Being Open to Stories

I love stories. Humans of New York is one of my favorite sites. Maria Papova’s Brain Pickings is a tribute to longer form nonfiction “storytelling” and is one of my weekly reads on Sundays. Storytelling, whether fiction or nonfiction,  is a wonderful way to think on the page and then decide whether we want to share beyond our personal journals. I keep a small journal in my purse and a larger version at home where it moves with me from office, to kitchen table, to bedroom. I don’t write in them every day — but when I do, it’s to capture an idea that I might act on later, to create a remembrance of an event, to write a quote from a book or article… random, for sure. What I have learned, is that when I am on vacation — taking a break from the routine of work, taking a walk, or wondering in a book store, or enjoying the luxury of an artist’s date — I am open to hearing stories, writing them down, and sometimes sharing them.

Today was one of those days when I heard a story that is worth sharing. We are staying at the Saranac Hotel and I headed down early to get a cup of the complimentary coffee. I was joined at the urns by a gentlemen — a simple smile opened the door to a conversation. Randy Agnes opened a winery on Keuka Lake four years ago. He is self-taught and has achieved some notable success in producing wines that are getting press and gaining traction in upstate New York. Steve, my husband, and I make a trip to the Keuka Lake area wineries every year — Bully Hill, Pleasant Valley … I told my new acquaintance that we would make it a point to visit him next year —- Agnes’ Wine Cellars

But our conversation did not end there …. and now it gets even more interesting. I asked how he decided to try his hand at winemaking — the story he shared doesn’t really answer the question, but it sure was a great story. He shared that he was a chemist, and his first job fresh out of college was at a company on Long Island. His new boss handed him some tiles produced by Corning that were used on the exterior of the space shuttle. The tiles were falling off the shuttle when they were subjected to high levels of heat in space. His boss asked him to review the situation and give some feedback on how the problem might be solved. This was quite a problem to drop in the lap of newly minted graduate with a BS in chemistry, but the new hire was, as often is the case when you don’t know too much, undaunted and began studying the chemistry associated with those tiles. He had an idea — the makeup of the tiles were causing too many chemical reactions to occur (and I am putting this in my own words here) — he believed the problem could be addressed by simplifying the chemical makeup of the tiles. Well — he was right — and the company he was working for got a partial contract to test out the theory — which proved accurate. At the same time, they had to share the risk around the testing and use of the new formulation with companies that were better positioned to assume that “risk.” And so I headed back to my room with my coffee and a great story. The End.