I have recently been re-reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (author of Blue like Jazz and a few other tomes). This time around the book has been especially impactful as I am in the midst of some exciting (at least to me) research using narrative as the mode of inquiry. More to come about that soon! A Million Miles is the story of Donald’s experience having a film made about his life. Through the process, he learns a LOT about what makes a good story – and what makes for a story no one would pay to see.
If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie… The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. (Author’s note, xiii)
Miller comes to the conclusion that the life he is living is NOT a good story. The essential question he asks is, “If your life was on film, would anyone watch?” Donald begins to “edit” his life and much of the book details that process. I don’t want to give it all away – just read the book – it is worth it! Yesterday, I finished a chapter that included the following quote from one of Miller’s friends, “I am too busy living actual stories to watch them on a screen”. Later, as I was walking through the melting snow of the river valley with Rover, my dog (yes, I have a dog named Rover…), I began to think of how the stories of physical activity and movement we create in our own lives are memorable and impactful.
As you have seen in earlier posts, I was fortunate to grow up in a place where physical activity was the norm. As I walked, I began to think of how we could improve our life stories – especially with physical activity – and several thoughts came to mind:
First, I thought of my mom. She loves to walk, snowshoe, bike ride etc. and most of our family recreation activities growing up included an emphasis on the physical. Pretty sure some of my love for an active life came from her… She definitely created active stories for our family. Once, she hosted a huge New Year’s Eve party where the “main event” was a multi-team Olympics that involved dog sled races with toboggans and other events both indoor and out. I am sure that no-one who attended will forget that party! Then, last Thanksgiving (the cool one in October in Canada), my mom and I cooked up the idea to have a full-on family dinner at a local park. We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day, although the wind threatened the turkey and it couldn’t have been much warmer than 5 C (41 F). We enjoyed a full potluck dinner, punctuated by Frisbee, football, playground games and culminating in a beach volleyball game that included ages from 7 to over 70. Who needs to sit on the couch and watch football when you can play your own games!
Next, I thought of my friend Ryan who happens to be one of the most active people I have ever met. He once used a period of unemployment in his life as an opportunity to hike the West Coast Trail. Why sit at home when you can blaze a new trail?
I thought of my friend Cathy who is riding in her 10th MS bike tour this June (click to donate!) and consistently invites current and former students, family and friends to join her storied rides. Why not invite someone new along for the ride?
I thought of my cousins Carlynne and Dan who, on a cross-country move from Alberta stopped in at my cousins Nathan & Heather’s house in Winnipeg for a visit. Since they arrived at 2:00 am in the morning and Nathan had no idea they were coming Carlynne and Dan did what any of us would surely do. They set up their tent on the front lawn and then hung a sign on the door saying who they were and to please wake them up for a visit. Nathan’s kids woke up to an instant adventure and a mystery on their lawn (I think they used binoculars to read the sign…). How about creating a little magic for someone else?
I thought of Nathan & Heather who, when their family solved the tent mystery, proceeded to invite the occupants in for pancakes, kept the kids out of school for the day and let the story develop. Do you think the kids remember that day? The answer is a resounding, YES! Why not break a few “rules” a create some memories?
I thought of my friend Heather (@RunSoulCycle) who is heading down to Disneyworld not to take part in the manufactured joy that is Disney but to do the “Dopey” challenge: a 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon all in one weekend. What about challenging yourself to a more interesting story than meeting Mickey?
I thought of the ways I have tried to create active stories with my own family. Last summer we competed in the Bruce Stampede (99th annual small town pro rodeo!) as a family and entered the calf scramble, greased pig chase, bloomer race (first team to put panties on a calf), wild cow milking (yes, the picture in your head is the right one…) and a wild cow race. We will be continuing that particular story this summer at the 100th annual Bruce Stampede (and defending our cow race title) and have invited more friends and family to come along for the ride – care to join us?
If you look at the pictures on my Facebook page (or others) it is easy to see where the best stories are created: back-packing, skiing, biking, walking, winter camping, fishing, anything active and engaging makes for a better story. This June our family challenge will be the Spartan Race – bring it on!
One more quote from Donald Miller: “We have to force ourselves to create these scenes. We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner tubes and head to the river. We have to write the poem and deliver it in person. We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill. We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.” (p. 214)
Interesting that most of these examples involve movement… What kind of active story are you creating? The choice is easy. Sit at home and watch someone else’s stories or get up and move.