True stories

by Wolf Pascoe on February 4, 2012

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. — Muhammed Ali

Ali ListonI’m glad to say I’m not a person who looks at the world at 50 the same as I did at 20. At 20 I pretty much had it figured out. At 50 I couldn’t make any sense of the thing.

I’ve been thinking of stories again.

When I was in my thirties, I had a girlfriend who was a practicing Catholic. She went to Mass every Sunday, and sometimes, sweet memory, I went with her.

“I don’t see how you can believe that the Pope’s infallible,” I said to her once.

“I don’t believe the Pope’s infallible,” she said.

“Don’t you have to believe it?” I said.

I had discussed this very point with several friends of mine, all lapsed Catholics since adolescence.

“Your problem is you learned about Catholicism from lapsed Catholics,” she said.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“If you leave the Church when you’re a teen-ager, then you’ll always look at it as a teen-ager. You never see it with adult eyes.”




Monet gardenI thought of this story a few weeks ago when I found myself in the neighborhood of the Greenwood, a park I had grown up around. This particular park had been the scene of a hellish argument between my mother and myself when I was nine.

After that argument, I never sent foot in the park again. As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been made of kryptonite.


“You should check out Greenwood,” I said to myself when I saw the place again. “It’s probably got all kinds of new things in it.”

“Yes,” I said. “I really should. But not today.”

I was still looking at the park, I realized, with the eyes of a nine-year-old.




bookshelfI am stuck in so many old stories. I can feel them rooting under my skin, rolling this way and that in the back of my head. I’m pretty sure it’s why the world lies to me, and why I can walk around feeling like I’m dreaming.

A nine-year-old has been making all my decisions.

I wonder about my own nine-year-old. You’d think that Nick, adopted at birth, would live a story of abandonment. But his reality is more complex. For Nick, adoption is a thread woven through separation, making leavings and partings more intense for him.

When he was younger, he went through a tell-me-a-Batman-story period.  I’d spin crime caper, cops and robbers narratives. But what really drew him in was a tale where things went south between Batman and Robin. Once, they had an argument so bad that Batman left town and wandered alone for years.

“I think it’s time for Robin to forgive Batman so he can go home,” I’d say.

“Not yet,” Nick said. “Maybe next time.”




If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.
He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by —
you wonder at their calm.
They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”

— William Stafford




A few years ago, a friend told me that he’d learned a method of examining his thoughts by asking four simple questions.

Is it true?
Can I know for sure it’s true?
How does believing it’s true affect what I do?
Who would I be if it weren’t true?

I like these questions. I’ve tried them on my own thoughts, such as the thought that I should avoid Greenwood park. Asking questions one and two is like waking from a dream and writing it down. Three and four? That’s starting a novel. A woman named Byron Katie, who teaches the method, calls it The Work.

It’s nice to uncover stories and write novels. But here’s the real point: to see what’s in front of you, as it is, for fifteen seconds.

Everything is swinging: Heaven, Earth, Water, Fire,
and the Secret One slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds, and became a believer for life.





How I got the detachment spell



More about The Work

“A Story That Could Be True” copyright 1977, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprented from The Way It is: New & Selected PoemsGraywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Used by permission.



Who are you really, wanderer? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Privilege of Parenting February 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Alchemy begets chemistry begets alchemy. Let us be as neurons connected in love in the slow-growing fast-moving mind of the secret One’s body.


Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm

By some strange alchemy, your two sentences, which I have read five times, put me in mind of an Isaac Asimov story (his best, by his own reckoning) called The Last Question.


BigLittleWolf February 4, 2012 at 6:28 pm

You have me thinking of all the sorts of stories we carry, we tell, we alter.

When I was a child, I remember someone explaining to me that what we really have to pass along are our actions and our stories. We will be remembered for both.

And I think of the stories that form us. Those we hear, those we read, those we create, those we bear in our bodies wordlessly. How we feel amputated when the sources of our stories prove to be unreliable, or simply disappear.

Until we create new stories, or reinterpret the old.

I will come back to this piece and read again, and again, layer by layer.


Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Thanks for that, BLW. I agree we do leave behind our actions and stories, and especially, I think, our stories, because memory is stronger than death.


Planner2015 February 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Do you wonder how many people are walking around — maybe all of us? — with some facet of our psyche stuck in the past? Emotionally stunted. The child really is the father of the man.

Those who are the most socially adept can cover it up. Others less so. But the truth keeps trying to be seen, even if only for fifteen seconds.


Wolf Pascoe February 5, 2012 at 2:39 am

I always liked what Ruskin said: Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.


Barbara S. February 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

My favorite discussions… and revelations… came in a memoir class where we discussed the definition of Truth and how to be sure our stories were True, at least to us.


Wolf Pascoe February 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

How to be sure. I’d like to take that class.


Chopperpapa February 6, 2012 at 8:47 am

“A nine-year-old has been making all my decisions.”

In my humble opinion the best line on the article, and probably not for the reasons intended.


Wolf Pascoe February 6, 2012 at 11:42 pm

What? Not “Maybe I’m a king”?


Cathy February 7, 2012 at 10:44 am

As a person going through new beginnings, you’ve brought forward something that I needed reminding of. We must often question ourselves and our view of the world so as to always keep perspective.


Wolf Pascoe February 7, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Or, as Oliver Cromwell said in a letter to the Church of Scotland, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”


Kelly February 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

At least once each week I have to tell my mother that what she remembers and what I remember are two different things. Your phrasing makes more sense. I have the child’s memory and she the adult’s. The difference is vast. (Now if only we could find a way to close that chasm.)


Wolf Pascoe February 8, 2012 at 12:55 am

One of my sisters is fond of saying she always has to remember she had a different mother than I did.


pamela February 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Once again Wolf, you have floored me with your insight, wisdom, and ability to shine a light into our darkest tunnels. I too see the world through a 9 year old’s eyes … as if things really are going to get me (sigh).

This is so lovely. The Stafford poem, the Method, and as always, the incredible way you string words together. Namaste.


Wolf Pascoe February 9, 2012 at 12:52 am

I love my readers. Thank you, Pamela. Namaste.


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