The Writing Life: After the Story is Told by William Henderson

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A couple of weeks ago now, singer Amanda Palmer and her husband, Neil Gaiman, performed/read (a little of both for each of them, as it turned out) at the launch party for Anthony Martignetti’s just-out memoir, Lunatic Heroes, a collection of linked stories – remembrances is the word he used – about his childhood and then some.

If Palmer and Gaiman hadn’t tweeted about the event, I’d never have gone; who is Anthony Martignetti, after all? Someone with a story to tell, as it turns out, several stories, about exploding frogs and regret and pity family ghosts and food and religion and sex and growing up Massachusetts.

These stories, his memoir, released as be begins aggressive treatment for a rare form of leukemia that, two years ago, was meant to kill him within six months.  (Amanda blogs about her lifelong friendship with Martignetti, his health, and the book – to which she wrote the introduction, here.)

Easy to lump his memoir in with others by people who wanted, maybe even with their dying breath, to leave a legacy, and while his memoir may serve as one, his stories are more than a dying man’s attempts at immortality. Which is what telling stories is, if you think about it – attempting to leave behind something that wasn’t there before. Arranging words in the order in which they belong, even before you knew that these words, in this order, existed. Or exist. Stories, written or otherwise, continue, beyond the moment in which the telling is done.

What I liked best about Martignetti is how forthcoming he is, or was at the launch party, about how these stories are emotionally true, and as true true as he is – or was – able to make the stories. Retracing his steps, so to speak, a phrase my five-year-old son has taken a shine to lately, especially when attempting to explain why he did something or why he wants to do something. Paths, even a five year old understands, taking us from there to here and back again, if you’re prone to journeys through Middle Earth.

And what I liked best about his collection is how unpolished it is. These stories have not been workshopped to death in graduate writing courses by peers with their own stories to tell and professors who are only as good as their last review. The sentences are not perfect, and the stories are not perfect, and he is not perfect, which is something I think books published by traditional publishing companies get wrong. The stories we tell – the stories we choose to tell – should be unpolished and far from perfect.

Don’t read that as a criticism about Martignetti’s collection. His stories – albeit not universal – are compelling, occasionally surprising, and the kind that bear repeating and re-reading and re-telling, facts twisting together like a double helix, who he is and who he was and who he wants to be – given the chance to continue being – there on the page, in the stories he tells and stories he chose not to tell.

Stories are choices, you know. As much a choice as turning right or left at a traffic light or going to the grocery store after work instead of going to the gym or even agreeing to something that you really don’t want to do, but agree to because only a bad person wouldn’t agree to doing it. So we make choices and we live stories and we tell stories and we share stories, unpolished and blemished moments with no real beginning, barely a middle, and the ending we choose to give it.

My boyfriend texted today, asking me to tell him a story. Seldom do he and I go longer than a day without talking, mostly by text, but talking all the same. A couple of months ago, I unfriended him on Facebook, not because he and I aren’t friends – because clearly we are – but because relying on status updates, check-ins, and forwarded memes began to stand-in for actual storytelling.

Tell me a story, he texted today, while I was finishing an editing job for a client – a paying one, no less – and I thought, while I worked, about the different stories I have told him, and could tell him, and one day will tell him, and I thought that the words that bind he and I – that bind all of us, if you think about – are the words we share, however ill-fitting and unperfect these words may be. The kinds of story that resonate long after the telling is done.

william hendersonWilliam Henderson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. He has written a memoir, House of Cards, from which 27 excerpts have appeared in literary journals and magazines. He writes a weekly column for Specter Literary Magazine, Dog-eared, and will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: The Other Man and Stripped. He is a full-time writer, takes care of his two children, and is working on a second book.
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