James Stuart: Why Stories Matter

Colorado Writer, James Stuart, shares with the Almagre community the importance of stories…

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The greatest storyteller I ever knew probably hasn’t written anything longer than a personal check since high school. He was a farrier from Wyoming, and even at fifteen years old, I was a couple inches taller than him. But that didn’t give me any sense of scale in his presence. He could begin telling a story at lunch, tell three more over the course of an afternoon, and wrap them all up in an intricate bow just in time for dinner. He moved effortlessly between memory, folktale, pop culture, and dirty jokes, taking with him what he liked as he went and leaving the rest on the vine. Sometimes, you found yourself a character in his stories – a small part in a grand narrative you had already lived but looked forward to hearing told anyway. More times than not, that made you a punchline. But such was his skill, you enjoyed it nonetheless.

Through my work, I have been fortunate to know a number of great writers. Some among us are just naturally gifted at turning letters and punctuation into something beautiful. I’ve swapped notes with journalists, essayists, authors, poets, and screen writers. But in spite of their skill and success, none have ever matched the raw talent of that horseshoer I met when I was young. The greatest writers among us are also the best storytellers; the reverse doesn’t exactly hold true. That is the magic of storytelling in my eyes.

Storytelling may well be our most ancient tradition, crawling into existence from the primordial soup of early communication around the same time humans began to observe the world beyond food, water, and shelter. From its earliest days, it has not been confined by any medium.  It was paint on cave walls. It was music from carved bones and strung sinew. It was mythology, parable, and fable. On cold nights, it was traded around fires, providing an additional layer of protection from a world that remained largely mysterious. It was filled with heroes, monsters, tricksters, and sirens – many of whom live on with different names today. Animals often took on human qualities to teach or to amuse. Eventually, it would be written down, printed, recorded, filmed, digitized, and monetized. But the key ingredients and basic structure have not changed over the millennia, allowing storytelling to transcend cultures, wars, famine, plague, technology, and every other obstacle in its way. It connects us with our past, while preparing new generations for the future.

Storytelling will remain relevant because it is a direct response to basic needs. The need to be understood. The need to be entertained. The need to preserve knowledge. The need to be remembered. These necessities are not only timeless, they are fundamentally human.

As such, there will always be another story to tell.

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James Suart received his Bachelors Degree in English from Colorado State University in 2011. He has dedicated himself to writing fiction that is fresh, thought provoking, and occasionally profane. His influences are extremely diverse, running the gamut from Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury to Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahari. He is also the founder of the webpage THE FORGE, a site dedicated to very brief short stories.

Again, Please. Tell Me Your Story

As fall turns to winter, I’d like to reconsider a particular reaction.AR_Fall Harvest

We have all been in the room before. Someone else is there…it might be one person, or two, or a crowd. A friend or family member begins a story. We’ve heard it already…many times.

But we let them go on out of politeness. (Is this person okay? Is he well? Does he not remember telling this story last Thanksgiving?)

This got me thinking about the importance of telling the same story again and again. First, it comes from a place of acknowledgement — I grow older, responsibilities increase, the kids acquire new demands; demands on my time, my attention, my bank account, my emotional and spiritual reservoir.

I used to think that my “elders” (I use this term carefully and loosely) were trapped in forgetfulness. At the dinner table, during or after, somehow, someway, the conversation inexorably drew to the moment where someone would re-commence the time when…

Often the details change. But what are details other than the sharp edges on a sugar cube? They don’t matter…around the pond of reminiscence, they polish down into the smooth stone of one-liners, zingers, bad accents, cued laughter. Or is it cued sadness? Either one, yes? Everything in between.

One day, not too many years ago, I noticed myself telling the same story…one I’d told many times. There was also this other strange little thought. I knew I was telling a story everyone had already heard. I knew it. They knew it. I knew that they knew it. And so on.

But, what followed proved to be an insight, albeit small. I did not care that I’d told this story before. I plowed through my social reserve and kept the performance alive, armed with those punches and zingers, cued their laughter, and delivered what my polite audience allowed. I told this story because it was a pleasure to tell. It’s always a pleasure to tell.

Why?

Because it is important. To me, it was a bright cherry along the branch of experience that is worth repeating. I have to repeat it. Others have to hear it. Memory is bad and faulty, and so much of what we live is lost along that long gray branch. But the bright cherries become the lodestars of identity. This is who I am. This is one among many stories that define the “johnness” of John to others…and to me.

Which leads me back to my original thought. That reaction! When a friend or family member begins again that story we’ve heard throughout the years…we stop, listen, and appreciate. We know they’ve told this story before. But they know it too! It does not matter.

