What do you do when you run out of things to say? Tell stories. Your own. Other people’s. Past and present.
What do you do when you forget how to tell a story people want to hear? Write badly, often and in public. You’ll get better.
There’s a crotchety old corner office partner at my firm who happens to be Mormon. What’s that you say? Old, white, wealthy, religious man? We’re destined to butt heads, right? It turns out we get on fine, probably because he’s pretty out there, and I like that in a person. We may not see eye to eye on the tax code, but at least he read it before making a bunch of wacky assertions.
MP (Mormon Partner) told me a story I loved the other day. It goes like this:
There used to be a woman of our faith who worked at the firm (this alone thrills me, as I’m currently the only one). She had three kids and she was Supermom, complete with red tights and a cape. She left the firm for a job in Utah, not because she couldn’t handle the hours and the kids, because she could. No, she left because her marriage was falling apart and she thought Utah would save it. MP told her not to go to Utah, because it wouldn’t work. I imagine Supermom was not happy with her mentor when she heard this, and that she traded her big-firm job in Chicago for something more manageable in Utah hopefully. With optimism and faith. Maybe even cursing MP and his lack of the same.
As it happens, MP was right, and Supermom’s husband sued her for divorce shortly after they settled into their new home in the promised land. Now, here’s the best part of the story. The ex took Supermom to court. He wanted custody of their superkids. He stood up in front of the judge and argued that Supermom was an unfit mother. And do you want to know what evidence he proffered? His smoking gun? His irrefutable proof that two young children should not live with their mother? She worked. Not from home. Full-time. She worked the kind of job you need to work to support a family. And he did not get laughed out of court. Only in Utah, right? [Note: This is not geographical snobbery; we all know Utah is a state of mind.] Rest assured, Supermom won the legal battle, cleaned his clock, really, and I hear that all is well and good.
So why do I like this story? I mean, I’m still the only LDS lady at my firm. Supermom still ended up in Utah (the physical place, not the state of mind). And divorce is not usually a happy ending. Even so, I like that it operates outside the traditional narrative:
- The working mom is the hero;
- The job with the crazy anti-family hours turns out not to be the big bad evil;
- Somebody (the judge, MP) valued the fact that this woman supported her family, even if her husband (and probably, no definitely, a lot of members of her faith) didn’t; and
- The overarching message that leaving — a job, a city — doesn’t fix the big problems.
I don’t know how this story bears on my own yet. Or maybe I do. Maybe when I’m running into trouble in other aspects of my life I won’t jump to blame my crazy job first. Or maybe I will. The hours are pretty bad.