On telling stories

You know, I try to give y’all helpful advice for living your creative life. I carefully craft action steps, things to do to help you in your creative work. And? And I get these gentle notes: “Well, it’s fine. Really. Really.  It’s just . . . they’re not Jessica stories.”

Do you realize how much time I spend staring at Jessica, trying to get a story from her? We’ll be sitting there on the sofa and she’ll be playing with a princess or two and she’ll look up. “What are you doing, Mom?”

“Nothing,” I will lie. Lie to my own daughter’s face. This is the extremity to which I have been pushed.

Then she’ll give me the Buddha smile. You know the one. She has seen my bullshit and she is calling me on it, only she is much too polite to say so out loud.

So I own up because I am trying to set a good example even when I don’t feel like it. “I’m looking for material.”

She slants her head, birdlike. This is so she can see me. She is like a friendly wren or a robin; not a starling because they are much too noisy. (“I’m like an eagle,” she’ll tell me as soon as she reads this. “Or a falcon!”)

“You are trying to write a story,” she says.


“Will it be about me?”

“The best ones are.” 

She nods because she knows this is absolutely true. There was a time when I was good at writing other stories, but that was long ago.

“Where would you be without me?” she asks. This is one of her favorite questions and she asks it at least once a week. 

“I don’t know,” I say. “Writing stories that no one reads, I guess.”

“Well, I would read them,” she says loyally, and I forebear to point out that she couldn’t if she weren’t here, and I just say, “Thank you.” 

“You are welcome.” Then: “That is what I am supposed to say, isn’t that so?” Like a chic Frenchwoman learning the language.

“Yes, that’s what you say.” 

“I thought so. I would read your stories every day. Even if they were bad.”

“Even if they were very bad?” 

“Even if they were terrible,” she says.

“It’s a good thing I have you, then,” I say, thwarting logic, but she understands me perfectly. 

“Yes,” she says serenely. “Yes, it is.”


  1. I read all your stories (really) even though I'm not a writer. But I have my own "Jessica" so those stories get to my heart. How many other people can articulate these musings and really understand my heart (even though you don't even know me)? I find it healing and therapeutic to laugh and to sometimes cry when I read your Jessica stories.

  2. I began reading your blog after your story about Jessica was published in the KU Alumni magazine. I will happily read whatever you write. I am glad that I found you.

  3. I read all your stories & I am not a writer, nothing to do with writing even remotely.
    And Yes, I do come back for the Jessica stories mainly…
    But that doesnt take anything away from you…
    Her stories show us a glimpse of the human spirit, of kindness and simplicity. Even if it is about 'nothing', it brings a smile… So we send a prayer & best wishes her way, hoping that she stays safe & smiling.

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