and that’s what makes us care.

As I tell my son all the time, a good story always has a conflict.  Otherwise it lacks direction, a point, something pulling us toward the end.  The execs at NBC know this, so they highlight the problems people have faced.  They skip over the intricacies of the athletes’ lives, because they don’t have time for a full biography.  But even the snippets we get are enough to grab our attention and turn a dude who looks too old to be skiing into a guy who’s beating the odds of his aging body to ski in one last race.  That’s a good story.  And that makes me want him to win.

Story is a good strategy for everything really.  Being a politician, a teacher, a parent, a salesman, a scientist, a preacher, an ethics and compliance officer at a company (wink wink, anyone who knows the awesome videos my husband makes) – they all benefit from a tale told well.  From learning the whys behind the whats, the people affected, the reason we should care.  I am naturally a bright-sider, but when it comes to media I’m a cynic.  So to learn that I like the cheesy behind-the-Olympian accounts has been a surprise, if not kind of a bummer.  But I’m embracing the schmaltz of primetime coverage in these 22nd Winter Olympics, because it works.  It translates the human experience.  Gets me past the superhuman abilities to the utterly human realities and reminds me what makes the world go round.  Something as old as forever and as modern as now.

A good story.



Some good quotes on the subject:

“We need storytelling. Otherwise, life just goes on and on like the number Pi.” -Ang Lee

“If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And here I make a rule–a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” -John Steinbeck

Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee

The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser

It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. —Native American saying

Storytelling is a vaccine against war…. —Annette Simmons

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” -Rudyard Kipling

 There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.” – The Jesus Storybook Bible

A Good One

Marc and Luke are on their way to Legoland as I write.  My green tea in the cup, a snowy scape out the window, my cold fingers tapping the keys.  I love that my husband took the day off to play with Lego (yes, that’s the plural of Lego – Luke would want you to know) with our son.  I love that they’re rocking out to Owl City on the way there.  I love that Luke made his daddy a card this morning saying how much he loves him, how awesome he is, how he’s “the best daddy ever,” surely as a response to his excitement.  His gratefulness for the fun they’re about to have.

That’s all.  I’m just more in love with my man right now.  When he loves our kids well it endears me to him.  Makes me glad I chose to hook up with him for the long haul.  Makes me look in awe at our life together – what can happen when two people commit and work through their junk, over and over, make babies and do their best to feed and clothe and direct them.  And cover them with smooches.  And have lots of dance parties in the kitchen.

We certainly aren’t perfect parents; It ain’t all roses in our house. We have tempers, we get impatient, we have been known to criticize and make fun at the worst moments, we are selfish, we can be controlling, we forget to send in the permission slip for the engineering expo (wait, that was just me).  We’re human.  By our very nature we’re bound to mess up, and we oblige.

I’m not married to a storybook father.

But I’m married to a pretty damn good one.

Because he tries.  Because he knows he’s flawed and doesn’t pretend otherwise, and he says he’s sorry.  Because he wants to be a good father.  And he takes his kid to Legoland.

It would have been easier to claim his work day.  To be here with me, drinking coffee, trying to get his email down to 500, checking tasks off his eternal to-do list.  Or maybe it wouldn’t.  Maybe it’s easier to chuck it all and spend the day building fortresses and robots with his 9-year-old son.  I suppose it depends on the goal.  I love that he chose the latter.  That memories will be made today, burned on Luke’s brain of how much his dad loves him.  That they’ll have inside jokes and probably a bigger-than-I-would-buy lego set to build together tomorrow.

Yep, I love that man.  Yay for dads who try.

Bring It

The Polar Vortex has me thinking about a few things: my love for boots; thankfulness for not being homeless, for having heat, hot water, a warm bed; how I might need to move further south when I’m old; the Bahamas; and how volatile “normal” is.  I just read an article in Slate Magazine about why we’re having this freaky weather situation.  They tried to explain it, but the best quote was this:

“Bottom line: Something weird is going on,

but scientists are still trying to nail down exactly what it is.”

I like the honesty.

It’s because of warming global temps, melting sea ice, human behavior, because the jet stream is being lazy.  But we don’t know exactly how all that put together equals snow in Birmingham and shorts weather near Anchorage.  It’s a mystery, as is everything, really.  Which I love.

The fact that I can’t count on “typical” to always be true can be scary, can rather suck at times, but also means life is exciting.  I know that we as humans have played a part in our current climate malfunction, but it’s reminding me that life is full of such surprises.  Being born, burning yourself on a hot stove, falling in love, having a baby, finding out that Santa isn’t real, watching popcorn pop for the first time, puberty, cancer, how much it hurts when someone dies, the end of a good mystery novel, failure, success, Pop Rocks.  It’s full of the unexpected.  Sometimes happy and sometimes sad, but I’m glad to not know the whole story now.

I do tend toward planning.  I like to know what’s coming next, to be prepared (at least mentally), to feel as if things are under control.  But when am I going to learn that life doesn’t work that way?  There’s nothing wrong with doing homework on time, planning for a trip, making wise financial choices to avoid debt, but there’s gotta be room for the unknown.  I really don’t want to know everything that will be.  Bo-ring.  And just not the way it’s meant to be, so I’d better get on board with what is.

Resistance is futile.

So bring it, Polar Vortex!  I can handle you (with my heat and hot water and cozy boots).  I may plan a trip to a tropical location to recover, but I’ll try to remember that surprises are ok, even cold ones.

And I’ll bank on shorts weather returning to the lower 48 someday, when things have returned to normal.