I live in an old house made of soft brick. I've been here almost ten years (whew, how did that happen?!). People who lived here long before me made their mark on the house, and so have I. No, I haven't carved my name in the brick, as the unknown Mark and Tom did, but I've made it my own, with a new back door, with rose beds and perennials and with an ineffable Priscilla-ness.
That's what I do with stories. I make my mark on them, turning them around in my head, my heart and my mouth so when I finally tell them they are my own.
Ah, but here's the trick. They're not completely mine. I have to let them go. When I put them out in the world, when I tell them, the listeners then own them as well. I can't--and wouldn't want to--control the images the listeners hold in their heads. Every time I see those names carved in the brick of my house, I think of my brothers Mark and Tom. A different Mark and Tom carved their names, but I see images of my brothers, aged about 7 and 9.
I once heard Donald Davis say in a workshop, "Meaning is the property of the listener, not the teller."
I've thought about this a lot. It's true, and it's also true that if I do my job completely, if I imagine the characters, action and scenes so fully that they come out of my mouth as fully dimensional, the listeners may imagine them clearly as well. When we're all truly present to the story, we all see the pictures. The story leaves a mark.