We listen, because it is the teller’s pleasure to tell! We grant this woman or man the dignity of his or her story, the dignity of his or her life and experience. We permit them the bright cherry of identity. We listen…because it is a pleasure to listen.

John Lewis
Artist/Editor

 

 

 

Why We Read: 2

Being a project dedicated to growing Colorado literature, we ask ourselves this question at the Almagre quite a bit. Why build a journal, paper no less, and expect others to read it?

For us, the easy answer is this: pick up a copy of Issue 3, open it, fan the pages, breathe in the spine’s scent. Take it, sit with it, create a silent space. Then…explore the poems within, the stories, the essays, the art. We know that the Authors and Artists in Issue 3 will give any reader their money back many times over…restored in full with ideas, new perspectives, as-yet-learned words, and renewed optimism in the power of imagination.

But that is self-serving. And it’s really about more than our journal. It’s about participation in all that’s going on. Literature promises truth; and that is even when it distorts history, or kneads it, bends it, warps it, or is about hypocrites and thieves and liars; or deals with gouging, skullduggery, banditry, or lowlifes. Literature promises truth, because it triangulates around it, shines a flashlight one way, then another, producing a changing shadow that can provide deeper understanding. The point is, literature begs us to know that any given subject requires curiosity and examination from multiple angles. This curiosity should never end.

We’ve entered an age of alternative facts…and that is a worrying thing. In certain venues, we prefer it one way—facts as facts—a thing which doesn’t build on alternatives but on additions. With literature (fiction and nonfiction), we are faced with an honest proposition: “Here is my side of the story,” or, “Here is a side of the story.” By taking the time to do this, we acknowledge that a gain in understanding is a journey. A matter of course. For those who believe they have reached a destination, we feel pity.

To read is to fend ignorance, acquire knowledge and wisdom, to join the polity as those who would prevent a world of alternative facts. For many of us, it is the way forward.

With Profound Gratitude to all our Readers,

Editor & Artist, John Lewis

 

Contemporary Heroes; Hooked On Books

Yes, in the spirit of leadership, the theme of issue two, we’d like to honor bookstores and especially their proprietors.

The Almagre Review wants to take a minute to thank Hooked On Books for their enduring dedication to Colorado Springs’s local authors. One might not realize this, but Jim and Mary Ciletti devote a tremendous amount of time and resource to writers who publish and sell their work locally.

The bookstore, we all know, is a diminished institution. This is not because we read less than we used to; that is a misconception. We read more than ever. But, we read differently. Deep attention to long, rich works grows scarcer by the year. We collect information like grains of sand blowing through the air. News by captions! This is the age of trying to form complex world-views out of a chaotic constellation of information. Our contemporary consumption of the written word has conferred all its disadvantages upon the local bookstore.

Companies like Barnes and Noble can manage, but even then, not all the large companies survive–Borders went out of business. And for the mom and pops bookstore? To find one is a treasure, to support them–a public service. There’s a touch of the heroic, born of faithful dedication, to Jim and Mary Ciletti for their labors in sustaining a brick and mortar location for story enthusiasts like us.

As a gesture of friendship, take the time to stop by Hooked On Books, or any bookstore. The Almagre recommends this from a place of deep gratitude. While there, let Mary or Jim know, that it was at the urging of Colorado’s newest literary journal. Most importantly, ask the proprietor, “what book by a local author do you suggest today?”

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Why Readers Matter

image1Our publication’s newest reader. And we’re thankful to the parent of this greatness-in-the-making for sharing such a candid moment!

Writers ask a lot of their readers. It’s more than just time. The solicitation is quite intimate, begging more of a total investment.

We can’t speak for everyone, but here at our humble publication, we know how slippery and temporary ideas are…all ideas, great ones especially. Once committed to paper, an idea finds a quasi-permanence.

So in the age where most stories are told through moving images and sound, the written word in all its static glory must rely on its most powerful quality. That quality is this intimacy…the theater of another’s mind. Here, a poem or novel moves in, like a circus, it sets up camp, unfolds its tents, un-carriages the animals, and builds a show between the ears of another human. Think of this invitation, this opportunity to inhabit each other. It’s a unique dialogue. When the reader shares his time with all those set pieces stored in the attic of his imagination, those wares built from the thread of experience, he gives the writer her reason to be. He also gives her the stage for her ideas. The necessary loop is complete and the current can flow.

We all remember that thing the last exquisite novel provided which a movie cannot produce. The scenes and scents and people moved through our head. We were not passengers, we were not emotional patients strapped to the operating table. We were part of the story. In some ways, it was even about us.

Thank you to our readers who have taken the time to be a part of our journey. We look forward to the big sky horizon of the West and all the future stories waiting to fill our pages.

~John Lewis,
Artist/Editor
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