MOM: Today is the 35th anniversary of the day your father and I met.
ME: Wow. What made you remember the date?
MOM: Because June 3rd is the day I met your father. Don’t you remember the day you met M —?
ME: No. But that’s probably why I’m not married to M—
As someone who is paid to write about other people’s lives, you would think certain story lines would inevitably get stale. You might imagine certain themes illicit groans, a blinking cursor on a blank screen, or at least a visit to the online thesaurus for another turn of phrase. And yes, you do become weary of repeating the same stories remedied simply by inserting different people’s names.
As a writer one of the most frustrating things is when someone contacts you trying to promote a story that is in fact not a story. And I guess that might leave you wondering what makes a good one?
In elementary school when you are just learning to write you are taught that a story has a beginning, middle and end with some action in between. Throw in a few adjectives and call it a good time. Otherwise, it’s a just a footnote and who wants your life edited down to something pushed to the fringe? While opinions on what makes a good story vary, in a newsroom the key is in the first word: new. Something noteworthy needs to have happened to get ink; but in general, you need a character people give a shit about doing something people want to hear about.
The stories I seem to expend the most energy writing are those I have to try to even care about long enough to get them down on the page. Mostly they lack a struggle, speed trap or giant pothole. After considering this, I have decided we are all just characters in a big book God is writing and the reason we have so many misunderstandings is because we would otherwise be boring subject matter.
That aside, the one story line I never seem to grow tired of is learning how people met their other. These are best told when the couple is together since both typically have different accounts of the situation and the meat of the story typically lies in these differences. In my experience, the best stories seem to contain the same elements: the misinterpretation of a moment, a tiny act of God, or a little bit of luck – and most of the time, it’s a combination of all three.
In the case of my parents, they met while working the night shift on the men’s geriatric ward of a local hospital. She was a nurse; he was an orderly. The night she started working he had made a bet with coworkers that the new girl was going to be a fat Italian lady with rolled down knee socks. Not so much. “She was a babe,” my dad recalls. “He had great arms,” my mom says.
He wooed her with homemade doughnuts; she drove him home every time his MG broke down – which was nightly. Then he moved to France for medical school and left her behind. When he returned over Christmas to find her wearing an engagement ring belonging to someone else, her sick mother, he felt sucker punched and within a week asked her to marry him. (Who knows how long he would have strung her along otherwise?) They moved to France and have been drinking good wine ever since.
I love that story.