Good Narrative Principles

July 23, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Erika & Trudy Stories: What Could Go Wrong?

AIMG_1347t the end of August, the staff at The Gap shrank by three-quarters, seventy-five percent, a whole lot. For nearly all the kids it was back to school time, either high school or college. If you weren’t paying attention, which Erika wasn’t, it seemed to happen all at once. One day she was hanging out with the kid with the tattooed ring in front of the fitting room, the best place to park yourself on a rainy weekend afternoon. He told good jokes and time passed quickly. And then, like that, he was gone, as were most of the other cool kids.

Trudy was sorry to see the other kids go, but it meant that college was starting up, the first step in her real life. She had her eye on one of the boys from back in her library days who was attending a local school. He grew up to be cute and clueless, a tough combination.

Trudy wanted to clearly signal that she too had grown up and so purchased a pair of bright red thigh high stockings that she wore to work before heading out on their date. He was a big walker. She could tell that despite the stockings she wore, he still saw her as a chum, a buddy. She was stuck in friend jail. Period. It was a depressing truth which made Trudy feel like more of an adult.

It was now fall. At work, Trudy and Erika started hanging out near the fitting room. And while Trudy wasn’t as much fun as the guy with the tattooed ring threaded round his index finger like a salamander, she did have her fun side. Trudy didn’t mind when Erika wandered away to sketch this or that idea.

One night after work the two new friends made plans to catch a movie, but Erika canceled at the last minute explaining she had to finish a dress. Trudy, curious, visited Erika for the first time and saw a studio apartment crowded with glittery night dresses — the kind you wear when you want to make an entrance.

Trudy, expecting nothing at all, was blown away. They started talking.

Erika half listened but Trudy, for the first time, felt like a switch had been thrown inside her. Click. It all made sense. Since she was a toddler varooming through the living room, Trudy had been exposed to the ins and outs, the nuances of building of a business. She knew that this was something that people did and that it was no big deal.

The two friends went for a hike one day in October. The leaves were turning. It seemed a shame to miss it. On the hike, Trudy tried to keep a lid on her bubbling enthusiasm. Erika weighed her options. No one had ever approached Erika before about her building a business based on her designs. But still she listened, all the while noticing the way Trudy’s hair caught the sunlight, the sway of her back as she struggled up the steep slope.

On the way down, Trudy slid and hurt her ankle. Certain it was broken, Trudy waved her phone in the air searching for a signal and found none. Now it was officially a tragedy. But Erika said nothing. No words of comfort. Instead, she scanned the landscape until she found two sturdy tree limbs. She laced them around Trudy’s ankle using the oversized scarf that she had compulsively knit last winter. Before they stood up, Erika leaned in and kissed Trudy. Caught unaware, Trudy pulled away.

It took them a few months before they talked about the kiss. By then, Trudy and Erika were incorporated and running a small apparel business with start up funds from Trudy’s 529.

July 15, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Erika & Trudy Stories: Erika’s Fear

IMG_2052To properly tell the story of Erika and Trudy and how they came to form a business together, a business based on Erika’s love of spectacle as expressed through dresses, skirts, knitwear or what the industry would call “apparel”, coupled with Trudy’s innate love of order and numbers, we must look to their childhood.

Of the two, Erika’s is the more intriguing. But, stick with me, as Trudy’s appetite for risk-taking makes for a more inspiring and relatable tale.

It’s not uncommon to characterize unhealthy family dynamics as a circus where the rapid pace of conflicting needs generates endless drama. Erika was born into such a family, with the added bonus that the family business was actually the circus, specifically, Cirque du Soleil. Erika was conceived during the troupe’s first trip to Japan, a six-month stay where they performed “Saltimbanco”. It was giddy time to be part of this new company, formed on the streets of Baie Saint Paul.

At the tender age of four, Erika was thrust into the limelight. Her Mom walked her up the twenty-foot ladder while the entire company watched from below. It was a proud moment for the organization, the initiation of the first member of the next generation into a life devoted to entertainment flavored by acts that defy gravity. Sounds nice on paper, but when Erika stood on the top of the ladder, she froze in fear. Despite the harness tethering her to safety, Erika refused to budge. Her father waved, encouraging her to fly. The chilled champagne was waiting to be uncorked. But Erika refused to die. That is the way she saw it. She didn’t feel that the harness offered real security or that it would hold her. She didn’t feel the rush of joy. Instead, she registered panic and a looming sense of dread that never abated. Though her parents kept trying to get Erika to join their ranks, first in Dusseldorf, Vienna, then finally, Berlin, her refusal to step out and perform was a rebuff to her larger circus family. I’d like to say her parents took it in stride, but gradually they withdrew their affections and so Erika sought refuge and a sense of belonging wherever it was offered. Mostly, she hung out in the costume department where she cultivated a taste for glittery clothes that commanded the spotlight.

In 2004, as part of a larger effort to break the Guinness Book of World Records, Erika was pressed into service as a stilt walker. It was the last time she had a civil conversation with her Mom. Aging aerialist can be a nasty crew.

If writers controlled the world, then Erika’s beleaguered childhood would serve as grist for a magnificent life, where hard lessons instill a sense of resilience and endurance that deepen one’s connection to luck and friendship. But we all know that life is never that tidy. An indifferent student, she took odd jobs at franchise chains like The Gap and American Apparel where she learned how to fold t-shirts by watching corporate videos. At night she’d go home and sketch ideas for clothing.

It took awhile for Erika to notice Trudy who favored clothes that enabled her to disappear in a crowd. Had Trudy not worn bright red thigh high stockings to work one day, there wouldn’t be a story to tell.


February 9, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Something Deep and Fine

IMG_6284The phone call came out of the blue. Not an email or a message on Facebook, but rather her voice on the other line. Just a simple hi. Recognizing Nadine’s voice, Lotte’s stomach tightened. Could be it was just this week’s episode of The Walking Dead that was particularly tense. They made vague arrangements to meet up at a coffee place in Soho and catch up.

All she could remember from that time was a vague unease and restlessness, a constantly shifting landscape of boyfriends, intrigue and shitty jobs. Surely there were details that would help illuminate who she was before she screwed her head on straight and went to law school. But her rambling journals from that time were of little help.

Neither ordered coffee, it was too late in the day. The parts of Nadine that were no longer there; youth, glibness, an untethered la-de-dah caught Lotte off guard. In the intervening years, Nadine had lost a sister, a mother and any real chance at tenure apparently, though that was a convoluted tale she promised to share at some future date. As the day turned chilly, the old friends returned to Nadine’s apartment in the West Village that she still rented even though her non-tenured teaching job in Vermont kept her away most of the year.

Lotte imagined that the apartment would be dark, empty, clogged with dust bunnies. Instead, it was jumping. Lotte counted six or seven street types moving about the place with a sense of ownership and ease, all homeless save for Nadine’s intervention. Nadine cracked open a bottle of bourbon, their beverage of choice from back then, and whispered the stories of the folks who wandered in and out of the kitchen; the young Mom who was kicked out by an abusive boyfriend, the college kid who dropped math to become a junkie and so on. Lotte couldn’t help but wonder if this was an illegal landlord/tenant arrangement, a creepy way to squeeze money from people down on their luck? Clearly not, there was love there.

Later that night, right before they said goodbye, promising to see each other more frequently, Lotte wanted to apologize for underestimating her friend all these years, but held her tongue. No one changes that radically. Somehow, Lotte never saw the depth of Nadine’s compassion. While brushing her teeth, she couldn’t help but wonder what else had she missed.