Or So It Seems … Tall Tales and Tedious Trips

 Readers, please join me in welcoming Robb Lightfoot and his new column, “Or So it Seems,” to anewscafe.com’s family of talented writers and contributors.  I think it’s going to be good! ~Doni

Welcome to “Or So It Seems….”

The line comes from a trick I’d play on my family. On trips, we’d do round-robin storytelling, each person building on the previous narrator’s tale. When I decided I didn’t like the direction the story had taken, I opened with “Or so it seems….” and then took the story off to where I wanted it.

Of course, the problem with this trick is that it can come back to haunt you. Pretty soon, revisionists made our stories more complicated than California’s Constitution.

But at least they were more interesting.

Convoluted or not, stories are wonderful but elusive beasts. Whose stories do you believe? What really happened? Can we ever know?

There’s the rub.

So relax, sit back, and see if you can decide what really happened.

And when you figure it out, please me know.

Robb in the van

Or So It Seems … Column No. 1: Tall Tales and Tedious Trips

I come from a family that loves good stories. When I was a kid, at our dinner table, everyone talked about their day, usually all at the same time. We’d take turns topping one another. There was lots of love, some shouting, laughter, and many a memorable tale. Some of the stories even had the added advantage of being true. Dinner guests who were first-time visitors were often taken aback until they learned to just wade in and speak their piece.

At grade school, I would talk up a storm, retelling these stories, shouting out answers to the teachers’ questions, and filling in the punch lines to other people’s jokes. I wanted attention, and I got attention. Lots of attention. I was given my own special reserved-seating desk in the principal’s office. As I recall, my first-grade teacher had a stack of referral slips with my name already dittoed on them, and the box “talking in class” checked off. I remember this, and it may have actually happened….

So I survived school and, oddly enough, ended up back in the classroom again. I make my living by forcing other people to talk in class—I’m a speech teacher. My subjects include how to overcome fear of talking—hint, do it a lot—and factual research methods. In fact, I’m all for facts. But I also cover literature in performance, and storytelling, too.  I know that a good story sometimes wanders into the land of the tall tale.

Great fiction reveals the truth by telling a compelling story. But even non-fiction narrative can offer conflicting views of reality. It just depends. My graduate thesis was a study of “competing political narratives,” which is a fancy way of saying I examined two stories where the heroes and villains were reversed and each side wanted to win to gain a big hunk of real estate. Who or what to believe? It’s hard to know sometimes.

When my four kids were little, we’d pass the time on long trips by telling original, convoluted stories. It worked like this. My wife, Karin, or I would begin the yarn, and after a few paragraphs—a chapter—hand it off to one of the kids. The new narrator would pick up the thread and go on. The story would unravel as it moved around the van. By the time it made it back to me, the plot was a hopeless tangle. How? Why? Who knew?

Sometimes, when we were overdue for a rest stop, a back-seat troll might kill off my favorite character.

One time this happened, just as the story-telling-staff was passed back to me, and I decided a case of literary CPR was in order. I revived my character, Wilbur.

A howl arose from the back seat.

“You can’t do that,” the Greek chorus said.

“Do what?” I replied in innocence.

“Bring back Wilbur.”

“But he’s not really dead”.

“They found his body floating in the lake,” my daughter Amanda said.

“Or so it seemed….” I said. “Later tests proved it wasn’t him”.

My daughter fumed. “So who was it?”

“Don’t know.” Somehow, this answer didn’t satisfy Amanda, She’d taken a personal dislike to Wilbur. All my heroes were named Wilbur, and she’d apparently had enough of them.

So when the story circled back around to her, she sought her own revenge. Wilbur was about to get married… a happy ending was in view. And then Amanda struck.

“But the police arrested Wilbur and threw him in jail. He was convicted of murder and executed.”

“Hey,” I protested, “Why would they do that?”

“Because it was someone impersonating Wilbur,” she said.

“But the tests proved it wasn’t.”

“Or so it seemed,” she said. I saw her smile in my rear-view-mirror.  “But the Wilbur-impersonator snuck into the lab and changed the test tubes.”

“How did they know?”

“He left a fingerprint on the test tube, and a brilliant investigator named Amanda figured it out,” she said. “The end.”

And that was when the “Or So It Seems” method of storytelling entered our family history. At least that’s how I remember it. It could have happened. You’ll have to ask Amanda.

Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.

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Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the "Funny Times". His short stories have won honorable mention in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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23 Responses

  1. Avatar Jan Gandy says:

    Welcome, Robb. Can't wait to hear more . . . or so it seems.

