Compulsion to Create
Gregory S. Shaffer
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The bark felt good scratching David's back, applying relief from a sunburn of last week, just now peeling. His legs crossed, his mind both listening and taking flight from time to time. What a wonderful idea Susan, his wife, had -- hiring a storyteller for Jake's sixth birthday party.

David was invisible to the children listening as he sat on the exact opposite side of the tree from Marcus, the graduate student in drama, who made a fair of amount of extra income from his engaging storytelling skills.

David began to wonder what type of story he would want if a storyteller was hired for his next birthday, forty-four years, he could hardly believe it. He wondered if his ideal story would be that much different from what Jake might also wish for.

For starters it must take place in the outdoors; streams, rivers, mountains, animals, trails, must all abound in this story. Early morning or late evening, during that golden light time of day would be best.

And it must have tension. Good stories always have tension, and this would be no exception. Not too much through, David could only go so far before tension became a pain that David didn't want to face.

Discovery. Something must become known by the end of the story that was not known at the beginning. And, if this discovery heralded a personal revelation all the better.

Children were also an essential element for the story that David continued to conjure. But here he suspected he departed from Jake. Jake, David thought, would want some kung-fu fighting super ninja hero who leapt into the scene and most likely exited just as fast. David wanted the fragileness of the child to be explored. That incredibly fine line between rugged little explorer and crying child. The story would instill that gut wrenching notion that no child ever deserves to be harmed, and in the end the child while vulnerable to harm, must end up protected and whole.

Finally, the story must involve the child teaching something to the adults. This would most likely happen without the child, and maybe even the adults, knowing this wisdom had been transferred.

A moment later David was aware he'd been daydreaming, but no matter how hard he tried he tried could not figure out where the daydream had taken him. And then he heard in his mind those strange little sounds people make as they snuggle into a cold bed, he remembered being in Canada in July as a child and crawling into his sleeping bag after ten in the evening, exhausted and amazed that sky was not yet dark. Startled by the coolness of the bag that he must quickly warm The storyteller must find a way to convey the security of the tent, of muffled adult voices nearby. David flashed on the beauty of the "goodnight John Boy" ending to the Walton's television show and felt a bit silly.

Then just as quickly and easily as all these thoughts had come to him they began to vanish. He was aware that the storyteller on the other side of tree had finished and the eighteen children (he had suggested, with no luck, no more than ten) were up and scrambling towards the birthday cake.

He lifted himself up, his right leg completely asleep and tingling, and leaned against the tree for support, afraid he would fall down. This necessary pause caused him to stop and see, not just look, at what was going on around him. His son ensconced by friends, his wife ever the organizer keeping things under control, and his mother, Jake's called her Nanny, working the scoop -- elbows deep in Neapolitan ice cream and not caring.

Maybe when he retired, David mused, he would become a storyteller too.


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