Stories and the Knife Safety Circle

I spent 14 summers in a row spending a week at Girl Scout Day Camp. From about 3 until the summer I was 17. I started as a tweeny. Too little to be in the brownie group while my mom led a group for one of my sisters. They made me take a nap. I still resent it. I got a tick when I was 5 and the camp nurse had me pick the color of nail polish used to kill it, and popped that perfect specimen in a jar. My last year they were still using it as the visual aid to help leaders spot tics while checking hair after hikes.

By the time I got around to program-assisting I was an expert in all things day camp. Lighting fires with candle-kisses? I got that. You haven’t lived until you have taught 15 first grade girls sporting long pony tails how to properly handle fire (don’t forget your full water bucket with the wet stick poked in). You don’t know an exciting summer adventure unless you have supervised second graders as they chop vegetables for the kabob they probably won’t eat anyway.

Before you hand those young girls the pairing knife, you make them earn their knife safety cards. Before you pull out your blade you hold the knife with the blade tucked away, your arm fully extended you turn a slow circle. If you don’t hit anybody, proceed. You make them practice with cardboard cut-outs of switch blades, red lipstick smudged on the edge. A red mark is left wherever the fake blade is touched. Whoops, remember, we don’t handle the blade. Don’t hit anyone with that. You could make someone bleed. Those things are sharp.

Sometimes I wonder if our stories aren’t like those knives. We have to use them. They prepare our food; they save our lives. But be careful with those stories, those things are sharp. You could hurt somebody with those.

I wonder if we shouldn’t have to pass some sort of story-safety course before we hit the internet. I see so many stories flying through the air, ones I know are hurting people, ones I know are cutting too close. I want to be careful with my stories. I don’t want to make anyone bleed.

I have started telling the stories I stopped telling. I am one chapter shy of having a very rough first draft of the book I began telling people I was writing 6 years ago. The last two Tuesdays I have posted bits and pieces right here and have gotten a heartening response. But I get nervous everytime I hit that publish button. Am I representing my students well? Is there someone I didn’t see in my knife safety circle? Was the circle safe when I started, but someone walked in unknowingly. I’m scared of making someone bleed.

At the same time I want these stories to cut deep. If I didn’t believe in them I wouldn’t spend my summer putting them down and getting rejected five agents at a time. Like a surgeons stroke, I need them to be precise and sure. I am hoping these stories give new life to a system that is very, very ill. I suppose I know that there is a chance that my stories bleed out on the table. I don’t want to knick any arteries. I don’t want to make it worse.

I am longing for a knife safety circle for my stories. I am trying to make sure I don’t hurt anyone.

7 thoughts on “Stories and the Knife Safety Circle

  1. Boy can I relate to the summer day camp analogy. I think your stories are just sharp enough to be thought provoking. There is no blaming in them, just truth.

  2. Abby,

    I can tell how compassionate you are but I do not think you should avoid cutting someone. I think we all need to be cut sometimes so that we can look at what causes us to bleed and do something about it. I do not think you should set out to cut but don’t hold back because sometimes in order to heal one has to bleed. Sometimes getting hurt is the only thing that will move a person from one spot in their life to another; to a place they need to go. If someone gets hurt then we should offer to help them through their pain; set with them as they struggle to find it’s end.

    I like your writing that is sharp and like it when it cuts me for I know I still have much to learn.

  3. Oh boy. My worry to a T. I believe in your story, it’s healing truth, and the need for it to be told. But these stories involve young, impressionable, and sensitive lives. You have to be so careful how you show them. I’ll be praying for sharp, precise incisions. Thanks for posting this today. Very encouraging for my story as well:)

  4. I love this analogy. And I completely understand holding stories and being careful in the ways we tell them. It’s something I have wrestled with numerous times. Thank you for your honesty as you seek to tell your stories truly, respectfully and lovingly. Congrats on completing the draft – what an accomplishment!

  5. I totally get this fear, Abby. But. I also know that sometimes the cliche is true: the truth can hurt. So tell truth . . . maybe with the facts adjusted to protect people . . . but tell truth. You do it so very well.

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