Who owns a story? Is it the person(s) who lived it, you know, whose life is in the narrative? Or does it belong to the listener(s) who received the gift? Or in our litigious world does it belong to the guy who writes it down first? Or is it the reader of the memorialized story? Is it possible that a story can simultaneously belong to all of the above, like sunlight belongs to the sun, to the air through which it travels, to the plants and animals that soak it up, and to the spectrograph or film that documents all the component colors?
A story is like light in a dark space or sound invading silence: First there is nothing; and then there is something indisputable. I am intrigued by the question because I record stories in this blog; not all of them are my own experience. And even if I write of my experiences, do I own them free and clear? Or do I need a waiver from all identifiable parties? I hope not; that would make the process of storytelling too cumbersome and legalistic, even less genuine.
There are facts/truths that can be proven and there are opinions, perceptions, and poetic excursions that depart readily from the facts. No one owns the facts, I know, but we all claim them from time to time for our own purposes. I don’t own these words nor do I rent them or pay royalties of some kind. They are a gift from previous generations and cultures spanning back across history. And what a gift language is! I suppose that I should consult a lawyer regarding intellectual property. However, I highly doubt that anyone wants to steal my words, my thoughts, my perceptions and befuddlements. There is no apparent market value for them, unless you Dear Reader would like to make an offer. And if you did buy my words, wouldn’t they still be mine? You would only own the rights to them. I do need a lawyer here.
Why bother with the question? I bought an apple tree yesterday and planted it in my back yard. It will hopefully long outlive me and no longer be mine. It will convey with the property, and whoever holds the deed to this half acre will own the tree and all proceeds therefrom, i.e., red delicious apples. And my words, that were not mine to begin with, will be long gone, like 20 year old leaves from a tree, a mouldering in the whackosphere alongside all the other forgotten verbage of the millenia. But for the moment they are, like the air in my lungs, mine.
On a few occasions I was incorrectly introjected into others’ stories. Some of these perversions of truth had alcohol or substances co-occurring in the teller’s mind. In college days I was told of the time I hung out with my buddies on the famous train tressle over the James River in Richmond, when the train actually came and nearly ran us off the tressle. Only problem is I have never been on the famous tressle and would not know how to get on it. That was a fairly harmless story in which my reality was borrowed and plugged into another’s altered reality. No harm just weird.
On the other hand I have a vivid memory of my buddy Bob Evans, while running for class president of my junior high, promising daily ice cream for the masses if elected. Bob has denied this story several times. I trust his memory more than I trust mine; afterall, he was a journalist and they always tell most of the truth most of the time. But this occurred before his career blossomed. It was seventh grade for goodness sake…I think. And I believe I’d pass a polygraph test on this question. Then again he probably would too, so we would wind up tied until a witness came forward from Mark Twain Intermediate School in 1969. He lost the election which may be why he continues to stubbornly deny my truth/theory/speculation/fantasy.
So there it is– what I think is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing that is the truth.