A November New Year’s Resolution…?

Typically it’s March that roars in like a lion, but this year, November laid down her wrath.

I began the month without power in Sandy’s aftermath, thankful that my house made it through unscathed. We celebrated our daughter’s birthday in the dark, relieved she didn’t blow out ALL the candles. My husband drove to Pennsylvania for gas. We made a game of opening the fridge, grabbing what you wanted, and slamming the door within 2.7 seconds. We slept on the living room floor in front of the fireplace.

fireplace

And we told stories.

We camped at our neighbor’s house one night for the camaraderie and everyone was thrilled to see me. “The author’s here! She can tell us stories!”

Turns out, I’m not good at inventing stories off the cuff. I stammered. I hemmed. I hawed.

I had nothin’.

The children were far more creative. They whipped out the scatological humor and giggled uncontrollably. There were unicorns throwing up rainbows and elves pooping marshmallows. Hmm, was any of this usable picture book fodder? Probably not.

But it was hilarious. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I can’t remember the last time I saw this many kids interacting with one another sans DEVICE. No Wii, no Nintendo DS, no iPads, no iPhones. I bet the Angry Birds were even angrier for being neglected.

Being without power reminded me of mankind’s history as storytellers. Nothing that beeps or blinks can replace the connection we feel to one another when we’re immersed in a story. It brings us together and holds us together. Years from now, my daughter will most certainly reflect more fondly on the blackout birthday than any other.

Once we got our power back, I was relieved, but also a little sad. I wanted the storytelling nights to continue. But instead, the kids flipped on the Wii, I launched onto the internet, and my husband turned to CNN. We thought we were re-engaging with the world, but instead, we were disengaging from each other.

So I made a New Year’s resolution in November: to have a fake blackout twice a month. Nothing electronic. Just the fireplace and stories.

But maybe I’ll write mine down first.

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18 Comments

Filed under Writing and Life

18 responses to “A November New Year’s Resolution…?

  1. I love this, Tara. That experience is exactly why our family goes camping. Every time, I worry the kids are going to be too old to want to go, that they’d rather stay home with their devices. So far, they are always happy for the change of pace (but just as happy to get home again, mind you!). Storytelling is a major part of this tradition for us also, and I am always the worst at coming up with something on the spot. My husband and kids out-story me every time. It’s so frustrating! But maybe it’s because, as picture-book authors, we tend to think in pictures? Or, perhaps it’s just appreciating the importance of revision. 😉

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  2. I love your idea of having intentional “black-outs” with no media! That’s awesome all the storytelling that came alive. See, good things come from bad situations. Thanks for all you do for our writing community!

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  3. I love it: fake blackout nights! 🙂

    I agree with Laurie; authors are too reluctant to show anyone our work before it’s been reviewed, revised and polished to be good storytellers. And who can blame us, really? I mean, our best work gets rejected routinely, so why should we show the world something spontaneous? And then there’s the expectations: “The author’s here!” Oh, no pressure! If your off-the-cuff story sucks, you’re thinking, “No one’s buying my next book, that’s for sure.”

    My go-to is “Goldilocks” with an attitude. No originals for me. 🙂

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  4. Love it. I wonder if writers generally have a harder time making stuff up on the spot? Do we have more editorial filters in place? I was in a similar position this fall — a “make up a story about these objects” group activity — and I was at a total loss.

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    • I used to do improv years ago and had no difficulty then. I think everyone above has it right–we are now so used to rewriting and revising and making things perfect that we’re paralyzed when we’re asked to be spontaneous. But I’m going to work on this!

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  5. Joshua McCune

    Brilliant post, Tara. Glad you squeezed the most out of Sandy’s giant lemon.

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  6. Sounds like a good plan to me, Tara!

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  7. Unicorns barfing up rainbows and elves pooping marshmallows—MADE my morning. This post shows how the power of the imagination turns ON when the power turns off 🙂 Great post, Tara. Thank you!

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  8. I ove this Tara–and agree whole-heartedly! Intentional blackouts–love it. (Well, blackouts of the home–not of the poeple inside 🙂

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  9. I, too, am awful at making stories up on the fly. I’m so relieved to hear other authors admitting the same!

    And Tara, I love the idea of an intentional blackout. I’m sort of trying to institute a weekly no-screens day at my house, though maybe twice a month is more realistic…

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  10. Great idea to repeat the fun of no power without the pain and to practice being more spontaneous with making stories up 🙂 Thanks, Tara!

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  11. Mike Jung

    What do you mean, elves pooping marshmallows isn’t a viable picture book idea?? I’M TOTALLY WRITING THAT PICTURE BOOK…

    Great post Tara, chalk me up as another one of those authors who has a hard time verbally improvising a story – I did it once with my daughter and her cousins a few years ago and man, it was hard. They were really into it, though. During the end-of-year holiday time we’re going to spend a couple of days at a lovely beachside hotel outside of Monterey, CA, maybe we’ll use that as an opportunity to jumpstart our own weekly fake blackout. Thanks for the idea!

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  12. Thanks to this, when my 6-year-old was pretending to barf on everything this morning, I stopped him in his tracks with, “Did you know unicorns barf rainbows?” So: thank you for giving me a parenting tool to stop annoying 6-year-old behavior.

    When I was little, my mom told me stories about a mouse who lived in my belly button during the winter and under the tree outside during the summer. This is the ONLY character about whom I can make up stories on the fly. Otherwise I just say, “Uhhhhhhh. I’m thinking! I’m thinking!” It’s like mfantaliswrites (above) and the Goldilocks story. I think you either need to have a character to start with, or just be really lame and let the kids take over.

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  13. Hip hip hooray! I’m going to do the fake blackouts too! Thanks, Tara for such an inspiring post! 🙂

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  14. Loved this post, Tara. I’ve also struggled to invent on-the-spot stories, but what I’ve found is that the stories my kids love most of all are stories about them–things that happened when they were little. We’ll have to plan a blackout soon. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and hooray to you all for making it through Sandy unscathed!

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  15. Cynthia Levinson

    Terrible circumstances, Tara. Wonderful post. Kind of like a great story where the worst things imaginable happen to your character–except, in this case, the “characters” were you and your family and your neighbors. And, you turned the worst into the best. Btw, I can’t make up stories, either. That’s why I write nonfiction!

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  16. I love your New Year’s resolution! I think it’s perfect. You story was so much like the book Blackout! John Rocco really nailed it with that book!
    I used to tell stories to my nieces and nephews. They had to each give me a character and then I would weave them into a story. That is easier than trying to come up with the whole thing “cold turkey”!
    Great post, Tara!

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