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We are storytellers

| Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Human beings are storytellers. We’re meant to be storytellers. This is true whether you tell stories with arbitrary (and conventional) vocalizations or the random brush of hair follicles depositing pigment on canvas. I’ve come to this realization maybe only due to my immediate surroundings. In the land of biblical folklore and oral story-telling traditions that originate in pre-Islamic desert nomadic society, I’ve found myself falling in love with folktales. What used to be a genre I associated with cliches and cheesy pursuits, I now have come to love. It is because of this that I’ve begun to memorize and tell more folktales. Through this, I and some of my fellow Jerusalemites (Mark Beach, Evan DaCosta and Fabiola Shipley) have discovered the joys of collectivized writing. No — that’s not some sort of communist statement. The collective writing I’m referring to is like what you used to do in summer camp when your counselors wanted you to stop screaming for even just a few god-forsaken seconds. So, here’s our attempt.

This story was written in Istanbul, Turkey, on a hungover Monday morning (March 25, 2019). In a rustic Turkish shisha (hookah) establishment, we were surrounded by ornate fabrics, pillars of deep mahogany and the subdued chatter of Turkish men on their lunch breaks. We wrote collectively what I will call the “bones” of the story using a “popcorn” method in which each of us alternated ownership and direction of the story. Afterwards, I added some finishing touches and finished it. As no story is ever completely finished, though, I will call this the “more complete edition.” Enjoy!

“The symphony had just ended but the show was only starting. The crowd rose to its feet in a roar of applause as a plume of smoke billowed up from the governor’s balcony. Entranced by the sporadic serenity of the conductor’s final bow, the crowd’s joy remained uninhibited. Among the cacophony of the symphony’s triumphant eruption, a young mistress was the only person in the crowd to take notice of the distinct fumes of burning velvet curtains. An olfactory assault, muffled by a haze of centuries old perfume — frankincense, myrrh and a hint of rose — the fumes engulfed her consciousness. She sat down. The crowd continued.

“The governor’s balcony was first to go. A disease of consternation began to spread. Patient zero, the governor’s paramour (the one no one was supposed to know about) clutched her pearls. She gasped, nearly fainting as a small fire spread toward her thousand-dollar corset. In that moment, the governor ceased clapping, ran through the door, down the balcony’s private fire exit and disappeared into the night. Leaving his paramour (the one no one was supposed to know about) to scramble down the ladder, heels clutched in hand, pearls clanking against the steel silhouette of city skyline. The conductor, glancing toward the balcony for validation, noticed its emptiness; its hollowed interior; the governor’s absence and, in his stead, a spreading fire.

“He jumped from his harmonic pulpit: the second contraction of panicked ailment. Knocking over music stands, crashing through cymbals, to the backstage he went. Watching the scene on stage unfolding, the young mistress in the crowd stood and giggled. The perfect irony of a cultural ‘ubermensch.’ Arrogant aristocratic ideal consumed by nature’s amorality. The morality of aural aesthetics destroyed in an instant of chemical reaction — a rapid oxidation of exothermic combustion. The joy of the musicians and concert-goers dissipated as they heard that two syllable slur cast from the depths of the conductor’s trachea: ‘FIRE!’

“Panic ensued. The terrified crowd surged towards the exits, crawling over each other in an attempt to escape the room now filled with smoke. Amongst the chaos, the woman sat still. In an ebullient sea of panic, she was a pacific island. Out of resilience, a refusal to accept the instinct of survival, a true triumph of nurture over nature, she sat. She refused to let the fire intimidate her. A fragmented Picasso canvas, her frantically orange and yellow essence was pieced together by a blue blotch of synthetic stoicism.

“No. It wasn’t that she was fearless. She was happy. As the smoke and crowd simultaneously billowed out of the ornate, brass doors, she sighed in relief. Her black dress of mourning still wet with tears. The dust from a bright and cold mausoleum fresh on her skin. That last gasp of infancy coursing through her synapses. And, so she sat, engulfed in flame, happily immolated and disintegrating, ready for the desperately awaited reunification of suckling mouth and breast.”

I know that this story and the reflections above are a general departure from my political cynicism. I apologize for that. Next time, I’m sure I’ll have the energy to return to the normally scheduled cynicism. Be on the lookout for it. For now, though, get lost in a short story or two. I’ve found in the past few months, stories have a lot more depth than we give them credit.

Drew is an award-winning alcohol evangelist, recovering coffee addict, finger drumming enthusiast and big-time social justice guy. He loves receiving both fan and hate mail — send it his way at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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