At first I wasn’t aware that my stories were pointless. I mean, they were just statements, personal memories, mere observations, and incredibly clever witticisms that I happened to verbalize to anyone within hearing range. My parents, I’m sure, were just as enthralled as I was to hear me dribbling wisdom. I was their firstborn son, after all. The one whose mere arrival compelled my Dad at age 29 to exclaim that he was so proud he’d burst his buttons. And he hadn’t seen—or heard—anything yet.
I recommend having a little brother. Someone to follow you around with unquestioned loyalty. Either that or a dog. Anyway, for adventuresome companionship, I had both; and since I possessed greater verbal skills than either one, and they seemed to be ok with that, I continued spouting as I saw fit.
The first inkling of audience inattention didn’t really strike until I toured with a singing group the summer before my junior year in college. We were about to perform one day when our host invited members of the group to stand and say anything—anything at all!—to the eager audience. I bounded for the microphone. I was going to explain how the harmonies in the one song we would sing reminded me of the colors of red and yellow—or at least something just as sophomoric—and yet, even as I turned to face the audience, my colleagues in the front row had sprawled over each other, pretty convincingly bored to slumber with eyes winked out and mouths a-drool.
I recommend having little kids, who have to eat everything on their plates before being excused from the supper table, and who can lap up all the vast benefits of your own experiences with their eager and agile minds. Until, that is, wise guy son #2 interrupts with an aside to his older brother about “another” of Dad’s “pointless” stories.
Yep. The stinker said it. The p-word.
So it pains me to admit that, well, a little bit or anyway most of my elucidations may not have been all that lucid. Just a few or actually quite a lot may have lacked an actual purpose to be spoken aloud in the first place.
Despite the lack of needles in my earlier verbal haystacks, however, (but just maybe they’re still in there to be gleaned!) I’ve since discovered that there are important and essential salient features in almost every life experience to be noted and applied for edification of both speaker and hearer: Consequences to consider. Inferences to interpret. Derivations to discover. Solutions to sequester. Answers to assemble and apply. Brilliant deductions! Resplendent realizations! Glittering understandings! Life-enhancing discernments! The world radiates purposeful points!
As an interpretive naturalist, I’ve built a career on searching and revealing those fertile points in life and on living well. “Ask the animals,” one of the most prosperous men of the ancient world advised, “and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” And yet, far too easily and frequently can we completely miss the point. (Mea culpa!) As my ancestral colleague Henry Thoreau put it, “Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is not yet too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention.”
So it is with purposeful attention that I am beginning to re-tell some of the stories of my life and direct your appraisal to the storied world about us. With points.