  2. Avatar Canda says:

    Robb, Welcome to Anewscafe. I loved the first article of your column, and look forward to more. Funny stuff! I used to use this round-robin story telling method when I was teaching (grades 4, 5 & 6). Each student would start a story on paper, then pass it on. After the stories had gone the table or entire classroom, the "owner" of the story would read it aloud to the class. In small groups, the story starter would have a couple chances to try and get the story back on track, but if we chose to let it circulate the classroom, he/she wouldn't see it again until it was finished. This was one of their favorite creative writing assignments, but we did have to set in place some rules, or they'd all end up the same bloody tale.

    Your story of your reserved seating and pre-made discipline slip cracked me up. No classroom would be complete without a Robb. How wonderful that you channeled your talking into a fitting career (or two…or three).

    Thanks again for the morning laughs. Can't wait to read more!

  3. Robb, Serves you write for having a hero named Wilbur when the moniker Armbruster would have not only sufficed but probably saved his life.

    As always, sir, I love your work!

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Thanks, Charlie. As always, there's a story behind the choice of Wilbur. I'll tell you about it sometime.

      WILBUR LIVES!

  4. Avatar Sandy Tincher says:

    Robb, Thanks for being so creative–so many people aren't any more. Enjoyed your ideas; also, I was once a teacher and did what the above person did. Usually in groups of four children, they would each start a story, then after 5 or ten minutes pass to the next person and continue their story, etc. I also did this occasionly with art. Each would start a painting or drawing, then have to pass it on. Some really interesting art would emerge. Good luck with your endeavors.

    • Avatar Robb says:

      It's so much fun. Before I had a full-time job, I worked briefly as a substitute. Some classrooms were a study in crowd control, but if I had the liberty to improvise, I usually tried to get a tall-tale contest going. That's something they could relate to. Did you ever read the second sequel to "Angela's Ashes," "Teacher Man." Frank McCourt talked about hitting on a writing assignment where the kids were told to write "excuse notes," and it just lit up the classroom. Einstein is credited with saying that "imagination is more important than knowledge."

  5. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    I loved this article. Please Rob, make this a regular addition to anewscafe. I used the "pass along" idea as well in my classroom when I taught 5th grade – for oral and written stories and even poetry.

    • Avatar Robb says:

      I'm flattered by your encouragement. Doni has been so gracious to invite me in, and I hesitated because I wasn't sure I was up for the weekly challenge, on top of everything else. But I decided it was too much fun to pass up. So, I hope to be here each week for the foreseeable future.

  6. Why haven't WE met Wilbur? I'm really looking forward to more of this column, Robb. As always, you crack me up!

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Wilbur has a long history. I may make him the subject of a column. The short version is that I used to use odd names when I ordered pizzas, especially at Round Table. They'd walk around calling out the names, and I'm make the kids guess whether or not it was our pizza.

  7. Avatar Chad L. Ward says:

    Great start Robb. I don't think that my wife and I could handle each others stories, she is far too attached to her characters. This would have been a great OI Improv task though. Can't wait to read your future articles.

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Hi Chad….

      Well, I've heard from two of my daughters who said they found it VERY annoying that their plot lines were squelched. Ah, but it took their mind off the fact that we had just driven by a rest stop!

      You were a joy to have in OI. You have real talent, and I hope you're able to pursue your educational goals.

  8. Avatar Terry says:

    What a great use of one of your many talents! Well Done, Robb!!

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Thanks. I'm hoping to have some fun here. It is like my old days of deadline journalism, though. Having to meet the word count and the due-date. Good discipline.

  9. Avatar Aleta Carpenter says:

    Delightful, Robb! I look forward to more of your stories! (By the way, I also taught Public Speaking – very successfully – at Sacramento State; I think 25+ years of lobbying enabled me to help my students craft an excellent persuasive speech, one of three required …)

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Thanks for your post and kind words. Sac State…. Wow. GREAT program there. That speaks highly of your talents. I directed a speech team 20 years ago and got to know (then) coach Nick Burnett. He helped me a great deal as I was new to forensics circuit. I've kept in touch, off and on, watching him rise and some of his students become teachers. I liked the Sacramento people a great deal. They were smart, funny and always courteous.

  10. Avatar adrienne jacoby says:

    Ahhh . . . imagination. How would we get thru our days without it. And a teacher who understands the importance of cultivating it!!

    BTW . . welcome to the roster!!

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Thanks, Adrienne. I am eager to warm up. It will require me to write much tighter that I usually do, but that's good. Doni has been great at giving me a lot of room to cover what most interests me.

  11. Avatar Rebecca Lightfoot says:

    Oh Dad…how I hated the "or so it seems." You altered some stories that need not be altered. Haha, but it's all funny in retrospect. (:

    • Avatar Robb says:

      Yeah, Amanda gave me a hard time, too, for pulling this trick on her. But you guys still managed to outsmart me more often than not. 🙂