Storytelling For Decision Making

To begin, let me just say this is not my original idea, however, when I heard about it, I thought it was too good not to share. Occasionally, I like to listen to the 1A Podcast from National Public Radio. The program covers topics (sometimes very loosely) related to the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Rest assured, this particular episode had nothing to do with politics, so read on without concern!

In early September, one of the podcasts featured author Steven Johnson, and his book: Farsighted: How We Make Decisions That Matter the Most. In the course of conversation, he compared people who make intuitive decisions with those that make methodical, fact-weighing, cost-counting decisions and which ones usually end up being the right ones. I think you can guess!

One of the methods for personal decision making, especially big, life-altering decisions, was to map out all potential consequences. He suggested not just listing pros and cons but also the improbable. He called it ‘the good, the bad and the weird’. Essentially, you should take all the possible scenarios that might arise and tell yourself a story for each one.

To illustrate: let’s say you’ve been offered a job in a different part of the country. The job sounds ideal, so you begin by listing all the good reasons for taking the job: better pay, more flexibility, a chance to do work you are passionate about. Your story might unfold with you finding career fulfillment, advancement and financial stability.

What are the negative aspects? You are leaving behind the known and the dear: your friends, your family and all the familiar things in your life. Perhaps the cost of living is higher so that bigger paycheck won’t go much farther than your current salary. Home prices might force you into a more modest living arrangement or into a long commute every day. If you have children, you might consider the school district and accessibility to parks and playgrounds. The climate might even be a consideration for good or for bad: snowy, cold winters versus sunshine and mild temperatures; desert heat or daily drizzle and fog. This story might see you driving an hour or more each way, on treacherous, snow-covered roads to a cramped house with a tiny yard where your lonely spouse and homesick children await you in misery.

After you’ve weighed those options, the next step according the author is to consider the weird: what possible strange circumstances might arise with the move OR alternatively how might things run amok in your current position? Is your neighborhood going to the dogs? Is your current boss soon to retire and the person slotted to take over a tyrant? Have you checked the stability and financial health of the new company? What if they went belly up after you made the move? Could you easily find new employment in your new location? What are the chances of a natural disaster striking either at home or the new city? What about crime and violence? Access to good health care and hospitals? What if you can’t find Heinz ketchup or TastyCakes? Seriously!

The careful decider will take all these factors and more into account when making a big move. Considering all the possible scenarios (telling ourselves a story) will help foresee a host of the possible consequences. This is a fascinating and practical use of the imagination!

If you’d like to hear the podcast, you can find it here.

Three Selected Poems

I have never really considered poetry to be my strong suit. Nevertheless, I have built up a nice little collection. Recently, I was alerted to a poetry competition taking place here in Bucks County for Bucks County residents only and sponsored by the Doylestown Bookshop. Since I qualify all around, and my novels are set in Doylestown, where the bookshop resides, I decided to give it a try.

The rules call for three poems, no more, no less. The question was how to pick the right three… When in doubt, ask for help. My dear friend, Roger Moore (no not 007), poet, published author and academic, read and critiqued eight of my poems and helped to select the three I will submit. In addition, he suggested an order for them that actually tells an eerie little story. You’ve read them before but here they are again and with an audio track as well. What do you think of the tale these tell?

Tales Of War   

Gathering dust and clinging webs
The attic cache lies in wait
Trunks and boxes long untouched
The time has come to investigate

Sepia photos, cracked and faded
Sticking pages, broken binding
Letters home, bound with twine
The tales of war, I’m finding

Peruse the pictures, study the faces
So full of youthful determination
His postures straight, those twinkling eyes
Would soon witness extermination

Ravaged, disfigured, lungs burned by gas
Returned to England, war scarce survived
Haunted by nightmares, wracked by cough
This broken man came home to die

War upon his sweetheart, laid the burden
Tore away the chance for a happy life
For the babe that quickened in 1914
Was all that he left his beloved wife

Pitch Black  

She was as welcome
As a ray of sunshine…
On a parched desert world
Devoid of life
Atmosphere burned away
By hydrocarbons

She was as wanted
As a downpour…
On the day of the funeral
The mourners soaked
With cold rain
And bitter tears

She was as loved
As an armistice…
On the final day of a war
In which your son
Was the last one
To die

She was as pitch black
As the agony in her broken heart

Night Work

Silence flees from the forest
At the snap of twigs beneath boots
The burden grows ever more heavy
While carefully avoiding tree roots

This menial task is performed
Under deepest cover of night
With great exertion and haste
The toiler must keep out of sight

As milky eyes stare up blankly
And porcelain skin seems to glow
Cool flesh, ragged nails and torn clothing
Beneath loamy soil, sink low

Then with the deed accomplished
Straighten up, breathe deep and be brave
Leave the girl’s corpse to rot slowly
In her exclusive woodland grave

How Did I Get Here?

A flashback for Friday. This was one of my most popular posts in 2015. It was part one of a series I wrote called Diary of a New Writer. So in case you missed it…

(The caption on my coffee cup is Irish Gaelic and translates: “The traveler has tales to tell.”)

My dad was a story-teller. It’s only now, looking back, that I appreciate what a vivid imagination he had. He made up a whole series of adventures involving our neighbor’s cat: Mopsy, and another one with a little old man and a cuckoo clock that always saved the day. Anyway, I come by my love of stories and books, naturally.

I loved taking notes in school and writing letters to my friends who moved to Florida when I was a little girl. I kept a diary from the time I was eight years old right up to about age fourteen. I still have some of the notebooks I filled with poetry when I was a teenager. I excelled in English, ignored it to the detriment of my other subjects, yet was never encouraged to pursue it as a career. Cést la vie.

I went to college, majored in marketing, learned to write ad copy and design polls and surveys. Graduated in a time of recession and couldn’t get a job. I was Winona Ryder in “Reality Bites,” in other words, floundering.


I even ended up working at the Gap! (Sharp intake of breath. I heard you.) That job is what ultimately led me to pursue a career change. At twenty-one, I found myself with such back pain, I could barely walk. Long story short, chiropractic saved the day and I found my new calling. I went back to school, moved to a new area, started working in my field, etc. Suddenly, I realized it had been years since I thought about writing.

One day, I guess about two years ago, I was sitting in the stylist’s chair at the hair salon, touching up the blonde and reading my book to pass the time. My stylist said to me, “You’re always reading. Did you ever want to write a book yourself?” “Sure,” I laughed. “Doesn’t every reader want to be a writer?” “You should do it,” she said. “Hmm,” I thought. “But what am I going to write about?”

… And after that I bought myself a notebook and starting jotting down ideas. The rest, as they say, is history!